Monday, October 31, 2011

Alrighty Then!

Well, this is it!

I ship out for Boot Camp tomorrow - Tuesday, Nov 1.

I was originally planning on developing content to be auto-posted in my absence, but in the time I would've taken to do that, well, instead of writing about life and people I love I was spending time living life and being with the people I love.

That being said, I have a hunch that I'll have plenty of material to work with on the other side of the next nine weeks.

Thanks for reading - we'll resume in a short two month span!


Friday, October 28, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Go Home

Do you remember being a kid?  No worries, no responsibilities, no obligations; not like we have now as adults.  There was school, there was Little League, there were social issues (who would be “it” first in a game of tag), but it never occurred to me that one day I’d be responsible for keeping a roof over my head.  I never once imagined I’d have a car payment.

When I think of the phrase, “You can’t go home again,” that’s what I mean.  You – well, I – we – can never go backwards.  It’s impossible.  The closest thing to that is memory loss; we can’t age our bodies and minds in reverse; time is marching on.  We can’t go back to the time of innocence, fun and frivolity.  Once innocence is lost, it’s gone forever; we’ve learned something new and every lesson learned is indelibly imprinted within our minds, branded onto our souls.

Now, some people forget, or they don’t learn from life’s happenings.  Those who don’t learn, those who forget, are doomed to repeat history.  Sometimes the “not learning” is deliberate, sometimes it’s not, but regardless, history is cyclical as events occur outside of, though perpetually intersecting with, our individual lives.  All we can do is learn the best we can from life’s happenings and progress rather than merely spinning our wheels.

Plus, I daresay, few, if any of us, knew how well we had it off as children.  Granted, I’m speaking to folks who did not grow up in abusive or highly dysfunctional homes, but until we did become responsible for ourselves we didn’t know what we were missing.  Sometimes we want to go back to that, but that is fruitless, a chasing of the wind.

However, though we can’t go backwards, we can always go home.

What is “home”?  Home is where we can let down our guard; where, though, we may have responsibilities in our lives, we don’t have to worry about them, merely tend to them when necessary.  Home is where we are free to be not only honest, but transparent with no fear of mistrust or betrayal.

If we believe in God, if we love God the Father, believe in His Son, Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made on the cross, and then His resurrection, home is wherever God is – and He is omnipresent. 

He looks after all our needs.

He desires for us to be honest and transparent with Him; He encourages us to do that, He enables us to do that.  It’s so hard to admit, just to ourselves, that we’re not perfect, that we screw up sometimes in abhorrent ways (more than any of us would care to admit).  All God asks of us – of anyone who would approach Him – is that we be honest with ourselves about all that and then be honest with Him.  And then everything is okay again.  I mean, we need to learn from it and grow, but there’s no condemnation anymore.  We are free to be ourselves, starting off where we are right this instant, and continue to be ourselves, growing as the biological and spiritual organisms we are, all the way to the end.  For me, that means being just Cliff – that’s all I’ve got to be.

And that is so refreshing.

Other systems of faith demand best behavior, strict adherence to a moral code and depending on how well you do in the here and now, you just might have a shot at an okay hereafter.

God says, “Nah, just come as you are.  Tell me your troubles, vocalize your pain, show me your deepest wounds and I’ll heal you then I’ll show you how to really live life, free of fear.  Free of pain?  Oh, no, my child; there will always be plenty of pain to go around, but trust me on this: it’s necessary and it’ll help you grow.  There’s a world of hurt inside your heart and a world of hurt inside Mine – that’s where you live – in My heart, because I love you so much.  My world of hurt comes from having to require my Son to walk His Road of Pain so that you and I could get together.  I did it because it was necessary and I knew He could take it.  He was scared at one point, but He did it anyway because He trusted me and now look where He is.  So, come on; follow me down the Road I have laid out for you.  It’s not going to be easy but it’ll be worth it; just wait ‘til you see the party I have planned at the end of all this!  Just keep your eyes on me and everything will be all right.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again - Part 4

Parts 1 through 3 I wrote at one of my favorite places in Raleigh, NC – it’s the Global Village Organic Coffeehouse.  It’s located at 2428 Hillsborough St, across from NC State’s campus.  For about two years and some change that was a home away from home for me.  I was also an employee there for an all too brief duration and it’s probably my favorite place of work.  Caribou Coffee would be second in that pecking order, and my manager there is fantastic, but nothing really compares to the warmth and sense of belonging of Global Village.

What is it that makes a place home?

As I type this, I am now back in Columbus, Ohio (heh, at a Starbucks of all places).  I moved here just over a year ago, away from home.  Yet, my first night back, as I was riding in the car down 270, I didn’t really feel like I had left home.  Clearly, I wasn’t in the Triangle area anymore, but there was no sense of displacement; I did not find myself in unfamiliar surroundings.  Had I been driving, I would have been able to navigate the highways with the greatest of ease.

But it’s not just the familiarity of the area that has me nice and loose – it’s the people.

Over the last six months I’ve been building and establishing a life.  I began to embrace my role as a customer service rep at my job.  I developed a working friendship with my Navy recruiter as I began that process (and that’s a story and a half).  In April, I was introduced to a group of folks out of which I have a new friend base.  At my member church, I’ve deepened key relationships there.

Backing up a little bit, when I drove down from Ohio to North Carolina, I stopped in Asheville to have some pizza, beer and ping-pong action for a couple hours, reconnecting with an old high school friend.  I had never been to Asheville before.  Driving around, trying to find a parking place in the downtown area, I could have easily been overwhelmed and freaked out – and I have in lesser situations.  But I didn’t let it worry me – I was going to see my bud in a few minutes!  A bud I hadn’t seen in over ten years!

When we finally connected, it wasn’t as if the intervening years hadn’t happened, but still I knew, here was my friend; a part of my history as I am a part of his.  Some things about both of us have changed, but at our cores we’re the same and that shone through, allowing us to catch up and then talk about the future.  It was like being at home again.

Back in the Triangle, a lot of stuff has changed.  New businesses, roads, all kinds of things have sprouted up.  A lot has remained the same, but, for instance, the church I grew up in has switched locations.  Yet, attending the service there both Sundays, I never felt out of place; I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces, but there is a core of people present who I’ve known most of, if not all of, my life.  In the greater Triangle area there are even more friends I’ve gotten to know in recent years and I was able to visit with some of them.  In an area that has seen so much change and growth, I still felt as though I was at home again.

Back in Ohio, among friends I’ve gotten to know over the last few months, I feel like I am home again.

I can fit all of my possessions into my 2008 Saturn Astra.  My “permanent” address is that of an apartment.  Currently I have access only to a suitcase and laptop bag’s worth of my stuff and no access to my car.  Yet, I am perfectly at ease.

What is it that makes a place home?  The people, yes, but there’s something even deeper we’ll get to tomorrow…

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Recap of Sorts

So it's just occurred to me via FB and Twitter comments that some folks are jumping in here mid-stream.  Then, looking back at the most recent posts I've realized I haven't even mentioned my involvement with the United States Navy - that's one of the biggest things to hit this blog!

I reckon a recap is in order:

- blog relaunched
- tried some new things
- announced enlistment with the Navy
- went on hiatus
- returned from hiatus

And that brings us up to date!  It's kind of like jumping in during the fourth season of a TV show with an overarching plot.  There's a more holistic experience if you go back to the beginning.

And this concludes your recap of sorts.


And who would have suspected microwaves, of all things, possessing such arcane secrets??

You Can't Go Home Again - Part 3

For Part 1 then Part 2, click the respective links.

So, going back to North Carolina was a lot different than leaving it.

When I moved to Ohio it was with a great sense of anticipation that I was finally “arriving” somewhere and I don’t just mean in the sense of “getting to a physical destination.”  I thought to myself, “Finally, I’m in a relationship with the girl of my dreams – life can now begin!”  What I was really doing was running from what I perceived to be a failed attempt at life as an English teacher, as a son, as a brother, an uncle, as a responsible, functional human being.  When I thought life was finally about to begin, clearly I was wrong. 

Life had been tooling along all the while; my perspective simply needed some adjusting.

Once I got over the shock of Reality’s right hook, I started hanging out with people again.  Now, I’ve always been more of a one-on-one person rather than engaging in groups, but there was a definite need for group socialization that had been lacking the previous months.

During the two months of coming to grips with the situation I had been in I learned that I’ve already arrived.  In conjunction with that, a lesson I learned while in counseling is that I’m already enough as I am; there’s no need to live up to anyone’s expectations (unless of course a specific kind of relationship demands that (which, I suppose, could apply to any relationship to a point), such as a teacher-student relationship, or recruit-Recruit Division Commander relationship).  It’s all about one being comfortable in one’s own skin.

Every attempt at something new – new relationships, new career paths – they were always me running from my “failed attempts” and overall discontent with myself, with who I was.  But in reading Jon Acuff’s book, Quitter, coupled with the aforementioned lessons in the previous paragraph, instead of looking for something new, I looked back into my past to see what I had done that had made me feel alive or purposeful.  That was the beginning of a time of re-discovery.  “What makes Cliff, Cliff?” I asked myself.  And so likes and loves and dislikes I had sacrificed on the altar of people-pleasing were resurrected and my sense of self began to re-form. 

During the period of re-socialization I had the opportunity to live these lessons out.  For one thing, I had neither the energy nor desire to put up any kind of front.  I was discreet, of course, not airing out my dirty laundry for all to see, but I wasn’t trying to please anyone.  I was out to prove I had nothing to prove; I was able to just be myself, to be comfortable in my skin and it turns out life goes much better when engaging it as such.  When you present yourself as the real you to people, that’s who people get to know.  When you present yourself as someone else, you’re known by no one(1).  …and that just flat out sucks; it’s a miserable existence – it is not living, it’s a mode of survival.

Through that I’ve made some good friends and actually have some firm, albeit young, roots in an area I never anticipated having them – and that because the possibility simply never occurred to me.

So, going home to North Carolina has been a much different experience than moving to Ohio.  I’m not running from anything.  For once in my life, I can truly say that I’m running to something.  Sure, some people get left behind – either permanently because they can’t handle supporting me in my vision or only temporarily because I need to go places that they can’t, but I will see them again.  Either way, there is some pain in that.

That and doing something radically different than anything I’ve ever done before, if for no other reason than it simply being something purely of my own volition.  The initial suggestion came through others, and others have supported and encouraged me and held me accountable, but I’m doing it all because I want to.  It’s not out of desperation, it’s not a last choice – it’s because the opportunity is freakin’ awesome.

Tomorrow: how the return to Ohio has been weird because it there's no real weirdness about it...

1 - I'm sure I read a brilliant post on this on Acuff's blog, but for the life of me I can't find it now...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again - Part 2

So, though I now feel as though there's more than one place I belong, that is not to say, the two places are  identical – heheh, not by any means.  Though people are still people – If you prick me, do I not bleed Buckeye Scarlet/Wolfpack Red? – there is a slight, though fundamental, difference in the overall attitude.

Columbus, to me, feels as an older, bigger city.  The Triangle is a younger, though rapidly-growing area.  It’s only a matter of time before the Triangle area wakes up one day and isn’t as spry as it used to be and Columbus will get its second wind.  But what I’ve noticed is that there just seems to be an air of fatigue hanging over Columbus.  It’s not overwhelming, it’s not stifling, but it’s there – the pressures of being a major metropolitan area, I suppose.

But that’s something I actually like; or perhaps “appreciate” is a better term.  For once in my life, looking back at least, I feel like I’ve lived in an area that’s reflected my own soul: fatigued after a lifetime of working towards something; simply trying to be who I’m meant to be: a functional human being with the purpose of being the best me I can be.  Isn’t that the point of every city, to be the best city it can be?

Goodness knows Columbus has done that and, from my understanding, in recent years has had its share of hard knocks.  Yet, it trudges on, sometimes cheerfully so because of its inhabitants who refuse to throw in the towel.  Reasonable negative comments can be made about the area, but what’s the point?  The same can be done about the Triangle area, about any area.  We’re in a fallen world, there’s something “wrong” with everything of that kind of world.  However, there’s already enough negativity out there to sustain an army of Negative Knights for nigh a nillennium and yet a glaring deficit of positive energy.  Everyone’s got something to complain about because not everyone is going to be happy at the same time.  Shucks, some poor souls can never be happy because they believe happiness is simply some fantasy to be chased only by fools and dreamers who will accomplish nothing of practical value.

But I’ve enjoyed my time in Columbus.  It’s been a learning and growing experience.  Deep, meaningful growth and education always comes with some measure of pain or struggle – otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it; it wouldn’t be real.  From six months of chasing the wind, two months of coming to grips with that and six months of learning to live again I’ve come out a little wiser for the wear with a renewed, clearer sense of purpose, some good, honest friendships and a particularly special relationship that promises to be more than I hoped for or imagined; that is to say, real.

Fantasy is fun but the book, the film, the song, the encapsulation of the idea always has an ending point.  Reality, life being lived, is forever.

Monday, October 24, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again - Part 1

...and...we're back!  It's been a good few weeks.

For the past 10 or so days I've been in North Carolina; tying up loose ends, reconnecting with old friends, re-establishing residency - and it's been quite interesting on a few levels.

The series of posts beginning today are primarily reflective on the whole experience of moving from one place to another and drawing comparisons and contrasts between the two locations.  I hope everyone enjoys it, but particularly Ohioans and North Carolinians.


They say, “You can’t go home again.”  I reckon that’s true to a point.

When I first moved to Columbus I almost immediately began drawing comparisons and contrasts between the ways of life in Ohio and North Carolina.  Everyone around Columbus seemed to be more cynical, morose, in a generally fouler mood than the folks in good ol’ NC.  Traffic seemed to be much more manic, crazy, insane than what it was like in the Raleigh area.  In Columbus, pretty much everyone – and I mean everyone – obsesses over the Buckeyes.  Yet, I moved there for love so I would endure and search for bright points in the environment and locals and see what Southern Cheer I could bring to the wayward Midwest.

Well, all of that got turned on its head when Reality socked me with a left jab and then a mean right hook, crushing the metaphorical bridge of my nose along with the rose-colored glasses I had been unwittingly sporting for quite some time.  It took a month and a half or so to get over that and then my vision started coming into focus.  After reflecting on the experiences I had had after a couple visits back to NC during my time in Ohio I arrived at some interesting conclusions.

It just so happened that people I normally rolled with in NC versus the folks I initially rolled with in Ohio were different kinds of people.  And then I realized, “Oh yeah – I know plenty of cynical, morose and generally foully-mooded people in North Carolina.”  It doesn’t matter where you are, there are always crowds of optimistic people and cynical people – and that’s okay.  But I’m not here to talk about the dynamics which exist in the balance of optimism and cynicism though I think that’s a very interesting topic to explore – so, Back To the Point!  (Heheh, “Points?  Where we’re going we don’t need…points.”)

Another conclusion, or rather, realization I arrived at in my ruminations and observations is that I-40 traffic is awful!!  Traffic in Apex, of all places, is awful!  …during the right time of day, of course; and so it is in Columbus – some times of day traffic is delightful; other times it’s a nightmare.  On the road, people in NC can be just as rude as they are in Ohio; on the road, people in Ohio can be just as polite and accommodating as they are in NC.

In Ohio, everyone’s obsessed with Buckeye football.  In the Triangle area, everyone is obsessed with basketball – be it NC State, ECU, Wake Forest, UNC, Duke, etc.  And therein lies really the only difference: there’s only one team in Ohio, so naturally all the sports nuts gravitate towards that.  There’s some diversification in NC, but essentially it’s the same thing: something I just don’t understand as I don’t go cuckoo for sports like Sonny goes cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

As all this began dawning on me I started arriving at new conclusions: there are nerds in Ohio, there are nerds in North Carolina.  There are Browncoats in NC and there are Browncoats in Ohio.  What was most comforting, though, is that God is just as much in Ohio as He is in NC.  From that truth has sprung the security and assurance that Ohio is now another place I can call “home.”  Indeed, “Home is where the heart of Carolina is,” but I know there’s more than one place I “belong.”

To be continued…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Regularly scheduled blogging to resume soon.

In the meantime, here's a trip down two memory lanes which converge in a most unlikely, yet plausible manner:


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Something Special

While the blog is "officially" on hiatus, I came across this yesterday that made feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy and glad about my current occupation.  It's originally from which is a website where people who work in the customer service industry post stories (anonymously) of odd and often funny experiences they've had interacting with customers.  I have a few myself I'll be submitting over the next couple of weeks.  Anyway, below is a wonderful story of a customer service rep just being plain amazing - after the jump.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Have you ever tried something over and over again and just keep running headlong into the same place in the same brick wall and the only thing getting dents in it is your skull?  Yeah, that's a significant part of my life story...

El Jumpo...

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's The Sailor's Life For Me!

“He curses like a sailor.”

It wasn’t until I started interacting with actual Sailors and future Sailors that I came to see the above is not just a clever saying remarking on a bygone era; it holds true today. 

More after the jump...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday's Notes - The Blues

1) It's true...

2) Look Around You - one video out of a brilliant "educational" series from England:

3) The alternate version of Darth Vader's death scene at the end of Return of the Jedi - I personally hope they include this in the 3D version:

4) The Super Simple Secret  to Great Ideas - by Jon Acuff.  It's one of those things where you smack your forehead and declare, "Of course!" but it's not something we commonly think about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eat the Strawberries

Sometimes you're stuck between a rock and a hard place (or "the Rock and a hard case" if you're Sean Connery).  What do you do?  Fret and worry your way out of it?  Resign yourself to failure?  Or maybe just live in the moment, knowing you've done and/or are doing the best you can?  Today's drawing after the jump...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Artwork Wednesday: Shadow

The last couple of weeks have been just this side of overwhelming.  In the process of preparing for shipping I've also moved into a new place and regained a roommate; all that brings along its own stressors.  Oftentimes I feel like I'm onstage, or under the scrutiny of everyone.  Granted, I somewhat put myself out there sometimes, but more than once I've concluded that I am essentially a glutton for punishment - in that regard, sometimes I think I should've joined the Marines.

Today's drawing is from a few years ago.  It's called "Shadow" - story after the jump.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ya Got a Mean Hook, There

Freshman year of college I got involved with a campus ministry at ECU.  We had this weekly meeting on Thursday nights meant to be for outreach to the lost college students (in a spiritual sense, not just freshmen who couldn’t find their way around campus) to get ‘em in somewhere and hear about Jesus.

Now, you can’t just say to someone, “Hey, come to this thing at the student center on Thursday to hear about Jesus!”  There has to be a hook.  Don’t the Apostles use hooks in the book Acts?  They are fishermen, for goodness’ sake.  Anyway, the hook for the Thursday night meetings was some kind of skit or something and then someone would share their testimony about how they became a Christian. 

The skits were a lot of fun to produce.  I was involved with a few.  There was a guy who did a great Chris Farley impression and some of us recreated the original sketch from SNL featuring Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker (I played Phil Hartman’s role).  Another time we did a musical number from the Planet of the Apes the Musical.  Another time some guy produced a video Matrix spoof.  All this was great fun.  The entertainment part of the show took about 15-20 minutes and usually garnered great responses.  I want to say there was a singing component, too…  And then someone would give a five minute testimony – five minutes to communicate to an audience of thirty or more how his or her life had been changed forever.

About 40 minutes of entertainment, five minutes about God.

Now, this was over ten years ago.  I have no idea how things are going now.  But since that time, I’ve observed similar happenings.  It could be youth conferences, church events, other ministry events, whatever, there has to be some kind of thing to grab people’s attention and then, oh yeah, now that you’re here you’re going to hear about the gospel.

Lately, I’ve been observing a theme emerging from different sermons I’ve listened to, blogs I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had with people: Why use a hook?  The Apostles did not use hooks; Jesus did not use hooks; Paul did not use hooks – they just went around proclaiming the gospel.  Now, I don’t mean in the fashion of the street preachers you sometimes see, though sometimes they would get into a discussion and then draw a crowd, but that was because their message was their hook.  And not only their message, but their obvious belief in that message manifested in how they lived.

When I think of hooks (aside from fishing equipment or villainous captains) I think of sleazy salesmen trying to huckster unsuspecting fools – that is to say, taking advantage of people.  Saying all that to say, many people use hooks with good intentions.  I mean, who hasn’t at some point in their life?  But, we all know what road good intentions pave.  Perhaps we just need to believe what the Bible says; perhaps we just need to believe in the power of the gospel and not secondary means. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


I’m not sure if it was the 6th, 7th or 10th, but it was my senior year of college and I was a Resident Advisor (RA).  It was on the 6th, 7th or 10th when the RAs for my dorm had a meeting and the main topic of discussion was fire inspections – that is, the week of September 10, the fire marshal would come through all the dorm rooms and check to make sure no one had a fire hazard present.  I believe they were scheduled to start mid-week, but for some reason might start a little sooner and we were to be ready.

Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was sleeping in because I didn’t have any classes that day.  A frantic knocking woke me up.  I thought to myself, “Oh, great; fire inspection time.”  As I put on some proper clothes the knocking continued and a voice from the other side said, “Cliff!  Wake up!  You’ve got to see what’s happening on TV!”  I recognized the voice as that of my friend, Joe.

As soon as I opened the door he rushed in, looking for the TV remote.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Two 747s crashed into the World Trade Center and another one went after the Pentagon!  It’s just like in a movie or something!”  This was my friend Joe who had a flair for the dramatic, was easily excitable, and was a master BSer; however there was a ring of authenticity to his words.

Before I could say anything more than, “What?” he had the TV on and there was the footage of smoke pouring out of both towers.

“Holy crap, we’re under attack!” Joe said.

I was still waking up.  What was going?  What did this mean? I wondered.

“I’ve got to go,” Joe said.  He ran out the door and I took my seat in front of the TV.

A few minutes later, the first tower fell.  Not long after, the second tower fell.  There was pandemonium on the streets as the networks brought live coverage of the event to everyone who would watch.  Everyone was freaking out.

And finally, I was afraid.

All flights in the U.S. were grounded; there was talk of another crash in Pennsylvania.  My dad was probably traveling that day and though he hadn’t done business in the Northeastern area of the country for a while, that was the first thing that came to mind.  I tried calling him and after a few tries while all circuits were busy, I finally got through to his voicemail.  It rang first, then went to voicemail, indicating that his phone was at least still operational even if he might not have been.

I just stayed glued to the TV for another hour or so.  Then it occurred to me that some of my residents were from the New York/New Jersey area.  I also had a resident on my hall who is of Middle Eastern descent and shared the name of Iraq’s former dictator.  I started going room-to-room and checking on the guys; aside from being stunned, and some of them angry, they were all fine and those who had family in and around the New York area said all their loved ones were safe.  Some of them told me that they were hearing of attacks on people who looked even remotely like someone from the Middle East.

Checking on Saddam, his roommate answered the door.  He said Saddam wasn’t there, but he was okay.  And this guy, Saddam, was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met.  Before that day everyone would joke about his name and he was nice about it, joking along.  But that day could have changed everything; thankfully, it didn’t.

Getting back to my room I heard my cell phone ringing – it was dad.  He was in Mississippi or Alabama or somewhere.  We talked for a few minutes, then I resumed my vigil in front of the TV as footage of the attacks was replayed; as footage of people scrambling through the streets as more buildings fell was played; as footage of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places celebrated in their streets, burning U.S.A. flags, having a good old time.

At some point I started recording it all on my VCR.

At one point I broke down and cried; not out of fear, but sadness, watching people who would normally be proud, strong, in charge of their lives be thrown into ruin, desperation, abject terror. 

My country was no longer invulnerable.  In my mind, it wouldn’t be long before the movie Red Dawn would become a true story and battle would erupt across the U.S.

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet.

In the days following I was comforted by the strength of President Bush and proud of the union that existed among the political parties.  For the briefest of moments in our country’s history, everyone seemed to be on the same side.

How soon we forget what joy there is in being united.

How soon we forget our inherent vulnerability as individuals, and as a nation, and revert to ways of living that see only to our personal needs and not the needs of others.

September 11 was just a graphic reminder of this fact, but this happens everyday on smaller, more personal scales.  Something rattles our cages, we get scared, we get help, then we feel better and resume normal living, never having learned anything – wash, rinse, repeat – 390th verse same as the first. 

“Friends” are made in times of peril and then forsaken when all is well.  It’s just the way of things.

There is a difference between feeling better and getting better.  They’re not mutually exclusive, but the former always precedes the latter and we wee humans tend to get it backwards.

Thank God for Jesus.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Artwork Wednesday

Wednesdays are for art.  I enjoy drawing (and on rare occasions, painting); I’ve done a lot of it.  The thing is, I have a ton of drawings on my hard drives and no one with whom to share them.  Maybe that’s not a big deal, but isn’t that what art is for; first for the artist to express himself then to share that expression with the world?  So, from here on out, every Wednesday I’ll share a dabbling I’ve done in the art world with the story behind it (if any).

Today, I present “Open Mind.”

A little background: my most prodigious periods have been while working at a call center.  This is my first work from my first call center period.  I drew it during the training class as I learned how to take calls for a Holiday Inn call center which no longer exists in Cary, NC.  This would have been some time in August 2002. 

This style of squiggly, rippling shapes was first introduced to me by a friend in high school.  One day he randomly showed me this rather psychedelic looking design consisting of loops and whorls and I loved what it did to my eyes.  I asked how he did it and he showed me.  It was simple enough: start with your main shape by drawing a big outline and then work your way inwards.  The effect can be profound for such a simple technique and that’s what I like it about it.  As far as I’m concerned, the fewer moving parts, the better.

That technique stuck with me.  I found it to be an easy, yet productive style of doodling in class.  I took this idea into college and then into the workforce as seen here.  Essentially, the above drawing is just a doodle.  I think I started with the eye; I love eyes.  “Windows to the soul” and all that.  I really had no plan for it; after the eye, I figured it needed an eyebrow; then a cheekbone; then a mouth, a nose, a neck…but no top for the head.

“No top means it’s open, right?” I reasoned to myself.  “An open head means an open brain – hey, kind of like an open mind!”  And so then you see what’s going on in the open mind.  Just  a bunch of shapes and lines you and I may not get, but the guy there gets it; most of it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On

This is my current journal.  Before I purchased it, I’d begun noticing this slogan, or motto, cropping up more and more frequently in my environment.  I have an idea or two why this seems to be having a resurgence in popularity in our culture, but I won’t get into that now.

For those of you unfamiliar, this is not related to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Don’t panic!!).  Before the graphic became the cover for a journal it was a poster – rather a whole bunch of posters – produced by the British government at the onset of World War II to help maintain the morale of the British citizens.  “Though war and chaos is breaking out around and in our country, keep calm and carry on.”

Yesterday morning I was at Caribou before church doing a bit of journaling and such.  When I finished, I closed it up and placed it on my Bible and just sat there for a bit, letting the excess thoughts drain from my mind.  Then I glanced down and for a moment it looked as though my journal and Bible were one and the same and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be rather fitting if this were on the cover of our Bibles?  I mean, isn’t that the point?  When strife and chaos breaks out in and around our lives should we freak out?  No.  God is in control.  He loves us, we have a place reserved in heaven – just keep calm and carry on.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday's Gracenotes

1) Being Less Biblical and More Like the Bible - Donald Miller makes a point differentiating between being biblical and being like the Bible.  When I first began to read it, my impression was that he's splitting hairs, here, but as I continued to read I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with his sentiments.  I mean, if you wanted to approach the dating life "biblically" then chuck a male goose at Judges 21, specifically verses 20-23.

2) Etta James sings I'll Fly Away.  This makes me happy and sad, reminding me of old-fashioned hymn sings at the church I grew up in and at family reunions.

3) Wooden Heart by Listener.  Learned about this from StuffChristiansLike.  At first, I thought it was kind of weird.  As it goes on though, it starts to make sense and I think it's pretty great.

4) Elizabeth South.  So, it turns out I went to the same church as this lady for a bit but was too shy to introduce myself.  Now we're friends on Facebook and she has a couple CDs out!  Her style kind of reminds me of Nichole Nordeman - I think you'll like her, too.

5) Alistair Begg.  This bloke from Scotland preaches at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio.  Personally, I just like the accent, however he also speaks sound theology with the love of Christ.  There's a podcast available as well as the full audio from his sermons.  It's definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anchors Aweigh!

Remember last week’s post on waiting?  Well, last Thursday I got a text from my recruiter saying that some jobs might be opening up and that I would know for sure on Friday or Monday.  Friday happened, I got down with some friends, but I didn’t hear anything regarding Navy jobs.  Saturday happened, Sunday happened, and while I wasn’t expecting to hear anything over the weekend, doubt still managed to creep in.

Come Monday morning all kinds of reasons as to why I shouldn’t get in or hear anything were jumping around in my head like a herd of poisonous toads.  But then shortly after noon I got the message: “Hey Cliff, you’re on the schedule to process tomorrow.  We just got the word that you’re good to go.”  I just happened to be on a call when the text came through – and no, I don’t make it a normal habit to read text messages while on phone calls, but I was a bit jittery, plus the caller at the time was looking for his bill to give me his account number.

As soon as I read the text I had to suppress a “Whoopee!”  However, what started out as an average, good-natured call on my part suddenly turned into an enthusiastic and exciting experience for my customer.

When break time rolled around shortly thereafter, I made contact with my recruiter and details were ironed out for that evening and the next day: I’d crash at the hotel again and drive over to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) the next morning and since I wouldn’t need to do anything else but process, I’d probably be done by noon.  And by process, of course I don’t mean “dealing with issues”, but rather being processed into the military.

Tuesday morning my roommate and I woke up at 4, went down for breakfast at 5, then I followed the bus to the MEPS at 5:30 and I was ready to rock and roll by 6.  All I needed to do was wait to clear up a couple issues with the security clearance folks (pay your parking tickets on time), then wait to meet with the job classifier.  I was ready to rock at 6AM.  By nine, my enthusiasm had wavered just a bit – but I was able to watch some fascinating programming on tanks, submarines and jet fighters on the Military channel in the lobby.

About 9:45 I was called back and got the security clearance issue cleared up (pay your parking tickets immediately!  It will come back to haunt you!), and was told that if the job classifier didn’t call me back by 10:30 to go get some food in the cafeteria.

10:30 rolled around – I was hungry.  I went and got some food in the cafeteria.  Now, heh, they say it’s free.  They say that staying at the hotel the night before, the breakfast and then lunch is all free.  I appreciate the idea, I do, and I like not having to fork out five or six bucks at a time or whatever it cost to stay at the hotel.  However, I pay my taxes every year.  If you want a return on that investment, join the military. ;)

But I digress…

By 11 I was back in the lobby waiting to hear from the job classifier – well, one of two classifiers.  What would happen would be I’d go back and talk with her about the available jobs and see which ones would be the best fit based on my personality inventory, job history and ASVAB score.  It was about 1:15 when I was called.

There were no options.  Well, I should say we didn’t discuss any options because the job I was hoping to get was available.  I’m going to be a journalist for the Navy.  I actually get to use my original degree in Communication (media production and such) for a career!

By 2PM I was sworn in as a sailor for the United States Navy.  I ship out for nine weeks of basic training in November followed by six months of training in my specialty.  And that’s that!  God’s been working every step of the way.  I was not expecting things to happen so quickly.  But I see the delay from last week as a chance to take care of those parking tickets (pay ‘em!) and get everything squared away before the whole process would engage.  When it’s time to move on God’s schedule, things get crackin’!

So what does that mean for the blog?  For the time being, nothing.  I’ll continue along the normal schedule.  I have ideas for stories and things to share which I’ll have posted in my absence during basic.  Of course, at that time I won’t be able to respond, but I’ll see about having someone moderate comments and such on my behalf.  Plus, a couple of folks have said they’d still be interested in writing guest posts so you’ll get to enjoy the likes of Danny from Connective Tissue, Sharon from She Worships, and more (definitely some more Grady Nutt – his talks are just a gold mine of good stories!).

And I reckon that’s all I have to say about that.  Happy Wednesday!

Monday, August 29, 2011


Finally – it was time for the physical.  …and I was not ready.

Y’see, with all the apparent “false starts”, when even a glimmer of hope would appear for resolution to one of the roadblocks, I didn’t want to get my hopes up for fear they’d just be disappointed again.  So in the weeks leading up to the green light, I had quit running, I had quit trying to eat as healthy as I had been; I had just stopped trying.  But clearly, God had not given up.

When I did get the green light, I weighed myself and realized I would not meet the standards for my height and weight.  I was either going to have to grow a few inches or I was going to have to bust my butt for a week to try and drop about ten pounds – and I am fresh out of accelerated growth hormones.  Now, I’ve dropped weight like this before – about ten years ago. 

Over the course of four years in college I gained 60 pounds more than what I had weighed my senior year of high school.  About a year or so after graduation I was introduced to Dance Dance Revolution; it was love at first step.  So, I bought DDR Maxx and then DDR Maxx 2 for the PlayStation 2 and for about three months just busted it.  I was also more mindful of what I ate and in three months’ time was about five pounds away from my high school weight.  However, I didn’t keep it off.

That’s another thing – I find it difficult to change my lifestyle sometimes.  Anyone else have this problem?  Like with the weight – or with money.  You get yourself into a pinch, you work it out with some blood, sweat and tears, then after a few months you’re back in the same old patterns.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Can I get a witness or is it just me?

Anyway, in times since, whenever I’ve needed to drop some poundage I’d just cut out sweets, dance it up, and about a week later I’d be ten pounds lighter. 

So then this prospect of joining the Navy came up.  I got the green light for the physical.  Hoo boy, my metabolism ain’t what it used to be.  And my body is not 21 anymore.  When I first started jogging back in March, I had epic shin splints – after only about five minutes of jogging – not even half a mile.  When I knew I’d be going in for the physical, I started running again; two, sometimes three times a day; about 1.6 miles a shot according to Google Maps.  I cut out all junk food and drink.  Did the Slim-Fast thing for a few days.  I mean, I ate; I didn’t starve myself, just drastically reduced portions and only healthy food.

I started this process on a Wednesday and by Saturday I was down five pounds.  Woohoo!  Five more to go in just a few days!  Well – I believe I hit what you’d call a plateau.  And by Saturday, I was tired.  So I didn’t really do much Saturday or Sunday.  On Monday, I was weighed at the recruiting station – four pounds over.  ARGH!  Well, I still had that evening to bust it out.

Now, a curious thing: before you go off to have your physical or be shipped out with the military, they have you stay at a hotel the night before.  So a bunch of us were sequestered at the Crowne Plaza in Columbus.  They had a workout room there with ellipticals, treadmills and the like, but on my way over, I had a brainwave.  I stopped by a grocery store and picked up some Ex-Lax.  I mean, seriously, why not?  There is a difference between weights pre- and post-toileting.

Thing is, those little chocolate, Ex-Lax…tablets?  Whatever – they’re small.  They’re infinitesimal.  They’re tiny.  The box says take two daily.  I’m thinking, really?  So, I took four.

That night I went for a jog around the hotel’s vicinity; spent some time on a treadmill; and then had an unpleasant experience around 1AM – and we had to wake up at 4.  Post-unpleasant experience I was more or less fine; but there was a lingering pit in my stomach that I knew didn’t come from nerves – I know what that kind of pit feels like.  Thankfully, by 6 it had disappeared.

So, then…!  The time came for weighing in; I stood nervously on the scale – had it all paid off?  I glanced at the scale reading and my heart leapt to my throat.  The gentleman in charge scribbled something on my chart, handed it back to me and said, “Just be sure to stay in shape.”  I was walking about a foot off the ground the rest of the day.

Now, that’s great.  It was quite an experience, but it made me think: what if I had been jogging regularly and eating healthily all along?  Even though I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, I had enlistment as my goal.  Instead, I frequently lost faith and dropped the ball, picking it up barely in time.  There were moments, especially in looking back now, where I sensed this is what God wants for me, this is His plan; but I was not acting in faith, I was not planning ahead and acting accordingly.

It made me think of the parable of the ten virgins.  It also made me think of every other Scripture verse I’ve read where we’re told to keep watch, or be ready for Jesus’ return.  I mean, y’know, that’s really going to happen.  Yeah, it’s been so long and there have been several “false starts” that it’s easy to get discouraged, but it really and truly is going to happen.  I reckon the question we all oughta ask ourselves is: do I only believe when His return feels imminent or do I believe all the time?  Am I a fan only when my team is doing well or do I root for ‘em even if they’re having an awful season?

Will I be preparing myself even when it feels pointless or will I try to cram a lifetime of faithfulness into ten minutes?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Y'all know what day it is.

1) THE EARTHQUAKE - I didn't feel it.  Apparently I was driving home from my physical when it happened.  I've been through two hurricanes, I've walked on lava, I've been in some crazy snowfall, hail, strong winds, but I've never seen a tornado and I've never experienced an earthquake.  Le sigh.  I am thankful for what I have experienced, but to think this rarest of occurrences (for east coasters, you enviable west coasters) was literally occurring right under my nose (and the rest of my body for that matter) and I didn't even realize it is just...meh. >:-/

2) IT'S BEEN A CRAZY WEEK - in addition to the physical and what it portends, I need a place to live between now and whenever shipping out would occur.  I've engaged in a flurry of activity for that but thankfully, everything seems to be coming together by the efforts of my future roommate.

3) GLENN MILLER IS THE MAN.  This is my primary ringtone.  Buy it on iTunes - you'll be glad you did.

4)Before the following became a video, it was a game - and then another game - you can see the concept brilliantly illustrated in the video below; and both games are immensely fun and challenging.

Thursday, August 25, 2011



Well, it was fun while it lasted.

I got the idea for Guest Post Thursday from Jon Acuff, the guy who writes the Stuff Christians Like blog (you still haven’t read it?  What are you waiting for??!).  In his book, Quitter (which I highly recommend you read, by the way), he talks about developing a platform for whatever dream it is you have to fulfill in life and to share that platform.  That was the whole point of Guest Post Thursday.

Thus far I’ve had two weeks where actual, living and breathing people guest posted and the other two weeks I’ve posted transcriptions of performances of a Southern Baptist minister who passed on 29 years ago.  This week I’ve got nothing and really nothing on the docket.  And that’s okay.

This is a learning experience.

Right now isn’t the time for Guest Post Thursday, I suppose.

Right now isn’t the time for a lot of things.  I’ll keep the option open in case anyone does want to, but frankly, I think maybe I was somewhat putting the cart before the horse in just starting up the blog with the GPT component already set as a foundational piece. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue my regular posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and figure out what to do with Thursdays. 

I mean, hey, the blog is a month old today. J  This is the longest I’ve kept a consistent blog going with a definitive purpose.

So, we’ll see what happens to Thursdays – jury’s still out on Fridays in my opinion, though some of y’all have said you like the current format.

I still want to do something with video….

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anchors Await

Sometimes it seems as though my life can be characterized by the lyrics to Fugazi’s “The Waiting Room:”

I am a patient boy
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait
My time is like water down a drain
Everybody's moving,
Everybody's moving,
Everybody's moving, moving, moving, moving
Please don't leave me to remain
In the waiting room

In a cultural context and personal mindset attuned to instant gratification, waiting can be torturous.  I had to wait four years to get a college degree; two years to get my teaching certificate; three years to learn to deal with emotional baggage; two years to date a girl; thirty-one years for my life to begin, and so on and so forth.

The job I mentioned in Monday’s post is part of a process as well (and I’ve discovered it’s actually been closer to three months rather than five months (my b)).

It was late April/early May when I approached a recruiter about joining the Navy.  I thought it’d be as easy as walking into the office, saying I want to enlist and then in few weeks’ time I’d be shipping off to basic.  Well, that was early May, now we’re in late August.

First thing I did after the initial paperwork was take the ASVAB – that’s a test you take to get a general idea of what ratings (jobs) you’d be suited and eligible for in the Navy.  My score lets me choose basically whatever I want so long as there isn’t an age limit (such as a nuclear tech for which the age cutoff is 25, or the SEALS in which I would surely die just in their warm-ups).  So that was encouraging; but I wouldn’t be meeting with the job classifier for some time.  There were some items in my medical history that needed addressing first – and herein is where I really have seen God work.

Since I was in counseling for 3 years, the Navy wanted to be sure I was mentally and emotionally “there” and, sure, I can say that, but any reasonable employer would want confirmation from the counselor in question.  So I needed to get a letter from my counselor explaining all that, and she complied – easy enough.  But then…

Ten years ago I had a kidney stone.  It was the worst physical pain I have ever (and hope to have ever) endured, but I passed it and haven’t had any problems since (drink lots of water everyday, kids!).  However, of course, Recruiting Command wanted documentation confirming that.

So, I contacted the hospital of the emergency room where I was treated and requested the records.  It took about a week, but all the records were found and faxed to my recruiter who then sent them to Recruiting Command.  Smooth sailing now, right?  WRONG. 

A little over a week later a letter came back essentially saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.  We might reconsider if you get a letter from your physician showing you were released from care and a test showing your kidneys are clean.”  At first I was a bit discouraged, but I did not succumb thanks to some encouraging words from my dad and Mrs. Incredible.  This part I talked about in Monday’s post: “I would need…a procedure I’d think would cost thousands of dollars….”  Which, of course, wound up only costing $30 (Thanks, Dad).  So, then, I needed the records from my follow up doctor.

I was able to track down and contact the practice I went to for my follow up, but since it was ten years ago they’d need a couple of days to dig up the records.  A couple of days later the records were exhumed from the off-site archives and faxed to my recruiter and sent to Recruiting Command.  Smooth sailing now, right?  WRONG.

A message came back essentially saying that though these were records of release, there was no explicit “release of care” instructions in there.  So again, a little discouraged, a little resentful – I was thinking, this was over ten years ago!  What’s the deal??  Well, it’s easy to just write it off as bureaucratic red tape, but I don’t think that’d be accurate.  If I were out to sea and had a vital job to do, the Navy would prefer that I be unable to perform a vital function because I was injured by gunfire rather than a medical condition they could have saved money on by not hiring me in the first place; if it’s a foreseeable liability, practically speaking, particularly in our current economic environment, who would hire such a person?

So, then I got over myself, again, with words of encouragement from friends and family, and I tracked down the specific doctor…who had retired a few years ago.  New discouragement: here was the possibility this really might not work out.  But then, Mrs. Incredible just so happened to be seeing her doctor the day I learned this and he just so happened to mention that he was a medical officer in the Navy.  She jumped on that like ants on honey and explained my situation to him.  He said to talk to another doctor in the practice I went to, a chap who was there ten years ago with access to the records, and see if he’d be willing to write the necessary letter.

It took a couple of phone calls, trying to explain the situation, but he’s clearly a decent bloke, helping a fellow out and whatnot, and he wrote the letter on my behalf.  It was faxed to my recruiter who sent it off to Recruiting Command and…yesterday I had my physical for the Navy.  Now that’s a story for another day, suffice to say that I passed.

There was some doubt – and again, that’s a story for another day – but I saw God work in the littlest, yet most significant of ways and I passed; all clear.  The gentleman who interviewed me for my security clearance said I’m “more than qualified.”

So, smooth sailing, right?  …wrong.

There are currently no jobs available.  However – at the first of each month a report is put out indicating what, if any, jobs are.  Plus, the new fiscal year starts in October.  So, I could know next week, next month, possibly even next year.  The point is: God’s in charge of all this.  If I had gone charging off a couple of months ago, I would not have been ready.  Why I’m all clear but still not able to go in?  I don’t know.  “But I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”  Right now, I wait.

But I don't sit idly by
I'm planning a big surprise
I'm gonna fight for what I want to be
I won't make the same mistakes
Because I know
Because I know how much time that wastes
And Function
Function is the key
To the the waiting room
Lyrics reprinted without permission; copyright 1989 Dischord; written by Ian MacKaye

Monday, August 22, 2011


I’ve got nothing today.

The past few days I’ve been freaking out and getting ready for a “job interview” I have tomorrow.  I’ve been working for this for the past five months.  I just realized that I was typing this – I thought it was three months ago, but it was, in fact, during the third month of the year which is March which was five months ago. 

There were some pre-interview wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, but it seemed like once one wrinkle was taken care of, another would appear.  And it’s really been God surprising me at every turn.  I would need info from an obscure source or a procedure I’d think would cost thousands of dollars and God’s like, “Psh, for one thing I’m omniscient, and another thing, I know who everybody is.  I got this.”  And the obscure source would come through.

The procedure?  Nothing major, but still expensive without good insurance.  The morning I started making the arrangements I prayed to God that morning, “If You want me to do this, You’re going to have to let me get this for a song.”  That afternoon I heard Him singing; what I initially thought would cost a few k’s I learned might only be a couple Benjamins; then it seemed to come down to 80 bucks; it wound up being only $30.

So now there’s this last step – the “interview.”  I’m excited and nervous.  I’m not going to tell you what it is unless I get it (assuming I’m allowed to).  A fair amount of my readership (given that at most I hit 20 readers per post) already knows, but for everyone else, well, I hate building up to something and then having to disappoint.  So, if I’m in, there’ll be a jaunty post on Wednesday!  If not, probably a reflective one.

Until then, Happy Monday!

(Today’s post was brought to you by the music of Vivaldi)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday's Notes - See Below...

I was going to start a new format today, but I'd rather wait until after I receive some news this upcoming Tuesday as the nature of the news will significantly impact the future of this blog.

Anyway, here's a new list. :D

1) Rhett & Link: These guys are originally from North Carolina.  I'd like to say I know these guys, but in actual fact I've only met Link once and Rhett twice.  Anyway, they're really funny and quite talented in the ways of humor and media production - check 'em out.  They have a TV show on IFC about making local TV commercials:

2) The X-Structure: A band - nice, mellow music.  Just found 'em the other day amidst the comments of a post on Stuff Christians Like.  They're from Cape Town, South Africa.  Really, up until this point, all I've known about South Africa is: apartheid; it's Charlize Theron's birthplace; and what I learned from District 9.  Of course, if you think about it, it's really just like any other place that's known for something.  Ohio has buckeyes; Hawaii has coconuts, France has bread - other than that places are just full of workers, dreamers, families and the like.

3) Ed Stetzer: I don't know much about the man except that he shows up on the blogrolls of several other blogs I frequent.  I particularly like what he has to say here: Aug. 17 post.  The love of Jesus is hard enough to practice with one's own self, but with others?  With a group of people so marginalized?  Remember, the enemies aren't the people we see, but the forces we can not.

4) This picture (found as a friend's FB profile pic):

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Roast Is Burning - Guest Post Thursday!

Grady Lee Nutt (September 2, 1934–November 23, 1982) was a Southern Baptist minister, humorist, television personality, and author. His humor revolved around rural Southern Protestantism and earned him the title as "The Prime Minister of Humor."  Below is a transcription of Grady Lee telling a story from the recording, "A Laugh And A Half."  If you want to listen to the audio, click the title of the post.  For more audio and info, go to An Unofficial Grady Nutt Page.

Baptists are notorious for a lot of things, preaching – some of our evangelistic services and things like that when we try to put high pressure on you for low living.  All parts of the service have always fascinated me; I love even the welcome to the visitors, I love the offering, I love everything about it!  It’s just fun to do.

But one of the things we’ve always done in Baptist churches is what we call the “invitation service,” that’s at the end of the preaching when we sing these songs like, “Just As I Am” and “Have Thine Own Way, O Lord” and “Aaaaaaalmoooooost Persuaaaaaaaded” – now if that won’t almost persuade you, you’ve basically got a statue heart, that’s what it is.  Sing old sad songs, “Deathbeds Are Coming,” and all that kind of stuff.  Trying to scare something out of you so you’ll go onto heaven, it’s that kind of deal. 

Basically, “If you’re doing it, give it up, quit it, and come down here and share it with us so I’ll know I haven’t been pouring all this down the tube.”

Well, the invitation service is frequently treated like a threat.  My father could do that about as good as any preacher you ever saw; he could just act like he knew who did it!  And that just scares the church right into looking at the hymn book.  I’ve seen them sing 95 verses of “Just As I Am” and never look up, just “Juuuust aaaaas I aaaam” – they won’t look up – that means you did it.  See? I mean, don’t look up. 

And dad would walk back and forth like a panther in the cage at the city zoo – he knew who did it! 

Well, he would just go on and on and on – I remember one Sunday, I was about 15 or 16 years old, it was about ten after one, and dad had reeeeally been bringing the pressure on – HAAH!   We were down to about 95 or 96 verses of “Just As I Am” and I was afraid he was about to start on “Almost Persuaded” and I did not want to go to the mission field.  That day I might have volunteered just to go home for lunch, y’know?  I might’ve done it.

Well, it was about ten after one and mother put her arm around my shoulder and she said, “Grady Lee?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “Would you please go forward and rededicate your life to God?  The roast is burning.”

So…I did. 

I stepped out in the aisle and dad was kind of shocked, y’know?  You hate to go an hour and ten minutes and find out it was your kid that did it, y’see. 

He looked up as I came down the aisle, sort of like, “Nononono!”

And I was like, “Yesyesyesyes!”  I just kept coming. 

Well, he took me by the hand and with his 310 pounds, he kind of beat on my back, *WHOOM, WHOOM!* and that’s why a lot of people kneel at the altar: they get the breath beat out of them by the preachers.  He pulled me in close and leaned over and said, “What is it, Grady Lee?”

I said, “The roast is burning.”

So he called for prayer for an “unspoken” concern, and it really embarrassed me, ‘cause there was no telling what they thought I had done!  I really think that he should have just said, “The roast is burning; let us pray!”  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

There are Cokeheads and Pepsi addicts.

No wait – there are people who like Coca-Cola and people who like Pepsi.  I am a Coke guy.

I have fond memories, as a younger lad (ah, late 80s), of Friday nights at The Incredibles' house.  My parents would go out to dinner or something with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible and my sister and I would stay at their home with their children.  We’d feast on cheese pizza from Pizza Hut and throwback a couple two-liters of that marvelously fizzy and sweet Coca-Cola.  Thankfully, this happened after New Coke was on its way out of society’s door.

I didn't like New Coke and I’m convinced I still wouldn’t.  It's like Diet Coke but worse.  Drinking New Coke, you know you’re getting something different than the “normal” Coke, and usually newer versions of things are better, right?  Instead, the experience is more like being told you're going to get Double Dragon II for Christmas and you assume it’s going to be for the NES but instead it’s the lame Tiger version (yes, something like this happened to me a couple of times).

Thing is, as Christians, we tend to do this with the Bible.  We’ll read books, we’ll listen to sermons, we’ll read commentaries, go to conferences, go to church, but rather than directly indulging in the sweet effervescence of the Bible, we gulp down this “New Coke” of everything else related to the Bible instead of reading the Book itself.  I did this for the last 6 years of my life.

From 2005 to earlier this year I esteemed myself for studying under such venerated authors of Christian lore and doctrine as C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers (especially), and John Piper among others.  I felt like I needed the guidance of these “Super-Christians” because there was no way I could understand it on my own. 

The Bible is full of “God” stuff, right?  “Holy, holy, holy,” “Verily, thou shalt be smitten for missing the esoteric point,” “Sanctifidispencovenantalization” – you’ve got to get all that crap or you’ll screw it up and think you’re saved but really won’t be or you’ll somehow do the Christian thing wrong.

But you know what I’ve discovered?  It’s really not that complicated.  Plus, we already have everything we need to understand.  It’s the reading, knowing, then doing that is difficult.

Now, granted, the Bible is a big book – it’s one comprised of 66 books!  It can be a little intimidating.  But just start off in one of the Gospels – I recommend John – and as those little footnotes and cross-references pop up, look ‘em up and later read more from those sources. 

And sure, listen to sermons, go to church and to conferences, be in community with other believers and read books.  But do your own daily Bible reading.  For one thing, it’ll make church a lot less boring.  For another thing, there are some really great stories in there.  And they’re true – they’re all real – that makes life a lot less boring. 

Just start off with maybe 15 minutes a day.  If you’re so inspired to take notes, fine; if not, fine.  There is no verse that says, “Thou shalt take notes” though it does help you get a little more out of it the more involved you are in the reading.  But just start it off simply.

Read it as it is – a book.  And realize, this is where the fantastical, the supernatural, the mysteriously spiritual reveals itself through the words of normal people, like you and me, for normal people, like you and me.

Give it a whirl and see what happens.