Tag Archives: writing workshop

The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! (To Fix my Air Conditioner)

Tuesday afternoon of last week, I was sitting at my computer, working hard on a game of online Warcraft, when I heard a metallic clanging noise resonate from somewhere deep within the condominium.

“Hmm,” I thought, obliterating some 13 year old’s orc army, “That didn’t sound good, and also, why am I not writing a song right now?”

My foreboding sense of dread was confimed a moment later, when I recognized that the temperature was rising swiftly in my studio. I decided that as soon as I was done pwning this total noob, that I was going to act like an adult and go pretend like I knew what was happening with my air conditioning.

It wasn’t working. The external condenser / compressor / whatever the hell it’s called was blowing fine, but the doo-hickey inside the house was dead as a doornail. I shut down the system, stripped to my skivvies, and did what most suburban musicians (who know exactly how long it takes to create a elf hero and five archers) do when something in their house breaks down:

Call someone to fix it.

There were mitigating circumstances that aren’t relevant to this story, but I will tell you that it was Friday afternoon before it was fixed. Erica had the house totally rigged with dark blankets over windows and strategically placed fans. It was still in the mid 90s. Inside. At dusk. It was hot… that’s all I’m saying.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when my new Russian friend showed up, new motor in hand. His nametag read “Jim” and that’s how he introduced himself, but his accent was as thick as Siberian winter, and totally unmistakable. At least to nerds like me who have most of “The Hunt for Red October” script memorized… “There are some things on this ship that don’t react kindly to bullets…” Actually that line was more of a Scottish / Russian accent hybrid, but we’re splitting hairs.

Anyways… as he worked, I kind of hovered over him, just to see what he was doing, and all of a sudden he stopped and looked out into the living room. My six month old, Zion, was sitting in his little play jumper thing in the middle of the floor watching a Baby Einstein video. Baby Einstein, for those of you who are childless, is a series of edutainment videos that contain large, colorful images set to simple classical arrangements. We call it baby crack. Even at only six months, he stares at it as if the origin of mankind was being explained. My father is convinced that there are subliminal messages buried in the videos and that at age seventeen, my children will be pre conditioned to have the sign of the beast tattooed on their foreheads. The reason my Russian friend stopped and stared was because this particular vid was a language video, and the language at the time was Russian.

“Sorry…” he said, “I’m just not used to hearing Russian spoken out loud.”

I asked him where he was from. The Ukraine. How long has he been here? Eleven years. So the wall had fallen before you came? Yes.

I asked him if he still thought of his home country as the Soviet Union or as the Ukraine. He said a little of both. He started telling me that when he was a kid, he believed that the USA was the greatest country on earth. What about now? A good country, he said, but not the greatest. He was apologizing the whole time for his candor… I told him there was nothing to worry about.

He said that he didn’t believe there was a “greatest” country anymore. He believes all nations have good and bad qualities to them. I told him I mostly agreed. I asked him what made him start to get dissillusioned with the US. The war, he answered. Then he said something that absolutely blew my mind, and is the whole reason I am writing this post.

“I told people when it started that it would never work, but they didn’t believe me. I told them that Islamic fascists are trouble and must be dealt with, but that this war would fail, and many Americans and Iraqis would die. I think eventually Afganistan will fall back into Islamic hands.”

How do you know that, I wanted to know.

“Well… I was there.” He seemed embarassed. “I fought in Afganistan. I just know how those people are when you go into their land violently. They’ll die gladly to get you out.”

So, allow me to spell this out for you. This guy, who I know nothing about, and is here in my home performing a service for me and drinking a glass of ice water and generally going about his business fought in the Soviet invasion of Afganistan in the early 80s.

You remember that, right? We sent Rambo over to kick their asses. We armed the Mujahadeen. We cheered and touted the Soviet failure to occupy their land as a great testament to the power of the human spirit and the immenent failure of communism? Remember that? Then, in the chaos that followed, this little group called The Taliban took over and then they became the bad guys when they blew up the WTC. Then we went over and kicked THEIR asses instead of the Soviets and now they’re still fighting us, nearly five years later?

So, just to recap:

80s: Russians Bad, Afgans Good, USA Good.

90s: Russians Getting Better, Afgans Nuetral, USA really good (grunge rulez!).

00s: Russians kinda ok, Afgans Bad, USA still good.

2006: Russian fixing my air-conditioning, Afgans still bad, USA still sorta good.

Is anyone else confused?

So… a few things struck me.

When it comes to issues of war and peace and international relations, I don’t know s**t from shinola, and neither do most of you. Listening to NPR, while educational and stimulating, is not combat experience. I don’t know if Jim from Ukraine knows more then I do about foreign relations or not. What I do know is that he’s seen things that I cannot comprehend. You should have seen the way his eyes shifted when we told me he had been there. They glazed over and I was practically watching him flash back to the desert. When he says that the war is not going to work, I am inclined to believe him, even though I get you I could rattle off a much more comprehensive and articulate argument to the contrary.

Go talk to a veteran who’s seen real bloodshed. You have to pry stories out of them. Both of my grandfathers served. One of them trained bomber pilots in Nebraska. The other flew missions out of England and North Africa and was shot down and spent two years in a POW camp.

Guess which one liked to tell war stories?

This is not a slam to my grandfather who stayed here. He was an older officer, married, and served his nation faithfully and with honor. His stories were not cavalier or boorish. It’s just that he never saw his friends get shot or spill their blood.

I’m not suggesting that you or I should hold our tongues, should we have an opinion on war, or peace, or how we should get from one to the other. I am only suggesting that some of us grew up in the suburbs, and some of us invaded Afganistan in 1980 with the Soviet army. We should think long and hard when we speak of such things.

I also realized that lots of improbable people have lots of interesting and compelling things to say. I am about to confess something to you that will make me sound like an insufferable asshole (my new favorite phrase… sorry, Melody) but I want you to bear with me.

Most of the time, people want to hear what I have to say. I am a leader, and I have gotten pretty good at it. When you’re a good leader, people ask you for your opinion. A lot. Most of the time, I actually kind of wish that they would leave me alone, and that they wouldn’t give my words such weight, because then I could swear more and it wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately, my close friends have the good sense to put me in my place regularly and they all have potty mouths too, so I sound like June Cleaver.

All this to say that, and it’s unfortunate but true, but I have trouble diciplining myself to allow other people to simply talk, especially in a context where I am supposed to be in charge, like… every time I go to work… for example. Why is it that I have to be taken hostage by a busted air conditioner in order for me to just stop and chat? Well, I’ll tell you why: because my agenda was shot. Because I know dick about air conditioners. Because I was forced to rely on Jim to fix it. He was in charge. We were going to be done when we said we were done… or when cold air started blowing… either way.

People are really interesting. They have had experiences that I haven’t had. They’ve been places I’ve never been. They’re not all articulate, or even smart. They’re often clumsy, and unattractive. Curse this culture for conditioning us to spend time with only people who look or behave a certain way.

As always on a post like this, I don’t have a credible ending. I just have observations. It’s Sunday, so there are a fresh batch of post cards over at Post Secret. Post Secret is often not safe for work and/or offensive. If you have strong feelings regarding certain things… you ought to not click over. However… perhaps you might benefit from the excercise of getting behind someone else’s eyes for a few moments. Maybe after that we should go buy cups of coffee for strangers and see what happens next.

We’re way too insulated in our air conditioned fortresses, I know that for sure.

The Final Week of Our 20s

I’m starting over.

I started one of my long, rambling, incoherent blog farts for you all, and I just can’t do it again. I want to tell you all about the things that I am thinking this week, the last week of my 20′s, but I just can’t. It’s too much. It’s too long. And I have had a hell of a long day. I just want to cut to it.

This idea struck me yesterday that I am racing through this week, allowing the necessities of my schedule run roughshod over the naval-gazing that should, in my mind, accompany an event of this magnitude.

And you know what? That’s for the best. I could work myself into a real existential lather over this, and I am pretty glad that I just simply don’t have the time. I have too much damn stuff to do.

Tomorrow morning, I need to print tracks for Stick. Then I need to email them. Then I need to pack a suitcase, because we are leaving with The Agape Singers at 2:30 in the afternoon. I will try not to think about the charts that I should have made for Curt and Dave who will be joining us on a gig on July 9th for our friends at Calvary. I will also not think about the fact that I am not quite done with the slideshow retrospective I am putting together for our party on the first. I will spend time reflecting on the experience of watching my little girl in her first dance recital earlier tonight. I will think about this as I help her mother pack a suitcase for her and her baby brother for their weeklong trip to San Diego their grandparents.

I will think about the week of August 14-19, and how we are going to El Dorado to make our record. I will try not to think about the huge amount of prep that needs to happen before then.

I will not think about how tired I am. I will not think about the fact that in the midst of all of this, I will be holding down a job and partnering in raising two very young children who need their parents around and in good moods.

I will think about Christ, who strengthens and encourages me.
I will run. I will eat well. I will continue to lose weight, because with every pound that comes off of me, a small reserve of personal drive and satisfaction is filled. I have lost sixty two pounds since January 14th, and I have never, ever felt better about myself. Let me repeat that. I have NEVER in my life believed in myself like I do at this very moment. Some of you who knew me back in the day are thinking, “Wow. Homeboy was a bit of an egomaniac! I bet he’s a grade-A prick now!” The reality is that I have never been more ruthless in self evaluation and critique on every level. My confidence is in who I am, not some projection of who I wish I was.

I will not freak out about the number of things left to do for our birthday party on July 1. I will not think about the slideshow that is still incomplete. I will not freak out that the party is less than 24 hours after we return from tour. I will get excited about having so many of my dear friends close to me.

I will miss my kids this week. I am glad they’re coming home to us for our birthday.

Wasn’t I supposed to go off and smoke peyote in the desert and have a vision quest or something? I thought in the final weeks of your 20s, you were supposed to go to Manhattan or Vegas or somewhere exotic and dangerous and meet exotic and dangerous people.

I’m going to Ventura, and eventually to the sexy town of Sacramento.
Everything’s mundane and yet immediate. Irrelavant and critical. I’m changing diapers and trying to write lyrics that will shift people’s perspectives. I’m taking teenagers to be a witness for Jesus Christ, Savior of mankind and King of the universe. We’re also going to play frisbee football.

I’m so tired. I’m completely alert. It’s all happening too fast and not fast enough. I am a mess. I am powerful, and in charge.

I am recklessly alive.

Things I Learned at Beer Appreciation Night

So, Ash and I spent the evening last night at “Beer Appreciation Night” at BJ’s Brewhouse in Woodland Hills. For those of you not from the West Coast, BJ’s is an upscale micro-brew, where they make premium and distinctive beers on-site. Beer appreciation night works a little something like this: they pick a topic (last night was Belgian beer), they bring in an expert, the expert brings in a lot of beer, they pour the beer, we drink the beer, the expert talks about the beer. For those of you who weren’t able to make what I’m quite sure will be the first of a monthly event, let me sum up for you what I learned last night:

1) Don’t order a shot of bourbon to start – there’s plenty of beer coming.

2) In Belgium, the boy scouts go door to door selling ale as a fundraiser instead of cookies.

3) Belgium may be voting soon to split into two countries, Flanders and Wallonia. (I wanted to ask the speaker if they intentionally chose their new names based on Simpsons characters, but Ash waved me off)

4) If you hire a brilliant brewmaster, and put him in charge of your brewery, you have to let him use the brewery to make side-projects, even if, when you serve them at Beer Appreciation night, there is a collective gasp of horror at the prominent sherry/apple/buffalo-chilli flavor in the beer, because, well, he’s the same guy who brewed the 4 beers amazing that followed, one of which of which would have gotten a standing ovation if we were capable of standing.

5) In Belgium, they serve beer in school cafeterias. It’s cool though, ‘cuz it’s only like 2% alcohol.

6) If you’re planning your own Beer Appreciation night, go from light-and-sweet to dark to light-and-sour. It’s a good arc.

7) Do not taunt the drunk racist guy in the corner. Seriously. He’s bigger than you, and he learned to fight in Montana. Against, like, moose. Or whatever.

8) Two kinds of people come to beer appreciation night – the kind who bring a pencil, and the kind who don’t. Everybody makes fun of the pencil-bringers, until the end of the night, when they’re the only ones who remember if it was the Guflertzengrumtlar that tasted like angel tears dipped in honey, or the Gahzterumflarfner. Turns out the Guflertzengrumtlar tastes like skunk-farts.

9) There is such a thing as bad beer.

10) The piss-tasting american beers (The words of the brew-master, not me!) taste that way because they were trying to make a German pilsner, but substituted corn for grain because it’s cheaper. Thanks, Budweiser. Proud to be an american.

11) This is not a sipping event – we drank 17 beers in 2 hours. You have to bring your “A” game, and by “A” game, I mean you have to sit on your can and drink beer, in a hurry. Good thing Ash and I have been training.

12) Hops cure cancer. Drink up, you chain smokers!

13) It is always a good idea to go listen to someone who is knowledgable and passionate about a topic. There is something infectious about it, in a good way. As we were sitting there, listening to the Belgian expert talk about his love for the 5,000 year old craft of brewing, and about how the temperature of the yeast affects the growth of the bacteria, and how certain flavors have calendars to when they emerge in the beer, I realized that he talks about beer in the same way that Chad and I would sit around and talk about a vocal mic selection, or the way Rosy talks about ply-layer construction on his studio kit, or how to time a snare flam in a funk groove. He loves making beer. Which work out well, because, as it turns out, I love drinking it.

Chad Minus Fifty (Truly Meandering Thoughts)

There’s a little less Chad to love these days. This morning, I weighed myself at the usual time, which is right out of bed, before any exercise or food. When I first weighed myself last January, this was exactly the time of day I did it. It’s my benchmark.

Today, my scale told me that I had lost 50 and 1/2 pounds. Oh sure, we’ve been dancing around 50 for a few days now. After a good run, or at the end of a particularly well balanced dietary day, it might dip there for a brief instant. But it would always pop back up the next morning. But today, I stuck it.

I am halfway home. From this moment forward, I will have already lost more weight then I intend to lose.

People have begun to stare. None of my clothes fit me. A few Christmases or birthdays ago, Aly and Ash gifted me with a grey Kenneth Cole button up shirt. I thought it was supafly, but for all these years, I could only wear it open with a t-shirt. It just wouldn’t button up for me. It hangs on me now. Most of my belts are about to start getting custom made holes put in them.

Erica bought me a couple of cheap pairs of Old Navy jeans just to start getting me some basics that fit me, and it turns out I have dropped 6-8 inches off of my waist. She likes to tease me when she catches me checking myself out in mirrors. I try and tell her that I can’t help myself… it’s like there’s a familiar stranger looking back at me, like a childhood friend that you haven’t seen in years.
I have a dimple in my right cheek. I never knew it was there before. The skin underneath my jaw feels tighter, as if my neck has shrunk. I see my crows feet coming in at my eyes, and I’ve never noticed them before. I love them.

My legs have always been the most muscular part of my body, and great googly-moogly, are they spectacular now. My calves are like rocks. I could seriously be a calf model. My thighs look like Easter hams. In a good way.

I direct a High School aged outreach choir at our church called The Agape Singers. If you follow the link, you’ll see a picture of the choir with me in front, taken last summer. IF you follow this link, and scroll down to a picture titled, “fun,” you can see me wearing the exact same shirt. Same shirt, different Chad.

We have a tradition on Agape Tours. It’s called Ultimate Frisbee. For four years now, it’s the rite of passage for most of the boys and some of the girls in Agape. For our weeklong tour in June, we’ll set up teams and play anywhere between 14-16 games. In the past, the ace card I had on these teenaged athletic boys and girls was that I could out throw them. I have very little athletic ability, but for some reason, I have always had a freakishly long and accurate frisbee toss. I would sort of be the quarterback of our team, hanging out towards the back of the action, get the disc, throw long, etc.

This year, one of the boys alerted me that several of them were debating as to how to factor me into team picking this year, because they were all afraid that now I could not only out throw most of them, but perhaps outrun them as well.

Getting skinny rocks. Teenage boys fear me.

I’ll just say this one thing, and leave it at that, but let’s just say that relations with the Mrs., (who herself has dropped to her high school weight after having two children), have never, ever, been better. Oh good lordy, why didn’t I do this sooner?

People ask me, “What’s your secret?”

I always think of George Clooney, who was asked on a talk show one night how he lost that weight he gained for the making of Syriana. I’m seriously considering stealing his response and claiming it for myself. He said, “Well… it was a magical conbination of eating less and moving more.”

That’s it.

I think the whole fitness / diet industry exists because we aren’t really interested in simply learning from and obeying our bodies. Yeah, I’ve been drinking some green tea, and taking some flax seed oil, both of which are reported to have metabolic enhancing features.

But you know what? I’m inconsistent with them. What I am consistent with is simply eating smaller amounts of healthy food and getting my heart pumping for 45 minutes 5 times a week.

That’s. The. Secret. I almost wish it wasn’t so simple. That way, I could justify the 29 years I have spent thus far being lethargic and defeated, before I decided to take this monkey off my back and beat it to death.

I find myself thinking about other things that I’ve wanted to do with my life, but never have. I find myself thinking about what kind of Christian I wish I was, but know I am not. I find myself watching Flea on Saturday Night Live, shirtless and killing it, thinking… “I could do that. Where’s my bass? I’m taking it for a run.”

I can do that. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I have never, ever really believed that scripture before the last few months. I believe Jesus wants me to rock my bass shirtless. If He didn’t, why oh why would he allow Flea to be so hopelessly hip?
I hope this process makes me more compassionate towards people, but I think it will take additional dicipline and work. I often find myself thinking about complex issues with more simplicity, rather then nuance. “Cut the crap… what’s the bottom line?” I will have to be aware of this reality. I have changed this one area of my life, but there are still so many areas of my life that are complicated, and shaded in hues of grey.

What benefit will it be for me to become increasingly healthy myself, only to be increasingly annoyed by unhealthiness around me? I guess I’ll just have to take a deep breath, look at a picture of myself from years gone by, and pray for them. Pray for myself, that I could continue to overcome my own problems and issues. Pray for us all, that we might learn to run together.

Give Me 3 Names

Give me three names

1. They must be artists (in any genre, any medium),
2. They must be dead,
3. They must have left a lasting change on their craft.

Here are my three – Mark Rothko, Arnold Schönberg, Augustine of Hippo

Ready, Go!

[Legal Disclaimer: by posting in this thread, you agree that Michael Lee has the right to use the product of your fertile mind for raw consumeristic exploitation. Even after he has used your hard work to make literally billions of dollars cash money, he will still refuse to give you any part of it, or even to give you decent gifts worthy of your great effort. By posting, you acknowledge all of this. So say we all.]

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The Dementape Letters: Five

Posts in the The Dementape Letters series

  1. The Dementape Letters: One
  2. The Dementape Letters: Two
  3. The Dementape Letters: Three
  4. The Dementape Letters: Four
  5. The Dementape Letters: Five
  6. The Dementape Letters: Six

[It's been some time since Dementape's last correspondence with her niece and novice tempter, Gutrot. The Head of the Department of Kingdom Thwartation got a better firewall, but she has, alas, grown lax with security once again, and this missive appeared last evening in the storage area under our stairs where we keep the catbox. You can read Dementape's previous letters starting here.]

My dear niece Gutrot,

I must admit that your most recent attempt at high-level temptation has paid off…this once. It pains me a little to do so, considering the monumental failure of your previous “creativity” (the aftershocks of which we are still feeling), but no foul deed must go unrewarded. So — well done. You may expect an increase to your Soul Ration after the Demon Resources payroll paperwork has been approved by the Head of DR and Our Father Below.

I had my doubts about you, Gutrot, but you have proved yourself in the area that matters most: instinct. All the education that Hell affords can never teach you that tingling feeling you get when you sense an opening and worm your way in. And worm you did! If we are lucky, your work will bear rotten fruit in the Emerging Church for years to come.

They didn’t even see it coming! I’m not even sure they see it now your work is done. Keep them blinded, Gutrot, and they may never know how this seemingly subtle shift in course has fundamentally changed their Kingdom Values. When they began this Emerging Church venture only two years ago, your Subjects pledged to keep the impoverished and marginalized at the center of their Community…yet now, thanks to your undermining handiwork, the poor are marginalized more than ever. Again, I say: Well done.

It was truly breathtaking how you managed it: When the time came to appoint new Elders who would guide the Church in Her spiritual undertakings, you saw the confusion and questions surrounding what qualifies a Person for such a position. (Confusion is a tempter’s best friend — it so easily disintegrates into Chaos. Delicious!) The danger for the Emerging Church’s dedication to live embedded in their surrounding Culture is that they can swallow so many of those Culture’s Values without even noticing. Instead of drawing together to Pray and seek guidance from The Enemy’s infernal Word, you nudged them to look outward to learn what qualifications their Culture counts as worthy. You saw the opening, and wormed your way in.

Honestly, I can barely believe the spectacle of your success. They have appointed five Men who know how to do only one thing well: make money. Of course, I am thrilled at the prospect that these moguls will make decisions that are based solely on the Church’s best financial interest (though we must never underestimate the Changing Power of the Holy Spirit, even in the most hardened Subjects); but I am most excited by the seismic shift this indicates in the Values of the Emerging Church Herself. How marvelous that they now equate fiscal success with spiritual maturity and health! Their reasoning makes perfect sense from a Worldly perspective: who better to guide the young Community than Men who have guided businesses through the murky waters of today’s uncertain economic climate? But from a Kingdom perspective, they have missed the mark entirely. They don’t suspect that they’ve bought into the Lie we’ve been telling for millennia: “God helps those who help themselves.”

If luck and Evil are with us, this shifting Value will burgeon into a conviction that the poor — who clearly do not “help themselves” — should be viewed with mistrust and ridicule, since The Enemy is obviously not on their side. At the very least, the wisdom of the marginalized will stay where it belongs: on the margins. You must continue your work, Gutrot, to ensure this opportunity goes our way.

Your mother sends her worst. We are both proud of you, and look forward to the tasty Souls you will undoubtedly bring in droves to the Table of Our Father Below.

Your vile and affectionate aunt,


Previous in series: The Dementape Letters: Four

Next in series: The Dementape Letters: Six

Mental Notes

Sometimes it’s nice to have your hair on fire.

Not literally (I imagine), but in the way of running around with so many thoughts and ideas and inspirations that there just isn’t time enough in a 24-hour day to jot them all down in one central place where I might remember them later, once I have a chance to sit down and sift through the detritus, panning for gold. So instead I start taking mental notes, knowing deep down this is akin to keeping the tax code on Post-Its tacked to a small beer fridge, tucked under the snapshot of a slightly tipsy Ash doing the spanking dance at a friend’s wedding and the overdue electric bill.

I got one of those fancy-schmancy moleskin notebooks for on-the-fly note-taking, but I keep forgetting it’s in my purse. When I run across it while rummaging for my keys or ringing cell phone, I make a mental note that it’s there and I should use it. But that Post-It gets tacked up under the Chinese take-out menu and I’m right back where I started.

My cell has a voice recorder, but I feel excruciatingly silly speaking into the damn thing when I know very well nobody is on the other end, even though there is absolutely no one (if they cared enough to listen) who could know that. I feel like a Ray-Ban sporting Secret Service agent, muttering phrases like “The fox is in the henhouse” into my lapel. Pride is dumb, and I am making a mental note right now to get over myself.

I’ve begun to seriously consider the efficacy of tattooing Big Ideas onto my body, like the Guy Pierce character in Memento. I might not be able to remember what “semi hauling bales of post-consumer cardboard” means, but at least it would be at hand if and when I needed it. (This was a note I managed to actually write down last week. I have no idea why I thought it was worth remembering.) I’m not ruling it out, but the time and pain factors have kept me from buying in completely.

Usually my lack of discipline in the area of writing down important ideas doesn’t bother me too much. But when all the stars have aligned and all two creative cylinders are firing, my brain starts to feel like one of those Tokyo high-rises where all the thoughts are crammed into sleeping modules the size of breadboxes, and I become terrified there will be a neural tsunami and they will all perish in one devastating wave of amnesia. Or early-onset Alzheimer’s. Or paranoid schizophrenia, when I start to sculpt tin-foil hats to limit the aliens’ access to my gamma wave-particle energies, which are at their most potent when I’m feeling inspired.

I’m enjoying having my hair ablaze, but I wish I had a good system for tracking the fire’s progress. Maybe GPS technology could be involved somehow. Mental note: GPS is cool.

The Kisses of His Mouth

I submit for your reading (and other) pleasure a draft of a passage inspired by Song of Songs, from the project I’m doing with Ash & Ramon. I am SO open to feedback and suggestion at this early stage…any constructive criticism is welcomed. This is my adaptation of SOS 1:2-8. Read it and weep–or read it and go find your spouse for some late-night two-become-one, which is actually the response I’m aiming for:

Let him kiss me with the kisses
of his mouth—

I drink them in,
honeyed wine…
the caresses of your lips and teeth and tongue
weaken, strengthen me.
I breathe in the scent of your skin,
breathe out the sound of your name.

I am willing…eager
Lead the way, my lover, my heart
Bring me to your bedchamber—
into the dark
into the light

With my body, I thee worship.

Take me as I am.
I offer scars, imperfections—
touch me and embrace my flaws
I am your beloved
You look at my failings and see
legends, maps of me before

I will tell the tales, my lover, only
whisper where I will find you
and I will come out of hiding.
Or we can play cat and mouse…
pursuing, escaping
one another until we
I’ll follow your trail and
you follow

Parenting and The Art of Divine Trickery

Today, I learned an important lesson in parenting: Sometimes you have to trick your kid. Then I realized that God tricks us too, but He’s an excellent parent, so it’s cool.

I hate trickery of any sort. The second I feel like someone has tried a bait and switch on me, whether it be an unnecessary warranty upsell on a used car, or a person at church who makes noises about saying hi to the newborn, but really wants to tell me about which choruses they do and most certainly do not like.

Just give it to me straight. That’s all I ask. If you want to complain about the music, knock yourself out.

A straight ahead approach is completely lost on a two year old, Ella. I know. I’ve tried. I would kill to be able to simply lay out the benefits of a relaxed environment of obedience in our household. I would explain how a system of mutual respect and an understanding of the roles in which we temporarily find one another, i.e. parent and child, will allow Ella to fulfill her desires in a safe, responsible way. As long as I am the Acting Executive Assistant to The Chief Financial Officer of The People’s Republic of Fantasyland, I would also explain that increasing amounts of trust and responsibility will be shifted her direction, and that in the fullness of time, her mother and I will gratefully release her as an independant woman in the care of her God and her sound mind, so that in the mean time, she might relax and enjoy herself and not be a pill if she only gets her way 94.5% of the time.

Aaaaaah. That felt good. Now back to reality.

Tonight, I had an amazing homemade salad with salmon, pomegranate seeds, endives, green onions, and mangos on it. I got it in my head that Ella might enjoy a bite of mango. Ella has quite an eating palate, if you insist I brag. She actually requests vegetables. She eats seafood, sushi rolls included. We’re not total grape nuts around here, her Oreo jones is met and satisfied. Anyways… she has a cool little sense of food adventure, there’s not much she won’t try.

But she wouldn’t try the mango.

C’mon! It’s like a cantaloupe, but cooler, because it tastes better and is from Hawaii, where everything’s cooler!


Ooooh… I’m gonna eat your mango! You better get it quick, because I’mmmm goonnnaaa eaaaattt itt aallll up!

How about some more rice? (Handing me a spoonful of Uncle Ben’s finest.)

And so on. I was in no mood to make it a Federal Obiedience Issue. It was a fricken mango, for fart’s sake. All through the dinner I tried to get her to eat some, and she wasn’t havin’ any of it. Finally, towards the end of the meal, I spotted my money clip at the other end of the table and decided to try and get a laugh out of Mommy.

I’ll give you two dollars if you eat the mango.

Unimpressed. Johnny Chan cool. Vulcan cool. Your money is worthless here cool. Then I spotted my change.

I will throw in thirty four cents as a bonus. You know what you can buy with two dollars and thirty four cents at today’s market climate? Stickers.

Stickers. Bingo. No self respecting two year old female can resist their seductive song. It’s like dangling a bleeding persian cat over a croc pit. It’s over.

She ate one piece, and took down her pot. As she counted her winnings, mommy sneakily got one more, then another, and then a verbal concession that mango was, in fact, not the most reviled substance in California. I won! I got her to do it! I knew she’d like it, and she did! And it only cost me $2.34!

Erica quipped that inflation really is something, because she used to fold tablecloths out of the dryer for a dime. A dime per tablecloth? Nope, just a dime. I told her she should have fired her agent.

Then I thought about it, and realized that $2.34 is a pittance to pay if my beautiful little girl aquires a taste for mango, one of God’s sweetest and most delightful fruits. A sense of adventure in cuisine is, in my opinion, a mark of a kindred spirit. What a gift I gave her for just over two bucks.

Money well spent, if you ask me. Maybe I’m not a half-bad parent after all.

Sharp Left Mental Turn Ahead. Be Prepared.

I have been thinking a lot about Aly’s Sex in the Bible post. I had no idea that she and Ash and Ramon were collaborating on such a smashing concept. I only wish it needed a musical score. I have made only smarmy comments thus far, because I have so many thoughts on the issue of Christian sexuality that I don’t even really know where to begin.

One of the things that I have been thinking about is the reality that sex tricks young Christian men and women into getting married, so they can begin (or continue) having hot sex with one another and not feel crappy about it after the deed gets done. I say trick, because no one in their early or mid 20s really knows themselves or their spouse well enough to get married to them for their entire lives! They think they do, but they don’t. Anyone who’s been married can tell you that.

On paper, the idea of sleeping around and living together first seems like a really sound idea, as you can really get to know the product. You know… suss it all out a bit… if you know what I mean. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. On paper, the world has the most prudent, thoughtful, sensible approach to picking a spouse.

On paper.

If I were a better blogger, I would have links to back this statement up, but studies have shown that couples (of all races, creeds, and faiths) who sleep and live together before marriage have a lower success rate than those who don’t. Hmm. That’s odd. There could be a myriad of reasons as to why. Perhaps there’s a cheapening of the ritual of learning how to live together. Perhaps the bonds of sexuality aren’t forged in a place of innocence, so they are not as strong. My former boss liked to point out that your best chance of having a marriage survive has less to do with who you are, and more to do with who’s around you, who you come from. We are all capable of being selfish assholes from time to time, but if your parents stayed together, and your friends stay together, you’re more likely to want to try and work it out. It’s just one way to stack the cards in your favor. In an ironic twist, he did recently something selfishly assholic , and yet his marriage survived and is healing.

So… I think God tricks us as He parents us…. for our own good. I think He’s as wise as wisdom itself, and I think He knows us in the marrow. I think He gives us the gift of carnal pleasure as a big lure to get us through that scary door called commitment, and then helps us work it all out for our good and His glory. I’m glad I ate the mango, folks. I really am. I don’t care if he baited and switched me. No one ever pulled me aside and said, psssst, it’s all g-strings and hot oil now, but later it’s gonna be g-strings, hot oil, and steaming baby turd in a diaper too! SEXY!

God bought me off, and as of April of this year, it will have been seven years since I ate that mango. Know what? I still like mangos.

P.S. I think the church often makes a pisser of a mistake with this gentle dance of God’s erotic trickery. I think they take His lovely little mango and slather it in an extra large portion of festering, chunky, inedible guilt-gravy. I believe that we need to completely rethink how we teach our kiddos about healthy sexuality, guiding them towards a marriage filled with eroticism, instead of shame and guilt. I have seen too many Christian marriages fail, and I’m not even 30 yet. My kids WILL NOT learn about sex from their youth pastor. unless I know that their youth pastor gets some serious freak on with Mr. or Mrs. Youth Pastor.

But that’s another post.

Step One: Admit That I am Powerless Over My Addiction

A month ago, I think I joined a 12 step program. I’m not sure I meant to, but I think I did.

Ahem… uhh… Chad? You know… one doesn’t join a 12 step program by accident.

No… sometimes you do.

See, I have this friend named Anthony. Anthony came to our little church as a new believer. He discovered us because we’re a polling station. While he was waiting in line to cast his ballot in the 2003 Californa Gubernatorial Recall Election, he started reading the “What’s Happening” board for the church, and decided to check us out. He decided to stay. He had become a Christian recently, after being raised Jewish, as he would say, “Bar Mitzvah and all.”

Anthony is a recovering gambling addict. Should you spend any amount of time with him, and should you want to hear about it, he’ll tell you. He’ll tell you that the GA was instrumental in his decision to follow Christ. He’ll tell you that he touched bottom and decided that he wanted his wife and kids more than the thrill of his bets.

I liked Anthony the moment I met him. He’s an entrepreneur. He listens to, and tells you about cool music. He dresses cool. He’s a surfer. He says “shit” sometimes when we’re not on the church campus, and then apologizes to me because I am a Professional Christian, providing me with the most rare and wonderful opportunity to swear for the good of the kingdom, that my brother might not stumble. I love swearing for the kingdom. He, with some friends, organizes a Christmas party every year at the Santa Monica Pier for kids living in L.A. group homes, complete with hundreds of dollars of donated gifts. He’s spontaneous and generous. Hanging out with him is an adventure, unpredictable, and just plain fun. Surrender your schedule and submit to The Anthony Zone.

Before the new year, Anthony started telling me about how he was working with some of the other guys in the church in the area of fitness.

“We should get together for coffee… talk about it.”

“Uh Huh,” I said, actually considering the wonder that is a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger.

The first week in January, we sat down at the local chapter of The Evil Empire, and Anthony started laying it all out.

No red meat, no bread, no pasta, no sugar.

“Well… what the hell can I eat?” Swearing for the kingdom rocks.

Veggies, fish, and enough green tea to have me declared legally Asian.

We sat there talking about omega 3 and 6 and excercise and running shoes and hiking up Mt. Whitney, and somewhere along the way on that Monday morning, listening to this man convince me that I could really get in shape in a short timetable, I got this notion that I just might be able to do it.

But then, he dropped The Bomb on me. “…and I want you to weigh in and tell me where you’re starting, so we can track and measure your success…”

Dude, I don’t do The Scale Thing. I think the last time I was on a scale, 250 was starting to get a little faint in my rear view mirrors, and I decided that it was for the best just not to really look anymore. Then I finished college, somehow managed to get this stunning, smart, talented woman to marry me and make kids with me, ate some more of those wonderful, wonderful fast food products… and… well…. look… let’s just work out, and we’ll have a little fun, and we’ll eat some fish and have a merry old time. Why do we have to quantify everything? And who the hell ASKED YOU ANYWAYS?!????!!

So I’m a little sensitive about my weight, sue me. I have always teetered on the edge of the great chasm between being a Person That Can Shop Where Normal People Shop and being a Person Who Has to Shop at Establishments Where The Words “Big,” and “Tall,” Are Supposed to be Positive Marketing Terms. I am a large man, and I come from a proud history of large men. I am 6’3. I have a barrel chest and thighs the size of holiday hams. I play frisbee football with teenagers, for Pete’s sake. I’ve always had, as the kids say, a little junk in the trunk, but I was never… obese… was I?

So a week later… errr… a week and a day later… it took me an additional 24 hours to work up the nerve… I began a new life. I stepped on a scale for the first time in perhaps eight years.

I weighed three hundred, eighteen, and one half pounds. I still can’t bring myself to use actual numbers. I’m kind of hoping that you aren’t reading carefully. In that moment, something foundational in my mind cracked and shifted, and I truly believe that I will never be able to return it to it’s previous condition.

Oh God help me. I have allowed myself to be powerless over my own body. I am going to die, in my mid 40s, clutching my chest and gasping for breath.

I. Refuse. This. Reality.

I own new running shoes, and one pair of absurdly expensive socks. I can tell you that the Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar tastes a lot better than the Caramel Nut Blast Balance Bar, but it’s not as effective at supressing your appetite between meals. I haven’t had a Dr. Pepper in a month. I eat a shitload of fish. I have ran the streets of Agoura Hills, California at least five out of seven days each of the last 4 weeks.

I have lost 20 pounds in 27 days.

When I stepped on the scale this morning, I was delighted to see that my personal goal had been met, a full day ahead of schedule. There is a “2” in the hundreds column on my scale, and that “3” can kiss my white, freckled, ever-shrinking ass.

I have seen the promised land, and I am not ever, ever going back to Egypt. I have been delivered, praise Jesus.

I was whining to my father on sunday that church seems to meet everyone’s needs, except for mine, but that’s not really true now, is it? Step 2 of the 12 steps is about hope. The belief that a higher power is the only thing that can restore us to sanity.

Lord, you sure work in strange ways. I’ve been avoiding You on this one for… well… nearly 30 years now. I don’t know why you chose to use Anthony to get to me, but I am grateful. Thank you. I promise to always take better care of this astounding gift, this wondrous temple that you gave me.

Until then… I’m on step 1.5, which goes something like this:

My name is Chad, and I am a recovering apathy addict. But when I turn 30 in June, I am going to be fricking beautiful, the way God meant for me to be.

Copywriting, or Pulling My Own Teeth

I aspire to someday make my living by stringing words together into coherent sentences in order to communicate important ideas that I have either a) thought up on my own or b) cribbed from other, smarter people and then changed the words enough to not be legally culpable for plagiarism. To further this life’s ambition, I have begun to freelance edit and copywrite. The editing is not so very bad. In fact, I enjoy making mincemeat of other writers’ efforts, as well as the feelings of power and superiority that well up within me when I use a red pen. But the copywriting is another animal entirely.

For those of you who refuse to soil your hands with anything smacking of marketing or advertising, copywriters are the vile rabble who debase themselves by stringing words together into [sometimes] coherent sentences in order to communicate the idea that you cannot possibly continue living without the product they have been hired to peddle. These strung together words can be anything from a slogan (think “Just do it” or “Obey your thirst”) to the all words spoken by that deep, disembodied voice on the trailer for the newest Hollywood blockbuster (think “IN A WORLD with no limits…ONE MAN will find a limit to push…”). Also, copywriters string together words that appear on the packaging of products that inform the consumer about the contents of that which they are about to purchase, such as frozen burritos, cleaning solvents, pet food, diapers and…books.

Ever wonder whence came the heart-stopping words on the dust jacket of that John Grisham novel you almost bought at Costco last week? Copywriter, baby. Unfortunately, I have not been hired to write the copy for the newest Grisham novel. If I had, I might have a sunnier outlook on life. No, I have been hired to write the copy for a book on servant leadership.

Before you get all crazy with the John Maxwell up in my grill, let me say that I am, in fact, a fan of servant leadership. No arguments here. Servanthood: good. Leadership: also good. But do we really need yet another book about the combination of these two concepts? Is there really anything to add to the already vast library on this topic? Haven’t books by such notables as Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Robert Greenleaf, and James Hunter pretty much covered it? (The book for which I’m writing the copy is not authored by any of these luminaries.) I have to write 125 words (a paltry number, I know) that will convince the aspiring servant leader they should skip all those other books and buy this book instead. How the heck…?

So rather than doing that, I’ve just written in excess of 250 words about how much it sucks. I think my career is off to a promising start.

Songs That Annoy Christians But Shouldn’t #2 – I Will Follow You Into the Dark

Our second song comes from the oh-so-sensitive Seattle band Death Cab for Cutie. Aaah Death Cab, how I love thine EMOtive ways. For those of you not baptized into the cult, DCFC got started several years ago in Bellingham Washington, releasing a series of increasingly successful albums on the independent Barsuk label.

Then DCFC released their most accomplished album to date, Transatlanticism, in late 2003, just as a little show called The OC was raising up getting it’s tan on. I have never watched the show, but apparantly The OC features a character who is obsessed with the band and talks about them relentlessly.

Around the same time, lead singer Ben Gibbard did this little side gig with a programmer buddy in L.A., and they named themselves The Postal Service, since they never actually collaborated in the same room together, but emailed (or snailmailed) tracks back and forth in various phases of completion. Their album, Give Up, was a suprise hit, and you hear it everywhere, even if you don’t realize it. The song Such Great Heights, has become so ubiquitous in commercials and TV promotion that my bank account gets weepy just thinking about it.

Anyways… Death Cab is now a big band, and their latest album, Plans, was co-released by Atlantic Records, giving them worldwide distribution and promotion. The song in question comes from this latest album, and it really caught my ear. It’s not a single, and it’s not that popular of a song, but I will bet you dollars to pesos that it has annoyed some Christian, somewhere. So, I write this little essay for them.

We begin with a simple guitar pattern and Gibbard’s gentle tenor singing:

Love of mine some day you will die
But I’ll be close behind
I’ll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark

Nice happy little ditty here, Ben. Way to go. I think I’ll go eat some razors to cheer up. Where are we going with this?

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Wow. This guy believes there’s no heaven or hell, or if there were, that they might be disqualified for both for one reason or another. He doesn’t know where they’re going, but only that he’s committed to go there with her. I find a beauty in this sentiment, even though I do believe in an afterlife that will be impacted by how I spend my time here. So often we as believers are quick to point out the flaws in secular humanism, but we’ve missed one critical strength of their worldview: they hold on tight to one another, because that’s all we have if there’s no God. How wonderful might it be were we to cling to one another so fiercly in God’s name?

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles brusied by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
“Son fear is the heart of love”
So I never went back

And it all comes clear.

I believe that perhaps the most destructive force in Christianity is our predestination doctrine. I firmly believe that, while God calls us to Himself, we are actively engaged in this great experiment called free will. We so often (either when explaining someone else’s inexplicable bad behavior or our complacency) just expect God to work some things out that, frankly, He wants us to deal with! I fear that there were souls throughout history who might have chosen Him had they actually experienced Jesus. Ben Gibbard did not experience Jesus, so he claims not The Name. I think that sucks.

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Here’s our chorus again, and in the light of verse 2, it’s worth reprinting. He’d rather follow his love into blackness then go back to that place of judgement and violence. I would too, most likely.

You and me have seen everything to see
From Bangkok to Calgary
And the soles of your shoes are all worn down
The time for sleep is now
It’s nothing to cry about
Cause we’ll hold each other soon
In the blackest of rooms

I don’t know whether to think this is lovely or hopelessly tragic. One side of me deeply resonates with the profoundly counter-cultural sentiment expressed here. Don’t try and hold on to things too tightly. Don’t worry so much. It will be ok, because we’re together… and if we’re asleep, we won’t know we’re together.

Another side of me thinks that the fatal flaw and ultimate downfall of secular humanism is that this kind of whatever-will-be-will-be attitude (however poetically rendered) will not enough to keep us all moving the right direction, towards peace instead of war, towards justice instead of exploitation, towards hope instead of despair. There must be something more… something towards which we must reach.

If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Ben Gibbard’s perspective is so beautifully skewed that it made me want to curb my natural tendency to correct his doctrine, at least in my mind. His perspective is born out of experience, and his experiences are true to him. This is where we get into trouble as believers with our insistance on absolute truth, because this is Ben’s absolute truth.

“Well, He’s wrong, and I’m annoyed.”

Well.. ok. So he’s wrong, and you’re annoyed, deal with it. Now, are you going to shut your trap, (Chad), listen to his sweet song and learn about his perspective, or do you need to make sure he gets corrected before he drives home? Maybe you should try rapping his knuckles.

Perhaps she didn’t hit them hard enough.

The LA Experience

Subway trip homeGretchen and I spent the day yesterday walking along Grand Avenue in LA. My folks had driven down to watch Sophia, giving us a rare free day, so we decided to ride the subway downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art. They have an extensive collection of works by Mark Rothko, whom I love. What I didn’t do was call ahead and see if they had actually bothered to take any of the Rothko’s out of storage and hang them on the wall. They hadn’t. So instead, we got to see an exhibition called “After Cézanne”. The exhibit explored how artists’ conception of the human body had evolved in the years since Paul Cézanne’s hugely influential pre-modernist paintings of nude bathers.

It was an exploration of despair, from one end to the other. Which is not to say that it was bad art, but that all of the works seemed to speak with a singular kind of voice, and that voice despaired of any possibility of a transcendent human experience. It explored the human body as a kind of machine for living, a machine that acted in violence, in ignorance, in a brutish kind of sensuality, and in voyeurism. In the same way that modernism in architecture tried to reduce buildings to pure transmutable functionalism, the works of these modern artists tried to reduce our human bodies into a functional kind of meat sack for enacting the animalistic impulses of soulless minds.

facing west

There was no joy. There was no beauty. There was no transcendence. There was little material for reflection, for exploration, that did not immediately devolve into gross violation of the human spirit.We left, and walked north up Grand Avenue, past the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. I started to feel better. I started to remember that we have not lost the ability to create art that sparks creativity, that speaks to the part of us that revels in the act of living. We are not machines, we are not complex levers of muscle and sinew, constructed to enact the impulses of soulless minds. We are human beings, people connected to this earth by sense and experience, but made apart from it by transcendent acts, acts that touch the eternal substance of the created world, not the temporal manifestation of it. We are human beings, and we strive always to live not as dust, not as breath, but as the beautifully intertwined balance of the two that makes us the Children of God.

The LA Phil is playing through all of Beethoven’s symphonies this season. Gretchen and I are going to make the trip back downtown to hear them play the 5th. I can think of no better statement of the transcendent hope of human creativity than that piece, played in this venue, in this city.

We emerged from the tragic humanism of MOCA, and past the soaring hope of Gehry’s Disney Hall, and what better way to complete the transformation than to end up at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

forgive us our sinsAt the back of the cathedral, there is a fountain of Holy Water. Rising above it is a mural of Jesus being baptized by John. I stood in the back of the enormous room, listening the the thunderous chords of the organist, the scent of candles lingering in the air, and facing the mural, wept.

We are not machines for living. We are not people of despair. We are not the tragic consequence of fate.

But we are not divine, either. We are not the gods and goddesses of the pantheon, propelled by perfect hubris through the mundane trappings of mortality for a little while.

We are imperfect Eikons. We are the breath of God in broken pieces. We are human beings, and we live suspended between two world. We create because, in that act, we unite dust and breath, and our physical selves commune with our spiritual selves. We are the people of the descending God, who emptied himself to stand on our thresholds, not once, but three times. He descended with breath to give us life. He descended with self to give us new life. He descended with spirit to give us full life. We are the thrice blessed people of the twilight, who echo the songs of heaven with guttural voices.

We are human beings, born of clay, yet touching the sky.

This I Believe: Humility is the Key to Peace

Okay, please don’t laugh. You already know I’m an NPR nerd. Now I’ve submitted an essay for consideration for the “This I Believe” series. I’m a dork. Discuss.

Here’s my essay, in all it’s glory:

I am an evangelical Christian. Now, before you reach for the knob to turn down the shrill diatribe you know is coming, let me say this: we’re not all apocalyptic, politics-obsessed maniacs who can’t just shut up and focus on our own damn families. “Evangelical” means “people who love good news,” and even though the word has become synonymous with “people who want to run your life” or “people who think they have a corner on the market of morals,” I choose, probably foolishly, to hope the word can be redeemed and we can once again become good news lovers, instead of bad news makers.

One of the reasons “evangelical” has morphed into a word unrelated to its origins is the certainty of some rather noisy bearers of that name. Call me wishy-washy, call me a flip-flopper, call me what you will…but I believe that certainty is dangerous. Certainty ignores the words of Jesus: “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

I believe that humility is the key to peace. Humility reminds me there always exists the possibility that I am wrong, that I don’t have the whole story. As much as I want to believe that I’m right, that the history books will be on my side, that in the end I will be vindicated before all man- and womankind…there may be the slightest chance I’ve got my wires crossed and don’t know what the heck is going on.

Our culture applauds conviction and stalwart determination without counting the cost such certainty requires, and then we cry out in fury when a few unwavering, resolute individuals fly a plane into a building. Single-minded resolve is the quality most in demand among would-be terrorists. It’s also the death-knell when I’m talking to my brother—who is a believer in New Age spirituality—and we can’t get over ourselves and our respective religions long enough to really listen. At such times, humility is the only thing standing between us and disaster.

You see, certainty holds in its treacherous talons not only the possibility of mayhem and murder on a grand scale, it also gleefully offers the slow and steady disintegration of our most treasured relationships. Certainty leaves no room for human fallibility…for my fallibility.

The truth is, I don’t know. Yes, I have good reasons and great evidence for believing what I believe, religiously and otherwise. But those reasons and evidence don’t add up to certainty, if only for the simple fact that I am human and can be counted on to screw up a time or two before my number’s up. Humility is what reminds me we’re all on this bus together, rickety though it may be, and there’s room enough for everyone. Humility reminds me that while we’re all trying to get it right, we must give each other grace to get it wrong. That is the essence of peace…and that is truly good news.

Songs that Annoy Christians but Shouldn’t #1 – Heaven on Their Minds

I used to get really annoyed at longs like Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us.”

“What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?”

Yeah, you know it. It annoyed you too. Admit it. There are just some songs that have tweaked Christians over the years. We sort of tolerate references to God in pop culture, or when Diddy thanks the Good Lord for making so many hot bootys, but when Lennon says, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” and we know he holds us in low esteem, it feels like a slap, and we get miffed. Or maybe it was always just me. That’s another blogpost.

So, one day, a guy named John Fischer showed up to speak at APU morning chapel. John is a Christian writer, speaker, and singer, and happened to be the uncle of this girl that I was trying to get to go out with me with no success, I mean I had front row tickets to Jars of Clay! What do I have to DO TO GET A DATE WITH YOU! But I digress… And I married a hot girlie who loves me, so that eases the pain.

John walked up to the podium and started singing One of Us. I figured he was going to sing a verse, stop, and make some point about how the culture is attacking us and gays with nose rings are responsible. Instead, he played the whole song. Then he proceeded to give a message that quite literally changed my outlook on this area of life.

He said, “We should stop getting mad at Non-Christians when they talk about Jesus and get it wrong. Of COURSE they get it wrong! We should just be glad they brought it up.”

So, I don’t listen to lyrics the same way anymore.

We begin today with a funky guitar lick that goes something like… bum bum bah bum do dat, bum bum bah chicka doo doo dat… well… you get it. Sort of.

Then Judas sings:

My mind is clearer now… at last all too well
I can see where we all soon will be.
If you strip away The myth from the man,
You will see where we all soon will be.

(a scream, a WAIL as the band crecendos behind him) Jeeeesuuuus!

You’ve started to believe
The things they say of you.
You really do believe
This talk of God is true.
And all the good you’ve done
Will soon get swept away.
You’ve begun to matter more
Than the things you say.

Then the band really kicks in and we are off into Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical with a mixture of the profound and the profoundly misguided. Judas is our protaganist, giving voice to a character who was so often villified prior the sexual revolution and is now (I believe in part due to this song and this charactarization) often portrayed as a misunderstood folk hero. In one recent London staging, for example, it was Judas who is lifted into heaven at the end of the musical… yikes. I should just be glad they brought it up, I should just be glad they brought it up, I should just….

Ok. I feel better.

So Judas is our narrator, and he’s concerned. Judas is given a pragmatic voice, a voice of reason. He is sympathetic to his misguided friend, this Rabbi who has deluded himself into believing he is the Messiah. “Poor bastard,” he thinks.

“Poor us!” he then thinks, “MoFo’s gonna get caps busted all up in our ass!!”

Listen Jesus I don’t like what I see.
All I ask is that you listen to me.
And remember, I’ve been your right hand man all along.
You have set them all on fire.
They think they’ve found the new Messiah.
And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong.

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died.
But every word you say today
Gets twisted ’round some other way.
And they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.

Judas is astute here. He knows that Jesus has pushed all the wrong buttons with all the wrong people. He knows that people have misinterpreted and misquoted the carpenter’s son. I think he’s realized that Jesus isn’t going to start the Right Kind of War after all, and he’s thinly veiling his own bitterness as a warning about the vengeance of others.

Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He’d have made good.
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
He’d have caused nobody harm; no one alarm.

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.
If they go too far….

I love the anger and sarcasm immediately melting into fear in this section. With one breath, he mocks Christ, and with the next, articulates his fear at the impact that this man has had. His dreams of revolution have withered, and I think he just wants Jesus to shut up so he can go home and get some sleep. This whole ministry thing is really hard, after all.

Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.
Please remember that I want us to live.
But it’s sad to see our chances weakening with every hour.
All your followers are blind.
Too much heaven on their minds.
It was beautiful, but now it’s sour.
Yes it’s all gone sour.

Here’s the crux. He wants to live. He wants to retain his worldly posessions, his life, and his liberty. He thinks the other apostles are fools, with their heads in the clouds, and he might have been right. Perhaps Jesus knew that Peter wasn’t exactly treasurer material. Perhaps Judas really was the smartest guy in the room. Perhaps being smart is overrated.

Judas’ plea (a plea set to a funky, funky groove) carries on it the cries of so many:

The cry of the rational, post modern thinker who loves the words of Jesus, but can’t bring themselves to believe that he is The Word.

The cry of a believer, struggling with the frustrating choices and behaviors of other believers.

The cry of a believer who is not ready to surrender their entire life’s authority to Christ, knowing all along that it’s what must be done. It’s not easy to do the right thing. It’s really easy to do the easy thing.

This song makes me want to get my head out of heaven long enough to take stock of the people around me right now. It makes me realize that a Christianity that’s only about getting the hell out of here and to a better place is pretty off-putting to my friends and neighbors who are on the outs when it comes to the pearly gates.

This songs raises some awesome questions and reveals our own flaws and lack of faith in just under four-and-one-half minutes. I am glad Andy and Tim brought it up.

Death Comma Fear Of

Grandma’s funeral is on Friday (the 13th…but I haven’t noticed, and it obviously means nothing) and I’m doing the thing we all do when someone dies: reviewing her life, sifting through the shards of long-neglected memories, hoping to find some clue that might point me to what her life Meant. (I’m fully aware that not everyone is obsessed with Meaning in the same way as I. But you are wrong, and I will never understand you.)

Here’s a truth about Grandma: She was afraid. This, above all other characteristics that coagulated and solidified and made her her (good cook, empeccable housekeeper) is the one that stands out, the one that colors all others and taints them, fogs my inner eye’s vision of her. I can see Who She Was only through the lens of What She Feared, whether it was the low opinion of others, the imminent threat of abject poverty (she was a child of the Depression), driving on the freeway, or Missing the Sale. (This last was perhaps the most terror-inducing of them all; Grandma was a prodigious shopper.)

I think she was also afraid of dying. Two encounters that seem random at first blush lead me to this conclusion:

When I was a freshman in college, I was taking Exodus-Deuteronomy with Bill Yarchin. It was my favorite class, the class that inspired me to declare a Biblical studies minor, the class that made me believe that maybe there was something to this whole Bible Thing, regardless of my previous experience. That semester, I went up to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving, and Grandma and I found ourselves warming our chilled behinds before the fire on a foggy, San Joaquin Valley late-autumn day. Unprepared for the theological miasma she would unleash, Grandma asked, “So what are you learning in school?” and I launched into an exuberant account of how Heaven and Hell were not native to Old Testament Jewish thought and the idea that we are Souls encased in Earthly Bodies is borrowed from Plato and not really Christian at all, and that’s why Jesus’ Resurrection was so crazy, and when we die we probably don’t go immediately to Heaven the way we always learned, but instead we are Actually Dead until the Second Coming and Judgment. (I spoke in a lot of capital letters in those days.) I failed to notice her growing agitation until it was too late. I finished my soliloquy with breathless glee, and Grandma responded, “Well, that’s fine for you, but when I die, I’m going straight to Heaven.” I tried then to explain that either way it shook out the point was moot, because obviously we wouldn’t know we were Actually Dead until Christ came back…but it didn’t matter. The thought of being wormfood and a persona non consquentia on the world (or at least the Bakersfield) stage for untold millenia was intolerable to her.

The other encounter happened on Sunday, about 7 hours before she died. Ash and I drove up to be with my grandpa because we knew it wouldn’t be long and I wanted to give him some support. While Ash and the rest of the family were chatting about non-death-related topics, I held Grandma’s hot, papery hand and listened to her ragged, irregular breathing, wondering if she could hear me. I whispered to her things I hoped might bring her some peace: “We love you. We’re all here and we’ll take care of Grandpa. We’ll be okay. We’ll take care of each other, just like you always took care of us. You don’t have to be afraid.” Until that moment, she showed no sign of response, but when I said afraid, her eyes flew open and her breath caught in her throat and she looked utterly, primally terrified. We stared at each other for a frozen second, and it was then that I remembered that Thanksgiving conversation of long ago…and the burden of remorse settled over me.

Now, it feels fantastically egocentric to suggest that Grandma was afraid to die merely because of some upstart, arrogant kid’s ranting about the finer points of life-after-death postulation…but it sure didn’t help. In that moment, staring into Grandma’s wild eyes, I felt the guilt that comes when you know you had a damn good argument…but man, you sure missed the point.

Her eyes closed once more (and for all I know, never opened again), and I whispered that I was sorry, that Jesus was waiting for her and everything would be okay. Sometime between our leaving at 6:00 PM and her dying at 11:00 PM, she must have crossed the line between fear and peace, and for that I am grateful.

The Dementape Letters: Four

Posts in the The Dementape Letters series

  1. The Dementape Letters: One
  2. The Dementape Letters: Two
  3. The Dementape Letters: Three
  4. The Dementape Letters: Four
  5. The Dementape Letters: Five
  6. The Dementape Letters: Six

[The fourth in a series of Top Secret correspondence. You can read from the beginning here.]

My dear niece Gutrot,

I am disappointed in your reckless, amateur behavior (especially as I seem to recall that I was fairly specific in my warnings not to bite off more than you could chew), and I am not interested in your feeble and inadequate excuses. Save them for your mother…though as she is as much a heartless demon as I, you may want to abandon excuses all together in favor of groveling and boot licking.

Obviously, your hair-brained scheme has backfired with stunning (yet predictable) results. How could you possibly have thought that attempting an intricate, Level 5 Temptation would yield success for a novice of your inexperience? If I’ve told you once, I have told you a thousand times: Never use a cannon when a poison dart will do the job. Fireworks are not impressive when they blow up in the lab.

Still, I am an optimist (which flies in the face of our certain Damnation). All is not lost…not on my watch. If there is anything I can do to save your miserable carcass from the annihilation it deserves, you may count on me to do it. (Not least because it won’t be only your carcass up for annihilation. I rue the day you were assigned to my Department of Kingdom Thwartation, but there’s no use crying over unspilt milk. As I always say: “When life gives you lemons, find someone with a papercut.”) I only pray Our Father Below does not hear of your appalling failure from one of your witless, nattering friends before we can rectify the situation.

It is unlikely you will be able (even with my assistance) to undo the damage you have done. How you could have imagined that it might be a good idea to suggest to those in the Emerging Church community that they should be more loving, accepting and embracing of anyone who is different than themselves is completely beyond my ability to fathom! Did you honestly think you could somehow corrupt their holy intentions and convince them to abandon their moorings of morality and righteousness solely because homosexual People are now welcomed into their warm, Christ-centered midst? Foolishness! As if expanding the Embrace of the Gospel might somehow boomerang in our favor! Never, never tempt any of The Enemy’s Children toward greater charity and justice…they have the Holy Spirit for that, you imbecile! Now (thanks to you), People of both sexual orientations are seeking The Enemy’s Will together, trusting that His Light and Truth will guide them as they wrestle with difficult questions regarding His Intent for Sexuality. If such a thing were possible, I might believe you were a Double Agent. (And if I thought They would have you, I would not hesitate to suggest you switch Sides. We could use someone of your idiocy working for Them.)

Well…two steps forward, one step back. (And for your sake, it had better only be one.) Return to the beginning. Your only hope at this jucture is to fall back to your opening salvo of Pride. If you can get the Community to feel smug and self-satisfied that they are open-minded and obviously superior to their more conservative Brethren because they have adopted those who have not previously been welcomed in the pews, you may go a long way in salvaging your desperate situation. And it is desperate, Gutrot. Make no mistake…you are one rank breath away from feeling the full force of my dissatisfaction. Stick to Pride, or you will know my ire. Intimately.

I will check back with you in a week. If I hear of one wrong step between now and then…

Your (always) vile and (barely) affectionate aunt,

Previous in series: The Dementape Letters: Three

Next in series: The Dementape Letters: Five

Author Bios Posted

Having received literally thousands of emails clamoring to know more about the prolific voices behind Addison Road, and also offering us various medical enhancements and low-cost mortgages, we have finally submitted to the hue and cry of our rabid fans (hey bobby), and posted bios. Specifically, we’ve posted bios for each other.

Simply click on the menu link above, and follow the images to the author of your choice. As always, we make no warranty regarding the factual or grammatical accuracy of the information posted on this site.

Michael “Bassoon-Slinging Boy Scout” Lee

Favorite Carols: O Holy Night (for realzies)

So, O Holy Night is actually one of my favorite Christmas songs, but I’ve never much liked the lyrics of the second verse and chorus. I’m singing it on Christmas Eve, and some dancers at our church are dancing to it, so I decided to write some additional lyrics. I’ve included them here, in italics.

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
‘Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night
O night divine

Come, friends of Christ
And by his side attendeth
Who is and was, and ever shall be
Who, being God
Consented yet to humble
Himself for us, he became as we are

So bend your knee and offer him your homage
This true God Man breaks all chains of bondage

Fall on your knees
Oh hear, the angel voices
Our redeemer has come
Oh sing, Emmanuel
Our redeemer, Our redeemer
Has come, Emmanuel

Truly He taught us
To love one another,
His law is love and
His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break,
For the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O Praise His name forevers,
His power and glory forever more proclaim
His power and glory forever more proclaim

Lethargy, Or Why Won’t My Body Cooperate?

I have a persnickety little disorder called Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia, or HHT for short. (I like how they included “Hereditary” in the official name…any blame we can pin on our forebears is always welcomed.) I have it, my mom has it, her dad and sister have it, and if genetics be any indicator (hereditary being the key word), untold numbers of my ancestors before them had it. We also have fabulous senses of humor and extreme mental acumen, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

But I’m going to, just this once.

Usually when people ask what’s up and I take the time to explain this rather complex syndrome in layman’s terms (“It’s a genetic mutation that tells some of my blood vessels to connect to some of my capillaries, which contain high-pressure and low-pressure blood flowing in opposite directions, which causes spontaneous bleeding, sometimes internally”), they recoil in horror and I respond with a good-natured, Norma Rae-courageous “Hey, it’s not cancer! It could be worse…it’s not terminal or anything. Usually.” And in my mind I’m thinking, But damn, it sure is inconvenient.

So just this once, I’m giving myself permission to complain. To rant. To wave my fist defiantly at the cold, unresponsive sky like I’m my very own Lifetime original movie. So skip ahead, kiddies, if you’re sick and tired of middle class white women bemoaning the hand they’ve been dealt. I’m sure one of the other authors will post something appropriately global or un-self-centered soon.

The thing is, I’m just so frickin’ tired. All the time. Perpetually. As you might guess, spontaneous internal bleeding has the rather banal side-effect of anemia, which if Wikipedia is to be believed, causes feelings “of weakness or fatigue.” Dude. Copy that. Check. I sleep an average of nine hours a night, get up and go to work, and then around 3 PM start to wish our company had mandatory nap time like we had in kindergarten. (Remember that? Mrs. Hollenbeck would put on some kind of classical music on the record player – yes, record player, you sad, sad children of the 90s – and we’d drift off to dreams inspired by Sesame Street and The Electric Company, only to be awakened half an hour later to cookies and apple juice. Oh, to be five again.) But nooooo…the company I work for expects me to actually work the allotted time for which I am paid. [Fascists.] The result being that by the time I get home, which by all accounts should be the time I get to be creative or hang with the most interesting person in the universe and solve all the world’s problems…stick a fork in me. I’m done.

And then there’s the depleted immune system. I’ll be honest, it’s a bitch. (Excuse my erudition.) Low blood count and robust immunity haven’t gone hand-in-hand since…well, never. If you’re looking to off-load a pesky virus or debilitating bacterium, stand near me. I was born for communicable illness. And here’s the kicker: I’m supposed to take 1000 mg of iron a day to combat anemia and 500 mg a day of Vitamin C to boost my immune system. Guess what mineral inhibits the absorption of Vit C? Yep, iron. Guess which vitamin inhibits absorption of iron? Yeah, baby. I am a walking catch-22.

What really chaps my hide, though, is that HHT is rare enough that the infamous They have done next to nil when it comes to research. They have pretty much no idea how to treat it. (It’s a genetic disorder, and genetics is a relatively new science.) When I was in the hospital last year, random medical professionals stopped by my room just to get a look at “the girl with the telangiectasias.” (They actually said “telangiectasias.”) I thought briefly about ringing up Barnum or Bailey or whoever is running the greatest show on earth at the moment. At least then I could get some mileage (and maybe cash?) out of it. I felt like the Elephant Man or the Bearded Lady. Being a freak is weird, but it wouldn’t sting too much if They could come up with something a little sexier and more effective than “Take this iron in the a.m., take this Vit C in the p.m. and come to the lab every two weeks so we can get a blood count. When you’re low we can give you a pint of O-neg.” My arms look like I’ve been free-basing H for years, people. They’re going to have to start taking samples from my feet.

So. Rant concluded.

Now I can tell you that I feel incurably grateful for my life. It’s not cancer, and I don’t have a death sentence hanging over my head. What I do have is a monumentally inconvenient genetic disorder that, at the moment, is stymieing my ability to look on the bright side. Luckily, I also have an unaccountably optimistic disposition (I suspect this may also be genetic) that probably won’t allow me to dwell in the doldrums for long.

Too bad, really. Angsty and tragic is ever so much more glamorous than Pollyanna.