31.8.09

A repurposed Parable

Sarah, allow me to build upon your words.

Not long before I left Portland I found myself reading a small book in Powell’s dubbed Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment, a fun little book. After the parable it contained insights and advice from the Dalai Lama and Wangari Maathai, an environmental activist and leader from Kenya.

I don’t remember all that the Dalai Lama and Wangari Maathai had to say (don’t get me wrong, it was charming and to the point), but I do remember, almost verbatim, the parable about the hummingbird and the environment. Parables are funny little creatures sometimes. They stick to you like ticks stick to socks after a walk in the woods.

I got excited when I found the parable in video form. I, like Sarah, want to inspire change and not merely guilt. Here is the repurposed parable:

30.8.09

repurposed



In the home goods section of most department stores, you can find generic plaques with inspirational words like, “Family…Love…Memories” written in fancy scroll.

The other day I was walking through a Target in Portland when I saw one of these cream-colored plaques with black cursive writing. Except instead of “Family…Love…Memories,” it said, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”

Only in Portland does the word “Recycle” make it into artwork, I thought.

The plaque makes for a tacky decoration, but I appreciate the thoughtfulness behind it, especially since I’ve been thinking recently about a Christian’s response to consumerism. Living in Portland where values like stewardship, conservation, and frugality are widely practiced makes this endeavor easier.

When I first began thinking about the implications of my spending habits, my initial response was guilt. I felt very, very guilty about where I shopped, what I bought, and the wages that people were paid to produce these goods. And that’s where my response started and stopped. Just feeling guilty, about most things, most of the time.

And then I began to feel guilty about feeling guilty and it got really ugly.

I think guilt is a common response, especially for people who have been brought up in a punitive religious culture where feeling guilty seems to be the actual chief end of man.

The problem is that feeling guilty is not a helpful response to anything. If it doesn’t change your heart or your actions, what does it matter?

But then there’s conviction, which is the healthy alternative to guilt. Conviction recognizes that a behavior or an action has caused someone grief or harm, and this knowledge becomes the driving force for change.

Instead of being paralyzed by guilt, I’m trying to respond in practical ways to genuine conviction.

My best friend studied home economics in college, and she has been a great resource. She has useful insights into what it could look like to live out the concept that, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

We talked about clothes shopping, and she suggested that instead of getting brand new clothes from the store, I go to thrift stores and consignment shops to get things second-hand.

I bought a townhouse earlier this year, and we spent a long time brainstorming about the most responsible way to furnish my new home.

She suggested that I start furniture shopping at garage sales, thrift shops, or even antique stores. This practice is essentially recycling old furniture, which is environmentally responsible. And getting used furniture also means I’m not directly increasing the demand for new goods from stores who get their labor from cheap international factories.

We even had a conversation about the best way to dress the windows in my new place. “It’s smart to use curtains rather than blinds,” she said, “Because you can repurpose the fabric when you don’t need the curtains anymore.”

I’ve been trying to apply these principles over the past few months. And when I become convicted about another area of my life that could be more intentional, I call my friend and we brainstorm some more.

I think in our online community, the brainstorming needs to continue as we “spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”

And soon we may discover that it’s not just our curtains or our furniture or our clothes that are repurposed, but our minds and our hearts and our souls.

27.8.09

Evangelical Myths

A couple months ago I started watching the television show “Northern Exposure” on DVD. “Northern Exposure,” which ran for six seasons on CBS starting in 1990, is set in the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska. One of the most fascinating themes of this quirky, funny, and sometimes deeply moving series is the way Cicely’s white and Indian residents co-exist in community. One of my favorite episodes in Season Four depicts the Thanksgiving celebration, which in Cicely has taken on elements of El Día de los Muertos. Indians ambush whites on the street, pelting them with tomatoes – and then they hug, friends. The holiday culminates with a parade down main street with the Indians dressed as skeletons and spirits. Then everybody gathers at The Brick tavern for a community feast.

I’m in Season Five now, and an episode I watched yesterday corresponds nicely with something I’ve been struggling with re: "On the Narrow Road", my upcoming "evangelical pilgrimage" across the country. A recurring character in the show’s later seasons is a local shaman (he prefers the job description “healer” to “medicine man”) named Leonard. Since he is taking on more white patients, Leonard decides to do some research. He sets up a table in the community center and invites whites to come in and tell him their legends. One white man tells Leonard the story of Paul Bunyan. “How often do you think about that story?” Leonard asks (I’m paraphrasing). The man replies, “Oh, I haven’t thought about that story in years.” Other whites tell him campfire stories like the one about the man with the hook. But these stories aren’t what Leonard had in mind. Toward the end of the episode, Leonard is talking with the white DJ of the local radio station. “I’ve failed, Chris,” Leonard says with a defeated sigh. “I’ve failed to locate the white collective unconscious.”

I laughed out loud.

I read somewhere recently that many pilgrims will prepare for their journey by studying the stories, legends, songs, and myths of the land and people they plan to visit. This is one way I want to prepare for my own pilgrimage through evangelical America. But I feel a little like Leonard in that episode of “Northern Exposure.” I have failed so far to locate American evangelicalism’s collective unconscious.

What are the guiding myths, so to speak, of American evangelicals? Do we look to stories of the Puritans and the Piligrims (speaking of Thanksgiving), or to a particular interpretation of America’s founding? Does the Left Behind series qualify? Those stories do act as a symbolic representation of a meaning system – the beliefs, assumptions, and organizing principles – of a great many people in this country. What about “The Purpose Driven Life” or books by James Dobson? My sociologist friend Matt suggested I may have to approach these questions from a regional perspective – reading Jerry Falwell, for example, to better understand evangelicals in Virginia.

None of these are particularly satisfying, and I am starting to wonder if I am looking for something that doesn’t exist. Is American evangelicalism so individualistic that the only guiding myth that matters to the average evangelical is his or her own testimony (conversion story)? If this is true, what are the consequences for the movement? What does it mean that we don’t have stories to bind us together?

What do you think? Do American evangelicals have guiding myths? Does the shortage of these stories (if in fact there is a shortage) say something about the individualistic nature of evangelicalism? or about its regional and denominational complexity? I’m lost in a morass of questions.

The Image of God in Ted...

I remember, about a decade ago, interviewing for a ministry position and getting into a doctrinal discussion about the image of God in man, particularly debating the question of what extent the image of God resides in fallen humans. "None" was the right answer, according to the team across the table from me, steeped as they were in a strong reformed theology and doctrine of depravity. "Humanity lost any capacity at all to display the character of God when Adam aligned with Satan."
There it is. Simple. "Cut and dried" as they say. They quote some passages from Romans 3 that talk about none who do good, and how our righteousness is as filthy rags. Yes. I understand. I went to seminary.

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that it fails to take into account the profound respect that God has for all humanity in Genesis 9 where God says that human life is valuable precisely because we are made "in His image" - all of us. Fallen? Yes, tragically so, as each of our lives testifies in various ways. Yet, it's so often the case that, right there in the midst of our fallenness, we rise up for moments and align ourselves with God. Isn't Mozart's Requiem something that displays God's image, in spite of the drinking, gambling, and womenizing that characterized the composer? To declare that no unregenerate person displays the image of God in the face of evidence to the contrary seems tantamount to offering a mathematical explanation regarding why it's not raining while standing in the middle of a downpour; evidence to the contrary is everywhere, if we'll just pay attention.

All of this is the backdrop for my contention that, among politicians, Edward Kennedy displayed the glory of God's image more gloriously, and the tragedy of man's falleness more tragically, than most politicians who've graced the pages of history with their exploits.

The tragedy is easy to see. Chappaquiddick stands at the top of a sizable list of improprieties, leaving us with, at the very least, severe question marks regarding judgement and moral character. Christians will excoriate him for his treatment of Justice Bjork and his views on abortion. All this is true.

But there's another side to the man. In 1964 he was instrumental in passing the critical Civil Rights Act which has helped turn the ship of American history away from blatent racism towards egalitarianism. Kennedy's Immigration Act of 1965 sought to give non Europeans some sense of reality for the words that are inscribed at Ellis Island: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. If you're a woman and you played high school sports, it's because you had an advocate in Ted Kennedy. If you're disabled, and you have access to major buildings and sidewalks in your city, it's because of the efforts of Kennedy. If you're a senior citizen living on fixed income and thus receiving "Meals on Wheels", it's because Kennedy went to bat for you.

A constant advocate for the downtrodden, marginalized, and weak, I can't help but think of James definition of true religion when I think of Kennedy, which has to do with caring for widows and orphans in their distress.

You can argue the politics if you like, declaring the government shouldn't care about racism, or gender equality, or health care, that the extent of their 'intrusion' should be to pave our roads and provide an army, leaving us to fend for ourselves with the rest of life. You can point to his failures. But what you can't do is declare that he didn't "give a damn" about the least of these. As the church has, in recent years awakened to her calling to care for those who can't care for themselves, we've been reminded that caring for those on the margins is our calling precisely because such acts of mercy make the character of Christ visible.

Ted cared for the "least of these" and in so doing, displayed something of the image of God. This is not only a blessing, but a challenge. The challenge lies in our propensity to put black or white hats on everyone, presuming the unfallen to display only the character of Satan,and painting the saved in white because, as we like to say, we're "clothed in Christ".

It's all a bit too convenient. Reality forces us to wrestle with the truths that Samaritans, homosexuals, and political liberals, all manifest compassion, sometimes more visibly than the "saved". Maybe it's time for a little humility on our part, and a little gratitude, and a little openness to the possibility that there are those in this world who've not yet been born again who, nonetheless, display Christ's character at times. May we learn from them by their acts, and honor them.

Portland Wins yet another Beer Game

















I almost titled this “Portland Ruins yet another Mid-Western Beer Drinker.” And I very well could have because that’s what it did. The greatest city in the Northwest ruined me. And I'm here tell about it. It’s a tragic tale. It really is.

I recently moved from Portland back home to Missouri. A drastic and brave move if you ask me. This place is a real bore sometimes. Not much is shaking in the Midwest. Portland looms large in my heart. But this is home and I’ll embrace it nonetheless (at least for a few more weeks…I’m leaving for China very soon if all the paper work goes through). But this place is special to me. It holds all the familiar quirks and smells that I’m used to. I can’t abandon it just yet.

Out on the town I leaned in and asked the hearty blonde haired waitress with exaggerated curls and spritz perfume what she had on her beer menu and she replied most mysteriously, “Bud Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Busch, Busch Light, Coors, Coors Light, Pabst etc… I scratched my head and asked, “Corona?” She shook her head and said, “No.”

I don’t remember what I drank that night, and no not because I drank too much, but because it was awful. I am baffled. I really am. How did frat-boy light-beer win the Midwest beer game? I don't like it.

I am beginning to understand why most Christians in the Midwest demonize beer. Chalk it up, it's a taboo 'round them here parts. But it can't be because beer is evil. No, that’s foolishness. Drunkenness is evil. I believe we've ostracized beer in the Midwest because the only names that are known around here sound so much like Bud Light and Coors Light. If this is the case then I don’t blame you (Midwest) for your beer hating. I mean, you don’t know the other names. The better names. Here are a few . . . take notes: Deschutes, Widmer’s, BridgePort, McMenamins, Rogue, Full Sail, Henry Weinhard's.

And I haven’t even scratched the surface. I told you I wasn’t a snob. Somebody else please fill-in the blanks. But I promise you won’t hate beer anymore. Or at least you’ll hate the right beer for the right reasons. Proper hate is good. I'll let you hate Busch Light if you like Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

I cannot go back. I can’t possibly nurse a Miller Lite. And like that . . . Portland wins again.

25.8.09

back to school

Last night the air in Portland was crisp and cool, and this morning it rained. As I was sloshing to work in the rain, I realized that summer is almost over, which means that school is just about to begin. Which means, of course, that back to school shopping is in full swing.


I have never been a fan of back to school shopping. I have always thought of it as one of those contrived holidays meant to entice shoppers to flock to stores to spend their money on things they don’t need. Like shady salesmen who exhort you to celebrate President’s Day by buying a new king-sized mattress. It just hits me wrong.


Most shopping hits me wrong these days, actually. The emphasis on quantity rather than quality, the constant message that there’s something better than what you have, the idea that this purse or these shoes or this cologne is the missing piece that will make you feel complete…it’s all very empty.


I’ve been doing some thinking and reading and praying about consumerism lately. As part of this self-imposed research project, I watched a documentary called “What Would Jesus Buy?” It was produced by Morgan Spurlock, the guy who starred in “Supersize Me.”


“What Would Jesus Buy” was another, cheesier way of asking the questions I was wondering: What should my response be to consumerism? Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?


I bribed one of my friends with ice cream, and he agreed to watch the movie with me. The movie featured a man named Reverend Billy, who looks a lot like a blonde Elvis impersonator, and his back-up singers called the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.


In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Reverend Billy and his choir toured the U.S. in a charter bus, stopping to proclaim on street corners and in churches that America should stop shopping so much.


If you think this sounds like the plot of a good movie, you’d be wrong. At one point, The Rev tries to get an audience at Wal-Mart’s headquarters, but the security guards won’t let him in. So in a fit of passion, he does a spread eagle onto the shrubs in front of the Wal-Mart sign. Nothing gets executives to think seriously about the implications of their business decisions like a lunatic jumping into their bushes.


So anyway, about half way through the movie I decided I would rather poke my eye out with a stick than keep watching it. I was about to turn it off when the producers turned the cameras off of The Rev and his antics, and onto a man who was an advocate for employees of overseas manufacturing companies.


The man was standing in his office with his arm around a slight adolescent Asian girl who, when asked what her life was like, looked blankly into the camera and replied through the translator, “I feel like I’m dying.”


I feel like I’m dying.


I looked at the clothes I was wearing, the furniture I was sitting on, the dishes I was eating from. Was it possible that my purchases had contributed to the outsourcing of labor to Asian children who felt like they were dying?


If money talks, what was mine saying? That instead of getting an education that would enable them to improve their earning potential and their quality of life, these children should be earning pennies a day in sweat shops so I can have my clothes a little cheaper?


Of course, this is a bigger problem than you or I can solve on our own. But maybe we could start with changing the way we approach clothes shopping this fall.


American kids aren’t the only ones who should be getting back to school.

24.8.09

Colored Men



The speaker was Robert Bly.  The evening was titled "Red, White, and Black."  The topic was specific to men; there are some similarities to women, but maybe that's for another day.  Here's the Reader's Digest version:
In their late teens, 20s, and early 30s, men should have a sense of "red" about them - a.k.a., blood.  Whether they're feeling their oats or behaving full of piss and vinegar, this is knowing that if a fist fight is awaiting you, it's best to get the first hit.  Most mothers hate to see their sons in "red."  
In their mid30s up to around 60, men move into the "white."  They've settled down a little and are very much a champion of "community." They'll organize groups to clean up the parks, serve on the school board, take the cub scouts fly-fishing, go to Father-Daughter balls, etc., etc.  It can be a very productive season.
Past 60 and beyond, a man goes "black" - think Eastwood in Gran Torino; the old curmudgeon who growls and tell the neighbor kids, "Hey, punks, get the hell out of my azaleas!"  He'll stand up in health care reform town hall meetings and get rowdy. He'll also tell the young emerging preacher to tuck his shirt in and nobody gives a whipple-eyed dingleberry about the monastics.

Bly held fast to these colors; he supported his beliefs with the weight of man-history.  There was obviously much elaboration; one point I'll mention.  Bly spoke directly to men who considered themselves Christian: "You skip the red and go straight to white because that's who you think Jesus wants you to be and then wonder why you're so mad in your late 30s/early 40s...it's so unfair; everybody expects you to be white as snow from beginning to end.  The 'red' doesn't go away; it has to be honored somehow, someway, sometime."

Bly's not God; he'd be the first to tell you that.  And yes, these colors could be seen as limiting, possibly even constricting because 50 is the new 30, blah, blah, pa, ma. And if you should go looking for scriptural chapters and verses that speak of the red, white, and black, well, let me go ahead and tell you you'll be disappointed; oh, I believe they're there, but you can't find them via Bible Gateway.  But I also believe the old poet said much that is true, especially about "red."

Men, you may not agree with this, but something deep inside tells me you may believe it.  

Church Hopping: Monastery of St. Ephraim of Mount Amomon

As I write this, the worse fires to ravage Greece since 2007 are blazing through the northern suburbs of Athens. I’ve been following developments closely. This is more than a morbid curiosity. My brother goes to college in Athens. From the news reports, I’ve gathered that although the fires rage on, they haven’t reached the city proper. They have, however, forced at least one monastery in Attica, the region that contains Athens, to be evacuated, according to this story from the AP:

A Greek monastery clanged its bells in warning Monday as an out-of-control wildfire raced down a mountainside, elderly nuns were evacuated from its threatened convent and the remains of Saint Ephrem were removed to a safer location.

At the Saint Ephrem* Monastery near Nea Makri, north of Athens, buildings were silhouetted against a red sky lit up by the glow of nearby wildfires. Workers shoveled sand and sprayed areas with limp garden hoses in apparently fruitless attempts to battle the inferno.

"The flames were 30 meters (100 feet) high," said one of the dozen nuns evacuated, wearing a black habit and a surgical mask to ward off the smoke and grit. "Thankfully they came and rescued us."


This story piqued my interest. While mopeds, taxis, and subway trains whiz through Athens, much of the rest of the country, with its small, antiquated villages, seems to have remained untouched by the hustle-and-bustle of modern-day life. If one ever needed a retreat from civilization, Greece would be an ideal place to escape to. Tiny monasteries dot the mountainous landscape of the Orthodox country.

One such hermetic abode is the Monastery of St. Ephraim* of Mount Amomon. The closest city to the monastery is Nea Makri, which is one of the areas the famous Marathon race passes through. Just northeast of Athens, Nea Makri is considered prime property, which is why many are blaming the current crop of fires on arsonists who want to free up the land for development. Nestled near the forests of the Panteli Mountains, at Mount Ammon, and in a dry area akin to California, it’s no wonder the fires are rapidly spreading.

The Monastery of St. Ephraim of Mount Amomon is reportedly one of the oldest in Attica. It used to be a place where priests and religious followers could come and pray. Although the Turkish Empire, which practiced shamanism and then followed the Muslim religion, was generally thought to be tolerant of Greek Orthodoxy, during the Ottoman rule, a group of barbarians attacked the monastery.

One of the people said to have been killed at the monastery was St. Ephraim. He was born on September 14, 1384, in Trikala, Thessalia, as Konstantionos Morphes. He moved to the monastery in Attica, taking on the name Ephraim. He survived one attack on the monastery, but in September 1425 was captured and tortured for eight months. He was hanged on a mulberry tree outside the monastery on May 5, 1426. These exact details come to us through Makeria Desipri, a nun who dreamed them in 1950. A body believed to be his was consequently found on Mount Amomon, and kept as a relic. The Synod of the Orthodox Church in Greece declared him a saint, but since there are no historical sources to verify the account dreamt by the nun, Ephraim’s saint status is controversial. It has yet to be approved by the Patriarch of Constantinople.

His remains, however, are still considered holy and were transported to safety during the fires that are currently ablaze.






[Photo of remains of Ephraim via Orthodox Wiki]



If you are looking for Ephraim in art, note that he is remembered through iconography as having a black beard and wearing a black robe.



[Image of St. Ephraim, donning blue instead of his customary black, via Uncut Mountain Supply]


The monastery was destroyed during the Ottoman Empire, but has since been re-erected. Today, many Orthodox believers pilgrimage to the site. (For information on tours, visit Premier Taxi or VIP Taxi.) Prior to the fires, the monastery was most recently in the news in 2005 when the bishop of Attica and the nuns of the monastery accused each other of embezzling pilgrim's donations.




[Photo of monastery via Premier Taxi]




Unlike houses of worship, which are built to inspire awe of God, St. Ephraim Monastery is humbly made, probably as a means to promote the nuns’ efforts to live modestly and without distraction. The monastery is built of rough stone. It reminds us that none of us, not even nuns, are perfect. We are coarse and jagged, but God allows us to come as we are, and uses us despite our imperfections. That no two stones are alike also reminds us that no two people are alike. Each of us, even if we dress uniformly in a habit, are unique. Still, we come together, like these stones, to build up the body of the church.


[Photo of monastery via VIP Taxi]



Typical of Greek Orthodox cathedrals, the monastery features a domed roof. This architectural feature is designed to make God feel close, as it encircles the viewer.

There is much shrubbery around the monastery. The mulberry tree on which Ephraim was believed to have been hanged is on view within the confines of the monastery.




[Photo of mulberry tree via Orthodox Wiki]

*The reports indicate that the monastery is question is affiliated with Saint Ephrem, however the only monastery in Nea Makri I could find is affiliated with Saint Ephraim. Ephrem the Syrian was a hymn writer who died of natural causes in Edessa. The biography of Ephraim differs and is given above. If I have reported inaccurately which monastery was evacuated, please let me know.

23.8.09

Meditations: Remembering Who We Are


The 1980’s spy thriller, The Bourne Identity opens with a mysterious man being plucked from the Mediterranean ocean by a fishing boat. He’s suffered several bullet wounds and a head trauma. The man is an amnesiac and doesn’t know his name or his history. He struggles to learn his identity, sifts through the evidence and concludes that he was an assassin. Over the course of three novels, Bourne faces countless dangers only to discover things were not what they seemed. He was not an assassin, but a government agent who had assumed a secret identity in order to hunt an assassin.

Bourne’s accident caused him to lose touch with who he really was and the results were costly.

I identify with Bourne’s character. I’m not a killing machine, or a spy, or particularly heroic. In recent months, I have lost touch with who I am—and like Bourne— I’ve paid a price. Let me explain.

A handful of weeks ago, my boss took me out to lunch and asked me if I was ready for a “small shift” in my job description. The last time my job “shifted” I took on the supervision of the youth and college ministries in addition to the children’s ministry. This time, Derek asked me to take on Sunday morning adult education. The ministry, in a plain speech, is in a state of disrepair: There are few teachers, no job descriptions, no policies, no training materials—and oh, just a handful of weeks before the Fall launch. Gratefully, Derek had already recruited a brilliant high capacity volunteer leader to be the point person for the ministry. Diane and I have been meeting weekly, racing against the clock so we could have a respectable Fall launch.

Supervising the youth ministry has taken more time than normal this Summer. And we’re migrating to a new database this Fall which meant extra training hours and prep time.

This Summer I’ve been doing children’s ministry on the back stroke. And if I’m going to be perfectly honest, it’s shown. Not having adequate time to recruit, we’ve gone into most weekends a few volunteers shy of a full complement. My “coaches” have borne the brunt of the burden and have spent too much time putting out fires.

And this week, it caught up with me. I began to wake up feeling high levels of anxiety. I found myself waking up on the edge of tears and fearful. A few evenings ago, Amy and I were having a disagreement and I completely over reacted. My anxiety levels were simply too high to work through a low grade conflict with any measure of emotional intelligence.

My blow up was enough to motivate me to call a college friend of mine who makes a living as a life coach. Lee asked me what the source of my fear was. I responded that I feared disappointing my coworkers and volunteers.

Lee probed deeper. Why did I fear that?

My answer surprised me. I’m afraid that apart from my performance that I have no value to my teams.

As soon as the words escaped my mouth I knew what my problem was. I had forgotten who I was. For a number of reasons, some healthy, some not, I’m a competitive, performance oriented person. It wasn’t until my college years that the light bulb clicked and I realized that my religious achievement didn’t impress God. God loved me… because he loved me. Grace is a tough concept for a type-A knucklehead to embrace.

And recently, in all my busyness, I forgot—again—who I was. I am not acceptable to God, and my community, because of my ability to perform as a good worker bee. My worth comes from being God’s creation and his child.

I’m immediately took a few action steps. I stopped by a coworker’s office and laid out all my cards on the table, even though I hate being weak. I did the same thing over lunch with one of my best friends and key volunteers. I also sat down in front of my calendar and protected key hours to be with God.

Immediately the fear and anxiety levels lowered. Sure, the Fall is still bearing down on me and I’m behind. But the fear of failure has lost some of its power.



I’m learning that the best Christian leaders, at their core, know who they are. They are children, God’s children. This knowledge drains much of the fear out of leadership. When I anchor my identify to my performance, I’ll actually play things a little safer. I can’t take real ministry risks because if I fall short, I lose (in my warped mind) personal value).

A “child leader” actually has the freedom to risk more. A leader who remembers that he or she is a child of God has the freedom to take real risk—Their Heavenly Father will catch them when they fall. Their peers love this leader, not for the achievement, but for whom God made them to be.

My prayer for you, and I, whether we are leading our own lives, or others, is to remember our identity in Christ, and to have the freedom to serve without fear.

"Our Father, Who art in Heaven..."

22.8.09

The Idiot Box: Sometimes You Wanna Go...To NOSTALGIA!

My love of opening credit sequences, especially at HBO, is well-documented (by me), but last night I was reminded of the greatest opening sequence of all-time.



Seriously, I defy you to find one better. Even "Wonder Years" falls short. I mean, isn't this nostalgia at its finest? The imagery captures the show's essence so purely, recalling how each character has, in a sense, always existed. It's difficult to watch, and hear those doo-wops, without a big fat grin breaking out.

(Even without Shelly Long, I feel this rendition is the best, primarily because it includes Frasier, yet still closes with .)

I'm open to other suggestions, though. Paste Magazine has a few, and seems to agree with me.

21.8.09

Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat

This has been a year of weather extremes in Portland. Last winter the city was socked by snow and ice storms it didn't have the money, equipment, personnel, or material (salt and sand) to deal with. Everything was shut down for days. We couldn't get our car out of the cul-de-sac for a week - which was fine with me.

Last month, Portland came within a degree of breaking its all-time high temperature. I heard from someone that that day Portland was the third hottest place in the world, hotter even than Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Portland also came close to breaking its record for the most consecutive days over 100 degrees. The weather yesterday was a relatively mild 85 degrees but it was humid and I was grumpy.

I've expended a lot of energy this year complaining about the weather. I know we don't have it so bad - I've heard stories of heat in Phoenix so intense that it melts the pavement - but perspective is difficult for me on this. Mid-August is usually when I start to physically crave the rain, and this year especially so.

I've been reading Kathleen Norris's latest book, "Acedia & Me." In addition to being a personal, cultural, historical, spiritual and literary exploration of acedia - an uncommon enough word, meaning "absence of care," that Microsoft Word doesn't recognize it - this moving book recalls her marriage to the poet David Dwyer, his struggles with mental illness, and his death from cancer in 2003.

There is a passage in chapter six in which Norris remembers walking to visit her husband in a psychiatric ward on a day when it was so frigid that it hurt to breathe. As she cursed the cold and icy pavement under feet, she recalled the words of a canticle from the Sunday divine office. She was, she wrote, unaccountably consoled. "The words were now a part of me, and when I most needed them, the rhythms of my walking had stirred them up, to erode my anxiety and self-pity, and remind me that blessings may be found in all things." All things, indeed.

I don't spend enough time memorizing scripture. I tend to intellectualize it. I forget that there is power there. The fourth century Desert Fathers and Mothers believed that even when a monk was reciting words of scripture in a language he did not understand, the demons with which he was in constant struggle were forced to flee.

Today I'm trying to commit to memory the words from Kathleen Norris's canticle.

Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat...
Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow...
Bless the Lord, nights and days...
Bless the Lord, light and darkness...
Bless the Lord, ice and cold...
Bless the Lord, frosts and snows;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever

(Daniel 3:45-50)

We Love the Lordy

I apologize for posting this video in advance. My friend Tyler found it and sent it to me and I just couldn’t resist. I mean, he has an eye for these things. I know it seems harmless and cute at first but it’s not. Not at all. We both agree that these people are spearheading everything that’s wrong within Christianity.



After watching the video please take my Walker Percy inspired Quiz:

How does a person like your-self respond to a video like this? .

A. You judge it like the good fundamentalist that you are because something this awful deserves a good James Dobson wag of the finger.

B. You laugh your ears off, after all, you’re convinced that you’re watching aliens from another planet. And then you figure that having no ears is the only conceivable way to walk away from these aliens. And at least now with no ears it will never happen again. You won’t have your ears, better yet, you won’t have this music.

C. You hover over a toilet and vomit your stomach out because this is the only response that makes sense to your central nervous system. And then you smile because you know like any good artist that pain and laughter are woven together in the bowels.

D. You sing-along, as it turns out, you find it to be catchy as hell? But you share this joy with no-one. Because as you reckon no-one understands you to begin with. Why would they start now?

E. You get a nudge to write in your own answer because you secretly know yourself as an autonomous human being who dislikes pop quizzes with predetermined answers. You hate to be boxed in more than you hate this music. After all, you have an opinion of your own.

20.8.09

Reasons I Hate Phoenix: Idiots On the Local News

(This is an ongoing series I'm starting. In half my posts, I will detail how horrible the city of Phoenix is. But because my wife gets sad when I show too much displeasure with living here, I'll temper them with an equal amount of posts on why Phoenix is the gem of the Southwest.)

Look: I don't mind it down here. There are worse places to live than Phoenix, Arizona. Dallas, for instance. We've got some friends in Arizona, and some restaurants we like. There's an artisan pizza joint on every corner. And it's always sunny! Hooray!

But then I'll watch the local news, and all the idiocy of this place will come rushing back. Maybe local news is this way everywhere, but it's just...astonishing. They'll interview people on the street about any number of things, and I find myself wondering, "Where did this moron crawl out of?" Here is a collection of three stories on last night's news:

Man tries to vacuum behive, gets attacked

This happened a few blocks from where I live. Here's something: when you try and vacuum up a beehive, and the bees come out and sting the hell out you, that's not called a bee attack. That's just bees being bees. You can't roll yourself in honey, wrestle with a bear cub, then feel indignant and victimized when a bear eats your face off.

This was the second bee attack story on the news yesterday.

Man arrested for setting own million-dollar home on fire

This one also happened within a mile of our house, and is full of gems:
"I had nothing to do with this fire starting," said Marin on July 6, 2009. "I have a conscience as clear as the driven snow, and that will come out," he added.
"As I opened that door, there was this blast of super-heated smoke," said Marin. "I never even saw a fire."
Oh, and the reason the fire was suspicious? Marin managed to escape the fire by climbing out his upper story bedroom window using a ladder and scuba gear, both of which happened to be in his bedroom closet.

Scottsdale man wins fight over 'lemon' Lamborghini

How about the horrifying story of what this charming gentleman went through?
We need stories like this; stories where Joe Everyman stands up to the soulless auto industry...and wins one for all the common folk.



I keep picturing this guy calling up ABC 15 - "Hi...news? Hold on to your hats. Have I got a story for you..."

I had squeaky brakes for four years on my old '85 Accord. Looking back, I wish I'd whined about it incessantly, or at least sued Honda.

19.8.09

A letter




I wrote a book about my struggling with the church. I thought it would only be fair to share about the church's beauty also. This was in my mailbox yesterday.

17.8.09

Part of the Solution: Spiritual Security


artwork by He Qi

The idea for this column was to draw attention to facts of which we might not be aware. Every couple of weeks, we wanted to highlight injustices with some numbers and statistics and then offer practical solutions. We simply wanted us all to become aware of both how we may inadvertently be a part of the problem and how we can be a part of its solution.


That approach, in educational terms, is very top down. While definitely necessary, this week I’m thinking more in terms of bottom up:


Lenna, my youngest daughter, sprouted like a sunflower over the summer, the result being she has outgrown all of last year’s school clothes. Now, this was no surprise to me, but Lenna always seems a bit caught off guard when her old favorites no longer fit. When the sleeves are too short, and her pants begin to look like crops, she just doesn’t understand how this could have happened to her.

The logical thing, to me, would be to hand down her like new, EUC (ebay lingo for Excellent Used Condition) wardrobe to our neighbor friends, whose daughter is one size behind Lenna. The father of that family of five is the pastor of a small nearby church, and they are always really excited to receive the clothing, either for themselves or for friends. And I’m always really excited that the clothes find a new home.

Lenna, however, is not. Not only is it unfair that her legs were stretched like silly putty, it’s also not fair that her favorite articles of clothing should no longer be in her possession. Just a few weeks ago, we had a spat over this issue, as she didn’t want to let anything go. I was exasperated. And she was in tears.

Later, that afternoon, as I watched her swim with her big sister, I thought about why she was so unwilling to let go.

“Lenna, you know Daddy and I will get you new clothes,” I had told her. “And you know you’ll even be able to pick them out yourself,” I added. Since she and Ella are now pretty much the same size, there are no more hand me downs for Lenna. I thought she’d be ecstatic. But she hadn’t been.

Maybe Lenna was afraid to let go because she wasn’t sure if she would like her new clothes as much? Maybe deep down, she didn’t trust that Bjoern and I would really buy her new clothes? Maybe the idea of letting her stuff go evokes a deep seated insecurity in her?

Maybe she is not alone?

Perhaps the reason that many of us are afraid to share is the deep-seated insecurity in all of us that God will not provide for our needs once we have let go of our possessions. Maybe we are afraid we won’t have enough – money, time, food, energy, stuff. So we hang on to it, just in case. Sometimes, we may even hoard it, I think. Just in case. Just in case God isn’t there for us. Just in case He’s got better things to do.

Looking around, I’m beginning to see how our culture feeds this fear. The banks promise security and freedom with their savings accounts, the stores promise us more bang for our bucks, and the universities promise us job security with their degrees. And this all feels normal to us, to acquire our own existential security through culturally applauded self-effort. And when we’re so busy securing our own freedoms, we are, perhaps, less apt to forget our own needs and remember the needs of others.

The clothing industry is so concerned with their profit margins that it would seem silly to waste money on safety for cotton farmers dying of pesticide poisoning. The consumers are so concerned with having enough of the stylish trends to get them through the winner that it would seem counterintuitive to pay more for a five dollar shirt.

While it would certainly be a noble effort to demand safety precautions for cotton farmers in India, buy organic clothing, or purchase second hand clothing at Goodwill as Part of the Solution, it would also make sense to first believe that God will provide for us when we have done the right thing.

Lenna went with me to the neighbor’s to drop off her old clothes. She actually got a kick out of showing their daughter her favorite outfits because she was involved in the process. And then I wasn’t just the mean mommy who took her clothes away; I was also the mommy who took her “shopping” on Ebay for the pink polka dotted skirt she had always wanted.

16.8.09

In Which I Try and Tug At Your Hearstrings.

I haven't made a mix tape for a girl in some time. I think the last one was for my wedding, and I didn't do them too often before that because I dated Mindy for something like five years, and mix tapes only work for the first bit (after that, they expect you to actually do things).

But I got this idea today to make a mix for my daughter, who's coming in October (or possibly before). So I spent a while doing it...much longer than I planned.

When I make a mix anymore, I do it on iTunes, and basically listen to the last 15 seconds of a song, then the beginning of the next to check the transition between. This one required a fair amount of tweaking. My criteria was no irony: sincere and beautiful songs, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. I started with 40 tracks, then narrowed it down to a final 19, larger than most of my mixes. The list ended up heavily feminine, with 10 female vocals. I'm not sure if that was intentional or not.

Here's my list:
1. "A Day In the Life" - The Beatles (I figure, on her first drive home, the first song she should hear is the greatest song ever recorded.)

2. "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" - The Four Tops
(Trying to keep with that "greatest songs ever recorded" vibe.)

3. "God Only Knows" - Petra Haden cover
(Ditto above, but taking a contemporary approach. You can download this song guilt-free here.)

4. "To The Moon" - Sara Groves (Not quite sure here, but I liked how it fit, and the brief interlude is nice.)

5. "1234" - Feist


6. "The Beginner" - Miranda Lee Richards


7. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" - Lauryn Hill
(This didn't fit well, what with the dialogue at the end of the song, but I felt it was important, both message-wise and because the song kicks ass.)

8. "Just Like Anyone" - Aimee Mann (Again, liked the brief interlude feeling here.)

9. "Wake Up" - Arcade Fire

10. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - U2 (And, with these last two, I tip into emergent Christian banality. But at least I'm enjoying the sound.)

11. "Chariot" - Page France

12. "Horsey" - Hem (All little girls want ponies, right? Maybe I have a lot to learn.)

13. "Us" - Regina Spector

14. "I'm An Animal" - Neko Case (My favorite song from the year she will be born.)

15. "No One Knows My Name" - Gillian Welch

16. "Please, Don't Make Me Sing This Song Again" - Various Waterdeep-associated folks, for The Voice Project (This is the best worship album I've heard in a decade. Actually, before then.)

17. "All You Need Is Love" - The Beatles
(It should be noted this and "A Day In the Life" are taken from the soundtrack for the "Love" show. Susan can tell you how awesome that is.)

18. "Sons & Daughters" - The Decemberists
(Which is about heaven.)

19. "Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up" - Danielson (Because this is what I hope God tells my daughter someday, when she is face to face with Him.)

Meditations: So Sow

It's a good weekend for looking back, what with Woodstock and all that. My looking back though, doesn't go quite that far, since I was only 13 when the festival came down, and living on the wrong coast. Instead, I looked back this weekend, to an island, and was reminded of the parable about the seed and sower.

Back in 1990 I'd had enough of being a pastor, and so had set out to do something different (was it calling? frustration? my own initiative? God's? Yes). As a result, I would spend the next six years travelling the world and teaching from the scriptures for Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship, a coalition of Bible Schools scattered on various continents. Of all the places I taught, the place where I invested the most time was the school closest to home, located on a spectacular island in British Columbia. That first year of my new ministry, I probably spent 10 weeks up on this island teaching students. What I loved about doing that then is the very same thing I love about doing it now, which is that my role when I teach there is twofold: teach, and hang out with students, hearing their stories, and sharing in their lives.

I still remember when I was invited up for six weeks to simply teach and shepherd students. "Are you kidding me? You mean, besides teaching the Bible, you'd rather have me playing two on two volleyball with students, or roasting oysters on the beach than make budget proposals, attend board meetings, and interface with government officials about building codes? Um, yes, I'll be there on the next ferry." Thus began a relationship with the ministry on this little island that has continued for 19 years.

I still go teach there. I still love hanging out with students, sharing the scriptures with them, sharing meals with them, and hearing their stories. However, one of things that I've grown to wonder after all these years is, "what happens to these students?" Of course, I know that statistically speaking, some press forward and some don't. But my question is more personal. "What happened to Chris? Linda? Stacey? Liza? Darrin?" because these were some of the ones with whom I spent the most time during that very first year, when I lived there so much of the time.

I boarded the ferry again, one week ago today and headed there to teach this week, not for a week of Bible School, but for a family conference, which is like a "Bible study vacation" (unimaginable for some, I know, but in this big world, there are lots of people who love having their meals prepared, their dishes done, and their children cared for, while they in return wrestle with themes from a book of the Bible, as these guests did this past week while a taught Exodus).

My big surprise and joy came when, upon arriving, I realized that many of these past students had signed up for the week of teaching. Now in their mid-thirties, they'd made the trek from Alberta or Saskatchewan or wherever in order to return to this island, a place of their own spiritual roots. There they are, in the picture, only now they all have teenagers.

Yes, they have questions. Yes, they've faced disillusionment and trials. And yes, they're still walking with God! I was able, at various times throughout the week, to speak with most of them, amazed that they remembered specific things from talks I'd given in the springtime of 1990, when I was 34. We took the picture above on the ferry, as we were leaving (one student never left the island... he's the one working for the ferry).

As I stood here with the students, my heart warmed by the reality that, through all the joys and sorrows, all the disillusionment and idealism, these students are still showing up, still seeking and serving Jesus. And that's when I remembered those words from Jesus about a sower who went out to sow seeds in the field. As a kid, when I saw that parable on the flannel board, and we planted tiny seeds in the soil, I was told again and again, until I couldn't bear to hear it any more, that Iwas the soil and God was planting seed in me so, by God, be a good little boy so that the soil of your heart will let the seed grow.

Yeah. I get it. But Friday, on the ferry, I was reminded of something equally true: I'mnot just soil...I'm a sower of seed, and the reality is that, because of my particular calling with students, I don't always get to see whether the seed really takes root or not. But long after I've boarded the ferry and moved on to other things, the seed that's been sown will work it's mojo, not because I'm clever, but because God uses things like rocks, donkeys, and messed up humans to accomplish his purpose. I was reminded by the faithfulness of these old friends to keep on sowing; when I feel like and when I don't, when the soil seems receptive and when it doesn't. One never knows, nor does one need to know, what will happen when particular seed meets particular soil. But if seed and soil never meet, one knows for certain, that there will be no fruit.

O Lord, God of seed and soil;

Thanks be to you for the miracle of life
That happens as seed meets soil

Be our constant reminder that we are both:
seed and soil giver and receiver.
So enable us to sow faithfully that

Your blessings are spilled through us

Into the soil of this beautiful
and broken world.

Amen .

15.8.09

Purpose-Driven Centrist: Bucking Tradition and Typical Church

A couple weeks ago I posted a short survey to collect some experiences readers here have with faith and church. This was as close to the same survey as I could replicate of what the Barna Group did in June, albeit mine less scientific. Nonetheless I am very fascinated in the current changes in Christianity, whether it be the emerging re-formation that I discussed last month or simply the church-(s)hopping pattern / dissatisfaction I have seen and have myself.

I have decided (or resigned myself to the idea) that I will never find a church experience that will completely satisfy me. I wonder if my wife and I will ever find one that we both can agree and feel comfortable in together. That's not because we don't agree about church, but that we have discovered over our years together that we have different desires and ways of experiencing God. Think Five Love Languages of church-speak. So I equally wondered how our readership here related to Barna's scientific poll.

Here are the results:



I expected that our readership would be more progressive than the average respondent to a Barna poll, but what surprised me that while 82% of those who took my survey are willing to try a new church and 28% of the respondents attend either a house or marketplace church, only 16% of BWC respondents are tired of the typical church experience. The popular response to that question were 66% of you that said that the usual type of church experience is "ok - I tolerate it."

Being an unscientific survey, I'm not sure what to make of this dichotomy. I don't want to read too much into it, but I'm wondering if any of the following scenarios would fit to this:
A) the house and marketplace church experiences are the same as a traditional, typical bricks and mortar church
B) there is a a resignation that alternatives to typical church won't be any better
C) identity and community based/confined within typical church experience isn't as significant
I'd love to read comments if options A or B fit your experience, but option C can be supported in the 87% of BWC respondents that develop their religious beliefs on their own as opposed to based on the church they attend, and 92% of you responded that you feel that you can carry out and pursue your faith in a different environment from a typical church.

Because this type of topic is best discussed as a conversation (insert Tim is an emergent joke here), I have some relatively direct questions:
  • If most of us are simply tolerating our churches or church experience, what are the reasons we continue to attend?
  • If the beliefs and doctrines of the churches we attend do not provide our religious beliefs, why do we support their authority, leadership, or influence through our attendance (and I assume giving)?
Before you comment, and I hope people do, let me give you the demographic information of this anonymous survey:
Female - 48% / Male - 52%
18-24: 23%
24-30: 35%
31-40: 29%
41-50: 7%
50+: 6%
2% of the respondents said they were Catholic, 84% said Protestant, no one claimed to be Orthodox, and 13% said they considered themselves Other. The "Others" were given the opportunity to comment, and here are their responses:
  • I am tired of labels and denominations. They're useless
  • Protestant with a healthy respect for other traditions
  • Some dude trying to follow the Christ
  • I find truth and beauty in the three other choices (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) but I feel that If I choose one of those I must somehow disagree with everything they do. So I would rather just be called a follower of Jesus
  • Emergent
  • Protestant, but leaning toward converting to Catholic
  • some vague form of post-evangelical post-Western-Christendon quasi-Protestant-ish
  • A plain old follower of Jesus
  • anglican
Thank you all who responsed. I really appreciate and look forward to more conversations.

PS - To remove any presupposed context that I lean towards or am anti-church, my real motivations are that I tend to flip-flop between being totally (and lazily) dependent on church as my only God-experience and totally and independently dependent on finding a whole new way of experiencing God in community. Some periods of time I could skip church for a whole month and feel as close to God as I ever have through my fellowship with others and personal readings of scripture and faith books. Other periods if I miss a week of church, I feel completely lost and nothing I do Monday - Saturday seem to get me back on track.

14.8.09

Spirit in the Material World: The Physics of Truth



Physics seems the least insecure of the sciences. Chemistry runs a close second, but skins get thinner with Biology. Once organisms become the object of study, condescension and defensiveness arise. The “soft” sciences like Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and Anthropology are little more than kindergartens filled with academics whimpering about the Masters-level cretin who high-jacked their hypothesis.

Perhaps physicists exude more confidence because their discipline requires a bit of dissociation from emotion. The concepts are abstract and the methods often tedious. Scientific results tend to be concrete measurements of physical phenomena. Physicists also seem more open to mystery than other scientists. Though they believe in laws governing the physical world, they work with the infinite more than rest of us. Astrophysics, quantum physics, and relativistic physics deal with numbers that defy imagination. They acknowledge that some things can't be explained, and seem almost to relish findings that challenge traditional constructs. Physicists love a good paradigm shift. Maybe that’s why Physics seems more open to God than other scientific disciplines.

Beginning in the 1970’s, physics started talking about the Anthropic Principle, also referred to as “anthropic coincidences.” These theories acknowledge that the universe seems inclined to produce the conditions for life. Some even said that the physical laws of the universe implied intentional design as the governing force instead of chance and chaos. String theory raised the possibility of different dimensions where God might reside. And physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are trying to smash atoms at a high enough speed to find the smallest building block of matter. They call it “The God Particle.” While many scientists balk at the notion of an intelligent designer, a surprising number of agnostic physicists remain open to interpretations of the data that include God. They're willing to follow the data wherever it leads.

Christians should take notes. For a people claiming to have an intimate relationship with the One who is the source of all truth, we can come across as anxious, reactionary, and defensive about our beliefs. In a line from a new U2 song called “Stand Up Comedy,” Bono sings, “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.” It’s as if we don’t trust God enough to pursue truth without an agenda. We treat our faith like a game of Jenga. If the results of our exploration don't line up with the rest of our theology, we fear that all of our beliefs will tumble. Physicists trust the data to lead them to greater knowledge. Why can’t we trust God to lead us to truth?


P.S. Physicists recently discovered Satan in a jar of sun butter.

13.8.09

I will punch your "sun butter" in the face.

A kid in my daughter’s 4th grade class is allergic to peanuts, so now my nine year old cannot take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school. I do not want to seem unfeeling or cold hearted towards the afflicted, but ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!? Grade school without peanut butter is like NASCAR without wheels. Or worse… beer! It’s just part of it.

1 out of 830,000 school-age children will die from peanut allergies this year. That is one more than is acceptable, for sure, but according to the New York State Department of Health, “at least one child dies every five days from choking on food.”

Hmmm. Milk shakes for everyone!

Oh, wait… I know a girl in kindergarten who is lactose intolerant. “Sorry, sweetheart… But would you care for a nice glass of refreshing water? We’ll dissolve an iron pill in it…”

While we’re at it…

I am allergic to pet dander. I think you should kill your puppy.

7300 Days and Counting Without Demonic Incident


Alert O.S.H.A., it’s been roughly 20 years since demons were last cast out of me. That’s a heckuva safety record. While you’re up, contact my car insurance provider. When I get behind the wheel, there are fewer drivers involved. That’s got to be worth some discount to my premium.

I was barely in my twenties and Jody had blue doe eyes that made me forget my name. At the time I mistook her attention for her being into me, but now I think that her church needed a keyboard player. She asked me if I’d join the praise band and I was powerless to refuse. It was those blue eyes. She also talked about spirituality in terms that my Hebrew, Greek, and Old Testament professors never used. She talked about wanting to “get to the next level” and to “break into the Throne Room of God.” She wore her deep blue eyes as she said these things.

I joined the band and learned their songs that asked God for more love and more power. We sang songs that lifted imagery from Isaiah, The Song of Songs, and, sometimes, Peter Cetera.

After few months, the senior pastor and the worship leader invited me out of lunch to “get to know me better.” After a few minutes of introduction, the pastor leaned forward, dropped the register of his voice and asked me what my angle was. I wasn’t sure what he meant but I was sure he didn’t want hear about depth of Jody’s eyes. I mumbled something about keyboards and his unique teaching. He scanned my eyes and noted that he never saw me “using the gifts of the Spirit.” I wondered if he viewed me as a threat somehow, and despite the fact that he was twice my age, had a mortgage, a car, and a pulpit. I chewed quickly and hoped the inquisition would come to a quick close.

That Saturday evening, the school psychologist knocked on my door and gave me an assignment. I was a Resident Assistant and one of my guys needed help. Dave had been suffering insomnia for the greater part of the week and was experiencing hallucinations. The counselor explained that Dave had looked in the mirror and thought his reflection was mocking him. Dave snapped and trashed his room. The counselor believed that Dave had his cathartic moment and could be able to sleep, but I needed to spend the night in his room just to be sure.

I walked into Dave’s room and saw broken glass, blood, broken drawers, books, and clothes scattered across the room. Dave was embarrassed and glad I was there. I was pretty sure I hadn’t signed up for this. Dave was just a cheeseburger shy of 300 lbs. What if he hallucinated again and thought I was a threat? Dave could have done some serious damage to stick-figured frame. But the counselor was right; Dave went right to sleep. But I laid on my sleeping bag with both eyes open most of the night.

The next day, I went to church to fulfill my duties at the keyboard with puffy eyes. I returned to me seat and promptly fell fast asleep. I woke up to the pastor, the worship leader and about twenty other were hovering over me begging Jesus to cast the demon of slumber from my soul. It must have worked. I was wide awake and more than a little self-conscious. I wasn’t sure how to handle their misguided attention. Was I expected to shout praises or break into tongues? I considered my options but was relieved when they swarmed to cast out the devils that were apparent harassing a suburban housewife sitting 4 rows down.

The weirdness of that morning was lost in the pace of college life. I return from church, took a long nap, and then threw myself into the books. It took me a few more trips to the church before I grasped that I was being labeled and marginalized because I was unwilling or unable to conform. God didn't give me "The Baptism" like he had the rest of the crew, so I had to go.

This labeling happens all the time in our politics, high school, and churches of all stripes. The church of my childhood knew how to stiff arm Democrats with ease. Perhaps God knew I was thick and needed to be on the receiving end of an impromptu exorcism to begin to teach me about the dangers of demonizing others.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I'm not making ANY theological statements about the gifts other than these: 1) I didn't have a demon in me; 2) and God hadn't and still hasn't given me those gifts. I'm not putting down anyone's theology and I'm not gearing up to debate the issue. This is a post about how we label others.