Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Growing Up

January 12, 2010

“Obsession is a young man’s game”

–Michael Caine in The Prestige

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months. Little of it is blogworthy, unfortunately, thus the occasional hiatus in posts. Well, some of it may be perfectly appropriate for sharing with the general public, but I just haven’t always had the time or the nerve.

In another movie, Michael Caine calls Idealism “youth’s final luxury.” I don’t know why both of these quotable quotes came from the same actor’s mouth, but they’ve both been in my mind lately. Idealism has always been a close companion of mine, but over the last year or so I’ve had to bid farewell to this dear friend. Life just hasn’t afforded me the room to keep him around.

Take the decision to baptize my third daughter, for example. Several months ago my six-year-old began asking to be baptized because she professes faith in Christ and could see no reason not to make that public. A couple of years ago I baptized my two older daughters in a swimming pool on New Year’s Eve. Back then, we were still meeting with the same house church that we called home for the last decade, and a swimming pool was the most logical location. Now, however, my family and I have joined ourselves to a (very) traditional Baptist church, and the question of baptism has become more complicated.

I wanted to baptize my third daughter myself, just as I had baptized my two older daughters a couple of years before. As her father, and as one of the two people who introduced her to a relationship with God in the first place, it just made sense. But now that we attend a church with more than a thousand members, I have had to come to grips with how things work in that world. In this world, only the ministers do the baptizing. If I want to do it myself, it’s back to the swimming pool — only now, we’re no longer meeting with our house church, so whom do we invite to witness this event?

A month ago I spoke about this with the ministers of the Baptist church we joined. The preacher was gracious enough to agree to let me do the baptizing, right there in the baptistry, despite their usual tradition of “ministers only.” I guess he trusted me and we have some mutual friends, so I’ve got credibility with him. But a week before the baptism I learned that two other fathers spoke with one of the other ministers and were denied this same request after my conversation with the preacher, unbeknownst to him. This was a dilemma. In order to stay true to his word, he was willing to take the heat for letting me do the baptism. But I couldn’t do that to him. In the end I thanked him for his willingness to accommodate but told him I’d just let the guy who usually does it baptize my daughter. That was a very difficult thing for me to do, but I knew I had to do it.

That’s called growing up. Like obsession, idealism is a young man’s game, I think. Lately here alot of my decisions have been about choosing to do what makes sense under the circumstances rather than doing what fits my ideals. Does that mean I’m compromising my values, my beliefs? I dunno. I still believe the same things, still have the same values. I just realize now that I can’t always have things the way I think they should be, not when they affect other people negatively. In the end, the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever demonstrates love. That may or may not coincide with what I think should be done. But that’s where I’m at these days.

Growing up is scary. It involves changing into somebody you weren’t before. It requires putting away the toys of your youth and handling things that weigh more, that can do more damage to more people. I only hope I handle them wisely.

The baptism was yesterday, and it went great, by the way. Both sets of grandparents drove across two frozen states to celebrate this occasion with us, and one friend from our house church even came with two of her children to be a part of the event as well. That meant a great deal to my family, of course. My wife made a couple of great meals for everyone and they all had a good time together. My daughter Catie felt genuinely honored by the whole thing, and she’ll never forget it. Things turned out great, after all.

Ten Honest Things

December 8, 2009

Alright, sis, I got your tag…I’m supposed to write an Honest Scrap post, telling 10 honest things about me… You know, I think the older I get, the more things I feel like I can’t be completely transparent about. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but the more people I get connected with, the more people my words can affect, and so I just can’t share everything. But here goes my best shot:

1. I read the Twilight books and liked them. Well, I still haven’t read the last one, so don’t tell me what happens. But I think they’re pretty good. I don’t get what irks people so much about popular novels. It’s almost like some people presuppose that if it’s popular, then it must not be worth much. Then even when they read something genuinely good, they can’t appreciate it because they were already primed to dislike it. I also don’t get how some of us Christians get worked up about anything that smacks of magic or witchcraft or whatever. I know what the Bible says about practicing those things, but that’s not what folks are doing here. They’re just reading a story. And I think it’s really well written. Didn’t like the first movie. Thought the second one was much better.

2. I really don’t like country music. How I grew up in Mississippi without liking country music, I don’t know. But I just don’t like it. It’s too twangy for my tastes, and often it’s really cliche. Of course, so is most jazz, hip-hop, and rock music, but I like the sound of all of that better. Most of the time I listen to whatever plays on the top 40 stations. I’m sure that makes me uncool to not have more definite preferences in music, but maybe I’m just uncool.

3. I am determined to regain the six pack abs of my high school days. Growing up in affluence tends to make you vain, and just like you don’t have to be rich to be greedy, you don’t have to be gorgeous to be vain. It’s wired into me at this point. Having admitted that, I’m still going for it. I’m eating broccoli and carrots and salads and drinking lots of water and protein drinks and running and swimming…you get the picture. I’ll probably get close to the shape I want and then quit because it’s just too much work to keep it up long term. But it’s fun to be in good shape for at least a little while.

4. I like to lay out and get a tan during the summer. This one’s an extension of number three. I can rationalize and justify it with comments about how vitamin D is good for your heart, your bones, and your mood, but then I also know skin cancer’s not good for any of those things, so I’ll have to watch that. But I still think there’s nothing more relaxing than going out in the middle of a summer’s day and just soaking up as much of that light and heat as I can. It’s more relaxing than a hot tub or a massage, I think.

5. I haven’t been able to read my Bible much for several months. That’s a big deal for me, because studying the Bible has been like an occupation for me since I was 16. But nowadays, reading the Bible just reminds me how much my spiritual journey has led me to view so many things differently from how others around me see things. Every page of the New Testament stirs my desire to see things done differently than how things are done, yet I feel powerless to effect the change that I want to see.

6. I’d like to teach more white kids again. I know I shouldn’t admit something like that because it’s just so noble to work with underprivileged, “at-risk” kids like I do every day. But I don’t really think I’m making much of a difference. These kids come from such a messed up culture, replete with broken families and dysfunctional home situations, that I don’t think my time with them is making much of a dent in their world. In fact, I think I seem totally irrelevant to most of my students, because why would they internalize stuff they learn from a guy who is so completely different from them? On the other hand, I see them sit enraptured listening to a black co-worker of mine as he talks about…whatever! And they hang on his every word. I feel like his opinion on stuff sinks in for them like mine never will. So I think I need a little more diversity in my classroom. Right now it’s almost all black, with a few imports from Mexico thrown in for good measure (they’re the best behaved ones of them all).

7. I still wish I had a super power. If I could stop time, I could get tons done while everything else in the world just stands still. Or if I could read people’s minds, I could get so many questions answered so easily. Then again, I can think of quite a few downsides to that gift. Super strength would be nice, or super speed. Invisibility from time to time would be useful. And of course there’s flying. Who wouldn’t love to be able to fly? No matter how old I get, I still wish I had a super power, with or without the cape.

8. Music moves me to tears when nothing else can. Although I am a very sensitive person, more sensitive than most straight men that I know, I find it difficult to allow the emotions of something get to the surface until I can be alone, and even then I may not be able to do it. It takes me time to process things that are important, so my emotions usually lag behind a bit. But when I get inside some really good music, almost any kind, everything comes oozing to the surface and I feel it all. It could be an orchestral piece, it could be just a song on the radio, or even a Publix commercial (man, those things will getchya!)…as long as there are some stringed instruments in there somewhere marking the emotion of the moment, it’ll probably find it’s way inside.

9. I wish I had theme music. This is an extension of both numbers 7 and 8. When I was a kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Then I wanted to be Superman. Then I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. Then one day I came to realize what all three of them had in common: Theme music by John Williams. Finally it dawned on me that what I really want is for John Williams to write me some theme music, and just have a full orchestra follow me around and play it at the right moments. Better yet, let them play a score for my entire life, so I can feel all the right things at the right times. I can cry when something sad happens, get excited when something cool’s gonna happen, and even become alarmed when something bad is getting ready to happen. How convenient would THAT be?!

10. I love being married, and having kids. No matter how unimpressive your career choices may be, and no matter how inconsequential you may feel to the rest of the world, you know there are a few people at home for whom you are the world. You set the tone of life for a handful of people, and that’s a powerful job to have. It’s very fulfilling, and I pray that God will entrust me with a very long time to enjoy it all.

Alright, Cat. There you go. Ten honest (if not entirely rosy) things about me. I’ll have to give some thought to whom I will bless with this honor. Thanks for thinking of me.

Vacations are good.

December 1, 2009

Holidays are great. I’m learning to appreciate them more and more. I’ve never been a “special occasion” person. I’ve always been more of an every day kind of guy. But the harder work gets, and the more responsibilities I get, the more I get what vacations are about. I guess I vacationed from blogging for a bit, too. Too busy livin’.

First, the swim team that I coach hosted a swim meet comprised entirely of other small teams like our own. It’s a fun meet, and very little pressure. While last year was a bit hiccupy because I didn’t know what I was doing, this year went great. I even got to sing the national anthem in front of a couple hundred people (well, they were turned around looking at the flag, so that made it easier). We didn’t win the meet–didn’t even come close, actually, but we had a good time anyway.

Next, the fam and I packed up and headed to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. April and I got to see New Moon, which, having read and enjoyed the books, was way better to me than the first movie. And the audience participation made it really fun. The first time Taylor Lautner pulled his shirt off, girls all over the room gasped and one whispered “There it is!” The whole movie flowed better and the effects did a good job of translating some stuff onto the screen from the book. I am told I HAVE to see The Blind Side as soon as I can, too, so that’s next on my list. I always get a kick watching Sandra Bullock because I know my dad fixed her teeth once.

Next I got to go to the Big Easy for a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, an organization which probably requires no explanation. A good friend of mine is working to establish himself in the field of Biblical Studies, and he wanted a wingman for the conference to help him navigate the lingo and the nuances of that world. Turns out, he’s got his way figured out pretty well already. So I just sat in on a few readings of papers (most of which were snoozers, honestly) and shopped for souvenirs for my girls.

My morning runs were great! Since our hotel was a few blocks from the river, I got to run down Canal Street, then along the Mississippi River for a mile or so, then back through the French Quarter, past dozens of fun-looking shops and famous restaurants, then back to the hotel. I picked up some authentic Mardi Gras masks for my girls (who subsequently kept them on for several days after I got home!) and a cute Saints shirt for April.

New Orleans has got Saints fever this year like you wouldn’t believe! As soon as I pulled into town, just as I was passing the Superdome, I heard “WHO DAT? WHO DAT? WHO DAT SAY THEY GONNA BEAT THEM SAINTS? WHO DAT?” and then of course a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” That was alot of fun. In fact, in one half hour period I heard local radio stations play three songs which mentioned the Saints, including one called “I Believe in the Power of Love,” which features a line about the Saints going to the Super Bowl. Growing up in Mississippi, the Saints were our closest team, so they were our team. Plus, my folks went to school with Archie Manning and his wife, so we root for his team. Bill made sure I had a good Cajun meal at Mother’s before we left. The Crawfish Etouffe was fantastic!

The rest of the week was hangout time with family. My baby sister Catherine (who is almost done with Dental school now) hosted the extended family at her new place for Thanksgiving. The food was excellent, as it is every year, and like always I ate so much that there was no room for dessert. The kids had a blast playing with cousins (so did I) and the weather was great. Hanging out with cousins is another one of those things that you appreciate more as time goes on. It somehow gets more meaningful every time. There’s something about being with people who knew you when you were just a kid and so goofy all the time. Once you’re grown up, getting together with them reminds you of what it was like when life was simpler, less stressful. Sigh.

Well, we had some good hangout time with April’s folks and with mine, plus we threw in some shopping and a second showing of New Moon, so it really felt like a vacation by the time we were done. Funny how it takes three or four days to fall into vacation mode, and it’s too bad that you don’t get to start the trip at that point. But I’m still glad it comes when it does.

Now it’s back to work and juggling schedules…but only three weeks before we get to go back again! Looking forward to more R & R. Vacations are good.

Oh yeah, and the Saints beat the Patriots. Where I’m from, that’s beginning to look like one of the signs of the apocalypse. We may not have to wait until 2012 🙂

My Place in this World

November 7, 2009

now-whatMy blog posts are not often intensely personal. That’s as it should be, I believe, because cyberspace is no place to broadcast your deepest struggles. People get hurt that way. But I want to share something very current that I’m struggling with because someone out there might identify with it. Plus, at some level, it helps to put it into words.

I have a calling of some kind, but I don’t know what to call it — how to label it. I can describe one aspect of it his way: Something drives me to ask hard questions, think deeply, and do my best to get to the bottom of things in order to understand them. Along the way I also feel compelled to verbalize what I am discovering. Back before I learned to pathologically distrust myself, I would have told you that I have a knack for taking what I find and expressing it to other people. I also discovered early on that I can pretty comfortably address a large group of people, even numbering in the thousands. It came very natural to me and I was told that I was pretty good at it.

So I should be a preacher, right? Well, not so fast. As I look around, I find that what we call being a preacher doesn’t work for me at all. The popular version of the pastoral office flies right in the face of many of my most deeply held convictions about the priesthood of all believers, and about the need for the whole Body of Christ learning to function rather than a handful of specially certified people.

For another thing, I never got officially ordained. My childhood pastor, Frank Pollard, didn’t believe in ordaining people for ministry. He considered it the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, and it was the job of the local church to recognize it. Since he had been a seminary president and a mainstay on the Baptist Radio Hour, I figured I was on safe doctrinal ground listening to him about that. I’m comfortable not having a piece of paper to prove my calling (although I do have a seminary degree–does that count?).

All that aside, a calling remains. I have things wired into me that could be of great benefit to the Body of Christ. But I see no place in most churches where my gifting fits. Most places, it turns out, don’t respond very well to people “thinking deeply” about stuff. On the contrary, if you question enough things, you just disturb the status quo. Folks don’t appreciate that, it seems. It doesn’t matter how gently you do it, how nicely you put it, or how articulately you express what’s on your heart. Most seem to prefer what Brian McLaren once called “the massage of familiar words.”

Well-meaning people often advise that you should pick your passion and pursue it. They say you should find work that you would do for free and find a way to get paid for it. That’s a fine idea, really. I’d love to actually get paid for what I’m good at. But there’s hardly a place for what I’m good at in most churches, let alone an actual paycheck. I reconciled myself to that reality a long time ago, but I still have to make a living. So I teach high school. I don’t teach what I love because my real expertise is in Bible, and you can’t teach that in most public school settings. I have to support a family of six, and I can’t get by with a private school teacher’s salary. So I’ve had to learn to teach Math, History, English, and Science–four subjects about which I know just enough to “fake it.” As a school teacher, I’m mediocre because my passion lies in teaching stuff that nobody pays you for, or at least not enough to pay the bills.

In the end I feel ill-fitted for the kind of work I do. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also teaching a population of students whose cultural world doesn’t value school for anything other than providing social connections. In fact, many of the kids I teach only come to school in order to stay connected to their drug supply chain.

I could live with professional mediocrity a whole lot better if that were it. But it really eats at you after a while if your passion is the church, yet your church environment doesn’t value your gifting, either. Before long you, too, learn to devalue your gifting. That leaves you pretty deflated. It’s no wonder I’ve become so bad at accepting praise from other people (see my last post). I’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that people could only approve of me or my actions if they are either misinformed or delusional. That sounds more like an insecure teenager than a grown child of the King of Kings.

True happiness comes from being a blessing to other people, benefiting others by serving them according to your unique gifting. My problem these days is that I’m having a hard time finding, as Michael W. Smith once sang, “my place in this world.” I’m starving from a lack of opportunity to function in the Body of Christ according to the shape of my particular calling. There once was a time that I felt I was heading toward a fulfillment of my calling, but circumstances changed. It’s a long story, one that will have to wait for probably a long time. All you really need to know is that either God closed some doors on me really slowly, or else I just didn’t notice they were already closed until recently. Ultimately, I know that his hand is behind it, and now it falls to me to trust him in what he is doing. I hope I can hold on to that one responsibility.

All this introspection is meant to serve a useful purpose. As long as I can remind myself that God has his own reasons for putting me in all these circumstances which are so incongruous with how he wired me, then I can find comfort. I can try to take a deep breath and trust that God hasn’t shelved me permanently. Maybe I’ll be like a wine that gets better only after it’s had time to collect dust in a dark cellar somewhere for a long time. I only hope he sees fit to pop the cork and let me breathe once in a while 🙂

Hide It Under a Bushel? NO!

November 5, 2009

diggingI’ve discovered that I have an addiction. I am addicted to self-criticism. As is often the case with addictions, it was not obvious to me, the addict. It became apparent first to someone close to me, and it didn’t demand my full attention until I discovered it was hurting someone else.

Some people think more highly of themselves than they should. I’ve never understood those people. I suffer from the opposite problem. I look at things God has put in me and I downplay them like they are of no value at all. My insightful wife explained to me yesterday how that dishonors God and ultimately robs others of the benefits that could have been theirs if not for this compulsive commitment to self-deprecation.

If you have ever tried to compliment me (or the book I wrote), you probably have no idea how quickly I dismantled your praise in my own mind moments later. Without your knowing it, I found multiple reasons to discount what you said, almost as fast as you could put it into words yourself. That’s sick, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for a long time, but somehow I had never seen a legitimate reason to curb this compulsion because it seemed to serve a useful purpose for me. I figured it can’t be a bad thing for someone to keep their ego in check. And how embarrassing it is for someone to have his bubble burst after thinking he was “all that” only to discover he’s not! I’ll explain in the next post how this came to be, in case it could be helpful to someone else. But here’s what my wife helped me realize yesterday:

It does a kind of violence to God’s creation when you excessively disparage the good things about who you are and what you do. It dishonors him because it implies that he has done a bad job in making you who you are. I suppose that’s a failure to follow the first of the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God. Then again, it fails on the second one, too: Love your neighbor as yourself. When someone gives you something, it is rude and uncaring to immediately throw it away like it isn’t worth anything. I suppose a compliment is no different.

And maybe it goes deeper than that. When you repeatedly discount some skill a person has (including you yourself), he or she learns to bury it like the money that guy buried in the parable of the “talents.” That gifting could have brought life to people, but instead you stuck it in the ground. I think I’m in danger of doing the same thing myself.

To some degree, my circumstances have led me to this point. But I don’t imagine I’m free from responsibility here. There’s a strange self-gratification in being down on yourself. It ultimately keeps your attention on yourself, when you could be asking how you could be spending yourself and your gifts to benefit others. You prefer the safety of burial. If your gifts were to see the light of day, then you would risk the exposure of your all-too-sensitive ego. Someone could find a flaw in you that you missed yourself (how awful!). Or maybe you could become susceptible to pride, which, let’s face it, would totally ruin your perfect state of humility, wouldn’t it? I suppose even humility carries with it a kind of pride in being so humble. “At least I’m not like all those other cats who think they’re something.” Whoops.

Well anyway…For the next little while it looks as if I will need to take on a new discipline. I will be attempting to check my own tendency to dismantle the praise of others. I am going to try to see me the way other people are seeing me, even if that means admitting to myself that I did something right. How else will the good things ever be reinforced? If I denied my students all positive reinforcement, then how could I ever expect them to keep doing it right? I’ll have to learn to think the same way about myself. I’m no super human after all.

Perhaps God will be honored more by that, after all. So I’ll give it a shot.

Making Jill-o-Lanterns

October 31, 2009

Aahh, pumpkin time.  What other time of the year will two little girls willingly stick their hands into a gooey slippery mess and smile about it?

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This year we had a Mama pumpkin and a baby pumpkin.  The girls always sketch out the design and I do the cutting.  They do the gutting these days.

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Always fun celebrating what one of the girls’ classmates calls “Satan’s Birthday.”

The pumpkin gutting has become quite the family tradition.  I clicked around on the old hard drive and found this little gem from six years ago.

2003annapumpkin

I don’t care what the pagan origins of this holiday are.  It’s just fun.

A Day in the Life

October 22, 2009

clockIf  you noticed the pause in blog entries, it’s because my grandmother passed away last week and I’ve been out of pocket and pretty busy.  She was 91 and lived a full life.  I’ll probably write some stuff about her passing, and about the funeral, another day.  For today, I think I would rather try something different.

One of the reasons people read blogs is to sample the lives of other people.  We live pretty disconnected lives these days, and Facebook, email, and blogs give us a way to be connected to people.  We don’t even have to know the other person well.  It somehow soothes the loneliness to get to peek into the mind and experience of another person, whether you know them or not.  Of course, I’d rather taste real community, which is far better than virtual community.  But in the absence of the real thing, I guess we’ll deal with the digital kind for the time being.

Wanna walk in my shoes for a day?  Here’s a blow-by-blow itinerary from my day today.  It’s not necessarily a typical day, but then I’m not sure what one of those looks like anyway.  So here is my day today:

5:15am   Wake up.
5:20   Stretch for a half hour or so.
6:00am   Run two miles around my neighborhood.
6:30   Stretch some more, push ups, etc.
6:45    Wake up the rest of the family, take shower.
7:15am   Eat Breakfast, brush teeth, etc.
7:40   Take the kids to school, drive to work.
8:00am   Get to work, check email, walk to trailers for first period (9th grade Math).
8:30   Discipline that one kid for the 18th time this month, warn several others.
9:35am   Listen to co-teacher gripe again about how much he hates his job.
10:05   Planning period begins, check email, file some paperwork.
10:15   Sign out to leave campus…tracking down lost cell phone.
10:45   Go home to caulk leaky external wall affected by last month’s flood.
11:30am   Figure out where cell phone is thanks to April’s help.
11:35   Stop by carpet outlet where cell phone fell out while I was buying replacement padding from flood.
Noon   Back to work to scarf down lunch.
12:15pm   Third period: attempt to teach Algebra to a room of guys with behavior disorders. Fail miserably.
1:45pm   Back to trailers for fourth period (9th Math again) for more of what I had first period.
3:25pm   Corral swim team members in student parking lot and carpool to swim practice, 5 miles away.
4:00pm   Coach swim practice. Most of the new swimmers don’t know any of the strokes 😦
5:15pm   Dismiss swim practice, swim a mile or so, shower and head home.
6:15pm   Pick up three of four daughters from home and drive to Marietta.
7:00pm    Honors Chorus performance for my 5th grader.
8:00pm Drive back home with all four girls and get them ready for bed (make snacks, brush teeth, etc).
8:30pm   Read stories, put the older three to bed (this can take up to an hour).
9:00pm   Sing to the toddler for 15 minutes or so and put her to bed.
9:30pm   April comes home from teaching night class for Mercer University.
10:00pm   Hang out with April, watch the news, catch up on the day.
11:00pm   Bed time. Maybe.

Sounds kinda crazy when you type it all into one place, doesn’t it? I guess it is a little crazy. The amazing thing is that we intentionally avoid signing our girls up for many extracurricular activities because we don’t like being stretched so many directions that we get overly tired, stressed, or whatever. But somehow stuff demands our time anyway. Kids still need braces. They fall down and break an arm. A grandmother dies and we have to leave town for several days. Someone gets sick. I lose my cell phone. It floods and we have to replace some padding under the living room carpet. Our oldest gets picked to sing with the Honors Chorus. You just can’t keep these kinds of things from happening, can you?

So the day gets busy. Leisure really isn’t in my vocabulary these days. Some people go to movies when they come out, or take vacations, or eat at a restaurant every so often. My wife and I spend our time raising kids and working. That doesn’t leave time for much else. We go to a Baptist church now, too, so you can add Choir, Bible Drill, Sunday School, etc. Not sure if I would call those leisure, though.

Well, there’s A Day in the Life of me. Now you’ve sampled my life. I’ll bet yours is interesting, too. Write it out just for fun and post me a link or something.

Life Intrudes, and So Does Weed

October 13, 2009

No post about Nine Marks today.  You see, I have this thing called a “job” and I’m pretty thankful to have it.  The thing is, I have to do stuff for this job, so sometimes I don’t have time to really blog.

Yesterday one of my students got pulled from class because he started a fist fight before class.  When asked for a witness to his version of the story, he named another kid from my class, so they pulled him, too.  Problem for him was, he had six bags of marijuana hidden (somewhere on his person, I assume).  So I don’t think I’ll be seeing that student for a long time.

There aren’t many things that can get you expelled from school anymore.  Even things they say they have “zero tolerance” for really don’t mean much in the end.  I had a kid bring a gun to my classroom a couple of years ago.  We realized later that it was a pellet gun, but it sure looked like a serious weapon.  That student was gone for a little while, but a few weeks later he was right back in my classroom.  So it’s hard to get thrown out of public school these days.  I am told that dealing weed will get you thrown out for good.  We’ll see.

I was trying to get that student to understand Algebra.  It was an uphill battle since he had already failed the class twice before, but I figure he still had some hope for getting it.  Unless he gets a cellmate who knows how to distribute polynomials, I’m guessing he’s lost his chance now.  Really sad when you think about it.  So I’m just not going to think about it.  Fiddledeedee.

Churches, Kids, and Pastors

October 1, 2009

Well, our church hunting may be nearing an end. It hasn’t been an easy process, lemme tell you. Turns out there’s a lot to consider when looking for a church! But we limited our search on a couple of factors:

Number one: We’re not looking all over metro Atlanta for the right church. We’re only keeping to churches that we can drive to in a matter of 20 minutes or less. The reason for this is that we don’t want to just attend once a week. We want to connect with some people in those churches for a while, and we want our kids to make some friends that they can hang out with and get to know. That’s just not gonna work if everyone we meet lives on the other side of Atlanta.

Number two: We don’t want to drag our kids to twelve different churches in this process. Besides wearing them out and stretching the more introverted ones beyond their capacities, I figure this would only teach them to be seasoned critics of churches (“I liked the couches at such-and-such church but didn’t like the music and so-and-so church”). We want to get their input wherever it’s relevant, but then we make the decision and they can just run with it.

Number one limits the geographical scope of our hunt and number two made us prioritize which churches to visit. In the end we had three churches to choose between, with pros and cons spreading evenly among all three — no obvious winner. This made us have to think really hard about what matters most in this hunt. What exactly are looking for? Are we looking to connect to a church long term, or just for a while? Are we looking for ourselves, or for the kids? If one church seems clearly better for them while the others are better for us, what do we do? Whole lotta hard questions to work through here.

Perhaps hardest of all, how does a die-hard organic church guy make his way back into a traditional, brick-and-mortar, Southern Baptist church without going berserk? I’ll have to get back with you on that one… Still working on it.

One thing in this process that has been educational for me has been visiting with pastors from each church. Since I’ve been in a house church for nine years, I didn’t have much interaction with pastors for quite a while. But now, in the last three months, I’ve had lunch and/or involved conversation with no fewer than SIX pastors and at least as many church leaders of other titles (elder, associate pastor, etc) plus I’ve got one more coming to visit our home Monday night. These conversations have been helpful for me, reminding me how folks “on the other side” of the institutional/organic divide think about things.

I’ve been reminded how much people see the preacher as the mouthpiece of God in the congregation. A house church like the one in my neighborhood believes whole-heartedly in every member ministering (even in the sense of everyone sharing and speaking in the meeting). Not so in a traditional church. At least three of the six men I recently spoke with clearly believe that it is their responsibility to feed the congregations they minister to. They see themselves as feeders rather than equippers. They see the congregation’s dependence upon them as a perpetual thing, and they feel that is how it should be.

One minister I ate with handed me a book, which I will blog about for the next few posts. It was Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever.

It’s a pretty good book, all things considered. I believe it’s very popular (especially with counter-cultural neo-Calvinist guys) and I think I can see why. Dever says a lot of things that I can agree with. I like his attitude towards church growth experts (“Forget what the experts say,” p.54). Stick it to ’em. He sees the futility in chasing the latest fad in seeker-friendly church practice. I can identify with that. I can identify with much of what he says, in fact.

But Dever’s model hinges on a fundamental principle that I cannot accept: The absolute centrality of the preacher in the life of the church. Dever would probably say that preaching, not the preacher, is the center. Or more precisely, that the Word of God is the center. When you put it THAT way, I agree completely. But the practical outworking of that principle, in my mind, rests with the whole body of Christ supplying what each joint supplies (see Eph. 4:11-16). For Dever, God speaks through the preacher. And that’s how most of the pastors I speak with see it. Even the ones that believe in a plurality of elders, like Dever. The preacher is still there, and he’s still doing that function all by himself. He speaks. Everyone else listens. The end.

Well, more on that and other things in the next post. In the meantime, it looks like we’re going to pick the church that’s best for the kids. Two of the churches we’ve been looking at have too few kids to connect with. They also use programs that are heavily driven by point systems, candy, and other such “extrinsic motivation.” Honestly, that’s really a turn off. Do I want my girls learning praise songs because they get candy if they can sing the words correctly at the end of the lesson? Or learning Bible stories because if they do they get a chance to win a bike?

We also want the girls to be with us in the worship service. That knocks out one of my choices right there. Put that together with a few other details that I won’t belabor at this point, and we’ve probably got our church home for the next little while. I won’t lie to you…it’s gonna be a tough transition for a guy like me. But I’m putting my trust in the Father to know what’s best for us right now. I don’t know enough to make these decisions myself. What can you do?

On a side note, the surrounding community has done a great job of trying to help out the schoolchildren that lost their school last week in the flood. By the way, people here are dating everything now by saying “that was before the flood” or “that was after the flood.” Well, after the flood, the neighboring churches, schools, and businesses pitched in and bought supplies for the kids that have been displaced by the flood. Some neighborhoods got nearly two feet of rain in one day. I know my area got more than a foot just in the first evening. Anyway, here’s a story about the local news network presenting the kids with what they collected.

And it rained, and rained, and rained…

September 24, 2009

It has been a pretty busy week around here. Take a look at this shot of Hwy 78 (Veterans Memorial), the road that I usually take to work in the mornings:

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Needless to say, we’ve been stuck in our neighborhood for a few days, now. Up until later this afternoon, all the major arteries to our area had been submerged under water. I am told the Interstates are all open as of tonight. Check out this shot of Six Flags:

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Not sure I’d wanna go on that ride after this, would you?

Anyway, Sunday night was a looong night. Sometime after midnight, it went from raining to pouring to severe storms, then it just stayed there FOR HOURS. I don’t know how to communicate to people who were not there about it. It was the most thunder and lightning I’ve ever seen and heard in my life.

You know when the heart of a storm finally gets above you, things get really loud, the thunder seems like it’s crashing directly down onto your roof, and the lightning seems like it’s threatening to come in your windows from every side? It usually only lasts for a minute or two then passes over you and heads on to the next destination. Well, this time it just never left. It parked right above Douglas County and stayed there for several hours. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed every ten seconds or so, right on top of one another, for several hours straight. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.

My girls were bouncing out of their beds all night long begging us to do something to enable them to get to sleep, but none of us could sleep. It was like someone kept shaking our house while someone else kept flicking the light switch on and off and on again ever few seconds from midnight to about 4am. It was pretty horrendous. The main downtown artery, the 75/85 Connector, flooded for about an hour:

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Drivers on all the surrounding Interstates got stranded for a time, too (see I-85 below, near Spaghetti Junction):

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We got a call early that morning notifying us that, not one, but several water mains broke in our county and it would be a while before our water would come back on (three days later we still can’t wash dishes or do laundry or take showers without getting in our cars and driving somewhere else to do it.) Determined not to let this get me down, I put on my rainy day running shoes and ran before sun up, like I always do. Only this time, as I neared the end of my route, I discovered that a gaping 10 foot wide drop off was there where the road should have been (I’ll have to post a picture of that later).

While the girls’ school got canceled (for the whole week, it turns out), I had to report to teach at my high school post for a really soggy day. Lots of people didn’t make it in that day, and it took me over an hour to get home. It usually takes 15 minutes, but I had to drive down six different routes before I could find a route that got me home. Others took more like three hours to get home, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

I also can’t complain about water damage or flooding, because our house got little more than a wet area on one carpet. My school was untouched, really. I can’t say the same for nearby Clarkdale Elementary:

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The school is totally submerged, in case you can’t tell. Kindergartners began exiting their classrooms when the water first started coming in the doors, and by the time the last few dozen were leaving, the teachers were hoisting the kids on their own shoulders because the water had already gotten above the children’s heads! That’s truly what you call a flash flood, and it was not a calm moment for those teachers and administrators. Four hundred elementary kids will now be displaced for the forseeable future. That’s gonna be a tough school year.

It feels like I’ve spent the better part of the last three days hauling water from one place to another so that we can do things like cooking, washing, bathing, drinking, and flushing. The toilets alone can be a real hassle at a time like this, I gotta say. Our power went out after a day or so, too, so we had to relocate to a friend’s house so we could cook, bathe, and do laundry. Thanks to Jerry, a brother in the neighborhood here, we had a place to set up for a little while until the power came back on, and things got a little easier from that point on.

So many people around us have lost homes and cars and schools that our community will be doing relief work for many months to come. In case you’re interested in helping, you can donate to the county school relief fund or contact the pastor of Ewing Road Baptist Church, who is coordinating much of the work for the affected area.

In the meantime, I’m thankful to live in a neighborhood just high enough above the creek levels that we didn’t look like Venice when it was all over. Just five minutes north of us, one neighborhood looks like this:

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Compared to this, we’re doing just fine. Going back to work tomorrow, and happy to have a place to work.