Tag Archives: miscellany

The Abyss and The List

into the great wide open  // under them skies of blue  //

out in the great wide open // a rebel without a clue

Tom Petty

Into the abyss I plunge.  Structure is gone.  Deadlines are gone.  No teaching pastor will be calling me to talk about the message.  No ladies from the worship team are calling to see if there’s going to be a rehearsal.  On Sunday, we will simply arise, and go to church.

Or not.

We’re in uncharted waters, now.

For those of you just joining our regularly scheduled program, here’s the situation.  Last year, we made this record.     It was an art project, meaning we didn’t have any expectations for it.  We weren’t thinking about the future, or marketing, or careers.  We just made a record for art’s sake, because we missed recording original music.

We thought it was pretty good.  We did a couple of concerts, and lo and behold, other people thought it was pretty good too.   Come December of ’06, my poor little psyche was just about fully cracked from eight years of Professional Christianity, working as a worship pastor.

In January of this year, I resigned, effective as of July 1.  In those five months, we packed up our belongings, rented out our condo, moved back to my parent’s house, did Easter, did the Agape Singers mini and summer tours, and I was done.

My new job is Band Promoter.  I have zero training.  I have only hunger, and it’s gnawing at me, and it will not be easily satiated.

I don’t fear the lack of steady income.  I don’t fear the uphill battle.  I don’t fear the rolled eyes when someone asks me what I do for a living, and I respond… I’m in a band.   What I fear is The Abyss.  I fear not knowing what to do next.

My first order of business, in an effort to begin charting a course towards success, has been making The List.  We got a good piece of advice several months ago from a friend who said, “Make a list of everyone you know who might be able to help you in any small or significant way.  Any church.  Anyone you know in the industry.  Anyone.”

I want to make The List a public project.  If you like The Dailies, and you want to help us out, and you have any ideas of where or for whom we should play, spit them out.  I’d love to hear what’s on your collective mind.

No distance is too outlandish, no lead too obscure.  I know Mike has a stack of ideas for the group for internet promotion, but what about the rest of you?  Which APU people are scattered across the fruited plain, just waiting the opportunity to book some old friends?  You know someone at a radio station?  You know someone who might like our music?

Let’s feed The List.

Road Journal – Day Eight

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Friday, June 29th

11:52pm
Loma Linda, CA

Just finished perhaps the most successful hospital concert I can remember in my time with this group, at the Adventist Children’s Hospital.  Most of the time, when we sing in a hospital lobby, people kind of stop for a song or two, nod or smile, and move on.

For some reason, everyone parked it today.  Doctors, nurses, patients, and parents just pulled a chair, or a spot of floor, or just stood, and listened for a half hour or more.  It was really cool.  One of the administrators told us that most staff people just ignore groups that come through.  Perhaps it was because I addressed the staff specifically as we began, thanking them for being the hands of feet of Christ, the great physician, the great scientist.

We’re on our way to El Torito for our last group meal together.  The mood is light, the end is near.  I can’t wait to hug our kids.

3:25pm
101 west, Universal City, CA

We’re in the home stretch now, fighting L.A. traffic on a Friday afternoon.  It’s comforting, somehow.  In two and a half hours, an In-N-Our Burger truck will roll up to the church parking lot and serve 175 people meals.  We’ll then make our way into the sanctuary, and do our final concert of the year.  This group, as it currently stands, will be no more.  Seniors will be graduated, the classes will shift up, and in a few months, it will begin again.

Erica and I made the decision that we are going to lead the group musically for at least one more year.  This ministry is too special to fall through the cracks, and the new pastoral leadership team is not yet fully in place at ABF.  Andy will shift into my worship leading role for a few months, one of our sponsors named Dave has been asked to become the interim youth leader, and we will begin a new life.

There’s a chance that there might be a new worship leader and permanent youth pastor in time to provide leadership for this group before the next season begins, but I doubt it.  We told the sponsors what we had decided, and they were excited.  We told them that we were going to have to make some structural changes for us to do it, and they were game.  I cannot speak for the years to come, but I do know that this will not be my final Agape concert tonight.

It’s the right thing, the good thing, to do.

Choirs are special to me.  Choirs are about people of average ability coming together to be a part of something extraordinary.  Choirs are about giving yourself away a little bit to become a part of something beautiful, something bigger then yourself.  At the same time, your individual participation is critical.  One sour face, or sour note, can throw the whole picture off.  It’s about the group, it’s about the person.

It’s about suspending chaos.  It’s about shutting off the noise, and aligning frequencies upon harmonics upon tone upon timbre.  It’s about capturing imagination and stealing breath.  It’s about unity.

It’s the church, four minutes at a time.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Seven

Road Journal – Day Seven

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Thursday, June 28th

12:52pm
I-40, West of Seligman, Arizona

We just stopped for a potty break in Seligman, which was allegedly the inspiration for the movie, Cars.  It’s kind of spooky, actually, how much the main drag reflects the film, or vice-versa, as it were.  The town seems to be enjoying the connection.  They’ve lined the main street with vintage cars, some of which are painted to look like…

2:33pm
I-40, Kingman, Arizona

…the characters in the film.

Well, it’s my birthday.  I’m 31 today.  31 seems like a lame age to me, I dunno why.  I guess it’s because 30 felt like such a significant milestone, and 31 just sounds well… older.

I have sort of mixed feelings about spending our birthdays on tour every year.  It’s sort of tradition now, but invariably I find myself wishing we were alone, somewhere, near a beach with a couple of fruity drinks with umbrellas in them.  Oh well.

All tour long, we’ve been grappling with whether or not we want to continue to provide musical leadership for this group after my paid employment ends on Sunday.  Did I mention that next Sunday is my last as a Professional Christian?  I may have.  Well, anyways, it is.

On one hand, I have a real heart for this ministry.  These kids grow a lot in the time they’re in this group, as musicians and in character.  Choirs are a dying breed, and I lament that reality, and wish to not go quietly into that not-so-good night.  It’s a rare and wonderful thing to see upper middle class suburban teens giving sacrificially of their time and energy.  It gives them a little perspective.  Parents tell me over and over that they see changes in their kids for the better every time we go out on one of these tours.  I happen to know that you really need a unique gift mix to make this work.  It requires knowledge of choral and group singing, endless patience for and tolerance for teens, and incredibly low standards for your own personal comfort.  The last one has taken me a few years to develop.

I have an advantage in that I participate in the much of the same media they do.  I am engaged in pop culture.  No Borat reference goes over my head.  Sometimes I catch them offguard, as I complete the lyric to Justin Timberlake’s last hit or talk about why I think OSX is superior to Vista, or why I like the Wii vs. Microsoft or Sony’s boxes.  I’m basically an overgrown child.

I’m extremely comfortable improvising, making it up as we go.  I learned this at APU, and have honed it for years as a worship leader.  There is no amount of craziness that can phase me, except perhaps our concert experience yesterday, during which I felt more direct spiritual oppression then any of the other 100+ concerts I have led in my time with this group.

We’ve had some crazy stuff go down.  One time, at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, I had a drunk, homeless dude in a wheelchair roll up and start conducting along side me.  The kids looked panicked, wondering what I was going to do about it.  I, of course, sat down and let him “conduct” them, with a huge grin on my face, until (to my sadness), one of the workers came and removed him, apologizing profusely.  I had thought it was kind of sweet, a sincere expression of flattery.

We had two women nearly get into a fistfight just as a concert was starting at a shelter in Oakland last year.  I actually think having a 200 pound black woman shouting, “You better sitchoass down and listen to these chillen sing, cause you need Jesus, BITCH!” is a great way to begin.  Maybe that’s just me.  I just looked at them, cocked an eyebrow to tell them that it was ok, and started the first tune.

In many ways, I was just straight built for this gig, and Erica’s a heck of a wingwoman.

On the other hand, Erica and I have a clear sense that it’s time to focus on three things, and three things only, in order of priority: our marriage, our kids, and our music.  Maybe it’s a seasonal thing.  Maybe it’s the only ministry we’re supposed to do for the church.

I don’t know.  I’ve been praying a lot about it, and have not felt a strong sense about it.  I was dead set against doing it again earlier this year, but am feeling like I want to keep doing it now.  Erica has reminded me that this is the typical pattern for me with Agape: despise the rehearsals, love the tour.

No matter what, the structure has to change.  I’m not committing to Sunday afternoon rehearsals 9 months out of the year.  That is simply not going to happen.

Meh.  It’s too soon to call, I fear.  I need to get through the weekend, log a few miles on the other side, and then reconsider.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Six

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Eight

Road Journal – Day Six

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

3:00pm
Grey Rock, Arizona

This is going to go down as a strange day among strange days.  We have no schedule.  Allegedly, we’re supposed to be doing an afternoon hang with the locals, play with some kids and then serve a dinner (which we brought and prepared) and then do a concert around 7pm.  As of this moment, we’re the only ones here.

Erica’s family has deep ties to the Navajo nation.  One set of her grandparents were teachers here on the reservation, the other were missionaries.  Her folks met here, and one of Erica’s uncles married a full-blooded Navajo woman.  Erica spent many summers of her youth about 80 miles north of where we currently are, in a town called Page, at the southern tip of Lake Powell.  She has cousins who look like they came from The Big Book of Native American Stereotypical Appearances, and the best part is that they have the last name O’Reilly.

Erica has told me that the Navajo people are very informal, very reluctant to commit.  Gatherings happen in an impromptu manner.  We whiteys like structure.  We like to know when things are going to start and stop.  We like to know the exact running time of movies.  We appreciate precision.  I do not know if this is a good or a bad thing.

So… we’ve done basically nothing today.  We’re hanging out in this sweatbox of a gym, and the sanctuary next door, waiting for something to happen.  Erica and I are frustrated, feeling like this tour, which thrives on structure, is mismatched for any kind of significant ministry to Navajo people.  It seems like it would take a week (or longer) just to begin to even figure out the basic ebb and flow of this culture, much less be some sort of encouragement or service to them.

I’m praying that we’re proven wrong, that sometime in the next few hours, the hundred or so kids that we’ve prepared for and are told are coming here will arrive, that we may have something to do.

Oh, I forgot the best part.  Our bus company, seeing that we weren’t scheduled to go anywhere today, decided that James (our driver) should go get the routine maintenance done back in Flagstaff.  We’re literally stuck here.

Maybe this is a good experience for this white boy.  Maybe it’s a good thing for me to have to surrender my agenda, on a trip where I’ve already surrendered my agenda.  Maybe that’s the point of today.  Maybe God is just looking at me, waiting for me to stop looking out the window, waiting for me to just embrace the day.

I’d kill for wi-fi.  Well… at least maim.

6:11pm
10 feet to the left of last time I entered something, Arizona

This day is endless.

I just offered a sponsor $1,000.00 to make it tomorrow.  She didn’t take my deal.  There have been a few kids that have shown up, so that’s cool.  I guess it just seems strange to me to spend an entire day literally in one space, after spending five days in a row moving with such rapidity.

Nina and Rebecca, our two resident Top Chefs, have put together a huge meal worthy of a picnic.  Hot dogs, watermelon, chips, baked beans, veggies.  I’m actually about to go get myself a plate and have a bite.  After all my running and good dieting, today has just been a gut-buster.  So much time, so little to do, so much food, nowhere to run.

I don’t know if I will take the time throughout next week, as I am posting these, to insert some pictures for you all to enjoy, but one of the ways we have been passing time today is playing with our new toy.  For our birthdays, we decided that our gift to one another was going to be a really good camera.

I wanted an SLR type, but I had no idea that it was multiple thousands of dollars just to get in the door.  We settled on a Canon Sure Shot S5IS, which was the top of the line non-SLR camera available at Best Buy.  If we were talking audio gear, it would be called, “Pro-sumer.”  It has great optics, and a nifty feature that recognizes faces, no matter how many are in frame, and makes sure that they’re in focus.

It’s actually quite creepy, as these little boxes magically form around any human face, and then track with them as they move around on the screen.

It’s an extraordinary little piece of consumer electronics, in my opinion.  Today, I’ve been shooting the abandoned trucks in the open space about 200 yards behind the church, the bell tower, the clouds as they changed shape, the endless vista and horizon of the high Arizona desert, and of course, the inside of this truly interesting gym.  The pictures are striking, the best I’ve ever personally taken.

The kids have all made fun of me, calling me the stalker.  I hate posed pictures.  I like the ones that are real moments… expressions… laughter… frustration.  Those are the ones that really grab my attention.  So, I stalk them from on my two and a half inch screen.  They’re unpredictable targets, always darting here and there.  Their faces are beautiful, innocent, unblemished.

I’ve also had a great time shooting the sponsors, who are mostly in their fifties and beyond.  I think I mentioned Neva, who’s 82 years old and has gone on this trip, sleeping on church floors and wrangling teens, for 24 consecutive years.  She shared with us yesterday that it was the 25th anniversary of her husband’s heart attack and death, in McDonald’s of all places.  We just sat, stunned.  This anniversary happens every year on Agape tour, as do our birthdays.   We asked her if she ever considered remarrying, as she was only in her 50’s when it happened.   She said no, that it had never appealed to her.  She had her work and kids and grandkids and church, and simply never felt the urge.

Earlier today, she was sitting in the pew in front of us while listening to the pastor of this church tell us about what we could expect.  Her left arm was extended and I flipped the camera to super macro mode, and shot a picture of her wedding and engagement rings glistening on her time worn finger.

It will be, without a doubt, the most beautiful picture I take on this trip.

9:41pm,
Grey Mountain, Arizona

Matthew 10:11-14, New International Version

“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.  As you enter the home, give it your greeting.  If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Five

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Seven

Road Journal – Day Five

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

9:07am
Anthem, Arizona

I’m sitting now in a Subway, within a Wal-Mart, jazzed out of my mind.  We’re on our way to Flagstaff today, and we had to kill a few minutes as the kids and the bus catch up with us on I-17.  Erica’s shopping for little trinkets for the kiddies, and I’m a-bloggin.

Here’s the story of Mike.  Mike is a worker at the Teen Challenge Ranch, where we did our afternoon concert yesterday.  He was in a red vest that read, “Staff on Duty.”  He watched our every move, but not in a creepy way.  Several times during the concert, he lifted his hands in blessing towards us.  He has gentle and kind eyes.

We sing most of our songs to tracks.  I have lamented for years the fact that we can’t take a live band out with us, preferably made up of students, but the fact of the matter is that we sing in such random and unpredictable environments, that a live band would just be too overwhelming to manage.

We do one song a-la unplugged, an old worship song called “Come Just As You Are.”  Andy, our fearless leader, plays guitar, I play bass, and one of the students plays the Yamaha keyboard we shlep around.  Last year, Andy and I were paranoid to take our real guitars on the road, so we each went out had bought cheapies that belong to the church.  Andy got a little Epiphone acoustic, and I got the least expensive Squire Jazz Bass I could find.

This year, however, Erica and I decided that we wanted to have our real guitars with us.  As poor as we are on our secondary instruments (we’re both keyboard players and vocalists first), it’s relaxing and soothing to sit and play together.  It’s a free way to escape from the students if the day gets too long.

So, we’re out with the real deals.  Last year, I found Erica a great acoustic guitar.  It’s a Taylor 314ce Limited edition, with a gorgeous  Koa wood back and sides.  It’s got one of the more sparkly tones I’ve ever heard from a guitar, almost too bright.  Andy, upon hearing that we were bringing the real deals, asked if he could just play it instead of bringing the cardboard laminate Epiphone.  We, of course, said yes.

So, after the concert, Erica was just sitting, playing her guitar and talking with a few of the kids, when Mike came over.  He was clearly a lover of Taylor guitars.  Erica offered to let him play it, and he began rattling off information about how they were made, the history of the company, the craftsmanship, etc.

“Do you have one?” she asked.

“No… I don’t make enough money here (on staff at Teen Challenge) to afford one.  Someday I’ll be able to get one,” he said, strumming a sweet song with his calloused, world worn fingers.

Now, you need to understand that my wife has a reckless streak when it comes to kindness and generosity.  She is the best gift-giver I have ever known.  She finds gifts that you didn’t even know you wanted, but in a good way.  She observes, records information, then gives.

She came over to me and told me the story about Mike, and said that she felt almost compelled to give him her guitar.

My heart was immediately torn.  I wanted desperately to tell her to do it, but her guitar is special for her.  It fits her.  I found it for her.

I was also immediately aware of our own wealth and borderline gluttony.  We have moved, recently, and nothing reminds you that you are a lover of stuff like having to pack it all and move it.  We have a lot of stuff, and in that moment, I believed in my heart of hearts that we didn’t deserve or appreciate it.

Here’s a guy who spends his life working at a ranch in the Arizona desert, loving and counseling addicts into recovery.  That does not pay very well, apparently, and the injustice of it was almost too much to bear.  As we drove away, I almost stopped the bus three times to go back, but every time my heart was not settled.  That’s Erica’s guitar.  It fits her.  I found it for her.

“You sure do love your stuff…”  I heard faintly in my ears.

We arrived at the home of the pastor and his wife, whose church has been hosting us for the past three nights.  Erica grabbed my laptop from the backpack and took it inside.  “We have wi-fi,” Bernice, the pastor’s wife, said.  Erica flipped it open and started madly searching for the nearest Guitar Center.  For some reason, their wi-fi was acting up, and Erica was clearly frustrated.

“Maybe it’s just not meant to be,” I said.  “Maybe we can keep our eyes peeled for a used Taylor on Craigslist and send it to him.”

She agreed, and told me that she had been working on something else and wanted to finish it.  I can only assume that, as I have a birthday coming up, and as she was acting slightly clandestine, that it was time for me to take my leave.  I went down to the community pool and hung out with the kids.

She appeared about 45 minutes later, dressed in her bathing suit, but clearly not happy.  “Did they figure out the internet?”  I asked.  No.  Not yet.

We swam.  We watched the desert put on another show in the dusk sky.  We ate another astonishing meal provided by Rebecca and Nina, our resident sponsors / top chefs.  Beef brisket, roasted vegetables, potatoes and corn.  We have much, indeed.

It was nearly half past eight at night by this point, and Erica decided go upstairs to flip open ye olde laptop one more time close to the router, to see if the unholy pagan god of wireless interwebs had decided to bless us with access.

Boom.  It was on.

She searched for a Guitar Center in Phoenix.  On that website, there was Taylor 510e, used, and beautiful.  The price was all wrong…far too low.  She hollered down at me, asking for my phone.  She got on the horn with GC and asked about the guitar.

“What?”  The sales rep asked.  “That price is not right… it’s $600 more expensive on the ticket in the store.”

“Will you honor your advertised price?” she asked.

“Well… we kind of have to… company policy.  Someone’s gonna get their ass kicked in IT tomorrow.”

She called me up and showed it to me.  It looked beautiful.  The price was, indeed, far below what a 5 series Taylor should have been, but still enough that we were going to feel it.  It was not so expensive as to feel like we were being irresponsible, like we’d buy a guitar for Mike and then fail to feed our kids.  It was perfect.

“Can we get it?”  duh duh duh duh dah – they say it’s your birthday!

“Let’s go.”  we gon’ partay like it’d your berfday

It was 8:45 by then, and Guitar Center closed at 9.  He said they were always in the store for an hour after closing, doing cleanup and inventory, and he’d let us in if we were late.  There was a hard cutoff at 9:30, as the computers shut down or something of the sort.  We mapquested the directions as fast as we could, grabbed the keys and took off.

All along the way, I told her that she shouldn’t stress, or try and force it.  If this was God’s guitar for this guy, it would work out.  If it wasn’t right, we’d keep our eyes peeled back in L.A.  I was just scared to death that I was gonna make a wrong turn and make us too late, and she was going to be pissed off at me, so I was hedging my bets.

We arrived, he let us in, and he showed us the guitar.

It was beautiful.  It was older, a ’96, with the pre-Fishman electronics, but it rang deep and true.  It actually sounded somehow richer for it’s age, like it had already told many stories, but still had more to tell.  This 5 series had cedar back and sides, a beautiful mother of pearl inlay around the sound hole, and inlays on the fretboard.

We plugged it in, and the electronics sounded great; no crackles, or fuzz.  There was no case for it, so we had to buy one, which we did and got out the door.

I called Willie, who had been our contact at Teen Challenge, and an extraordinary guy himself, and left him a voicemail.  He called me back 20 minutes later, sounding confused.

“This guy Mike… he’s not like an axe murderer or anything is he?”  I asked.

“No,” Willie laughed, “He’s a great guy.  He’s been going through some serious trials lately.  Now… what have you done?”  I told him.  “Oh he’ll be tickled pink.”  Good.

This morning, after a run, we set out.  We were nervous.  You never know how someone’s going to react to something.  What if it made him angry?  What if his pride was such that he couldn’t accept a gift like this from two strangers.  I had written him a note explaining why we had done this, and that it was not his to refuse.  I wrote him a note explaining that recently we had been on the receiving end of blessings that we did not deserve.  I told him that his only obligation with the guitar was to use it to bless other people.

We arrived, nearly giddy with anticipation, and called Willie.  We pulled the van around a corner and Willie brought Mike over to us.

Several of the other guys saw us and recognized us.

“You guys here to sing some more?”  Not exactly.

We saw Willie and Mike coming towards us.  Mike greeted us with… not suspicion, but a look that said that he knew something was out of the ordinary.  “Hi guys,” he said.  “What’s up?”

I told him that God had talked to my wife yesterday, and that it was her birthday.  I popped the back hatch of the van and he saw the guitar case.  “No…” he said.  I opened the case, and he saw what was inside and began to weep and shake.  Willie began to cry.  Erica cried.  I was trying to maintain my composure and tell him the story.  His tears ran freely, and he just said, “No way… no.  No way…” over and over.  I pulled out the guitar and he whispered through near sobs… “It’s a Taylor.”

“Of course it’s a Taylor.”  I said.  “This wouldn’t be any fun if it wasn’t a Taylor.”

He took it in his hands and sat down with his guitar.  His hands were trembling and his voice shook, but he starting singing and playing.  I didn’t know the song he chose, but it was a country-tinged testimony number about finding Jesus at a little country church.  His voice, cracked and dry, rang out across the desert morning and the wire and wood vibrated to life.  He only made it through a verse and a chorus before he was overwhelmed again, his vision blurry and brow furrowed.

He cried and we embraced.  He said he’d never been given a gift like this.  I tried to tell him that it wasn’t really from us, but that we were just passing it along.  I don’t know if he heard me.

He asked for our address.  He said that when he got his composure back he wanted to write us a letter and tell us his story.  “I just want you to know the man you’ve blessed today.”  We said our goodbyes, and watched Mike and Willie walk away into the chapel, where worship practice was set to begin.

I look forward to this letter, but it doesn’t matter if we ever receive it or not.  God told us what to do, and we decided to be a little reckless and do it.  It was Erica’s birthday yesterday, and in two days it will be mine.

Mike’s guitar may have been the best present we have ever received.

10:58am
I-17, Somewhere south of Prescott, Arizona

I just received a phone call that my Nana is about to enter a surgery for bowel obstruction, and there’s a 50% chance that she will not survive.  Many of you who know the story of Nana in our lives over the past four years know that it has not been an easy journey.

If today is her day, I rejoice that Jesus will finally be able to rest her troubled soul, and mourn the fact that His rest seemed to elude her in life.  I love you, Nana.  Be at peace.    (Author’s update:  Nana is recovering, and doing better under the attention of her three adult children.  The Saga continues.  Someday there will be a blog about The Full Nana Experience)

3:14pm
Flagstaff, Arizona

No word yet on Nana, as she’s just now into pre-op.  We just spent perhaps the longest 90 minutes of our lives at the Flagstaff Mall.  This is the saddest mall I have ever seen, and I am not really a mall nazi.  One bookstore and I’m normally good to go.  We’re on our way to a rescue mission here in town, where we’ll do two back-to-back 30 minute concerts, with a complete breakdown, cross the street, and reset in between.  Drive days with a concert at the end are always rough.  I don’t know if it’s the altitude, or the drive, or what, but I’m really sleepy.

Yawn.

With the elevation comes a rest from the heat.  It feels like it’s in the mid 80s here, in the dead of the afternoon.  Oh look!  Green stuff!

10:23pm
Hwy 89, North of Flagstaff

What a strange and wonderful day.  First, there was the gift for Mike, and then the weird mall, and finally, two of the strangest concerts in my six years in Agape.

The rescue missions in Flagstaff are… interesting.  The women’s shelter is a building shaped in a long U-shape, with a grassy area in the middle.  Their chapel room was extremely small, so we setup in the central courtyard.

Oh, by the way, they had forgotten we were coming, which is always a good sign.  The director informed us that many of the women present were extremely leery of strangers, so we shouldn’t be off put by their standoffishness.  They sat as far from us as possible.

Oh, I forgot to mention, there were wasps.  Lots of them.

We started our set, and the first two songs were a disaster.  Kids were distracted, disengaged, and of course, avoiding wasps.  I immediately bagged the planned set and started improvising, trying to get the kids to focus.  It worked, and the end of our shortened concert was actually pretty fun.

Oh, aside from the wasps, and the women who didn’t want us to be there, there was a well endowed braless woman who appeared to be functioning schizophrenic, wearing what looked like a doily on her head alternating between singing along with us and listening to her CD player.

The thing about these really strange gigs is that it actually forces me to ask the question of what our motivation really is.

Sometimes the least of these wears a doily on her head.

We quickly packed it up and moved up the street to the men’s shelter, which had a slightly larger chapel room, but was still REALLY small.  So small, in fact, that we set up only one of our three choir risers and didn’t bother with the main loudspeakers.  We just turned one of the floor monitors around and it was sufficient.

There were a very small number of very tired, distant men at the shelter this night.  One of the things that some shelters do is make the folks sit through a chapel service before dinner.  This was the case, and their attentiveness reflected this.

I actually like these kinds of concerts, because it forces me to really dig deep.  I want to engage them.  I want to encourage them.  I want to bless them, even in a small way.  It forces me to strip away the spiel, and just lead from my gut.

I, again, scrapped the setlist that I had made earlier in the day, and just called audibles on the fly.  I’d be conducting with one hand, while flipping through a resident King James pew Bible with the other, as I had accidentally left my NIV in the bus.  I’d pick the next song, grab a Scripture, and then ask one of the kids to read it for us as an intro.

The kids were great.  They stepped it up, and sang their hearts out for these men, who were not even remotely interested.  Through the course of our time, a few of them took their eyes from the floor and actually started looking at us, tapping their feet or nodding along.  The trick to this, in my opinion, is to realize that you’re not curing cancer.  You’re singing songs.  It’s a small, simple blessing.  Let it be what it is, and don’t pretend it’s something else, and the sweetness of the blessing can crack the toughest nut.

Then… more strangeness.  Since it was a chapel service, there was a speaker who followed us, and made a heartfelt plea for us to stay and hear him.  It was 7:15 in the evening, and I had heard the director say that chapel had a hard cutoff at 7:45, so I figured that no matter what he had to say, we could endure anything for a half hour.  Of course, no one else in the group knew this.  Hehe.

So, he was a former college professor, and smart as a whip.  He also gave perhaps the most heady, cerebral, messages I have ever heard.  One minute he was in Acts, the next he was dealing with Israel’s exile in Babylon.  At some point he managed to get to the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, and the next minute was discussing the relationship between Daniel, Ezra, and Jeremiah.  He knew his stuff, and he was quoting long passages from memory, and his theology was spot on, but it was like being trapped inside the head of a mad church history genius.

Remember the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the comedy troupe that would do the complete works of the bard in 90 minutes?  It was like a complete history of the Old and New Covenants in a half hour… for homeless people.

Watching the kid’s expressions during this was simply one of the most entertaining experiences in my recent memory.  Many of them had to simply sit down on the risers, as there were not enough seats in the room for all of us.  They’re all good church kids, and they’re used to sitting through messages, but they had no idea that this had a finite end.  Watching them attempt to track this guy will be perhaps my favorite memory of the trip.  Once they found out that I knew there was an ending point that was pre-destined, they almost forgave me for saying we’d stay.

Almost.

12:30am
Grey Rock, Arizona

Things have taken a decidedly left turn.  For tonight and tomorrow, we’re staying at a church just off of the Res.  After three nights of air-conditioned luxury, we’re all sharing a gym floor.  The doors don’t lock, at least from the inside.  Erica and two other female sponsors are literally bleaching the kitchen.

It’s all good.  I hope.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Four

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Six

Worst first line contest

“Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you’ve had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.”

This was the 2006 winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest…aka, the worst first line of a novel contest. I heard about it on NPR yesterday morning and remembered it this morning when I heard a song on my ipod begin with “I write mostly on hotel paper…”

This is a 2006 runner-up in the adventure category: “She looked at her hands and saw the desiccated skin hanging in Shar-Pei wrinkles, confetti-like freckles, and those dry, dry cuticles–even her “Fatale Crimson” nail color had faded in the relentless sun to the color of old sirloin–and she vowed if she ever got out of the Sahara alive, she’d never buy polish on sale at Walgreen’s again.”

C’mon Aly…you know you want to enter!

Road Journal – Day Four

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Monday, June 25th

8:33am
Phoenix, Arizona

Again with the early morning rising and running and whatnot!  I gotta be honest and tell you that the whole, “I don’t recognize this new guy,” routine is getting a little stale.  The truth is I feel like my true self for the first time.  I look at old pictures and see a familiar stranger wearing a fat suit.

I don’t know that guy anymore.  He’s literally dead to me, as if he was burned alive.  I stare at old pictures trying to figure out what he was thinking, as if it wasn’t my own life.  Erica gives me a hard time about this, reminding me that this old self was the one who wooed and won such a woman as herself.

Nice thoughts for a birthday morning.

I wrote a killer letter to my wife last night, and none of you ever get to read it.  Neener neener.

As you may have already discerned, this entry is pre-coffee.

Sorry.

9:53am
Phoenix, Arizona

Caffeine good.  Sweet, sweet nectar of life.

We have an easy day today.  We’re off to a mall for some free time.  I think we’re going to go see Evan Almighty.  I hope it doesn’t suck.  I am really ready for some pleasant brain distraction.

We have one concert in the afternoon, at the last Teen Challenge in the area.  Apparently they like us.  Then, in the evening, we have a swim party at the home of the pastor and his wife.  I hope it’s still hot enough to justify getting in the pool.  Oh wait…

It’s nice to have a relaxed day, for my wife’s birthday.

1:55pm
Hwy 101 east, Somewhere Outside Phoenix

We did indeed catch Evan Almighty, and I enjoyed it.  I have been successfully pleasantly distracted.  I thought the ending was a little over the top, which kind of bummed me out, as I thought they had walked the tightrope between comedy and cheese quite well until then.

As you may or may not know, environmental awareness is a central theme in the film.  This will, no doubt, sour many conservative Evangelicals.  Evangelicals don’t like to admit that there’s even a possibility they’ve gotten a political issue wrong, and then it seems like they like to conveniently forget about it as soon as possible (civil rights, anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?)

I miss the kids.  It’s funny, because just preceding this trip we spent a few days as a family at a time-share on the beach in the OC.  The church was given the time-share, and every year one of the staff members gets to use it.  This was our year, just in time, it turns out.

It was our first “kid” vacation.  In the past, vacation meant finding somewhere to stash them for a few days so we could get away.  Vacationing with young children seems quite a bit like work, but without the benefit of the routine on which they and we rely.  I thought I had gotten my fill of them, but I am apparently incorrect.

They’re with Erica’s folks, and they seem to be doing well.  We went to NYC earlier this year for a week, again by the generosity of friends with a mid-town condo.  Every time we would call home, Ella would sound dejected.

Bummer.

Thus far, her little voice is chipper and bright, recounting the details of their day (pizza and coke – gotta love Grandma and Grampa.)  She hands the phone to Zion (who’s almost 18 months and still not talking, despite the fact that he understands every word that comes out of my mouth) and then proceeds to narrate his interior monologue.  I guess I wouldn’t talk either if I had a four-year-old talking whirlwind all too happy to speak for me.

Ok, we’re almost here, and I have no idea where “here” is.  It looks hot.
Really hot.

If I melt before my next entry, I love you all.

12:14am
Phoenix, Arizona

Yes, I know that technically it’s the next day.  Shuddap.

Today, on her birthday, God spoke to my wife.  He told her to engage in a spontaneous act of extravagant and random generosity, and tomorrow it’s gonna bless the socks off of someone that we barely know.  In order to accomplish the first part of her spontaneous act of generosity, we had to take the van and charge out into the Arizona night. They all assumed that we were just going to have birthday sex somewhere, and much to my chagrin, they were wrong.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll take the van out again to complete our little project.  We knew that they knew that something was up, and the sponsors encouraged us to share the unfolding story with them, so we did.

The Scripture says that when you do something kind for someone, you’re supposed to keep it a secret.  You’re not supposed to parade your acts of kindness on the interwebs for everyone to think you’re some sort of altruistic Super Christian.  Since circumstances have prevented this from happening, and since I firmly believe that we’re merely passing along a blessing that’s been already poured out on us, I’m going to spill the beans and share the story with you all tomorrow after it’s done.  It’s just too good.  If we’re blowing it, God will tell us, and next time we’ll get it right.

The story is so nuts, that all along the way I’ve told Erica that it she couldn’t force it, that it was either His will or not, and if it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be.  I figure if, in this case, it’s His will for this story not to reach you, that He’ll send the Angel of Hard Drive Death with a celestial magnet between now and when we return.

Until tomorrow, then.

I can’t wait.

P.S.  The phrase, “Bless the socks off of…” I owe to Rach, who often comments on this blog.  It’s one of my favorite turns of phrase, and I’ve used it for years now.  Thanks, girlie.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Three

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Five

Road Journal – Day Three

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Sunday, June 23
7:04am, Phoenix, Arizona

What’s become of me? Those of you who knew me in my previous life, or Chad 1.0 as I refer to it, would not believe that at 7am on a Sunday morning I would have already gone for a 40 minute jog, showered, and am now ready to take on the day.

And take on the day I shall. We’re singing at three services this morning here at Bethany Bible Church, who is also hosting us for the next two nights. They have a 3 unit apartment complex located on their campus. The boys have one side, the girls have the other, and a few of the adult sponsors in the third, smaller unit. Yes, 15 boys and one shower.

My pleas for married housing, as usual, have gone unheeded. Andy, the youth pastor from our church and logistical director of our trip, has informed me that if he’s going without sex (his wife is home with their kids), then so are we.

I say that if you can’t get laid on a church sponsored ministry trip, then the terrorists have already won.

Last night, we had a sponsor pow-wow that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. We’re feeling like something’s amiss with this group, and we’re struggling to put our collective arms on it. We’re freshman and sophomore heavy this year, in fact there’s only one senior girl. Senior girls are usually the moral compasses and spiritual leaders of the group. We have great leadership in the boys, but… well… they’re boys. Enough said.

I personally think they’re feeling Andy and I at the end of our ministry seasons. I’m retiring from Professional Christianity and Andy’s transitioning into another ministry role, after nearly 20 years of working with youth. We’re just both so burned out, which is something that people who haven’t worked on a pastoral staff will simply never, ever understand. It’s not because they’re stupid, or lame, or shallow; in fact the collective spiritual grace exuding from the group of adult sponsors we have is inspiring. They just haven’t walked this particular path.

I’m having a hard time dropping The Righteous Hammer of Jehovah on the kids. I kind of know in my heart of hearts that I’ve failed to completely prep them for this trip, so it’s not like I can stand up in front of them and give them the ever so effective, “I’m your leader and I rock and you suck and hate Baby Jesus,” speech. The foundation has just not been laid for me to claim righteousness.

I’ve tried to explain this to the kids, this idea of burnout. I’ve been, most likely, too transparent with them, in my campaign to get them to meet me halfway. They kind of just look at me like I’m crazy, which is not terribly reassuring when you’re 90% convinced that no one understands where you’re coming from.

Thank God Erica’s here. I just wish I could get a room.

DAMN YOU BIN LADEN!

8:10pm
Downtown Phoenix, Arizona

Aaaaah, we finally got it together. Tour has begun.

It’s been a marathon day. We did three services this morning at the church. Fortunately we weren’t the entire service, we just did 4-5 tunes and sang with the worship team. The church fed us lunch, and then we began a serious, serious rehearsal.

We made the kids set up the full system, as one of the problems we’ve been having is that we haven’t yet had a controlled environment for a decent sound check. Monitors have been sketchy, vocal mics have had their wires crossed, and nothing says good time fun like choir mics feeding back.

For two hours, I worked them hard. I had zeroed in on four songs with major problems and we did each of them 3-4 times in a row. We worked on little, insignificant things like… oh… tone…. cutoffs… the little stuff.

I then made them sit and be an audience for the two small groups to work out their songs. Several times, I had to corral and remind them that being part of a team meant that sometimes you simply sat and supported your other team members.

We were done around 3:30pm, and the good news was that we still had two hours to relax. Hooray for naptime.
We left at 5:30 for another Teen Challenge facility, this one for the men. (side note: it’s now 8:21pm, and we just passed a sign that read 98 degrees. I blame Al Gore.) Anyway, the cool thing was that this concert was in a proper chapel, with decent to pretty good acoustics. We had a long time to prep and sound check.

Then, we finally got it. One of those audiences that’s totally dialed in from the word go. No small children to distract them. I forgot to tell you that yesterday’s concert, at the women’s facility, was in their dining room, and the noise floor created by the freezers and kitchen equipment was formidable.

No, tonight, they were ready. This was one of those audiences where you can break wind into the mic and they’ll applaud the fact that you have a lower intestine. Kids were cheered like rock stars, “Amen-ed,” like inner city preachers, and just generally celebrated.

The kids responded by becoming a real choir. They were energized by the crowd, and they actually did what I asked them to do. They matched tone, and cut off together… most of the time. God gave us what we needed today. Nothing would have been worse then to have a knock down, drag out, come-to-Jesus-and-repent-of-your-musical-sins type rehearsal and then have a bummer concert. We were given a gift tonight.

Well, we’re back at the church now, in our little apartments. One of our female sponsors was born and raised in El Salvador, and is a breathtaking cook, and she’s made homemade taquitos for the whole group. The Diet is officially suspended.

11:57pm
Phoenix, Arizona

Three minutes until my wife’s 31st birthday. Good night, love.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day Two

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Four

Road Journal – Day Two

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Saturday, June 23, 2007

5:55am
Irvine, California

Oh. Great. Googly Moogly. It’s so effing early.

10:12am
I-10, near Palm Springs

Well, it turns out that we had a bit of a schedule malfunction. We were supposed to do a concert at 7:15, after the clients had breakfast, but it turns out that they’re done at 6:45 and literally all gone by 7:15. We were running late as it was, so it just wasn’t gonna happen. Glad we got up at the crack of dawn… Oh well.

As a side note, it never ceases to pleasantly surprise me when workers at rescue missions refer to the people they serve as clients. That little word speaks volumes about the inherent dignity of every human being, even the homeless and down and out. Rescue and social workers strike me as way more like Jesus then most pastors I know… but that’s for another blog.

We’re having our big drive day today, out to Arizona. The bus is sleepy and quiet. We’ll arrive in Blythe in time for lunch, and then continue to, well… somewhere in Arizona. I make it a point to stay blissfully unaware of logistics on these trips. I have a fantasy that if I answer, “I Don’t Know,” to enough questions, that the kids will stop asking me. It’s been five years now. I’m a stubborn bastard when I want to be.

The Pursuit of Happyness is playing on the miniature TVs for those who care to be awake and entertained. Every year, there’s a battle over which movies are appropriate for general consumption. Two years ago, the battle was over Mean Girls. One particularly opinionated young lady wanted to watch it, expressing that it was only a PG-13 and it had a good, positive message. I raised my concerns about content, even though I quite like that film and I have an enormous humor-crush on Tina Fey. I noted that, if my memory served, there was quite a bit of thematic content that some of the more conservative families might find offensive. After the 134th “Bitch,” or “Slut,” one of the female sponsors had finally had enough and pulled the plug, to howls of protest. I was, and I know this may be difficult for some of you to believe, pretty smug.

Last year, the battle was over Ocean’s Eleven, which, for me, was a tougher call. One of our male sponsors was uncomfortable with the fact that we were watching a movie that celebrated criminal behavior. He made a point that, on this trip, we’re supposed to be putting our thoughts on higher, purer things. I happen to think that pulling a casino job just to impress and woo your ex-wife is almost Biblical. Maybe that’s just me.

I have decidedly mixed feelings on the issue. I agree that this trip is a time of being set aside, an offering, a sacrifice. I agree, in principle, with the male sponsor who made the statement about setting our thoughts on higher things. I guess its just that if you start down that path, there’s just no end to what we can start cutting out if we’re gonna follow to it’s logical conclusion. “Christian” entertainment is plenty offensive, albeit in different ways.

Stick with Pixar flicks, I say. All hail John Lassiter.

2:38pm
I-10, Western Arizona

Just finished a little on-the-bus small group tutelage. We have two small groups within the larger group, with seven and eight kids, respectively. I find it extremely hard to coach them. So much of what I do, when it comes to singing, and especially small ensemble singing, has been and always will be pure instinct. The years spent at APU simply refined what was already inherently understood. I have trouble articulating these ideas that have just been buried in my psyche for so many years, exercised weekly like my favorite muscle group. Erica is a Godsend in these situations, as she earns a living putting words to such things. I always end up saying things like… “Sing Blacker!”

We did, indeed, stop for lunch in Blythe, California. Blythe is the gateway (or the exit, in this case) to Southern California. It never ceases to amaze me that there have not been more eating establishments built there. It’s in the middle of nowhere, on the Colorado river, and the best place to eat in town is Sizzler, which we patronized.

Now, for a salad eater such as myself, this presents something of a conundrum. Oh sure, there’s the salad bar, but at a joint like that, the produce is just not their top priority. I went heavy on the Tomato soup, which was actually quite tasty. I’ve chosen a difficult time to get zealous about my diet again, but it’s gonna be what it is. I’ve been running several miles 4-5 times a week again for the past two months, and I’ve only seen a few pounds subtracted from the scale. I’ve been hoping against hope that I would be able to lose weight and still eat a sandwich from time to time.

No deal.

For some reason, I’ve always lost weight on tours. I have been looking over old photographs in the past few weeks, marveling at the weight fluctuations that I didn’t even realize I was having. I always look best in pictures from college years, in the late summer.

Yes, there is a fringe benefit from spending most of your youth morbidly overweight. You look at pictures of yourself from ten years ago and know for a fact that you look a hell of a lot better now then you did back then.

Eat up kids!

7:31 pm
Casa Grande, Arizona

We’re on our way to Golden Corral buffet for dinner, more health food for Chad. The desert sunset is putting on a show that almost redeems the fact that it’s still about 90 degrees outside.

Tonight, we had our first real concert. We were at a Teen Challenge facility here in town. Teen Challenge, FYI, is one of the most successful drug and alcohol rehab program in the United States, boasting an 86% success rate. It’s one of the more amazing Teen Challenges I’ve ever seen, a 30,000 square foot building with bedrooms, playrooms, classrooms, workspaces, and, I’m told, the largest walk-in freezer in Arizona.

I think they told us that this only one of three treatment centers in the nation that houses both women and their children.

(side note) We have a great bus driver named James. He’s currently doing doughnuts in the Golden Corral parking lot to make the kids laugh.

We’re here, more in a minute.

9:08pm
Casa Grande, Arizona

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Anyways, it was great. Visiting a Teen Challenge center always restores my hope in humanity, no joke. There’s something about those places. You hear it in the voices of the women, as they open up and tell you their stories.

They’re in the program for a year. A year. They live in this commune for a year. They’re given therapy, work training, assimilation training, etc. I think I remember hearing that Teen Challenge doesn’t even officially graduate “Students,” until several months after they’ve left the facility and stayed clean.

It was one of those nights where I felt, clearly, that we were there not to teach, but to learn. I believe the only difference between the 60 recovering drug addicts that we sang to and the 30 lily-white Agoura Hills suburbanite teenagers is that the recovering addicts are the ones who are simply more aware of and able to articulate their dependence on God. Those of us who, “Have our lives together,” whatever the hell that means, are not at all encouraged by the church to live openly and authentically. In fact, I believe in most churches, we’re punished for expressing our failures and struggles in subtle, sinister, and ultimately soul-crushing ways.

I think those ladies are closer to God then I am. I’m jealous of them.

I think I’m gonna go shoot some meth. What sort of whack job starts doing hardcore intravenous drugs just so he can go to recovery? A soon to be ex-pastor, that’s who.

Previous in series: Road Journal – Day One

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Three

Road Journal – Day One

Posts in the Road Journal series

  1. Road Journal – Day One
  2. Road Journal – Day Two
  3. Road Journal – Day Three
  4. Road Journal – Day Four
  5. Road Journal – Day Five
  6. Road Journal – Day Six
  7. Road Journal – Day Seven
  8. Road Journal – Day Eight

Friday, June 22, 2007

11:25pm
Irvine, California

About to go lights out, so this one’s going to be brief. We’re doing a concert at a rescue mission tomorrow morning at 7:15 in the morning. I wonder how homeless people feel that early in the morning. I hope they like CCM.

Our first concert of tour was a difficult one. It was at a shelter for battered woman and kids, which is always an unpredictable environment. Sometimes the women are leery of any men, much less a group with four adult male sponsors and 15 or so teenage boys. We brought them dinner and donated goods, played with the kids, and then sang a shortened concert for them in the round. Yes, APU heads, in the round.

So… it was sort of the musical equivalent of a grinding clutch. I mean, it got the job done, but it wasn’t pretty to listen to. I’ve got 28 high school students, all of whom just finished the school year, some for the last time, and now, 4 days into their summer, they’re having to deal with me, in my full Chadness, berating them for not knowing the words to their songs.

For me, the ideal beginning concert of tour is a chapel service for recovering addicts. They’re the best. My theory is that they’re just grateful for a distraction from the grind of their detox. They applaud and whistle and shout, “AMEN!” and make the kids feel like rock stars. I can leverage a concert like that for days. In fact, I think I’d rather sing for a bunch of recovering addicts then a bunch of lily white Christians any day of any week.

But tonight, it was a few tattooed and tired looking women and their kids. The kids ran around, wondering what all these strangers were doing in their midst. The women warmed quickly. Some cried. All seemed grateful. I still have a choir that’s not ready for tour, and they haven’t been baptized by fire yet, but for a few moments, we brought some fun and joy into the lives of some women and kids who have had a rough go.

That’s enough for tonight.

Next in series: Road Journal – Day Two

Hey, What’s Everybody Reading?

We’re nearing the apex of summer (i.e., July 4th), and that means that we’re all well into our summer reading program, right? Shamelessly copying a great idea from one of my wife’s posts last year, I thought this would be a good time to ask what everyone is reading. This could include bedtime, quiet time, potty-time, beach time, drive-time (books on CD or tape), iPod time, etc.

I’ll lead off – and the number of books in play reflects only the wonders of ADD, not any great literary aspirations on my part.

Quiet time / bedtime:

The Great Omission by Dallas Willard. Insightful as always, but in smaller bites – great for ADD.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. As always, thoughtful, provocative, wide in scope, wonderfully written.

Potty-time: The Calendar section and Entertainment Weekly, as always. At the office I just read an incredible National Geographic article about malaria. I know that this isn’t really a book and just sounds weird, but I was blown away by the worldwide devastation caused by this disease.

Drive time: Three books on CD in rotation.

Babylon Rising by Tim LaHaye. I have a perverse interest in popular Christian fiction. This one involves an Indiana-Jones type evangelical archeologist, and some really powerful bad guys who utilize a hit-man known simply as Talon. See, he has this artificial finger with a really sharp nail… Don’t all run out and get this one at once.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. You’ve seen this one for sale at Starbuck’s. A horrifying first person account by an ex-boy soldier during the insane civil war in Sierra Leone. Like the LaHaye book, I can only take this one in small quantities, but for different reasons.

A History of Britain, Part 3 – The Fate of Empire (1776-2000) by Simon Schama. I had trouble getting into this one, so I skipped to disc 6 or 7. Heard an incredible story (no kidding) about medical care during the Crimean War, and now I’m in. Right now I’m hearing about how Prince Albert was really running things for Queen Victoria.

Okay, who’s next?

Deep & shallow: what’s been on your mind today?

Deep: the tortured life of Vincent Van Gogh and all that he attempted to achieve through his art. This has been on my mind because of this. “Celebrated art historian and author” Simon Schama is in deep, deep love with his ability to phrase a description…he pronounced the impressionists of Van Gogh’s day as “marinating the meat of human essence in the rinse of their luminescence.” This sentence has stayed with me.

Shallow: how the heck can I keep predators from getting my chickens? While researching the answer to this question, I found this and it grossed me out. “…Got in and ate a week’s worth of chicken feet” is staying with me.

And you?

Do, Re, Mi and Darth Vader Frog

In an effort to feed my family in the most healthy, natural, non-toxic, lovin’-the-earth-and-all-that’s-in-it-way, I buy locally grown (when possible) and/or organic and/or free range and/or just less. (Three meals a day…oh bother!) Lately, I’ve been feeling like instead of buying free-range, antibiotic free, hormone-free, evangelical free eggs, I just want my eggs to be…free. Being that those for whom I cook are not so fond of meat, I tend towards eggs as a source of protein. (They sneer and make Calvin & Hobbes worthy choking gestures and sounds at the mere notion of tofu in any shape or form. Oh, but only mama knows what goes into all those smoothies! Cackle, cackle, cackle!)

So, the egg bill was getting out of hand. Well, only kind of. Mostly I used that as an excuse to convince Him Whom I Love and Therefore Cook For Even Though Cooking I Love Not that we should have some laying hens of our own. The fact that HWIL&TCFETCILN loves a good dinner omelette worked in my favor mightily. So now we do get free eggs: from four hens in a coop next to the house. We realize this is a little out of character. When I mentioned to a few friends that Brian and I were building a coop in which to house some chickens, I got this response: “But June, you’re artsy!” Another said, “I just never thought of you that way.” I assured them that I’m artsy-earthy and encouraged HWIL&TCFETCILN to finish up the coop… between producing music and doing mixes and all that stuff that makes us money. And I may have mentioned the high cost of organic eggs a time or two or forty.

After finishing the coop (handling chicken wire gets a spot on the “devil’s work” top 10 list…I’m thinking somewhere after painting ceilings but before removing linoleum) and transporting our four hens from their former home (in an old G5 box of course) to our newly constructed coop, I mentioned to our son, Zane, that we should name them. Three of them are reddish brown and kind of look like they go together so I named them Do, Re and Mi in honor of the coop builder and all he does (which doesn’t include cooking. Did I mention that already?) The other hen is black and rather keeps to herself. I told Zane he could name the black one and without hesitation he announced it “Darth Vader Frog!” I think the “Frog” part comes from the fact that his younger brother noted that the chickens “sound wike fwogs.” Later, Zane told me that he “actually” named “his chicken” Darth Vader Banana but he calls it Darth Vader Frog “for short.” But of course.

And now is when I should write something meaty (er…eggy?) or connect this all to some profound insight, or propose some really clever economic/religious/cultural notion. Or use the word “linux.” But it’s me, artsy-earthy mom, so no, that’s not happening. (Aly, where oh where have you gone? We miss your meaty/eggy writing!) I’m just invading the blog to tell of Do, Re, Mi and Darth Vader Frog. That’s all.

The Purpose of Civilization: Dance Class

Last Wednesday (May 30), the Dailies had a major gig in South Orange County – an outstanding evening in all respects, by the way – but it involved their early departure to the old O.C. to allow for equipment pick-up and set-up, rehearsal, and so on. That meant that yours truly had sole charge of their offspring beginning at 9:30 a.m., rather than my usual Wednesday start time of 2:30. No problem, says I. Furthermore, I remember that every Wednesday Erica takes Ella to a 10:30 dance class (with toddler Zion as an interested observer), followed by lunch (usually at Topper’s Pizza Palace). Erica assumed I would pass on this event, having had a knee arthroscopy five days before. But how hard could this be?

An important planning tip for future reference: It takes at least 45 minutes to prep and travel to dance class. There is a special outfit Ella must don for the occasion. Hair must be properly pulled up (definitely not part of my training). Zion must be dressed. The appropriate stuff must be packed in the diaper bag. A stroller must be loaded in the car. The kids must be buckled into their car seats. (Ella’s seat has a padded bar thing that must pass over her head, effectively dismantling my lame attempt at gathering her hair into a pony tail.) Then we have to find the dance studio, a nondescript destination amid dozens of similar-appearing industrial buildings near Amgen’s massive complex in Newbury Park.

Fortunately, Ella is able to direct me once we exit the freeway. Once we arrive, unbuckle, gather the gear and walk in, she makes a beeline for the door to her class. We’re 25 minutes late for a 45-minute class, but no matter. She joins the contingent of a dozen or so preschoolers in matching outfits and begins moving to the rhythm of “A Cup of Princess Tea.” Suddenly one child requests a potty break and several follow suit. The teacher takes pity on the pathetic state of Ella’s hair, no doubt wondering what male attempted to fix it, and efficiently restores order. The potty-relieved troupe now puts on tap shoes for “Be Our Guest,” complete with little trays, and begins their dance moves. The tapping isn’t in synch, sounding more like metallic popcorn, but no matter. I drink in the whole scene through the observation window. A thought crosses my mind, much like a similar reflection I had 25 years ago when I sat in on our daughter’s dance class on my day off.

This is the purpose of civilization.

I think of all that has to be in place for these little girls to dance and twirl, and for me to watch them and savor the moment. A whole lot of gallant people died more than 50 years ago so that we don’t have to live under swastikas. A whole lot of people have kept watch over our country since that time, so that we haven’t been bombed by some Grand Poobah who doesn’t like our culture or religion. A whole lot of people labored to develop immunizations so that none of these little girls have been killed by diphtheria or crippled by polio. A whole lot of people worked to create the infrastructure that allows us to have some income, a place to live, food to eat, and something left over to pay the people who run the dance studio.

I am well aware that far too many people in our world cannot watch enraptured while a granddaughter dances, or talk into the night with a beloved spouse over a glass of wine, or read whatever book they’d like, or sing worship songs in a public meeting. I marvel that I am the recipient of these and other privileges, and remain both humbled and grateful to God – and to a lot of people I’ll never know – who together have allowed me to experience them.

And now a word from the shallow end

INTRO

I’ve been enjoying the posts by Paul and Michael. But, most of my present life is spent not in the interesting and thoughtful depths of the deeper end of the pool, but rather in the shudder-inducing too warm confines of the kiddie pool. So there’s yer warning.

PART 1

I know I’m not the only one who dislikes Costco so very, very much. Just google “Why I hate Costco” and you’ll find rants to read for days. And yet, on the rare occasion when I do find myself there, I feel very, very alone…in an overcrowded, clausterphobic kind of way. All the other shoppers there seem so very happy. My only motivation for ever shopping at Costco is convenience: the convenience of not having to go to a traditional market every two seconds when we have heaps of company. This week my husband is producing a band made up of 5 young men, ages 19-27. Two days after they finish up their whirlwind recording sessions, a band of four similarly aged males will arrive for another few days of recording. It’s like locusts have landed inside my refrigerator and pantry. So yes, a trip to Costco was in order last night.

PART 2

I used to not like Costco because of my own lack of self-control. I’d go there with my little list, intending to buy bread and cheese and blueberries and I’d come home with bread, cheese, blueberries, a winter jacket, a new book, pretty new salad bowls and shrubbery clippers. Since that time (ie: quitting my paying job and living on hubby’s paycheck alone) I’ve gained greater self-control (ie: fear of house/car repossession.) So now when I do go to C-land, I truly don’t buy more than I intend. But, I still hate it.

PART 3

Outside of the obvious—aesthetic unappeal, lowest common denominator of international courtesy customs as the norm, limited financial savings, everything that’s wrong with the American mindset—the primary reason I hate Costco is probably the same as all other Costco haters: it promotes over-indulgence. Costco, as a concept and entity unto itself, is probably fine. (I don’t know enough about economics or…well, anything, to make a statement any stronger than that. Remember, you’re in the peed in pool right now.) It’s the people that are the problem (see Part 2) and I’m certain the Costco powers-that-be are counting on that.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

And since I now need to go find places in my non-Costco-sized-home to store last night’s purchases (I really hope I remember that the case of organic tomato sauce is in the tv armoire when I need it) I’ll let my good friends, Bob and Larry, sum up my Costco sentiments:

Salesman #1: Allow us to introduce ourselves, We’re neighbors
Salesman #2: We moved in down the street!

Salesman #1: Some say we’re the most delightful bunch Of fellows
Salesman #3: You’ll ever want to meet!

Salesman #1: And if you have a moment to spare,
Kind lady with beauty so … rare.
We’d like to take a minute or two
On a topic of interest to you.

Salesmen: We represent the Stuff Mart
Salesman #2: An enormous land of goodies
Salesman #1: Would you mind if we stepped in, please?

Salesmen: And as associates of the Stuff Mart
Salesman #1: It looks like you could use some stuff!

I pray that you won’t take this wrong, my dear
But initial observation is as follows:
The criminal responsible for this decor
Really should be hanging from the gallows!

Salesmen: We represent the Stuff Mart
Salesman #2: A magic land of retail
Salesman #3: Would you care to see what’s on sale?

Salesmen: Then as a customer of the Stuff Mart
Get ready for some real nice stuff!

Salesman #2 and #3: Check it out! Check it out!
Salesman #1: If you want a big hat
Salesman #2 and #3: We got that!

Salesman #1: If you need a tube of glue
Salesman #2 and #3: We got that too!

Salesman #1: A 20 gallon wok?
Salesman #2 and #3: They’re in stock!

And if you need refrigerators
To keep extra mashed potatoes
Or a giant air compressor
To blow fruit flies off your dresser
Or a dehydrated strudel
Or a nose ring for your poodle
Or a five pound can of tuna
And some flippers to go scuba

Scuba! Scuba! Scooby-doo-be-doo-ba!
Here we go, scuba! Come on!

Salesman #1: If you need a rubber hose
Salesman #2 and #3: We got those!

Salesman #1: A rhododendron tree
Salesman #2 and #3: We got three!

Salesman #1: A wrap-around deck
Salesman #2 and #3: Gotta check!

But if you need a window scraper
And a gross of toilet paper
Or a rachet set and pliers
And surround sound amplifiers
And a solar turkey chopper
Or a padded gopher bopper
Flannel shirts for looking grungy
And some rope for goin’ bunji

Bunji! Bunji! Bunji-wun-gee-fun-gee!
Here we go, bunji! Come on!

Salesman #1: What we’ve mentioned are only just some
Salesman #2: Of the wonderful things yet to come

Salesman #1: These pictures you keep are so … nice
Salesman #3: But you really should take our advice

Salesman #1: Happiness waits at the Stuff Mart!
Salesmen: All you need is lots … more … stuff!

Salesman #2 and #3: You really, really ought to!
Madame: How could I afford not to?

Salesman #1: Happiness waits at the Stuff Mart!
Salesmen: All you need is lots … more … stuff!

Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee

Posts in the Fightin' Fundies series

  1. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 1: Narrow My God to Thee
  2. Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

This is my first official Addison Road blog, and because it has been percolating in my brain for some time I feel a little like the youth pastor who gets the “big church” pulpit only once a year and feels the need to give a 36-point sermon. I’ve decided to divide my musings into three daily installments, sort of a serial without cliffhanger endings but perhaps a concluding teaser or two. I’ll strive for brevity in the future, but don’t count on it.

———

Last summer, while I was checking a reference for a Chuck Swindoll quote for a writing project, my friend Mr. Google led me to what I would have to nominate as the most fiercely fightin’ Christian fundamentalist website. I was surprised to find that the creator of the site lambasted Swindoll as a “full-fledged advocate of the gospel of religious humanism.” With a mix of curiosity and amazement I followed links to dozens of other pages within the site assailing the doctrinal integrity of every evangelical leader on the planet:

James Dobson – “…did not believe that the Scriptures were sufficient to communicate God’s will concerning families.”
Charles Colson – “A Catholic sympathizer… His blindness is incredible.”
R.C. Sproul – “…guilty of psychoheresy.”
Tony Campolo – a “pantheistic new-ager.”
Jack Hayford – “Evidence abounds of Hayford’s hyper-charismatic, ecumenical, and occultic tendencies…”
Billy Graham – guilty of “ecumenism” and “conforming to the world.”

I began to wonder… Is there anyone who meets this person’s criteria for doctrinal purity? What about John MacArthur? Surely he would pass the test. No way… “His teachings border on heresy, if not blasphemy… One only has to browse around the Grace Church campus and/or listen to tapes or read the various publications emanating from The Master’s Fellowship complex of ministries to come to the conclusion that spiritual discernment there is a commodity in extremely short supply.”

Whoa…

The big surprise, though, was to find that Bob Jones University, the place I would consider the most unassailable bastion of fundamental viewpoints and theology, did not get the stamp of approval from this site. It turns out that one of the descendents of the first Mr. Jones (Bob IV) had attended (horror of horrors) Notre Dame. Also, BJU has a strong drama department, and the site’s author contends that plays cannot be used by God because the actors playing the various roles are lying. (Don’t ask). Worse, the University has an art collection containing some classical specimens that might be construed as expressing Catholic thinking or beliefs. “Can it please our Lord that any BJU student would be directed by Dr. Bob to learn how to be ‘cultured’ and ‘enrich’ his life through the appreciation and study of Catholic art depicting false Catholic doctrine?” (Emphasis in the original. Interestingly, a friend of mine who attended Bob Jones for a couple of years says that the art gallery was his one refuge of sanity on campus.)

The whole sad site, whose name and address I won’t even bother to identify, is epitomized in a diatribe against BJU’s 1996 affiliation with the Dominion Satellite Network:

But shouldn’t Christians also be concerned about the other so-called ‘Christian’ programming coming into their homes via the Dominion system? Who would want anyone in their family nurtured on the teachings of John Osteen, Jack Hayford, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, Oral & Richard Roberts, Dwight Thompson, Tim LaHaye, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Chuck Smith, Jerry Falwell, Tony Evans, Marilyn Hickey, Kay Arthur, James Robison, Fred K.C. Price, Bill Bright, Robert Schuller, John & Ann Gimenez, David Mains, Josh McDowell, Steve Arterburn, Frank Minirth & Paul Meier, James Dobson, Tony Campolo, Jack Van Impe, J.R. Church, Luis Palau, Greg Laurie, and a host of other DBS program providers? Or how about the “melodies” of Carman, Bill Gaither, ZMUSIC (Youth-Contemporary), THE BEAT (CCM), and SOLID ROCK V.D.O. (“Christian” rock-n-roll Music Videos)? To top it all off, Dominion allocated several programming time slots to two Catholic priests and a Catholic nun!

Obviously, this website is haunted by an infinitesimally limited number of people who have painted themselves into a very tight doctrinal corner. It reminds me of a verse in a satirical ditty sung by the Chad Mitchell Trio, back in the good old 60s, about the Communist-obsessed John Birch Society.

We’ll teach you how to spot ‘em in the cities or the sticks,
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks!
The CIA’s subversive and so’s the FCC –
There’s no one left but thee and we, and we’re not sure of thee!

This stuff is funny, and sad, and cautionary all at once. Among those we know (or don’t) in Christendom, we’ve all got our own “naughty and nice” lists, whether based on doctrinal or political stances, cultural attunement or cluelessness, vocal or musical cadences, or any number of other variables. If the opening chapters of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – with its pointed rebuke of some early “Jesus camps” — is any clue, it would appear that the Founder of our faith isn’t terribly impressed with all of our various subgroups, especially when they engage in sniping at each other.

That being said, I would hasten to point out that fightin’ fundamentalism isn’t unique to zealots carrying their sputtering torches in the name of religious traditions, whether Christian, Islamic, Hindu or NASCAR. I would now like to nominate another vocal contingent, one that disingenuously claims a lack of any particular faith, for membership in the fundamentalist elite, with all of the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.

Who could that be? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s action-packed installment!

Next in series: Fightin’ Fundies, Part 2: Evolutionary Fundamentalists

Help raise money by watching the Dodgers!!!

Hey gang –

My usual post is one that links to a particularily funny or obscure video. I do this because it is my defense mechanism to make particularily funny or obscure comments or actions when I feel intimidated by the intellectual superiority of those around me. Because I spent a lot of time in college hanging out with the likes of Chad, Michael Lee, and Aly, I also spent many a nights participating in dialogues that went something like this:

Mike (sipping his Tequila): The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be either good or evil.

Aly (delicately puffing on a clove cigarette): Although the world is full of suffering, it is full of the overcoming of it.

Matt (making armpit farts): So this blonde walks into a library…

…and so on ad nauseum. So I sit in the sidelines here at the Roadhouse and show my face only to post on the funny and obscure.

This is not one of those posts.

I have the pleasure of working with a guy named Ruben. He’s a great guy with a great heart. One of his closest friends, Manny Bernal, recently passed away due to complications from cancer. Manny’s sister and Ruben have put together a fund in Manny’s honor that awards a scholarship to a designated senior on Manny’s former high school baseball team.

Ruben has purchased a bunch of seats to Sunday’s Dodgers/Reds game and is selling them to raise money for the scholarship fund. If you’re gonna be in Los Angeles and want to hit the game, or if you just feel like you want to help out the fund with a little cash, check out the flyer and give Ruben a call.

Thanks guys. I promise I’ll post some funny stuff on Friday.