27 October 2009

God Sez...

When someone tells you that God told them something, one of two things is happening.
  1. They have had a connection with something big, scary, and real. Somehow, someway God has spoken.
  2. They are uninterested and/or afraid of any feedback or pushback. They are, in reality, saying, "Don't ask me any questions about this thing."

20 October 2009

The World's Hardest Question (for dudes)

Big Love, an HBO show, is great. It centers on a polygamist family living life in the modern suburbs of Utah. My wife and I have been watching on DVD for a month now and are hooked. It's a show that brings up great conversations about family, love, faith, and morality. However, it also brings up THE WORLD'S HARDEST QUESTION (for dudes). I will now recount a conversation I had with my wife a few nights ago...

Me: This is such a great show.
Wife: I also love the show.
Me: ...what?
Wife: What do you think about polygamy?
Me: What do you mean?
Wife: You know, what do you think?

It was at this moment I realized that this is THE WORLD'S HARDEST QUESTION (for dudes). Were I to say, "I kind of think it's cool," you can imagine the follow up. However, were I to answer, "I think one wife is enough," well, you can imagine the follow up to this. The question is unwinnable. Here is how the convo concluded...

Me: You know, I believe that we have just stumbled upon THE WORLD'S HARDEST QUESTION (for dudes). All I know is I love you.
Wife: You answer wisely...

27 August 2009

Two of My Favorite Things

My son and an heirloom tomato we grew together.

09 August 2009

A Thought on Eternal Destiny

From the Christian perspective, you've got three choices (simplified).
  • Exclusivism: You must say the name of Jesus in this specific way in order to be saved.
  • Inclusivism: God knows the hearts of everyone living and dead and will be the final judge.
  • Universalism: God will save everyone.
I realized today that both Exclusivism and Universalism are really two sides of the same coin. They both purport certainty about something that cannot be truly known. They're both ultimately judgemental. Inclusivism isn't really even in the middle of these two; it's a whole different game (yes, this is where I fall on this issue). Also, it's kind of funny to think of a fundamentalist right-winger and a loosy-goosy left-winger as one and the same.

Advice From Jayber Crow

This is a reading from Jayber Crow, a novel by Wendell Berry. Anyone who interacts with kids about school and academic performance would do well to listen. The passage describes Jayber's adolescent experience in school.

Although I can't say that I liked school, when I wanted to be I was a good enough student.I liked learning, especially learning that could be got by reading. I made fair grades, but I and my teachers knew that I could have done better. I was, they said, like a good horse who would not work; I was a disappointment to them; I was wasting my God-given talents. And this gave me, I believe, the only self-determining power I had: I could withhold this single thing that was mine that I knew they wanted.

From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

15 July 2009

Kierkegaard Opens Up a Can

...the parsons canonize bourgeois mediocrity. We Protestants have done away with the Catholic canonization of ascetics and martyrs, etc.--as a substitute those interested in the bourgeois corporation are canonized and of course they are canonized by the last clerical order to appear in Protestantism: the office seekers and place hunters.
From Christ the Offense


20 June 2009

Carry the Fire

I read The Road a few years back and have begun rereading it for a book discussion I am hosting in a few weeks. The book is about a father and son on the road after the apocalypse. So basically, it has my two favorite things in it: significant and meaningful relationships and an exploration of "the end times." I grew up in a faith system that was moderately preoccupied with the "end times," prophecies found in the book of Revelation, and our faith group's important role in this. Relationships, particularly family relationships, have always fascinated me. The book focuses on the survival of this pair, physical, emotional, spiritual. Throughout the story, the father reminds his son that they are people who"carry the fire." They remain good in a bad world. They choose right when wrong is everywhere. They go hungry instead of eating people (yes, this is a dark, dark book). On the eve of father's day (and my youngest son's first birthday), I am faced with this question: If I carry the fire (and I hope I do), how do I help my kids learn to carry it? Thanks to my three littlins for reminding me there is a fire. Thanks mom and dad for teaching me to carry the fire. Thanks Cormac McCarthy for writing such an amazing and haunting book. Thank God for the fire.

09 May 2009

A Walker Percy Formula

A Lover of Man=Thoreau
A Technician of Man=Skinner
A Lover of Man + A Technician of Man=Hitler

John Steinbeck on the Progression of Mystery

I guess we're all, or most of us, the wards of that nineteenth-century science which denied existence to anything it could not measure or explain. The things we couldn't explain went right on but surely not with our blessing. We did not see what we couldn't explain, and meanwhile a great part of the world was abandoned to children, insane people, fools, and mystics, who were more interested in what is than in why it is. So many old and lovely things are stored in the world's attic, because we don't want them around us and we don't dare throw them out.

John Steinbeck from The Winter of Our Discontent

I don't know why, but the religion/science question has heated up in my circle lately. Everything I've been reading has been coming back to the question. Even when I'm just trying to read a novel, there it is.

Today, I was thinking about what I was like when I was a teenager. Regrettably, I was one who knew it all. It wasn't until my early twenties that I was able to make decisions out of my vast knowledge and wisdom...and it wasn't until the last few years that some of these decisions have come home to roost. I wonder if science (I'm talking about the ideology/religion of science that pervades our culture) is in that early twenties phase. The knowledge has been met with resources and now it's on like Donkey Kong.

A list of scientific accomplishments whose conseqences are mostly unknown:
  1. Genetically coded plants who only respond to proprietary fertilizer and herbicide.
  2. Cell phones vs. brain health
  3. The long-term effects of an industrialized diet
  4. The internal combustion engine and its possible link to climate change
I'm not saying we throw out science, scientific progress, and cell phones, I'm just wondering what science's 30s will look like. Will we be too far gone?

07 May 2009

Goodbye Tree

I expanded my garden this year by cutting down a Leyland Cypress. Cutting down a thirty foot tree with a chainsaw is manly...in case you were wondering.

10 April 2009

The Wire

I love morally complicated stories. The Wire plays this line to perfection. All the characters, both the "good" and "bad" guys, are flawed. The story in the first season centers on a police unit trying to take down a drug dealing operation in Baltimore. The show digs in on both sides. You get to know the cops and the dealers. The more you know, the more ambiguous it gets. It's making me think about the nature of good and evil, the reality of moral ambiguity, and the sadness of drugs and addiction. If you like thinking about these types of things, watch it.

31 March 2009

Walker Percy on Suicide

The therapeutic rationale, which has never been questioned, is that depression is a symptom. A symptom implies an illness; there is something wrong with you. An illness should be treated...

Begin with the reverse hypothesis, like Copernicus and Einstein. You are depressed because you should be. You are entitled to your depression. In fact, you'd be deranged if you were not depressed. Consider the only adults who are never depressed: chuckleheads, California surfers, and fundamentalist Christians who believe they have had a personal encounter with Jesus and are saved for once and all. Would you trade your depression to be any one of these?...

Percy goes on to describe the true choice for the depressed when considering suicide. You can either become a non-suicide, avoiding the pain, treating symptoms, running, or you can become an ex-suicide, pushing into the pain, searching for your truth, stopping.

The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.

From Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

I've been in deconstruction mode in a lot of areas of my life--religion and my work in specific. I was taught in school and in the profession at large to help people avoid suicide. I give people suicide contracts which state that they will not kill themselves until X-date. We keep the ball rolling (and protect ourselves legally). While there is merit in this (it is good that people do not kill themselves), I am realizing that it does not get the job done.

Percy confirmed this feeling with his essay on suicide and the way depression and suicidal ideation is treated by therapists. He makes the case that rather than helping people avoid suicide, stepping aside and then walking with them into the despair is the only chance at peace. Instead of asking, "What needs to happen for you to not kill yourself?" What if we asked, "What needs to die?"

Or to put it another way, to gain your life you must lose it.

21 March 2009

The Church Business

Something I've heard a lot:
We need to run this church more like a business.
Something I've never heard:
We need to run this business more like a church.

20 March 2009

Nothing is Free

You got a feeling nothing here is free
'Cause you grew up in a mall

From "Nothing at All" by The Shins

This is our zeitgeist. This is the story of my childhood. This is the sentiment I'm trying to pry myself from. This is what I fear my kids will someday believe.

17 March 2009

My Beloved Corn

It's almost time to start gardening. My little garden is really the only thing connecting me to the idea of seasons. I hadn't done anything in my garden until last week when my son and I emptied the wondrous compost out of our bin and spread it on our plot. I love my garden, spring, new growth. Here's a random gardening story:

Two years ago I thought it would be funny/interesting to plant corn in my front yard. I tilled a 20 foot path and planted two rows of corn. Yes, I was that crazy corn-in-front-yard guy. My wife was not overly thrilled, but was cool. My neighbors were not happy one bit. On at least three occasions, I saw them standing near my beloved corn, pointing and scowling. I wanted to go out and hug each one of those precious little corn plants and say, "It's OK, people don't know where food comes from, but I do...and I love you." The minor scandal my corn-in-front-yard caused is still a mystery to me.

Four corn-related facts:
  1. Corn must be planted in at least three rows so that it can be properly pollinated.
  2. Corn, a grass plant, requires full sun (it did not do well in my partially shaded front yard).
  3. Corn is scandalous in suburban Atlanta.
  4. King Corn is a great documentary about industrial corn farming, community, and "progress."

06 March 2009

Inherent Unmarketability

This is from the introduction to Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. I'm rereading it for Lent. It's a wonderfully butt-kicking book. As some of you may know, I've got a lot of questions about the church. This little poem/list gets at a lot of the tension I feel for how we (at my home church and the church at large) do things.

How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess?
How do you talk decent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?
This is not going to work.
(admitting this might be my first step)

05 March 2009

Why We Fight--Film Review

I'll sum this "documentary" up in one word: silly. Are you telling me that I am to believe our country would literally perpetuate war to keep the "military industrial complex" moving forward? And who came up with that silly phrase, military industrial complex anyway? Oh, Dwight D. Eisenhower...well what did he know? Wasn't he the same president who made those silly buttons that said "I like Ike?" You can't spell silly without Ike. His warning to future generations regarding the dangers of having a standing military and corporate interests tied so closely with the war machine were, well, silly. If you look at our wars since WWII, our causes were clear. We were fighting for...oh, never mind. The movie asserts that profit may be driving much of our war effort. They present silly "facts" about how our defense spending blows all other countries out of the water, by a long shot. Obviously, the makers of this movie have not studied up on just war philosophy developed by the unsilly St. Thomas Aquinas. Yeah, he's old school, but he clearly stated that profit motive is a perfectly good reason to go to war.

To summarize, if you like silly movies, this one's for you.

Seriously, this was the scariest movie I've seen in a long time. I'm talking pit in my stomach, loss of sleep scary.

28 February 2009

Walker Percy Quote

The word boredom did not enter the language until the 18th century. No one knows its etymology...Question: Why was there no such word before the 18th century?
a. Was it because people were not bored before the 18th century?
b. Was it because people were bored but did not have a word for it?
c. Was it because people were too busy staying alive to be bored?

Walker Percy from Lost in the Cosmos (The Last Self-Help Book)

Percy goes on to propose three additional answers, but they take up pages so I didn't include them. This question haunts me for three reasons.
1. I hear people complaining about boredom. I don't believe there is an answer to this. Most people say, "Well, let's go bowling, or to a movie, or to the mall, or to..." I have found myself saying things like, "You should ponder that" or "Think about what you just said." My responses are not popular. My response from now on: "You know, boredom did not enter the lexicon until the 18th century. HMMM." This type of response is very well received.
2. When I bring up the question to friends, there seems to be an underlying terror about the answer (or lack thereof).
3. I got my mouth washed out with soap by a babysitter when I was 11. My crime? Uttering these infamous words, "I'm bored." Oh, the humanity.

27 February 2009

Levi Brings a Tear to My Eye

I was working outside with my three year old son this morning. He was cleaning my truck. He looked at a paper towel he was using and asked me, with all kinds of seriousness , "Dad, is this garbage or recycle?" Levi, my boy, you've made me proud.

22 February 2009

Quote from The Chosen by Chaim Potok

One learns of the pain of others by suffering one's own pain...by turning inside oneself, by finding one's own soul. And it is important to know of pain, he said. It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we must depend on the Master of the Universe.

This is the second of Potok's books I've read. My Name is Asher Lev was wonderful as well. Both books have profound things to say about family, community, and independence. This was a wonderful book about the importance of friendship and how pain is passed on from generation to generation.

I found the above quote and the content of the book to be helpful in my work. I definitely recommend it.

20 February 2009


It's happened twice now; me sitting, eating, working. Him yelling, cussing, killing. The first time was last month. He was sitting with his wife and 8 year old daughter. The little girl kept saying, "Dad, guess what happened at school today..." His response became predictable. "Nobody cares what happened at school. Stop talking and eat your dinner." Heartbreaking. It happened at McDonald's this morning. Different dad, four year old girl. Girl says, "Dad, I forgot to get my caramel dipping stuff for my apples." Dad pontificates, "Jesus Christ, you F---ING forget everything!" I sat in my seat, stunned. What do I do? Punch this guy in the neck...no, he could probably take me. I realized in that moment that I had just witnessed death. Murder is alive and well in the world and in the play area at McDonald's. I looked at this little one, curly hair, curious eyes. I saw her death before my eyes, slow, dull, blunt. I looked at the dad and wondered who first killed him, who was his murderer? And when did he go from killed to killer? Then I felt really heavy, stuck.

For all who are being killed, slowly.

For all who murder from their own pain.

Jesus Christ have mercy.

17 February 2009

Bonhoeffer Quote and Lent

It is laid upon every Christian. The first suffering of Christ we must experience is the call sundering our ties to this world. This is the death of the old human being in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Whoever enters discipleship enters Jesus' death, and puts his or her own life into death; this has been so from the beginning. The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Every call of Christ leads to death. Whether with the first disciples we leave home and occupation in order to follow him, or whether with Luther we leave the monastery to enter a secular profession, in either case, the one death awaits us, namely, death in Jesus Christ, the dying away of our old form of being human in Jesus' call.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Discipleship

I'm teaching on the season of Lent this weekend. It's a challenging topic to face at my home church. We're a group from many different backgrounds. As I was talking with some friends recently, we realized that most of our people are either from extreme Protestantism (we approach Lent-ish practice with skepticism) or former Catholic (we have had enough Lent already, thanks!) backgrounds. No way to play this one down the middle.

I've found so much healing and peace in Lent. I've experienced a lot of faith growth in seasons past. That said, I never look forward to it. At least not in the way I look forward to summer or the latest Justin Timberlake album. It's hard. It's not fun. I'm going to be talking some about the absolute unsellability of Lent (and really Christianity). If we had to develop a true sub-slogan for Lent (and Christianity), it would be COME AND DIE. Obviously, this is not the kind of slogan that is likely to increase market share...and here I go, getting all mad about the state of suburban faith.

Back to the Bonhoeffer quote. Why is it that deepening of faith is so often tied to deep suffering? If we are inviting people to suffer as Christ suffered, I feel like we need to have lived the answer to this question in some way.

12 February 2009

Always Keep Mystery & Other Musings by Coldplay

Coldplay is the best band in the world. One of the things I love about them is that every time I read or see an interview with them, they're funny and down to earth. This is a piece from a recent 60 minutes episode. Chris Martin does the bulk of the interview. Here are some of my favorite quips:

On defending yourself: You can either say, "It's not true," and leave it at that, or you can go on a 7-hour rant about why it's not true.

On the purpose of their job: Our goal is to make the perfect song. It's an impossible thing to do.

On why he is not a rock star: I'm not even a soft-rock star. I don't wear the right pants.

On their greatest talent: We rely on enthusiasm over talent.

On being called the greatest rock band currently working: It's probably true, but U2 comes off holiday next month.

On the meaning of Yellow: What's it about? Who knows? I can't quite work it out myself.

On doing interviews: We don't do them. One of our band rules is always keep mystery.

01 February 2009

Next Time You're Bored on a Sunday

I recommend going to Chick-Fil-A. Park your car near the drive through. Someone will drive through and begin ordering. They will then become frustrated at the lack of response. If you're lucky they'll start yelling. Soon they will realize that the store is closed. You will sit in your car laughing at them. You may feel bad for laughing, but it will likely be worth it.

30 January 2009

The Way I Joke

While in grad school, I heard the following in a multicultural issues-related class:

There was a talking Barbie that was released to be enjoyed by girls round the world. One of the phrases she said was "Math is hard, let's go shopping." Wow. We were all appalled at the stereotyping and flat out invalidity of the assumption (btw the smartest math person I know is my genius-level wife).

BUT, the phrase, "Math is hard," spoken in a whiny, annoying voice is HILARIOUS! No joke. Do it right now. Comedy gold. So, here's how I "joke." I take a hilarious phrase like this and begin saying it at random times and in response to real inquiries. "Did you finish that paper?" I was asked. "Math is hard," was my response. You get the idea. I tend to completely ignore the line that separates funny from I want to kill you. So that's how I joke.

Lately: I've been responding to questions with a fine tuned techno beat that emanates from my soul. I've resurrected "exqueeze me, baking powder?" from the depths of Wayne's World and say it to people who have absolutely no idea what Wayne's World was/is.

FYI, I realize that "the way I joke" is annoying. That's part of my mystique. It's part of my magic. Or maybe I just think being annoying is the ultimate form of comedy.

UPDATE: I have spent approximately 12 minutes of my life trying to figure out how to spell the sound of a techno beat. No luck yet.

20 January 2009

Book Recommendation: The Dip

I read The Dip by Seth Godin three months ago and the lessons from this little book just won't stop infiltrating my life. The gist of the book is that sometimes quitters do win. It's all about quitting the right things and pushing through "the dip" on those things that deserve our energy. I've primarily applied the concept to my work world, but really, it applies everywhere.

10 January 2009

The Top Five Books of 2008 (that I read)

1. Tribes by Seth Godin
An awesome book about groups, passion, business, and leadership. A quick read that's well worth it.
2. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
A must read for creative types. Particularly creative types born into family and cultural settings that weren't down with creativity.
3. Silence by Shusako Endo
A book about Catholic missionaries in Japan who experience great persecution. The ending...wow!
4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
She also wrote one of my all time favorites, The Last American Man. This is the story of the author finding herself after the world was pulled out from under her.
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is pure magic, genius. This is a story of a father and son on the road after the apocalypse.

Honorable Mention: I read Walden by Thoreau. Now I can say I read it. It had a few good moments, but was underwhelming. I'm sure I've broken all kinds of unspoken rules about Thoreau reviews. Oh well.

02 January 2009

A Church Dreams Manifesto

I've written a document with the above title. Email me if you'd like a copy. lucejeffrey_at_gmail.com