Tuesday, August 26, 2008


What is it about the State Fair that seems to attract a need to put any kind of food imaginable on a stick? I ashamedly admit that my daughter and I sampled several on-a-stick foods last night. Let’s see, we had pizza-on-a-stick, fried twinkie-on-a-stick, frozen chocolate covered banana-on-a-stick, corn dog-on-a-stick, and a fried peach-on-a-stick. Most of it was odd in the mouth, but I figured that since our State Fair is destined for the archives, I should create a memory with my girl before its too late. Not sure exactly what that memory might be, but we logged it anyway.

As we sat on a bench along Main Street, behind the DockDogs showcase and across from the Allis Chalmers farm implement dealer, I watched the Full Gospel Business Men’s little portable trailer with the question stenciled in big, bold letters on three sides, “Are you going to heaven?” Inside it were two elderly gentlemen, probably my dad’s age, not doing much other than sitting. Below the painted question was the sentence, “Two questions will reveal your fate.”

Maybe it struck me as funny, but there was something freakish about their set up. So much so that I had a mental wrestling match with my conscience about whether I should go over and talk to the two old gents. Now in retrospect I realize I chickened out, but I think I was afraid they might think I was not saved, since I still have an earring and all. But shame on me for judging them, right?

In a way, I wish I was like those guys. In the time that it took to eat a Texas Tater, I saw two people stop by their booth. That’s two more than I would have ever imagined them getting a chance to speak with, but again, there is my judgment getting in the way. They seemed kind enough, smiling in conversation to both parties. Who knows what they talked about. I assume it about going to heaven, since that’s what their booth was all about.

The cool thing is that these old guys are just putting it out there as they see fit. I assume it was their faith that motivated the effort. I bet they believe they are doing the Lord’s work.

What it did was make me miss my dad. I’m not sure he would have manned a booth like that, but he did have faith that was simple,, and I really miss it. I wonder if every generation gets to a point of looking back and realizing that progress hasn’t always gotten us to a better point?

I think I'll scrap my Bible-on-a-stick idea.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Come sit with us

Enjoyed a serendipitous moment at El Toro last night. Two old friends whom we hadn’t seen in quite some time arrived soon after we were seated. They were able to buck the waiting line and join us. Our conversation sparked my thoughts before sunrise this morning.

Since our relationship with them centered around church attendance, it was no wonder that the conversation eventually ended up there. Add their names to the list of folks who are not quite sure where the Church As We Know It is sailing.

One frustration the wife expressed was how much time is spent on slogging through issues like the role of women in ministry. “Why are we STILL debating this issue?” was her frustrated question. How will this help us really love other people well?

I understand the One Side believes it is a fundamental question that must be theologically rooted and doctrinally sound, but what I think it doesn’t realize is that the Other Side doesn’t really care.

To borrow a term from Thomas Friedman, the world is flattening, and so should the Church As We Know It. Hierarchies are diminishing because we don’t need them as much anymore. Organizational structure is not as necessary as it once was, in large part because you and I possess the tools powerful enough to arrange and communicate with as many people as we need.

If the Church As We Know It stays caught in this eddy of orchestration, the rest of the culture will float on by and it won’t wait for Her to catch up. In Her attempts at remaining doctrinally pure, She is becoming irrelevant to the very people She thinks She needs to help. Little does She know that they have a lot to teach Her.

The Wise Man once wrote that it is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Tension will always exist between two seemingly opposite issues, but the Church As We Know It needs to tighten up the slack a little bit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Does prayer work?

I approach this question differently now than I would have before. When I was in the business of dispensing religious goods and services, I would have taken a defensive stance that had no doubt been influenced by a Western, scientific point of view. I walk a different path now.

Asking if something works, one needs to be aware if the presuppositions are coming from a mechanical bias. Similar to purchasing a car, the buyer wants to know if all the features do what they are supposed to do. Does the engine run? Does the AC cool? Will the transmission shift? All these questions are fair and reasonable.

But a relationship with an automobile is different than one with a living, dynamic, organic being. And I believe we have melded the two ideas together so that there is no division any more.

Our culture has blurred our distinctions of mechanism and relationship. Marriage is a prime example. The current version not cutting it for you? Trade the old partner in for a new sportier model. Take the shiny one out for a sex drive and put it through all the gears. I don’t know; this one’s just not working for me.

What person wants to be treated that way? Certainly not the one to which I am married.

Relationships are not products to be purchased or commodities to be exchanged. I don’t buy low and sell high. The same rules do not apply

So if I want to know if prayer works, I need to first honestly determine whether or not I am buying it as a product. If the merchandise of prayer is not getting me what I want, I should be allowed to trade it in or take it back for a refund, shouldn’t I? According to that line of logic, I say absolutely. But this is where one must take account of a fundamental paradigm.

Our quest for answers and resolution has jeopardized our ability to adequately understand the Divine. God as a Person will be comprehended differently than God as a Brand.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ezekiel 7:10

When someone reads my story, I always find myself wondering if it will be seen as anything other than that.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am in the process of reinventing myself. Among the biggest adjustments I’ve made in the last three years, changing careers and changing what I think about church are the most predominant. I often wonder if my writing is seen as assumption that everyone should do as I have done and quit church and start a business.

Only if you feel you have to.

I don’t recommend any kind of personal change unless there is a deep sense that you should. Don’t try and answer questions that you feel no need to ask. Don’t assume that what I have gone through is what you need to do also

I made these changes because I couldn’t sleep at night. I took the risk because I felt Boredom rake itself through my soul like fingernails on a chalkboard. I didn’t do this because I read that it’s the next trend in reaching pre-ex-postmoderns. I did it because I wanted to thrive, not just survive.

I did it because being faithful no longer meant doing the same thing and just keep plodding along. The Sameness drained me of faith instead of having the opposite effect. My heritage put a high value on being consistent. This is a fine quality, but where is it supposed to take me?

One motive in being consistent in my faith practices was to look like the other guy, but it came at the expense of being myself. I am getting this back once again, and I am liking what I see.

In my effort to be like the other guy, I memorized gazillions of Bible verses that I could quote at the drop of a hat. Many were obscure, strange little passages that made me look smart. Let it be known that I don’t discount that practice. It’s just that it came at a time in my life that I used it for something a little less noble than what it appeared.

One of those thoughts that I memorized years ago still sticks with me. It’s a story about Peter bitching to Jesus about his buddy John. Peter was probably like me, craving attention and needing to be seen by the Lord as someone who is worthwhile. Jesus described Peter’s fate in not-so glowing terms, which got him a little ticked. Peter pointed the finger to John and wanted to know from Jesus what would happen to him, too.

This is where I would revert to word-for-word recitation of the passage for fear of getting it wrong and thereby being passed over for the next round of promotions. But my faith rests in the Author, not the Recital. This has made all the difference in the world in my absorption of the Idea.

Jesus told Peter to not worry about the other guy. His outcome is going to be different than yours, not because I like him better or because you are thick headed and need to suffer more grief. No, his life will not be the same because fairness isn’t the point. Doling out the same goods to every person on earth is not going to matter. What matters is the faith you possess and do you express it in love.

Friday, August 01, 2008

In Remembrance

I've made some bad decisions in life, and depending on their degree of severity, the impact of those choices linger long after the action is complete.

But I’ve also made a few good decisions along the way, ones that I don’t regret, but am glad I did so. One is buying my wife a dog for Valentine’s Day. Even though I should have done it years ago, it was a great move. I think I may be nominated for Husband of the Year.

Seriously, this time of year reminds me that I did the right thing about three years ago as my dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair the damage sustain to his hip due to a fall. Since dad had difficulty hearing, I decided to write him a letter of thanks, expressing appreciation for how he lived his life and the example he set for me. Writing allows me to craft words into a message, and I wanted him to know how proud I am being his son.

Little did I know, those would be the last words I would ever get to communicate to him. He passed away a very short time later, due to complications from the surgery. When we arrived soon after his passing, I saw the letter next to his bed. Mom told me about reading it to him. I was so glad I took the time to say what I did.

I’ve decided to print the letter here, as much as a reminder to me to act on those little promptings I get once in a while. Many of you knew my dad and you know what he was like. He was what some refer to as a “hinge generation.” He refused to pass on the family traits that were given to him by his father. Though he was yelled at as a boy, he never treated me that way. Growing up poor, he never wanted me to go without, but neither did he give me everything I wanted. He is a man that grows larger in my eyes with each passing year of his death.

Funny how I remember this, but my very first thought when I knew he was gone was that he would never see my restaurant. I would never be able to slide a pint across the bar and watch him be proud. It’s been almost three years now, and while I don’t have that opportunity, I do have the letter, and I think the latter is the more important one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dear Dad,

I wasn’t sure when I would be able to talk with you on the phone, but I figured I might be able to better express some things in words on paper than in voice. I am so sorry you broke your leg and are holed up in the hospital. It sounds like you have a good amount of support around you, and for that I am very thankful.

I just wanted to say how proud I am that you are my Dad. Of all the things I have learned from you over the years, the fact that you are not a bitter man is of high importance to me. Karen was imagining you saying after the fall, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t done that.” She, too, has watched your response to life’s ups and downs with grace and style.

Often friends of yours will comment to me about what a great spirit you have within you. They tell me how positive you are, how you always have a kind word to say and a gentle graciousness in your demeanor. I smile with pride as they tell me these things, knowing it could be different, but you have chosen not to let the harshness of life affect you. I remember watching Ray over the years become colder. You have not done that. That is a wonderful gift, more than you know.

I know the days ahead may be uncertain, but I stand with you and what needs to be done. However we can help, we will. Whatever decision needs to be made, so be it. That’s another lesson you and Mom have taught me. Complaining won’t change things, but the right attitude will.

My prayers for you include a regular request that the Heavenly Father’s presence would be very near to you. I know He is proud of you, your life and contribution you have made as a result of your faith. I have aimed high as a result. Hope you get well soon.