Thursday, April 26, 2007

Road Trip Restrooms

One of the adventures of being on a roadtrip are the restroom adventures you have on the trips you are on. On my most recent road trip we had plenty of adventures.

Despite my disparaging remarks about Texas landscaping, I must admit the Texas/Oklahoma border has the most wonderful bathroom on planet earth. As one enters the Lone Star State, one discovers that instead of a typical rest stop, Texas has the Taj Majal of potties for its newly discovered travellers. The whole trip, in order to avoid my typical travel sickness, I chose to treat myself to plenty of fluids (especially water). So, as I entered taj majal toilets incorperated I rushed to the restroom. To my shock, the whole room shined and was beautifully lit. You could see your reflection in the freshly mopped floors, and the stools were sparkling clean. In four days of travel I only sat down in one public restroom, and this was it. It was almost fresh and beautiful and clean enough of a restroom that I would have felt comfortable eating a meal inside of it (I said almost, Sarah).

On the way to the restroom, there was an air-conditioned theater room with the weather channel on television and room for nearly 30 people. The other side of the room was a travellers bonanza, with maps and details about every public park, free state maps (which we needed) and tourist guides.

The rest of the restrooms on the trip were less impressive. There was one restroom in Oklahoma that had napkins from the truck stop deli for TP, and where I had to stand on one leg because someone urinated on the floor.

There was another restroom where a man strove to strike up a conversation with me and I had never met him. He chose to start this conversation while I was using the toilet.For those of you who are non-male, in man world this is a major faux pax. This behavior stirs up nearly every homophobic instinct in a healthy heterosexual man's heart, especially in truck stop restroom in Oklahoma where every other customer reminds you of someone from the movie Deliverance.

Other than the Texas rest stop, the most pleasant restrooms were in new Shell stations along the road (Edmond, OK).

What are your experiences with public restrooms? What phobias do you have? What unique ideosyncrecies do you have in dealing with public restroom issues?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Uncle Ken and Reverend Bubba's Excellent Adventure






Last week I was gone on a road trip to support a friend and member of the congregation I serve. It was quite a road trip. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts and observations:






Thursday






On Thursday, we headed out in the afternoon to Kansas. In my travels accross Kansas and Missouri in the last several years. One of which is that Interstate 70 is the red light district of the Bible Belt.


























Also, I thought a lot about the regionalism of the state of Kansas. Much of the west is flat, brown, and barren. There is a lot of space between towns out in that direction. It looks a lot like ranching country. And as you imagine the dustbowl in a day when only 10-20 percent of the people had cars (1930s), being dependent on this land can be a scary thing. Even as you are driving through, you can feel like you are in a lonesome place, and feel very vulnerable.




As we moved toward the center of Kansas, the view gets a little nicer. Rivers start becoming visible. The landscape turns from a barren, brown and flat to green, life filled, and lumpy. Although I am a man accustomed to mountains, lakes, and beaches, there is a certain beauty to Central Kansas. Christian Artist Rich Mullins speaks to this best when he sings his ode to Kansas called "The Color Green". Winter Wheat in the spring is a beautiful thing.




Most Kansans I have gotten to know have a reserved pride about them. This was evident as you looked around McPherson and saw people out working on their lawns, planting (or replanting) their flowers. Kansas culture is not showy generally, but it is full of good people. Much like the land they live in, they try to live their lives in a way that is earthy and simple, yet elegant and full of homespun beauty.




Another neat thing about Kansas is it is still a place where you can make a place for yourself with a little hard work and a generous portion of integrity. The people we stayed with had one of the most beautiful homes in the whole city of McPherson. Yet, they have very down to earth, blue-collar kinds of jobs. To have a home like this is Colorado Springs would require a lot more wealth than it would in Kansas.




Ken "Uncle Ken" Chapman was born and raised in McPherson. While we were there he shared a number of people, including him and his wife, bought the Opera House in McPherson so that it could be made a historical landmark and eventually restored. They bought it for a penny. Here it is:

















Friday


Friday was a long day. We drove from McPherson, KS to Greenville, TX, packed Ken's daughter up so she could return home to Colorado, and then drove back through Oklahoma to McPherson again. We left at 8am and we returned at 2am. It was a long day in the car, punctuated by packing Nicki up in the middle of a day in the mid 80s F.


Texas has its own beauty, although in my opinion Kansas is a much prettier state. The contrasts between the two are striking, despite the similar topography. Kansas roads are for the most part clean. Texas has junk everywhere. Kansas in broken up into squares of square miles, especially in rural areas. Texas roads go all over the place. Texas highway roads have tall grass everywhere right now, going to seed, even as you approach the "entering Greenville" signs. Kansas mows their roadsides, even in more rural areas. The beauty of Texas is that it wide open and wild. The beauty of Kansas is the way that people have tried to make a home of beauty in such a flat, wide-open, and often lonesome land. Nevertheless, Kansas still needs more Starbucks out west.


The thing that fascinated me about Texas were the roadside flowers. Especially Texas Blue Bonnets and Paintbrushes. These wildflowers were my favorite thing about Texas actually.




And, what can I say about Oklahoma? I did not experience much of it, outside of truck stops and Interstate 35. Oklahoma has lots of red dirt, and that is pretty. Southern Oklahoma has a feel of a little bit of the Ozarks, only without the music and amusement parks. Nevertheless, the Turner Falls area and the Arbuckle Mountains (ahhem...hills) were the best part of Oklahoma on this trip. And I just felt sick to my stomach knowing if I was in Oklahoma on another weekend in the near future I would have been able to go to Stillwater for a concert with Pat Green, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and Brandon Jenkins.


Most of the people we met in Oklahoma bring living illustration to the world of Blue Collar TV with Jeff Foxworthy. For a while this was fun. Then a few people started to scare me a little bit, and I was anxious to get back to Kansas. As we rode through Kansas, Nicki started talking about eating fried Twinkies. Fried Twinkies? What will people think of next? She told me not to knock them until I tried them. Knowing my affinity for fried food, I decided not to try them.


This got me thinking about my friends from Texas. Most of them are expert at frying everything, which is part of why I like to drop in at Texan homes around dinner time.


Saturday


By Saturday I was wiped out. The best part of Saturday was getting to talk to Robin's sister. She was intelligent, sweet, and thoughtful, and by the end of the day I felt like I really connected with her. I felt like an awkward stranger entering her house, and I left feeling like I was a guest that was a welcome visitor.


We headed home via 1-70 again. The highlight of the trip was a stop at THE OASIS in Colby KS. The OASIS is pure genius. Out on the middle of the plains, a businessman built a truckstop with a lot of things you won't find in Western KS. Namely, inside the truckstop there are a few shops, gift stores, and a lot of restaurants in the food court that are found more in bigger cities (Starbucks, Quiznos, Pizza store, Chester Chicken etc.). In addition, there are lots of Kansas trinkets for folks just passing through.


We got home Saturday night.


I had church on Sunday.


A long, hard tiring trip, but a good time nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A New wind

A new wind
blows
in
a
cozy
yet stuffy
room
where people
smile
and eyes
droop

New odors
waft in
like an
unwelcome
chemistry
experiment
from
a place
more honest
and real.

The cool breeze
forms fingers
and
motions me
to
come hither
to sunshine,
ciggarette smoke,
and stairs
stained by
urine
of homeless
men.

Like a
cobra
transfixed by
a song
I wander
out
onto the sidewalk
in a half dance
and half embrace
of the world
around me.

Repent and Follow

The other day, I was finishing up the book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, and I discovered something that struck me in the epilogue. Peterson, almost in a comment meant to be a reminder for most of us, said that the movement toward faith in Christ was a call toward two actions. These two actions are meant to epitomize our initial steps in the faith, but they are also practices each disciple of Jesus is called to engage in every day. Christ Plays prompts us to recall that the basic actions of every disciple are to repent and to follow.

As believers in Jesus, we almost always get the balance of repenting and following out of whack. We do this both in our spiritual communities, and in our personal journeys with Jesus. This imbalance in our spiritual journeys is rarely a good thing. Peterson reminds us as he writes that repenting is the "NO" of discipleship. When we repent we turn our backs on certain beliefs, certain behaviors, and certain attitudes. Boundaries are important, and repenting of sin helps us establish healthy boundaries in our lives. When we repent, we do not simply say no to the life of sinfulness and un-faith, the word implies that we literally turn our backs to wrong and evil and move in the other direction.

Some of us confuse repentance with the emotion of regret. We feel bad about sinning, and we think that we have repented of the sin. This is not what the Bible teaches about turning away from sin. The Scriptures teach that repentance is a renunciation of the ways of the flesh, worldliness, and the devil. When we confuse regret and repentance we fail to take sin seriously enough. When we fail to take sin seriously, sin has a way of soiling even the best things in our lives. We then become deaf to the voice of God, and blind to his light. Eventually, we find ourselves tripped up and trapped by the "sin that so easily entangles" (Heb 12:2), and we wonder how we have gotten to such a place where we feel so distant from God's will.

The disciple of Jesus must say a firm "NO" to ways that lead us away from Jesus, his cross, his life, his hope, and his resurrection. We must say "NO" to many things, so that we may say "YES" to Jesus.

When Jesus calls us to follow, he invites us to say "YES" to him, his friendship, his love, and his grace and his life. In the process, we also end up saying "YES" to his cross, to his rejection, and to his sense of being alienated from much of the rest of humanity by his convictions and choices. Strangely, there are a lot of people who claim to follow Jesus who have not embraced the "YES" of the gospel. They have said "NO" to the ways of the world, but offer no visionary, positive hope for their communities or the world.

As Christians, we need to be known more for what we stand for than what we stand against. I am afraid that to much of the world, their experience of the church of Jesus Christ is a bunch of people wagging their fingers at them and holding up picket signs. Last week, in a Bible Study I participated in, we were invited to imagine what our church would look like if we known as a community that had a reputation for being the "YES" of the gospel. Particularly, in this setting, we were called to dream about what it might look like if we were known in the Colorado Springs community as the "forgiving community of Jesus" in our city. What if we were known as a place where anyone could come seeking forgiveness, a place where we believed that no life was hopeless or irredeemable.

Repent and follow Jesus said to the first disciples. He says the same to us today.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Few Quotes from THE JESUS WAY by Eugene Peterson



The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denegrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people eroded the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus Way with the American way. (p.5)

It didn't take long for Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations...Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way to develop large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing people how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way Jesus brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and brings us in the way of Jesus' salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of the sacrificial "deny yourself" congregation. A consumer church is an anitchrist church. (p.6)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cleaning House


I spent a lot of my day off cleaning. Two loads of dishes. Picking up books. Sweeping. Organizing reciepts. Dusting. Vacuuming. And finishing a book I have been working on for about a year.

Not bad for a day off (for me)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Geraldo/O'Reilly Smackdown

In one week Don Trump goes on Smackdown and now this:


I Met Jesus in a Bar: A Good Friday Meditation

Some people collect stamps. Other people collect coins. Occasionally I start collections. Mostly, I choose to collect books and to collect music. And, in my music collection I have been collecting songs that are not “Christian” music but have the name of Jesus in them.

For instance, I have “When Jesus Left Birmingham” by John Mellencamp (Rock), “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (Hip Hop/Rap), the Jesus of Suburbia mini Rock Opera by Green Day (Alternative), and Jesus Take The Wheel by Carrie Underwood (Country) as part of my collection. It helps me get a view of what the culture around us is saying and thinking about Jesus and faith. Mostly, what I find, is that there is a lot more insight about Jesus than one might expect from popular culture. The insight is helpful both in understanding people, and in getting fresh, un-churchy perspectives on my personal theology.

One of the songs that I downloaded was called “I Met Jesus in A Bar” by Jim Lauderdale. It is a song about a person who “was pouring whiskey in an empty heart when I met Jesus in a bar” (yes it is a country song). He goes on to say, “Some people meet Him on a highway, some people meet Him sitting in a back row of a church, I can only tell you my way is where people go to hurt.”

On Good Friday, I was listening to this song and it spoke to me in a unique way. It was like I had heard the song for the first time as I was at one time thinking about the suffering Christ dying on the cross and the suffering of a lonely man in a bar. I began to wonder, why does it seem that the suffering Christ seems to come and call us to trust him in our moments of deep suffering? If suffering and tears is where I meet Jesus most directly, does that mean I should seek to avoid suffering and pain less?

I am not sure I have the answer to that. Except to paraphrase C.S. Lewis when he says that God speaks to us in our everyday lives, but God seems to shout at us with a megaphone when we are in distress. This also became more clear to me as I remember the stories of faith I have heard from people lately, especially during our Purpose-Driven Life Campaign.

As I heard some of our church folks' stories during the Purpose-Driven Life Campaign, it seemed that much of our faith is not necessarily lived in a constant state of suffering, but it is often born and renewed there. I heard stories of people entering church and crying uncontrollably and sensing it was God speaking to them, stories of people grieving over the loss of a loved one and feeling that was a prompt to trust Jesus, or even being in the midst of sinful or self-destructive behavior and somehow hearing the voice of God.

What are we to make of this? I am not sure we are necessarily to seek out pain and suffering unless God calls us to places where that might be a consequence of following his call. I do think God wants to heal our souls. So I suggest we allow God to bring new life to the broken and painful parts of our lives. Intentionally take time to invite Jesus into those hurting places in your life each day, and ask him to heal. Bring your heartache like a guest with you to worship, and lay your pain at the altar and ask God to transform your doubt into hope. Ask a small group to pray and support you with this issue. Then through a process, maybe even imperceptibly, we will all come to see that our wounds were healed through the wounds of the resurrected Jesus.

How does this speak to you? Does this ring true to your experience?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday Meditation

I have worked with teenagers as a pastor leading youth ministry for nearly 12 years. There are a lot of fun things about working with teens. They are fun to watch grow and change. I even still enjoy road trips and overnighters. I must be honest though. On those overnighters and retreats there is one thing I have a hard time with. That one thing is the smell of adolescent boys’ feet, especially in late middle school or early high school. The odor once they take their shoes off is enough to make one’s eyes water.

You may laugh if you like, but I would like you to take a moment to consider what it must have been like for Jesus on that night in the upper room. Twelve men with old, threadbare sandals, feet caked with mud hardened with sweat, who probably had not bathed for several days. These were working men. They were men who walked at least 10 miles a day from the sounds of it. Their feet were disgusting.

Even more true to our own experiences, imagine what it might be like to be one of the disciples. I imagine the disciples arguing. Blaming. Whose fault is this? Who forgot to hire the foot-washer for this occasion? We can’t eat a meal like this with our feet dirty! Peter, its your fault! Why don’t you wash everyone’s feet? Why don’t you, John? How about Bartholomew? Nobody remembers his name anyway! Jesus takes a deep breathe.

And in the midst of their arguing, I imagine Jesus quietly working in the background in the commotion. He sets out a basin. He sets out a towel. Both in a place where nobody notices.

They begin to eat the meal with dirty feet.

Somewhere in the middle of the meal Jesus stands up, and walks toward the basin. He takes off his nice robe so he is just in his undergarments. He wraps a towel around his waist. (I think he does this both to be modest, and to signal the disciples about the role that he was taking.)

He comes up to the first disciple. He begins to wash his feet. Everybody gets a little uncomfortable. What is this future king, this one that throngs of people shouted “Hosannna” to last Sunday now doing? Is this one of his parables? Am I going to feel bad letting him do this a couple of days from now?

As they are thinking he finishes wiping one man’s feet clean and moves to another. And I imagine the disciples not being that different from those teenage boys in another way besides having smelly, dirty feet. I imagine them beginning to feel very self-conscious. Worrying about Jesus seeing what they might have felt was the ugliest part of them. I imagine as Jesus kept washing people’s feet it might have felt awkward, uncomfortable ……weird. I imagine the disciples may have felt vulnerable, and exposed. At risk.

Jesus continues to wash.

Sooner or later, Jesus gets to Peter. Peter is the drama king of the group. You know the type. Peter is the one that appoints himself to speak on behalf of the whole group. Every small group, every church, every job where you have to work in teams has someone like Peter.

“You think you are washing my feet?” Peter says.

“Uh-huh.” Jesus replies, “Just do it…you will figure out why I am doing this later.”

“No way,” says Peter, “you aren’t touching my stinking feet.”

“Unless you let me wash your feet, you are not on my team!” Jesus says.

Jesus goes on to say he washed the disciple’s feet to show them the importance of serving and being served. To set the standard.

You will notice the command, if you read on, it to wash one another’s feet. Not to simply be the servant, but to receive service too. Not simply to offer grace and forgiveness, but to seek and receive it as well. Jesus in his last hours sets an example for each of us to seek a servant heart. But, he does more than that. He creates a serving community as well. A community of mutuality. A community that seeks to be Jesus’ hands and feet, but is humble enough to admit we need to be open, honest and vulnerable enough to allow our hands and feet to be washed as well. To trust Jesus at the basin and the towel means that we trust Jesus to make us a community that realizes that we need Jesus and we need one another to be made clean, to be made faithful, and to be made whole.

The Gospel According to Starbucks

Just finished this book. It is, in many ways, a book that takes Sweet's method of coorperate spirituality set out in postmodern pilgrims and repackages it for personal spirituality, with the metaphor of Starbucks as a way to discover EPIC spirituality. Perhaps the most interesting chapter was the epilogue, called "Jehovah Java" which shared about the history of coffee in relation to both relgious expression globally, and the development of Western Civilization. I recommend at least picking the book up in Barnes and Noble and reading the epilogue.