Wednesday, July 26, 2006


So, here's my problem. Recently, (this summer) i've tried to become "a reader". My creative writing teacher (whom I revered) in high school told us once: "People who read are smarter than those who don't". Not just being literate, but reading books and engaging in thought on a regular basis. I don't think you can really argue with that.

Since May, i've read 4 books. Velvet Elvis, Blue Like Jazz, Adventures in Missing the Point, and Searching for God Knows What. I've got 3 more going right now too: Colossians Remixed (stupid name, but pretty thick reading), Rennovation of the Heart, and A New Kind of Christian. So thats like, 7 books right? Not bad for a former (let's face it, still) ESPN junkie.

But the problem with me is, I think that part of the reason I like reading books is I like the idea that i'm someone who likes reading books. Read that again. I hope it makes more sense. Is it about the books, more accurately, what the books contain and how I apply it to my relationship with God? OR do I like to sound cool and up to date when I ramble off stuff I read or thought about, and reccomend books to people who are obviously missing out on all the smarts i've got since, i'm a reader now.

My friend Andy was talking about a book called A Generous Orthodoxy on his blog a week or two ago. You know what I wanted to do? Rather than commenting on some aspect that he touched on, or had particular insight on that I missed....I wanted to be like: "Oh ya, the ol' Generous Orthodoxy. I read that like, two summers ago". *sigh* That would be just one of many instances of me liking the version of me thats a reader.

Ever been to an independant music store? Say, Slackers in Columbia? There's an persona the workers don't intentionally put off, well maybe they do, but it's still there. It's like they are way cooler than you simply because they listen to "indie" bands. So what if the music blows, what makes it cool is its lack of popularity. The band is their little secret, and once more people find out about them, it's on to the next one.
I've done that with music too, and sometimes the same desire to be in the know without everyone else knowing carries over to the books I read, which frankly, aren't even that new or cutting edge anyway.

At youth group, I bag on fashion or consumerism or materialism all the time. How we're not defined by what clothes we wear or how new our cars are (wow, thats hard to pronounce), and how we can't just keep putting our value in newer, better stuff. I always say when we define ourselves by whats around us, it's like remembering where you parked by what cars you're next to.

So how stupid am I by operating by the "cooler/smarter than you" principal with BOOKS ABOUT JESUS! I've got books called: Adventures in Missing the Point on my shelf but i'm really missing the point! Aarrrrg!

The fashion industry is shallow- this fall's clothes are way more in than last years, but next year this years clothes will be so last year. Get it? Trying to stay on the cutting edge in that cycle is an endless pursuit of vanity, expensive and un-rewarding once the style fades.

So trying to keep trendy with all the new books or new authors or new buzzwords is pretty much the same thing. Only at least with fashion i'd be more honest with myself than when I get all prideful about the latest books i've read.

Well, I hope this has all made sense. I'm going to keep reading, not to be smarter than other people (even though that may be true....ok, nevermind, sorry) but rather to stimulate my mind and motivate my spirit even more. *cajun man voice* Stimulation, Motivation,....Conclusion.

Miller Time

So a couple blogs ago I talked about Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What. I've finished the book, and plan to use it here with the Youth Group. Most of his book is about a relational religion, not formulaic or legalistic religion. Great!

Miller emphasizes a relationship with Jesus, not in a way that boasts how much quiet time you spend in the morning, or how your quota of daily bible reading, or Saturdays spent at the homeless shelter, but in a way that expresses a NEED and LOVE of a God you can't fully understand. None of those things in the list are bad, I could definately do more of all of them. But thats just it, there's ALWAYS MORE to do, always things about myself that suck, constantly more ways I can be a better follower of Christ.

But isn't that how it is in any relationship we have?

With my human buddies, I can always return calls faster or give more consideration to their needs, or in other ways show my love for my friends. I don't necessarily spend 8 minutes on the phone with each of them every day to show my friendship, it might not hurt but I can't just focus on the phone time or how many cards I send them. When we focus on the acts rather than who the acts are for, we get into trouble. Ultimately, it's not like there's a set of items to check off an agenda to achieve one-ness with Christ, some finite once and for all 7 habits of the best Christians ever.

Conversely, when we piss our friends off or do things that agitate them, how good of friends are we going to remain? If I constantly am blowing someone off or making excuses not to hang out or ignoring their needs for my own, what kind of relationship is that?

Miller helped me realize that my concept of a relationship with Jesus has been fairly shallow. Following rules and doing whats right is good, but those are a means to the end of Jesus himself. So when you screw up it's not like a sin scale tips in heaven but more like dissapointing someone you love.

When we talk about a relationship like this, it's much more difficult because it really takes on meaning. You're no longer feel some vague obligation to "being a good Christian" and not _____ (fill in the blank here) but really you're honoring God by obeying his commands. You're in an abstract relationship until its made real by your actions, it's real because Christ is in you and you care.

I think in church we stress habits and steps because they're easier. Shoot, i've done it myself without practicing it myself, how horrible is that? It's Dr. Phil religious mode: "If you read your bible and pray everyday, and give 10% of your money back to this church, you'll be in with God." Reading scripture, prayer, tithing....who could argue against these things, which God calls his people to do. BUT if they're like things we check off a list rather than times when you devote time to interacting with God than they're not really doing what they're meant for. It's the same as when Jesus tells the people not to draw attention to themselves when they fast or pray, because that's missing the point of the whole thing.

So I really reccomend this book, although thats what I plan to talk about next time.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Saturday afternoon I recieved a call from my buddy Jeff. This was not a good phone call. Two of my friends from Columbia were in a car accident early Saturday morning, around 6am. They were on their way to the airport when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver, who had come out of a weigh station going the wrong way on I-70.

My friend Tyler died and my other friend Chad was hospitalized, but released. It's awful. I almost thought it inscensative to blog about this, but anyone who reads this can pray for the Downey family, and for Chad and his family, and all of their friends too. Also, the 19 year old intoxicated driver survived, but his 18 year old intoxicated passenger did not. Their families need prayer, as does this young man who has made terrible mistakes.

Tyler's funeral is Saturday in Columbia. There's lots of things people say at times like this. Things that are obligatory, things that maybe make some people feel better. But I don't think a lot of those things are true; God did not have a purpose in "taking Tyler" a couple of kids got wasted and killed Tyler. Whatever God's plan for his people after we leave our Earthly bodies is, Tyler *is* a part of that now...but I wish he was still here on Earth and could be in that better place later. There is no reason for his death, other than the fallen, sinful nature of man. Lots of my friends are very sad, mourning the death of someone who loved God and loved people.

It is comforting to see communities of faith embrace the memory of Tyler, and even those who did not know him embracing those that did. It is comforting that we know how the story ends- that Christ died for Tyler and he's in his hands now.

Sad, confused, angry, and out of things to say.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Deep Thoughts for the Day

This is from Donald Miller's "Searching for God Knows What" which I read this morning:

(pg. 160-161) "Because we have approached faith through the lens of science, the rich legacy of art that once flowed out of the Christian community has dried up. The poetry of Scripture, especially in the case of Moses, began to be interpreted literally and mathematically, and whole books such as the Song of Songs were completely and totally ignored. They weren't scientific. You couldn't break them down into bullet points. Morality became a code, rather than a manifestation of a love for Christ, the way a woman is faithful to her husband, the way a man is faithful to his wife. These relational ideas were replaced with wrong and right, good and bad, with only hinted suggestions as to where wrong and right and good and bad actually came from. Old Testament stories became formulas for personal growth rather than stories to help us understand the character and nature of the God with whom we interact.

In a culture that worships science, relational propositions will always be left out of arguments attempting to surface truth. We believe quite simply, that unless we can chart something, it doesn't exist. And you can't chart relationships."

Sorry that was a little lengthy. This is a great book, and part of the reason I think it's great is because I've had some of the same thoughts! I remember sitting in Psychology classes in college going round and round with the professor about why the DSM sucked so much. For those of you who aren't impressed with my inclusion of academic tidbits, which I guess is pretty much everyone who will read this, the DSM is a manual used by psychologists to diagnose mental disease. Now, i'm not saying it's all bad or that psychology doesn't help people. But you'll notice if you click on the link that it's the 4th edition. The DSM changes. Hey, thats cool, lots of things in the medical and even religious community change. It's cool until you were diagnosed under the first edition, and were recieving electro-shock treatment.

My problem with psychology is that people aren't just a collection of chemicals to be balanced for "normal bahavior". What Miller is articulating is that the bible isn't a collection of self-help bullet points so we can improve our lives. People's problem with religion, say Christianity, is that it's a list of things you can't do: Can't cuss. Can't watch R-movies. Can't drink any alcohol. Can't have sex until you're married. Can't think girls are pretty. Can't laugh at farts. Can't sleep in on Sunday. Can't be friends with people who do any of the things you can't do.

It's a lot messier to struggle with things and decide if they are right or wrong, and to wrestle with why we think this way. But also, as opposed to a list of things Christians can't do or formulas to get your relationship with God where it should be, what about focusing on the good we should do as opposed to the bad we should avoid at all costs? More on this soon, I gots to go eat with my intern buddies. Peace.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Springfield, NCAA Football 07, and the Church

Sorry I haven't updated in a while, I went on another workcamp; this time to Springfield with our Middle School. Man, it was great. It was so cool to see these guys who hadn't really done anything like a conference workcamp. There were about 190 (14 from our church) of us there, and our church was assigned a ramp to build. Luckily, the adults I brought were: A teacher, an engineer, and a chemist. All more educated and able to adapt to situations than me. So the picture you see is us with Michelle, who's father has suffered numberous recent injuries as a result of muscle and bone deficiencies. He's wheelchair bound and can now live with his daugher, son-in-law, and grandkids.

On an unrelated side-note, the new college football game from EA just came out. It's sweet. So far i'm 0-1 to Jeremy, on account of a last play of the game touchdown. Great. I'm going to the Cards game tonight too, with my pastor. Which I guess means the cursing with have to be toned down, a little. Clearly i'm not working TOO hard.

Back to a related topic now...I think a lot of times the church gets a bad name, and righfully so. Let's go back all the way to the Crusades, stuff like the Spanish Inquisition, feudalistic brutality, Indulgences, Anti-semitism...Then all the way up to the 20th century we had segregation, condemnation, (sorry, no more cajun man) cases of child abuse, sexual misconduct, being complacent in our communities, all sorts of things. If your casual person on the street has a less-than-positive image of "the church", frankly, they have several good reasons to. It's led by broken people.

People who are anti-establishment or anti-institution can have lots of reasons why the church is bad. Who hasn't sat in Annual Conference (sorry, Methodist talk) and wondered if all of this is just a stupid waste of time?

But to see what God does through his people really is refreshing, and makes all the crap we humans throw into the equation bearable. With one phone call we can have a place to stay in Jackson Mississippi on our way home. Paperwork and "red tape" really can be effective in Kenner Louisianna as needs are matched with willing and able hearts. 190 kids from all around Missouri can make a difference to dozens of families in Springfield. So as easy as it is to criticize church, it's not all bad either: the Methodist church can be a stagnent, outdated, tumultuous, fickle, complacent body. Sit in on a meeting to change the carpet color or design a t-shirt sometime. Or more seriously, sit in on a General Conference session. But the Methodist Church (and plenty of other churches too, i'm just speaking from experience here) can also AND MORE IMPORTANTLY be an avenue where the mission of Jesus Christ is carried out in real, tangible, meaningful ways. Not a slogan or a bumper sticker type way, but I changing lives sort of way.

Thats something I can sign up for.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Something About It.

The thing that God accomplished through us was giving hope to his people. FEMA has screwed these folks, insurance companies have screwed these folks, the media has forgotten these folks; they have been tossed to the curb just like the inards of their homes. We provided free labor and warm hearts to these people, and we were in turn blessed by blessing them.

The man in the middle of the picture is Joe. I don't think he would mind if I told his story. Joe has a beautiful wife and daughter. A young, fun family. They bought their home in January of 2005 before the hurricane came in August. Friday night August 27th they were celebrating his wife's birthday....the storm came Sunday the 29th. It was their first home together, everything in it was brand new: appliances, furniature, everything. They left for Lake Charles and then later Houston, TX. They were later evacuated from Houston because of Hurricane Rita. They now are back renting an apartment in New Orleans, where Joe was born and has lived all his life.

Joe and his family visited us on the worksite, which if I recall correctly was only his third visit to the house since Katrina. It was very hard on him and his family, especially his wife. They weren't sure how their little girl would react, but he told me they wanted her to meet all of us. Joe and his wife wanted their little girl to see people doing some good in the world. So we met, and hugged, and cried, and joked a little bit to ease the awkwardness- remember, we were cleaning out these people's lives and piling them on the front lawn to be hauled away.

The next day Joe came back- with the sign you see him holding and Po'Boy Sandwiches for all of us. What a tear jerker. Here this dude had lost everything and he was worried about what he could do for us. So we captured the photo-op, and ate a great lunch. I will never forget sitting there with a full belly and a full heart (sorry it's so cheesy, but true!). In this picture you see Joe, and youth from St. Joseph MO, Kansas City MO, St. Louis MO, and Panama City FL. In this picture you see what God can do with his people.

James 2: 15&16...
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

I would add "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food or their home was destroyed by a hurricane."

We did something about it. Praise God.


We're back. The workcamp was a great week. You go through stages, and after being back 5 days now i'm still kind of shaken up. Initially it was the shock (see picture). It looks like a 3rd world country in some parts down there, I couldn't believe this was America, that all our wealth and power is inadequate in getting thousands of people's lives back to some level of normalacy (sp? is that a word?). Then somehow amid the gutting of houses and the showering with 64 other people you get accustomed to the devastation. You get descensatized to just how awful everything is because you're living in it, well, visiting. Then you meet the homeowners that have lost everything and it's worse than shock. Its beyond empathizing with them. What can you possibly say to these people? Isn't it almost insulting that all these kids with great houses back home put on a sad face while they clean out whats left of an entire lifetime of memories? A strong sense of guilt comes over you when you delight in using a sledgehammer to break down water-closets or tile. Then you realize that thoughts like that are selfish, that you are here to give hope to these people and that's what happened. More, real soon!