Do Over…

IMG_0989Ok…here I go again…

I’ve rebooted this blog so many times.  (One attempt was this post.)  I started Jon Acuff’s  latest book, “Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck ” the other day.  I went all in…pre-ordered…received the free e-books, the Do Over sticker, and the signed book plate.  It was going to happen.  And then…

I had to actually write something.  Something people would actually see.  Yeah…I know.  It seemed a little pretentious to me too. That’s why 10 days into my “10 Day Do Over Challenge”, I’m ironically stuck on day 3: Reach Out. The task was to send a quick email to someone asking them to check in with me in 10 days to see how my “do over” was coming.  I sent that little note to my nephew and proceeded to NOT proceed.  I got my nephew’s check-in email yesterday.  He did his part!  But Uncle Mike is still floundering.

I last posted in this blog over a year ago.  The post was about my second Facebook Fast for Lent 2014.  That fast actually only lasted a matter of days.  However, my undeclared “fast” from writing in my blog was fabulously successful.  What developed during ensuing months was a fear of writing my thoughts down anywhere someone could actually read them.  I’ve filled a notebook or so with words.  But I wasn’t going to be posting anything.

But, Jared has held me accountable.  I’m going to start posting again.  I’m not sure yet what I’ll be writing about.  The writing muscle has atrophied a bit…sort of noodle like.  And, confidence, that most effective of motivators, its pretty much gone as well.  Limp writing muscles and empty confidence tank…not the best way to start a “do over.”  But…I posted the damn picture Acuff instructed me to post in his damn “Do Over Book”.  I’m about to click the pretentious little “publish” button at the bottom of this page.  (My blog muscle is sore but there are some fumes in the confidence tank.  We’ll see how this goes.)

Facebook Fast (2)

facebook fastI’ve tried this once before.  A Facebook Fast for lent.  It wasn’t easy and I wrote a couple of blog posts about why. (You can read those here.)  I know some folk have begun to get down on Facebook (too many “cat videos”; “who wants to hear/see pictures of someone’s dinner”; “it’s all Humblebragging; etc.

I for one am not ashamed to admit that I LOVE Facebook.  Still.  Whether it’s cool or not, it’s fun, mostly informative, and has reconnected me with people I knew in high school, college, past churches, past jobs/careers, long distance family.  It’s been an extension of community in a very profound way for me since I first started my Facebook page back in 2007.

This practice of giving something up for lint has been mostly a fail for me for years.  (If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll say a little prayer for me for strength and discipline to not merely sign off but to pick up a new awareness of God’s presence in my life.  You’ll probably still see an occasional post show up on my time line (I have some things set to automatically post…like my occasional tweets and blog posts like this one.) I’ll have to log in occasionally to post something to my youth group FB pages.  However, I’m going to ignore the addictive little red number that shows up in the top of the window and on my Facebook app…(note to self: you probably should delete that app for the time being.)  This was very hard to do last time (I wrote about that here.)

Peace and blessings to you during this time of lent!  See you Easter Sunday!

Christianity After Religion


In her Acknowledgments at the end of Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Diana Butler Bass says, “These pages are my long-considered answers to questions a book and a teacher raised during my senior year in college.”  Christianity After Religion is one of those books that took me a long time to read.  Not because it was difficult, but because it required me to look at questions that have lingered around my faith and life for years.

Raised in a very religious home, faith has always been an integral part of my everyday life.  It was not merely a program to be consumed a couple times a week at our local church.  It was giving thanks at every meal.  It was hearing the Bible read each night as we gathered in my parents’ bedroom.  Those readings closed with us all kneeling beside the bed and expressing prayers to God. The church of my youth taught me that when some tenet of that faith was challenged by culture or science or another doctrine, the first response was defensive because the challenge seemed to attack the very foundations of all the provided meaning and purpose for every aspect of my life.  Religion had been framed as a no-holds-barred death-match…winner-take-all.

There was a point about 12 years into my vocational ministry that this framework made absolutely no sense to me.  My denomination had been embroiled in religious/theological/cultural battles for 20 years and the lines that were drawn between the sides didn’t seem to be significant or substantial enough to justify the carnage being wrought between good and faithful people (Diana Butler Bass has a wonderfully succinct description of this battle on page 233).  It was for damn sure draining my very soul.  A journal entry I made during that time simply said, “God, if you’re there, cool.  If you’re not, cool.”  I had had enough.

During that time, my family was a part of a community of faith that seemed to be a refuge from the battles…a spiritual DMZ so to speak.  No doubt, our congregation was labeled by those in the fight, but my pastor, Dr. Larry Taylor, and the good people of that community had remained true.  There was something different for me about that place.  These people were not sheltered by any means and if pressed for a position on the issues of the day, whether religious or political, you would get an impassioned and well reasoned opinion from anywhere on the continuum of possibilities.  But, we were ultimately followers of Jesus in a place called Emmanuel Baptist Church and that community was more important and life giving than any one political/theological position.

When looking back, I recognized that I had experienced this same type of community in a couple of places before.  In the Baptist Student Union at LSU led by Frank Horton, and in the college department of First Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, led by Anne and Jack Lord.  Rather than soul-sucking battles for “truth”, I found life-giving and transformative spiritual community.  It was in these communities of my college days that I felt a call to vocational ministry.  And it was Emmanuel Baptist Church that helped salvage that call from the hubris of denominational leaders seeking to tear apart such communities in the name of their particular versions of truth.

By the time I reached Chapter 7 and read Diana Butler Bass’ description of The Great Reversal, I recognized she was describing those communities from my past.  These were not utopian by any stretch.  But when taken as a whole, my experiences in those places were lived examples of belonging, behaving, believing (in that order).  Butler Bass’ connecting this vision of community with spiritual awakening was exactly the appropriate link to make and her practical actions of “prepare, practice, play & participate” placed the lofty aspirations of such an awakening on the solid ground of experience and tangible action.

Christianity After Religion has become a foundational book for me.  I’ll read it again and, with difficulty, will attempt to find more space for notes and thoughts in it’s margins.  I recommend it very highly.  And I recommend you take your time.  It’s not a “page-turner” and I mean that in the absolute best sense of that term.

Pastrix & Catharsis

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & SaintI LOVED this book.  And that’s odd because I probably can’t recommend it to all my friends.  Many would be strongly offended by it.  They would quickly react to Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s application of sailor language to godly topics.  Many would take offense at her welcoming and affirming stance on LGBTQ issues.  And I’ve come to a place that it’s ok if they are offended.  I can’t control that.  Don’t read the book if you fear you’ll fall in that category.  I honestly don’t want to be the one that riles you up and disturbs your peace.  (I would like to point out that LGBTQ is about people long before it ever became an “issue”. Like every “issue” out there, when it’s your starting point, you often end up somewhere Jesus isn’t and you walk on a lot of people whom Jesus loves on your way to the smug destination you’ll find at the end of such a path.)

Because of my reading of Pastrix, I recognize the smugness of that last sentence.  It comes across as if I’m the one enlightened and all who disagree with me are intolerant and bigots.  Now, don’t get me wrong…I absolutely stand by the sentence I wrote above.  However, there is a heavily underlined paragraph on page 57 of my copy of  Pastrix that says:

Matthew once said to me, after one of my more finely worded rants about stupid people who have the wrong opinions, “Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.” — Nadia Bolz-Weber

To further quote Nadia, “Damn!”  Pastix shined a light on all the lines I’ve drawn between me and people with whom I disagree.  And in so doing, it shined a light on Jesus that I’ve needed turned on for a while now.  What I continually discovered in Pastrix was resurrection.  It was a continual stream of stories of death and resurrection.  Persons and lives dying deaths large and small only to encounter the risen Christ and be raised to new life again in profound and graceful and loving ways.  It’s a resurrection that one can and should experience daily.  (That’s what Jesus meant!)

Reading Pastrix was something of a cathartic experience for me.  It was hard to put my finger on what continually resonated with me as I turned page after page.  But as I reluctantly put the book down this morning I recognized a long lost itch (p. 204) that I had continually and unconsciously been scratching all these years but had slipped from my awareness.  I realized that I had rediscovered a distant call to ministry that animates my life.  It’s a call we all share and it manifests itself in all sorts of different jobs and vocations and roles.  But it’s absolutely a call.  It’s a call to discover who we were created to be.  And its a call to death and resurrection.  Thanks Nadia.

taking a little time to distinguish

Image“There must be a time of day when the man who makes plans forgets his plans, and acts as if he had no plans at all. “There must be a time of day when the man who has to speak falls very silent. And his mind forms no more propositions, and he asks himself: Did they have a meaning? “There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed; when the man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and he learns a different wisdom: distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill. —Thomas Merton from “No Man is An Island”

It has been sort of a distracted morning, but in a good sort of way. I was down stairs pretty early…4:30ish. I lit the fire, got my coffee and settled on the couch to read. Upon opening my bag I recognized the number of I-want-to-take-time-to-read-but-never-seem-to-get-around-to-it magazines accumulating there were more than a little telling. I was probably never going to get around to reading them.

I pulled out a week-old edition of the New York Times I had purchased at Starbucks to read while waiting on a car to be serviced. Instead of reading that at the dealer, I think I played “FLOW” on my iPad, a challenging little puzzle game but a game nonetheless, and truly a waste of perfectly good waiting room time. I pulled out two issues of the Economist, an issue of Motley Fool Stock Advisor, the December 2012 issue of The Atlantic and finally the Dec. 30th issue of the New York Times Magazine. That was the one that sort of derailed my intensions for the morning.

On the cover was a photograph of Adam Yauch (1/3 of the Beastie Boys) and the words, “The Lives They Lived.” It was a collection of obituaries of notable people who had died in 2012. I’ve never been one who reads obituaries, although [Mr.}Tony Kornheiser says “[the obits] are usually the best writing in the paper.” I think that’s probably true, as a rule. Rather than some words about a forgettable story rushed to the page to meet a deadline, an obit is an attempt to communicate a snap-shot of a life. The fame and/or notoriety of the famous persons in this particular issue of “the magazine” are merely context. The writers are trying to distill meaning from these lives that have ended. Sometimes there is a clear rendering of the protagonist. Other times, the obit seems to be as much a window into the psyche of the writer as it is about the person who died.

I thumbed through the pages of 2012’s obit collection stopping on: Teri Shields (mother of Brooke and quintessential “stage mom”); Maurice Sendak (author of the iconic children’s books “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night Kitchen”…Brilliant piece done with 9 illustrations with bubble quotes from an NPR interview with the writer); Nora Ephron (journalist, screenwriter, playwright, best known popularly for “When Harry Met Sally”…a collage recreating “Meg Ryan’s soliloquy [from the diner] using letters cut from Ephron’s obituary in the New York Times.” (…yes…yes…oh God…”); Don Cornelius (creator and host of Soul Train pictured in full 70’s regalia of massive afro and equally massive silver silk tie. Interesting quote: “Long before the Huxtables…Vanessa Williams [1st black Miss America]…the Obamas…middle class white teenagers [were getting] their first glimpse of popular black culture…and…a peek at the future; by the 90s, black music and dance was the culture”); Adam Yauch (interesting take of his growth as an artist…but I could never get over the Beastie’s frat boy smirks and frat boy party/rap anthem from the 80s to take them very seriously).

My morning started with the Merton passage at the beginning of this post. It set the stage for my dip into the obits of 2012. On this morning, the obits provided a moment to put aside the plans, propositions and resolutions and do a little of that distinguishing work…”distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill”…life from death. It was by no means morbid. It was a pause that facilitated some much needed reflection. And while I do not aspire to a mention in the New York Times Magazine, I recognized the legacy that is my faith, my family, and my life’s work will ultimately be my obit. Even more than that, I was able to distinguish between “routine” and “extremely blessed” and give thanks for the blessing.

the gift of a power outage

ImageSummer’s going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away…
The innocence slips away

 —Rush, “Time Stand Still”

The family had gathered around the TV at my parent’s home to watch Brave.  The cousins were all laying in front of the rather old, small, and definitely non-HD screen in the living room.  The adults were mostly watching various screens…cell phones, iPads, Kindles…listening to the movie in the background and smiling at the attempts at Scottish accents coming from sprawl in front of the TV.

Just about the time we had all settled in for the evening, the power went out. Pitch black darkness was met with groans from the kids (all done with new found Scottish drawls.)  My dad quickly lit the “coal oil lamp” and  placed it on the mantel.  As the children began to move around, searching for their own personal screens (iPods, phones, etc.), my sister-in-law gave us all a wonderful gift.  She asked, “Uncle Mike, what was you and Aunt Susie’s first date?”  That question began an evening of story telling around the pale flickering light of an old coal oil lamp.  

We went around the circle telling first date stories which led to engagement stories.  The children joined in by telling “most embarrassing” stories. Then my parents began to tell stories about their childhood and their parents and grand parents.  Laughter came quickly and often.  Questions were asked.  Experiences were shared.  Deep “family” conversation made the time fly by.  Mom talked about how the flickering light of the lamp brought back memories of her and her brothers sitting around the same type of lamp as children listening to her mom and dad and an occasional visitor tell stories.  Memories came rushing back for me as a kid sitting on the screen porch in the evenings listening to my grandfather pick out a tune on his guitar and tell some of those very same stories.  

It was hard to believe that 2 hours had passed so quickly when the lights finally came back on.  “Normal” filled the room as quickly as the lights had and we all moved toward our beds, plugging our electronic devices into their respective chargers so they would be ready to do our bidding (or we their’s) the next morning. I’m restraining the sermon rising in my spirit.  We all know that sermon already. I will say this…in contrast to the many evenings spent on some forgettable TV program or surfing the internet, this was an evening I’ll remember for a long time.   It was truly wonderful and a very fitting end to a wonderful holiday season.



a little Thomas Merton to chew on…

It’s funny how Thomas Merton always challenges me at election time…

The aggressive and dominative view of reality places, at the center, the individual with its bodily form, its feelings and emotions, its appetites and needs, its loves and hates, its actions and reactions.  All these are seen as forming together a basic and indubitable reality to which everything else must be referred, so that all other things are also estimated in their individuality, their actions and reactions, and all the ways in which they impinge upon the interests of the individual self.  The world is then seen as a multiplicity of conflicting and limited beings, all enclosed in the limits of their own individuality, all therefore complete in a permanent and vulnerable incompleteness, all seeking to find a certain completeness by asserting themselves at the expense of others, dominating and using others.  The world becomes, then, an immense conflict in which the only peace is that which is accorded to the victory of the strong, and in order to taste the joy of this peace, the weak must submit to the strong and join them in their adventures so that they may share in their power.

— Thomas Merton, Choosing to Love the World