Friday, July 28, 2006

there is this silence in the badlands...

When I was a kid my family used to drive 1200 miles every summer to visit my grandmother, often without stopping at a hotel. It’s true what they say about your other senses becoming heightened when you lose your vision. There are road noises that you don’t notice during the day. Whether it be because of the radio, or conversation, or just because you’re not paying attention, road noises often go completely unnoticed in the daytime. But at night I would hear each noise distinctly and, like music, some of those noises still take me back

I’ve been very ill this week. In fact, I’m supposed to be in Amsterdam speaking at a camp right now. Instead I’m lying here in my bed wondering how much of this I can actually get typed down before nature calls and I have to make my next visit to what has lately become my second home.

And as I laid here trying to read, I heard what sounded like the noise that tires make on a really loud highway. I’m not talking about a highway with bumps in it. Just one of those highways that gives off a high pitched hum when tires travel on them. It’s a noise that I distinctly remember hearing at night while I was in the back of the family car, trying to sleep. It made me remember how much I miss road trips. I finally looked out my bedroom window to see what it was, but it was only a tow truck picking up a stranded vehicle. Still, it was a nice memory trigger.

Several years ago I made a road trip of my own. I took three weeks and drove across the country (U.S.). And though I missed my wife, it was one of the most amazing and spiritual experiences of my life. One that I will never forget and one that I hope to have again one day. I started in Pennsylvania and drove south through West Virginia, and Maryland to visit some family I had in Virginia. Then south again to visit a friend in Nashville. Then west through Arkansas (much prettier than I had imagined) to visit the place where I grew up, Oklahoma City. Then northwest through Texas, and New Mexico to visit with a friend and some new found family members (half brother and two half sisters) in Colorado.

From there I was on my own for the rest of the trip.

I drove up to the northwest corner of Wyoming where I spent several days in the Grand Tetons (I totally recommend) and Yellowstone. An area of the country that has to be seen to be believed. I then skimmed the Montana border as I drove West. I had always wanted to see Montana and I was not disappointed. In fact, I returned there a year later with my wife. From there I continued west to South Dakota where I visited Mt. Rushmore, Sturgis, Devil’s Tower, and the place that had been the inspiration for the entire trip, The Badlands.

I’ve shared before on this blog that music may be the one pleasure in life that drives me most. Though I was too big a coward to try and actually pursue music on a professional level, I have music in my life everyday and tend to be drawn to others who are passionate about it (Thus my stop in Nashville). So one day I picked up a CD with various artists on it. The CD was a tribute CD to the late Rich Mullens. Rich Mullens is one of those guys whose name you might not know, but whose music you definitely do (Awesome God). On the CD was a song called Calling Out Your Name (it’s the song playing over on the right). It was covered by Chris Rice. And in it is the line, “There is this silence in The Badlands.” I had never been to the Badlands or even seen a picture of it, but I knew at that moment that I had to see it. And so I decided to plan a road trip to do so. That road trip turned into a three week pilgrimage across the United States. There is some irony and some symbolism (that not everybody will find so obvious) in the fact that The Badlands was my last major stop of the trip. And I have to tell you that Rich was right, after almost three weeks on the road, there is this silence in The Badlands.

Calling Out Your Name continues to be one of my all time favourite songs and that road trip an experience I hope to, one day, have again.

The picture above is from that trip. It’s a self taken photo of me (about 40 lbs. heavier) in the badlands. It was meant to be my album cover. : )

p.s. I had to include this second picture just to show off how gnarly my goatee was. : )

Monday, July 17, 2006

a distorted sense of justice

When I was a young person, and I would hear scripture on justice, in my mind the justice it was always talking about was the justice that would be dished out concerning the so-called “persecution” of the church. Bare in mind that I saw things like taking prayer out of schools as just the kind of injustice that the Bible was speaking of. But as I read more and more of the Bible, I’m coming to see the simplicity of the message, and the warning that it brings.

Take the story of the good Samaritan for example. The Samaritans weren’t just another race and culture of people, they were pagans. The Jews had tried to turn them into Jews, but it hadn’t worked and the Samaritans remained a people dedicated to the worship of many gods. Yet when Jesus decided to explain the definition of a “neighbour” in an attempt to expand on just who it was that we should love (Luke 10:25-37), he opted to use a Samaritan as, not only the neighbour, but as the one setting the example of how we, as children of God, should act. In fact, and I don’t think I’m stretching here, this passage seems to suggest that, if we’re going to choose between the path of being super spiritual but not helping people, or helping people but not being all that spiritual, that we should choose the latter. Can this be true?

We’ve attached so many amendments to what it means to “love God”, I wonder why we haven’t done the same when it comes to “loving our neighbour”. Depending on the church, loving God can mean everything from women not cutting their hair (incidentally, this always seems to lead to a really bad perm) abstaining from alcohol or dancing, fulfilling any number of attendance requirements, dress codes (in a number of denominations), marriage, birth control, schooling for your children, patriotism, capitalism, women taking a back seat, different versions of baptism, different versions of communion, different versions of the Bible, different versions of worship, and the list goes on and on. But what does it mean to love your neighbour? Where are the amendments on this topic?

A friend of mine wrote a song a few years back called Single Minded. In it, he sings…

All of life comes down to just one thing
That’s to know you, Oh Jesus
And make You known.

I used to listen to that song, and even lead it from time to time, and think, “Dude, that’s two things. To know you and make you known. That’s two things!” But, for whatever reason, Charlie didn’t see it that way.

And when Jesus was asked to narrow all of the commandments in the Old Testament down to one, He listed what is, in my mind, two. Love God and love your neighbour. That sounds like two commandments to me. But to Jesus it was just one. What do you think that means?

In His first public sermon, Jesus read the following words from Isaiah.
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:16-19

Justice and the fight against injustice. Maybe it’s not about us and our needs. Maybe it’s about the needs of others. Maybe it’s about courage. Maybe it’s about selflessness. Maybe it’s about a holy anger rather than a self centred one. Maybe it’s about the needs of others.

What are you doing?

I took this picture a couple of years ago, shortly after moving to England. We went on a hike with some friends and their little boy made a friend. It continues to be one of my all time favourite photos.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


First of all, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting ready for a camp I’m doing in Holland at the end of the month, along with my regular work duties, so thoughts have come at a premium lately. All of my brain power has gone towards writing literature and preparing sermons. I’m spent. My brain is on meltdown.

Having said that, the following are a few random observations from the week.

I observed two women discussing the topic of the late Princess Diana. One was an elderly woman (we’ll call her Ethel) purchasing groceries, and the other was an old cockney woman (we’ll call her…Kate) who was working the cash register. Ethel says, “They (taking about the media) just won’t leave her alone will they?” Kate says, “No they won’t!”, all while Ethel pays for her tabloid with Princes Diana on the cover. Do I need to point anything out here?

Did somebody send the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) my contact details? I’ve been getting a lot of emails from them lately, inviting me to rally’s here in London.

Olyvia figured out how to crawl last weekend and she’s absolutely out of control. At what point do “physical restraints” become child abuse?

Superman is not a good movie. The story line is weak and the outfit just looks cheesy. Didn’t they learn anything from the Batman movies? You take some plastic, you mold it into an impossibly muscular body, and you make the actor wear it. He’s a super hero. He’s supposed to look ripped! Btw, and once again, my all middle-east neighbourhood (and booming Polish section) looked at another white/American blockbuster and yawned. The film was showing in the smallest theatre and I had plenty of room.

In other movie news, there are finally trailers and a release date for Rocky 6. That’s right! They’ve been talking about it for years and now it’s finally on its way. And I’ll be there. And I don’t care what anybody says either. Its Rocky. ROCKY! I’d go and see Rocky 20 if Stalone could get somebody to fund it! And that goes for Indiana Jones 4 too!

Jay Z has decided to boycott Cristal, the massively overpriced Champaign, because Cristal’s president has suggested that the company might not be that excited about being associated with the rap community. Jay Z has decided, not only to stop rapping about Cristal, but also to stop serving it in his clubs/restaurants because the company is racist. You know what, the president of Cristal might in fact be racist, but something tells me that rap’s major themes (violence, drugs, and the abuse of women) might play a role as well. But, if Cristal ever decides to pay Eminem (a white rapper who has rapped about raping his own mother) to be their spokesman, I’ll be happy to write Cristal a letter boycotting it too. I’m not a big Oprah Winfrey fan, but I applaud her courage in standing up against many in the rap community lately. For whatever reason, many in the black community see a slight against the rap community as a slight against the black community. I applaud Oprah for voicing the fact that she’d rather not be represented by (most of) the rap community. Good work. Quit rapping about, dressing like, and acting like thugs, and we’ll quit accusing you of being one.

I’m saddened by the news in Israel/Palestine/Libya right now. What a sad and frustrating situation.

I’m moving house in four weeks and haven’t packed a single box. In fact, I don’t even have any packing supplies. That’s not good.

Two texans go out into the woods to hunt when one of them has a heart attack and falls dead to the ground. The other one pulls out his mobile phone and calls 911 (it’s an emergency response number we call in the states that actually works). Upon hearing help on the other end of the line, the texan says, “My friend has just fallen to the ground dead!” The dispatcher encourages the guy to calm down and asks him to check and make sure that his friend is dead. The dispatcher hears a slight pause and then a very loud bang! “Ok”, the texan says, “now what?”

Hope you all are well. And I hope my brain starts working again real soon. Keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nostalgia 2

It’s summer and I’m feeling nostalgic. I miss being a kid. Specifically a teenage kid. Sand volleyball out behind the church. Summer days with the car windows down but the AC cranked up. Warm summer nights eating Taco Bell and wishing I had a girl to hang out with instead of Dave. 89er Games. Falls Creek and the ever present possibility that you might meet someone of the opposite gender who might like you back. Rolling in at midnight (summer curfew). Summer songs (Boys of Summer) and great summer movies (Top Gun).

And so, a special shout out goes out to the friends from my youth group. Dave, Jennifer, Kevin, Rebecca, Tarisa, Keith, Yvonna, Tasha, Stuart, David. I miss you guys!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

to be an American

“America is not just a country. It is an idea.” Bono

About thirty years ago, there was a large influx of Nigerians to the community in which I now live. They came in droves and they stayed. They were immigrants who had come to make a better life for themselves and their families. What’s very interesting about these people as that they now see themselves as somehow being above the immigrants that are now moving in. In fact, they will often badmouth the new immigrants yet, when pointed out that they too are immigrants, will respond by simply saying that they’ve “been here for thirty years.” To me this is a good, if extreme example of what is taking place across America right now. What gives me the right to state who is and who is not allowed to come to America and try and make a better life for themselves and their family? Isn’t that why my family came? Isn’t that what our country was built on? Isn’t that exactly what our forefathers came to America to do? In fact, isn’t that what makes us American?

I’ve been holding off on this one for a while because I don’t really feel that I can lend any justice to the conversation. There are many arguments that can be made on behalf of immigrants. They take the jobs that we don’t want. They’re often harder working people than we are, often working at least two jobs or more. There is no Christian way to justify the thought process that immigrants should be sent back home. It’s just not a Christ like value.

But I think I’d simply like to appeal to people’s patriotism today, on the 4th of July. What makes us American? A historian once said that “You come here, and you ascent, and you’re American.” To me it’s the belief that everybody gets a vote. That we, as a group of people, are capable of governing ourselves. That religious freedom is a human right. That free enterprise is what makes a nation strong and that we all have a right to give it a shot. And that if you’re prepared to come to America (sacrificing what most immigrants have to sacrifice to get to there), work hard, and embrace America, you’re American.

My family has only been in the U.S. for four generations. Olyvia makes generation number five. I’m glad that we had that opportunity. And I’m glad that the Vietnamese family across the street from me growing up had that opportunity. And I’m glad that the Jordanians living beside my parents now had that opportunity. Both of these families are the best neighbours we ever had.

America is not just a country. America is an idea.