Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Santa Rant (but acutally 1069)

I really thought I could let this go, but I guess I can’t.

Shannon and I don’t spend a lot of time on Santa. Neither do we discourage it. We don’t have the stupid plastic elf in our living room and we have never hung “naughty list” over their heads. But we do take them for a picture with Santa every year and we do place gifts “from Santa” under the tree. We let them believe he’s real.

I’ll probably take some heat for this one, but I don’t care. It’s time to stop the madness. The other day in Sunday school a girl I don’t really know asked the class what their opinion was on Santa, that they weren’t sure what to teach their daughter. The room was kind of mixed. She told us she grew up not believing in Santa but also that she wasn’t popular because she ruined it for other kids. The room hesitantly debated back and forth for a while, but basically said, “It’s up to you.”

And it is up to you what you teach your children about Santa. But frankly, I find the argument that teaching children to believe in Santa will damage their belief in God to be ridiculous. I understand there are extenuating circumstances. I understand some people have a real problem with it. A missionary friend of mine hates the idea of Santa, but he also related a story in which his father shamed him in front of people over his belief in Santa (neither he nor his father were believers at the time.). I completely respect him and his belief. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to follow his advice, because my experience was different, and I will make sure my children’s experience is different.

I don’t remember when I discovered the truth about Santa (this should be testimony in itself at how little it affected my relationship with Jesus), but I do remember my mother’s acknowledgement of it. I was twelve or thirteen. It was around midnight on Christmas Eve and my mother and I were the last two up. She was stuffing the stockings, and when she realized I was still up she said something to the effect of “I guess you know now.” I said sure. She said, “don’t tell your little brother.” I said okay. And then she asked, “you want to help?” It’s a great Christmas memory of mine, getting to help with the stockings that night. There’s real magic in it for me. I simply never associated belief in Santa with belief in God. I think it has something to do with the fact that my parents never made a big deal out of it either. They didn’t discourage it, but they didn’t sell it.

On another note, I find it fascinating that parents who so vehemently oppose Santa because he’s “not real” have no problem inviting talking hamsters and turtles into their homes everyday. There’s no guy in a red suit that delivers presents, but mice and ducks can use “mousekatools” sing “Hot Dog Hot Dog Hot Diggity Dog”.

I do believe in these things. I believe in talking clown fish and families with super powers. I believe in the power their stories have to impact my life and teach me things about being a good husband, a good father, a good person, a good writer. And I believe in the power of Santa Claus. I particularly believe in the origin stories about a Turkish Bishop, whether they are all rooted in fact or not. I also believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, including Genesis 1-12. You can’t start reading the Bible before there are seeming contradictions. Right up front, right at the very beginning, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 have conflicting accounts of creation. How can I believe both? Because I believe in the God who chose to write the story of His love for us as a narrative and not as a textbook. Because I believe that God likes a good story and He made us to be like Him. We are each of us created with the need for narrative, to tell and have told good stories.

There was one good thing I took out of Sunday school that morning. George, our intrepid teacher and host said this when speaking of how discovering the truth about Santa might cause doubt in God: “My father (a Baptist minister) said it’s good to doubt. I doubt a lot, and it’s a good thing.”

From doubt comes belief. Henry Blackaby in “Experiencing God” calls it the “crisis of belief”. We all at one moment or another have to decide if we believe something is true in the face of uncertainty and make a decision based on it. Doubt is good because it forces us to examine what we believe and why. I have doubted the existence of God many more times than is probably wise to admit, but I’m still here, because each of those times has only served to deepen my faith in Him. Because I’ve wrestled with Him through long nights and cried out in desperation “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” All this leads me to say: if you’re worried that your children’s belief in God will be shaken by Santa, maybe you should examine why this is. How much doubt have you wrestled through? How much are you modeling the Relationship? Are you merely talking about God or are you showing them God with your life?

Every night that my family has been able to sit down to dinner together in the month of December, Asher looks at me and says “Can you tell us the words again?” I say, “what words?”

Asher: About Christmas
Me: What about Christmas?
Asher: It means giving.
Me: What else?
Asher: Jesus.

This three year-old, my Asher-the-Big-Basher, goes rabid at the mention of Santa and wants to make sure the milk we leave out for him is chocolate. But every night wants to talk about Christmas in relation to giving and Jesus. He will tell you Christmas is about giving because the wise men came to give presents to Jesus, not get them, and that we should do the same. It’s a good story.


This thing’s full of theological holes and wanders all over the place, but I don’t care. Raising kids is messy business.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Ephod Love Song (but actually 1061)

As I’m reading through Exodus again I’m having lot of new questions. Moses is on the mountain with God and all the people are waiting down at the bottom. God’s giving Moses the tablets. He’ going into incredible detail about the Tent of Meeting and everything. I’m sitting here asking myself questions like, “why does God want fresh bread on the table? He’s not going to eat it.” (Of course I get the greater significance of the bread, from it saving David’s life to John 6:35. But still…if I’m Moses? “Fresh bread? Uh, Sure…”) Also, the recipe for anointing oil looks fantastic, but it also says unauthorized use of the oil well get you expelled or “cut off.” But I really want to try it! I’m a Baptist and subscribe to Priesthood of the Believer, does that count as “authorized?”

Yesterday I read about the Vestments—the priestly garb. I’m struck over and over at how much detail is going into this outfit. (Alternating pomegranates and bells on the robe. The bells I get, but what’s with the pomegranates? God likes pomegranates that much? Should I?) I’m struck by how many times God names Aaron as the wearer of these garments. God even spends a paragraph talking about the type of underwear he wants Aaron to wear, and calls this one permanent. Don’t go into the presence of God without underwear on.

Then we get to the consecration. Aaron’s got all these beautiful, insanely intricate ceremonial pieces on—the breast piece, the ephod, the robe, the turban, the tunic, even the underwear. And then,

“…take some of the blood that is on the Altar, mix it with some of the anointing oil, and splash it on Aaron and his clothes and on his sons and their clothes so that Aaron and his clothes and his sons and his sons' clothes will be made holy.”

So Aaron puts all the stuff on, only to have it spattered in blood. I’ve read this hundreds of times before and thought nothing about it, because it’s our (Christians) history. It’s part of our upbringing. We’ve heard these stories since we were little kids. We’re immune to them. BUT AARON IS WEARING POSSIBLY THE MOST EXPENSIVE GARMENTS IN HISTORY AND HAVING RAM BLOOD INTENTIONALLY SPATTERED ON THEM.

Then he’s supposed to hold, in his hands, the fat from the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the innards, the long lobe of the liver, the two kidneys and the fat on them, and the right thigh and wave them at God. While dressed in the blood-spattered priestly garments.

I get it. I’ve already said I get the greater significance, the law serving as a neon Expo marker highlighting our sin and need for Jesus. But still…HE’S HOLDING RAM ORGANS AND WAVING THEM AT GOD.

I don’t know how I feel about this.

So it’s “Aaron this, Aaron that.” Wave-offerings, peace-offerings, whole-burnt-offerings. Over and over God names Aaron and his role. I’ve never thought that much about Aaron. He’s kind of supporting cast member in my head. Like the characters that worked the desk in “ER.” They were in every episode, but there was never an episode about them.

But here he is, front and center in God’s plan for atonement, worship and consecration. He’s mentioned by name thirty-one times in Exodus 28-29. God has PLANS for this cat. I’m going round and round in my head, with the minutae and the blood and the organ waving. Really wondering about all the detail and all the gore. Questioning. I mean, there’s A LOT of blood in these pages.

And then this morning I turn the page.

While God is going into such intricate detail about what he wants Aaron to wear, Aaron is casting a calf out of gold to worship. At the moment God is laying out the process of sacrificial atonement, Aaron’s presiding over a pagan worship orgy.

Like I said, Aaron’s always been a day-player in my head—a spear carrier. As such I’ve never ascribed him much in the way of sinner or saint. He’s just been kind of vanilla. But after this?

The passage is written as if God suddenly discovers this and Moses has to talk him out of incinerating the lot, but I don’t for one second believe God wasn’t keenly aware of what was happening in the valley while he’s law-giving with Moses. At the bedrock of my belief in God is the tenet that God is acutely aware of everything going on, everywhere. God is acutely aware of what Aaron’s up to, even as God is setting him up with the superfly outfit and laying down the rules for his (Aaron’s) priesthood.

Suddenly the details of the vestments become a love sonnet. God is gushing about what he wants his beloved to wear. He can’t help Himself. And since He’s God and omni-everything, He can get pretty detailed. Even while at that very moment, He knows his beloved is betraying him. The blood and the organs no longer seem horrific. God no longer appears a callous bloodthirsty tyrant. It is necessary to atone for what Aaron and the Israelites have done. I’m pretty sure God hates it—is as revolted by it as I am, but it’s the only way He can still interact with His beloved. I think it might also be the only way that Aaron et al will grasp the gravity of what they have done. Being spattered with blood to bring home the depth of their sin. I imagine Aaron, shame-faced, maybe scared out of his mind, covered in blood and holding this offal, trembling. God is across from him, weeping at what his beloved has to go through to be in His (God's) presence. I’m heartbroken for God over the way his beloved has cheated on Him, even as I’m keenly aware that I’m the cheating beloved, that I’m Aaron.

My personal heroes of the faith have long been the ones that screw up the most. Peter, of course. Jonah is a favorite. And now Aaron is added to this group. Another of God’s personally chosen that has betrayed Him. I’m in good company.

And then I’m in the Upper Room. Jesus is breaking the bread. He’s pouring the wine. The next day he offers the Atonement. I’m propelled to a whole new level of gratitude for His heroic act of salvation. I don’t constantly have to dress up in an elaborate outfit and be splashed with blood to atone for betraying God.

The law has (once again) highlighted my need for Jesus.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Creative Doldrums Pt.3 (but actually 631)

I’ve seen “The Prince of Egypt” at least five hundred times. When Jacob was two it was his favorite movie. He’d ask constantly, “Moses? Moses?” I like this movie a lot, I think they got a lot of things right. It’s a spiritual marker for me, but I was always dissatisfied with the ending. For me the most defining moment of faith for the Israelites was not getting out of Egypt, it was what they did when they once they got out.

A few years back before I worked for the ‘Way I bid on a rather large set contract and got it. We had just moved back to Nashville and were staying with Shannon’s parents. Not only did we not have a place to live, not only did I not have to place to build these twenty-six sets, I didn’t have the tools, materials, anything really. I was talking to my dad about it and he told me that he and his coworkers had a phrase they would use whenever they landed a huge project they didn’t think they would get. “The dog has caught the car…now what?”

In a magnificent cataclysm of salty spray the Red Sea crashes closed on the Egyptians. Boom. The end. No more Egyptians. The Israelites are free. Free! There’s a big party—lots of singing, probably a big barbecue. And then the next day or week (if it was a really good barbecue) Moses wakes up and rolls out of his sleeping bag, looks East and sees a big fat bunch of nothing.

I resonate with the Israelites in the desert. Every day these people wake up, step out of their tents, shake the sand out of their sandals and go collect Manna. As they’re picking up the daily portion (and no more because it rots! Learned that one the hard way, they did) they look up to see if the Pillar of Cloud is moving. To see if they’re packing up the kids and tents and loading the donkey and hitting the road. It’s not terribly exciting, but neither is getting up and making a smoothie and driving 45 minutes to 1 Lifeway Plaza for a day of Pipe & Drape inventory. They spend the day walking in sand. They pull over for lunch and eat manna sandwiches sitting in the sand. When the day’s over, they unload the donkey, pitch the tent, grill some quail, maybe take in an evening campfire song, and then go to sleep in the sand. On the good days they don’t grumble about this monotonous existence. According to Moses, there weren’t many good days.

When there’s ridiculous plagues and a sea that splits in half, faith isn’t hard to come by. God seems pretty big and powerful and when you get down to it--inspiring. No, you don’t have to look far for inspiration in those moments. It’s when you’ve lost track of how many days in a row you’ve eaten quail-on-manna (or had a salad for lunch), when the next dune looks like the last (writing 11 years of camp drama), when there’s sand in FREAKING EVERYTHING that faith takes work. Only the right kind of inspiration could sustain you through those times and give you the spark to keep going. Sugar rushes and caffeine highs don’t get you through the desert.

Hang on. (He goes back and reads what he’s written).

…At some point I turned a corner and started talking about faith instead of creativity…

Wow, there’s just all kinds of stuff popping around in my head now…

We’ll have to pick it up here later, kids.


I've got 7 or 8 different strands that spun out of this. I'm just trying to make sense of them. Once I do, you'll have it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Creative Doldrums Pt. 2 (but actually 1199)

This is a story about ennui and inspiration. About hard work, about creating, about believing. About hope and it’s fundamental link to real passion and creativity.

About a year ago I developed my own belief of what I hope heaven is. Till then I’d been existing off of other people’s definitions and visions—a mashup of gold streets and big choirs and angels with a lot of wings and bad CCM. Didn’t sound terribly exciting, I mean, I think the angels will be cool, but gold’s not my favorite precious metal, and CCM…well…

Beneath that I knew heaven was better. Better. Had to be. I understood the people trying to describe heaven were reduced to metaphor and simile—how do you describe the indescribable? I knew that, knew they were doing the best they could, but at the end of the day it fell short, and that no matter how they described it with their finite minds and imperfect imaginations, heaven was better.

And I’ve lived long enough in this broken world to Long for Heaven, to have that deep tug from the center of your chest toward that place where suffering and conflict cease. There have been stretches in which I’ve said, “Lord, now’s not so bad…” But still then, even with a Biblical and seminalogical knowledge of heaven, even knowing it was better than anything I’d heard, even with the angels with the wings and the eyeballs, I still had reservations about it’s awesomeness.

But about a year ago I was driving to Ridgecrest by myself late one night, and I was listening to Peter Gabriel’s “Growing Up Live” concert. Towards the end of the concert he does “Solsbury Hill” and they’re on this giant circular stage in the middle of an arena and the stage is actually a revolve—it spins on a motor. Mr. Gabriel jumps on a very English bike and proceeds to peddle around the stage while the rest of the band skips merrily along. All the while singing:

“Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

In that car in the dark by myself on the way to Ridgecrest. I’m singing at the top of my lungs and I’ve never had a truer epiphany. At the end of my days Jesus will show up on a very English bike singing Peter Gabriel songs. And I’ll skip merrily along into heaven. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll have a bike for me too. We’ll sing and skip and cackle like mad men and ride very English bikes and joy will burst from our pores.

Except it will be Better.

I hadn’t thought of this in a while, mainly because I’ve been living in the Creative Doldrums. Actually I’ve been in the Doldrums so long it had soured into what can only be described as ennui.

ennui (änˈwē)


a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. (occupation meaning a way of spending time, not a job)

The color had slowly seeped out of my world. Nothing excited me and I began to see only the negative. I would fret about stuff I had no control over. But mostly I would trudge through each day hoping that no one would notice the stuff I was creating had no spark. I was a colorblind man painting by numbers with colors that had no names.

There were occasional bursts of color, mostly from my kids, or I’d get a temporary jolt from a new song or TV show. I consumed vast quantities of media, looking for that elusive inspiration. I’d get a jumpstart from some cleverly written dialogue only to suck all the marrow out of it and I’d be sustained for an afternoon or a day. But inevitably I’d be picking up the colors with no names, painting on numbers with no meaning.

I lost track of time.

Not to say I’d forgotten about Jesus or Relationship. I’ve been reading my Bible regularly, applying the Peterson method as I go: reading slowly, imaginatively, relationally. I read passages I’ve read dozens, even hundreds of times and still came away with new questions. Not really finding answers to them or my struggle with inspiration. I guess you could say my colorblindness seeped into my relationship. I couldn’t see the color in what I was reading. I couldn’t see the beauty, the hope.

Inspiration is a funny thing when you go looking for it. It’s like those floating microscopic things in your eyes. You can see them, but if you try to look at them they float away. So you go stumbling around on this constant search for inspiration, focused on your periphery, hoping the thing you’ve glimpsed that might be inspiration will stay still long enough for you to sidle up next to it. You’re afraid to look directly at it, to look it in the eye for fear that it’s not what you thought it was, that it might not be real, or rather that it is, but by turning your full attention to it you’ll jinx it or ruin the magic. You’ll cause it to float away.

This is how I felt with Don Miller’s new book. Everybody I know that’s read it has gushed about its awesomeness. It’s bad juju for something if everyone around you praises it. It can’t possibly live up to the hype. But I’d already bought my tickets to hear Mr. Miller talk about this book and I didn’t want to be the J-hole that shows up without having done his homework. I’d painted myself into a corner, but still haven’t even bought the book and now the date is only two weeks away. So I did the only thing I could: I crept through the bowels of the ‘Way to the secret entrance of the bookstore and plunked my employee discount card on the counter to get my copy. I took a deep breath and looked it in the eye.

Shannon and I got up at 3:30 Friday morning to get our kids farmed out before we caught a 7:00 flight to Maryland for marriage event we were performing at. I was planning to start it on the plane. But I was also planning on doing a bunch of other stuff, just in case…you know…just in case it floated away when I looked it in the eye.

Inspiration is a funny thing when you go looking for it. When you have great hope for something to be awesome and inspire you and you’ve finally sidled up next to it and worked up the courage to look it in the eye…sometimes it doesn’t float away. Sometimes it looks right back. Sometimes it smiles. Sometimes it winks and grabs your hand and whispers, “let’s go, we’ve got work to do.”

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Creative Doldrums pt 1 (but actually 999)

It is a well-known fact that the only way out of the Creative Doldrums is to create a way out of them.

I think I’ve stated my difficulty with the creative process (and hence, the irony of my chosen profession). About this problem I read a lot. I get a lot of advice. And most of it is at least decent advice. The problem with this is it’s usually of the clinical type. It’s an analysis of the process. And understanding why I struggle is great. I get that. I need that. But at the end of the day there’s still the gap. I’m here. Success (something Created Well) is over there. I have a vision of what I want it to be. Due to my research and received advice, I know HOW to get there. But there’s still this GIANT FREAKING FATHOMLESS CHASM between me and Success.

It’s like I’ve got the blueprints (the vision) and all these tools (received advice) to build the bridge…but none of the actual building materials. And so I stand at the edge of the chasm, toes over the edge, staring futilely to the other side. The only thing I know to do is go hunting for building materials.

This is the process I go through over and over. You’d think I’d have a good idea where the materials are by now. But it’s not lumber and steel and screws and bolts I’m looking for. I’m not even sure what to call these materials…ideas? No. I have ideas. Ideas aren’t the problem. It’s the execution of the ideas I’m hurting for. I think it’s inspiration.

inspiration |ˌinspəˈrā sh ən|
1 the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
• the quality of having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something
• a person or thing that stimulates in this way
• a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea
• the divine influence believed to have led to the writing of the Bible.

2 the drawing in of breath; inhalation.
• an act of breathing in; an inhalation.

Ideas for me are the easy part. I have lots of ideas. The problem is “having been so stimulated” to realize the idea—to turn the Vision into Success. The problem is I’m not inspired.

So where does one go for inspiration? There’s not exactly an “inspiration store.” I look all over. It’s not easy to find. Once we do we suck all the wonder out of it and it quickly loses it’s luster, so we have to find new sources. (That’s because we’re fundamentally broken, but that’s not the point here today.) So the search for materials continues…

I’ve found a couple of minor deposits of inspiration lately: Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible” (the album).

And this:

There’s an opera in Bregenz Austria that has a venue called the Sea Stage. Seats 7000. Was featured in the latest Bond (the big eye set). This is the set for their upcoming production of “Aida”. Me=inspired.

But not enough to get across the chasm.

And then on the way home, completely out of the blue in a place where I wasn’t searching:

While the world has spent the last week mourning some guy named Jackson, Nashville has been digging out of it’s own tragedy. You can read about it here.

So I’m driving home yesterday and the Nashville sports radio station has gotten Coach (Jeff) Fisher on the air to talk about Steve McNair. I’m not here to get into the circumstances of McNair’s death, and either was Fisher. He merely told stories about his time with Steve. It was honest and refreshing and made me respect this man (Fisher) who already has every ounce of my respect even more.

But here’s where I found the building materials. (two parts, I’ll tell part two first).

Part 2: After twenty minutes on the air (longer than any interview I’ve ever known the Coach to let happen) the host tells Fisher he has to take a break. He lets the coach off the hook by acknowledging they’ve already gone the scheduled amount of time, but asks him what he wants to do. Fisher says, “take the break. I’ll stick around." And then after the break they take callers. This is a guy well-schooled in the art of question deflection. The first rule of question deflection is control the environment (time/type of question/arena) Fisher, understanding our city’s need to grieve, sticks a pin in the rules to talk to people who he knows will ask the worst and hardest questions. He didn’t have to do this. Me=inspired by Coach Fisher’s selflessness.

Part 1: Fisher’s telling McNair stories. McNair wasn’t having a good game. He was making mistakes, getting booed by the fans. And then he gets hurt and they have to take him out. Over the P/A comes the announcement that Neil O’Donnell is coming in and the place erupts in cheers. Fisher describes looking at Steve heading into the tunnel, and seeing the defeat in his eyes. Steve’s given it everything and his fans cheer because he got hurt and had to be replaced.

Two weeks later they’re in another game. Steve’s been on the sideline because of his injury. Toward the end of the game the Titans are down by four and O’Donnell takes a shot and has to leave the game. Fisher looks over at McNair, who winks at him, picks up a ball, throws a few warm up passes, then goes in the game and puts the team in the end zone.

It’s the wink that gets me.

I was coming home from yet another day of crushing creative failure, wondering how to get over it, how to make something happen the next day. Me=inspired by McNair’s resilience.

So today I’m winking at my boss and throwing a few warm-ups (this post), then heading in to build that freaking bridge to Success (idea created well).

Friday, 12 June 2009

Maybe next time there will be a Smoke Monster (but actually 723)

I’ve been to four camps in the last ten days. I like Ridgecrest well enough, and Belmont’s easy because it’s five minutes from work. Today I’d tell you Glorieta is my favorite (the weather, the food, the scenery). But God has decided that North Greenville University will be the location we meet. I left there a week ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my heart.

It’s 2009. I’m at North Greenville University for 20 hours to see a few element of programming. I’m a fulltime Event Producer for LifeWay and I’ve written 95% of the dramatic material this year. I have no worries about butchering this year, at least at this location. They’ve got a hero for a PD and a dynamic duo for actors. They crush the drama. They bring Nite Life in in under 25 minutes. They hit all the jokes at AM show. I stay in yet another ancient dank basement dorm (what’s the deal with NGU & basement dorms?) and have a good late night conversation with the director. There’s a new bagel place across the street. I’m gone before lunch but haven’t left in my heart. As soon as I drove on campus, it was 2006, it was 2004, it was 1987. In a world where the Frozen Donkey Wheel is off its axis and camp becomes unstuck in time, North Greenville is my constant. (mom, that’s a “LOST” reference)

It’s 2006. I’m a youth minister taking my students to camp at North Greenville, now University. A lot has changed: new cafeteria, new student center. . I’ve built a lot of the programming this year, which is being butchered. I don’t know how to let go. I can’t unplug. But I’m the customer. I have students here. I’m utterly lost. I’m confused. I have a grievously wounded soul. It’s close to the end of the Starbucks Years. I spend a lot of time alone in the prayer garden. They put us on the basement floor of a dorm (different from 1987). I make four guys who slept through quiet time get up at 6 to pick up garbage around campus. I think David would be proud. Casey and I go to great lengths to embarrass our guys in front of girls they’re trying to impress. A parent all but eviscerates me for not taking her son to the hospital when jumped through a window and busted his leg open. A kid accepts Christ. Another one feels a call to the mission field. It’s a good week.

It’s 2004. I get a phone call from James Jackson telling me they’ve had a program director drop out of camp on them two weeks before camp is to start. He asks if I can go and spend a weekend with this team and get them ready for camp. I’m freelance, I wrote the drama. I’m available. He tells me it’s North Greenville College. I spend an intensive two days in rehearsals with these staffers who don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into by agreeing to act. But they respond well and we manage to put a decent performance together. In the seventeen years since I’ve been here almost nothing has changed. The curb where we did “line up”. The tennis courts. The cafeteria.

It’s 1987. I’m an 8th grader attending Centrifuge at North Greenville College. The theme is “On Track” with a sweet railroad motif and I’m staying with Craig and Mr. B in an ancient basement dorm room. The R.A.’s name is Vern, and he’s a tool. There’s a guy from Kuwait in my Bible study and Craig makes out with girl named Paige, whom I later see making out with some other guy. (Sorry Craig, didn’t know if you knew that, but it’s about time someone broke the news to you.) We’ve come to North Greenville by way of Hilton Head and a couple of kids got roasted at the beach. We’re talking blisters that burst and make their shirts stick (quite painfully) to their bodies. The cafeteria is not so great. But I meet a lot of people and really like this thing called camp.


I’m trying, but I can’t think of another place that is so singularly locked to spiritual markers across my life. North Greenville…and He’s the God of the unlikely.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

It goes to 11 (but actually 860)


So one day and eleven years ago was the event. You wore white and surprised me with a bagpipe player. I think my favorite part of the day though, was when I first saw you. We were given “that moment” together in the sanctuary before pictures and I stood nervous down at the foot of the steps in this church we had grown up in, gotten engaged in, wanting this moment to be motion picture perfect. And then you bebopped into the room. You said,

“Hey babe!

And sauntered down the aisle like we were meeting for coffee or something, totally wrecking my movie moment, but totally making it one of the best memories of my life. That’s you…and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I couldn’t survive if it was any other way.

You are the freaking coolest wife ever. The deeper we get into this thing, the more I see how much I need you and how perfect you are for me. How whatever preconceived notions I might have had are ridiculous (and long gone). How God knows…He knows! What I need. He gave me you. I am thankful. I am grateful. I am blessed.

Another favorite memory: Closing on the Pebble Drive house. You turning your charm up to eleven to make the lawyer smile because this was a happy day for you and you weren’t going to let him kill your buzz.

When people I meet find out about the kids I say, “yeah. Shannon and I look at each other just about every day and say ‘we have a lot of kids.” I know we don’t say it so much any more, but I like saying it because it makes us sound like a team. The truth though, is that you do a lot more of the work for our team than I do (as I type this at The Dripolator in Black Mountain, NC!!!). And I want you to know how grateful I am for that. When it comes to our children, I would be lost without you. Yes I know how to change a diaper and I know how Jacob likes his waffles and that Lorelei likes her oatmeal dry and where the good spot on Asher’s Hard Blanket is. But it’s not about the stuff. It’s about how well you love them. Your attitude for them. I know very few moms who would: 1. Set up a four person tent in their living room and 2. Leave it up for a week so the kids could have a camp out in it. That’s a special kind of love. I know there are hard days and days you want to wring their necks, but we both know that’s just frustration with the moment, and has nothing to do with how you feel about them. I tell you this all the time, but I don’t know if you really hear me: I don’t care that the house isn’t spotless all the time. I don’t care that the laundry piles up or that this sink is full dishes. Because I know you’re coloring with Lorelei. You’re playing cars with Asher. You’re clapping with Piper. You’re loving our children—raising our family. That is so much more important than anything else! I can’t thank you enough for loving Jacob and Lorelei, Asher and Piper so well.

And now you’re mortified that OTHER PEOPLE are reading that our laundry isn’t done and our sink is full of dirty dishes. ATTENTION OTHER PEOPLE: LIFE IS HARD. IT IS NOT PERFECT. IT’S NOT A 30 SECOND COMMERCIAL FOR PINE-SOL OR DOWNY. LAUNDRY STACKS UP BECAUSE THERE’S A BASEBALL GAME AND GYMNASTICS AND CUB SCOUTS AND A BIRTHDAY PARTY AND NEIL GOES OUT OF TOWN A LOT. And we have a lot of kids who like to play with their mother.

There’s something to be said for your tolerance of Wagoneers and tattoos and failed businesses and Apple computers. But I’ve come to recognize that it’s more than tolerance. It’s your ferocious desire to protect the dreamer in me, even when it costs you. The beautiful thing is that I already see you doing the same for our kids. I don’t know how to thank you for this. I don’t know how you do it. I only know that your belief in me is the beginning of my confidence.

So all in all it’s been a pretty good eleven years (he says as an understatement with a dramatic lisp). The Student Life Years. The Starbuck’s Years. The 16 months on Lilac Circle. The 06 build. It’s made us stronger. I like to think it’s made us funnier (at least to each other). I love how much we make each other laugh these days. I love that I can’t wait to get home to see you.

I think back to that retreat we went on—the one where Wayne Baldwin told you I was a diamond in the rough and that you should give me a chance. I know I’m still pretty rough. But I know that whatever polishing I’ve been through I have you to thank.

I love you.


Saturday, 9 May 2009

A Compendium of Welding Songs

Hello again,

I know I said I'd see you in June. That's me--unpredictable. I'm an enigma.

So when you do as much welding as I'm having to do, you have a lot of time to think. And you listen to ALOT of music. So you need variety and you need a bunch of it. But there are certain songs you keep coming back to to get you through the night. So here, Neil's top ten songs to weld to (in case you ever find yourself in need of a welding playlist, as opposed to a wedding playlist which lots of people want. This playlist would be entirely innappropriate for that, but maybe humourous...).

10. Matchbox 20 "How Far We've Come"
A little trendy, but I like the apocaplyptic language in it. Also its got a good beat, and I can weld to it.

9. David Bowie & Queen "Under Pressure"
Classic song that keeps me focused on what I'm doing.

8. Coldplay "Twisted Logic"
Cause sometimes you go backwards. And sometimes you go forwards.

7. Jars of Clay "Work"
"I have no fear of drowning. It's the breathing that's taking all this work"

6. Led Zeppelin "Kashmir"
That guitar riff.

5. Beastie Boys "Sabotage"
Just raw. and nasty. and raw.

4. Seal "Come and See What Love Has Done"
The soother, the breath of fresh air, because hope is a good thing.

3. Saul Williams "List of Demands"
I dig this guy. He's my kind of slam poet. And this song makes things happen (also featured in the Nike Sparq commercial).

2. David Crowder Band "You Are My Joy"
When I first heard this song, I knew it was for me. I felt like somebody else finally Got It--the way I feel when an idea sparks and a script comes out. "And He set me on fire//I am burning alive//with His breath in my lungs//I am coming undone//and I cannot hold it in//and remain composed...Actually this song is what sparked the idea for my long-awaited but imminent ink. (plus, you know just goes)

1. Rage Against the Machine "Bulls on Parade"
Always been my welding song. Always will be. When the tank's dry and I've still got hours to go, I'll just put this one on repeat and let it drive me.

Honorable mentions: Saul Williams "Act III Scene 2", Rage "Wake Up", Explosions in the Sky "Remember Me As a Time of Day", Crowder "Do Not Move", The Who "Who Are You"

Happy welding. or wedding, if that's your thing.

sleep now. see you in June.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

it's late & I'm still at the office (but actually 429)

Hello Blog,

It’s me. I used to write on you (to you? At you?).

I just wanted to say the drought is almost over. Camp’s almost done, which means lots of road time. I’ve got a backlog of half-finished thoughts to dust off and bring to you. Plus there’s some other stuff down in the basement that wants out.

So I’ll be back soon. But in the meantime, here’s some random things from my night.

+ I burned my ankle while welding. Yes. My ankle. For those of you who have never welded, it’s possible, and it happens. For those of you who have, you know it happens a lot.

+ some lines from songs I listened to while welding (alone) in the ‘Way basement.
…Sparks fly, and I find you there…
…deliver me…
….And it’s just you and me here now…
…and He set me on fire, I am burning alive…
…Rescue is coming…
which leads me to:

+ I’ve been subsisting on 6 month old playlists on my ipod, as my cpu died with my library on it and I haven’t been able to get it sorted out yet. So yes, that was all Crowder, there was some Jars mixed in, and it made for a pretty good night of meditation.

+ Except for the fact that my left ear bud gave up the ghost tonight. For those of you who have welded, you know what a solitary experience it is. For those of you that haven’t, it’s a solitary experience. And looking at the WGD should tell you how much solitary time I still have to go. So Neil’s got to do something about this ear bud situation. I have a C-note I was saving back in my iphone piggy bank. I guess I’ll have to wait, again, for that baby.

+ In an unrelated note of self-disclosure, I have four different mixes of Jelly Belly’s and a bag of dove dark chocolates in my office. These might be the only things keeping me sane right now. (For all of you who know what I’ve accomplished over the last six months that are about to come UNGLUED and start ranting at me for blowing it…step off. I only hit ‘em 150 or so calories at a time, and never more than once a day…well twice when I’m at the office for 16 hours like I am today.) Yes. Jelly Belly's. I've become a fiend for them in the last few months. They're the junk.

So that’s it. See you when camp’s on the road.