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

Ready?


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.
Yup!

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

RIP GPT

RIP GPT

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
Ahhh...
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

Nothin'....


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: http://www.ifc.com/rhett-link/

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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rock'n'roll, Baby!


I love rock’n’roll. 

People ask me what my favorite type of music is and I always cop out by saying “a little bit of everything” – and it’s true! – but I’ve got to be honest with myself.  It’s usually some kind of rockin’, ballsy, maybe bluesy, a bit of metal and epic music that pulls me out of a funk, gets my cylinders firing and just all-around pumps me up.  You want Cliff to get excited about something?  “Just add guitar.”  Or drums.  Or bass.  I think you get the idea.

After I really met Jesus for the first time as a teenager all I would listen to was “Christian” rock.  Until about halfway through my junior year of high school, this consisted of the likes of Petra, DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, and Michael W. Smith.  Granted, all these bands rock (yes, even MWS), but little did I know I had barely even scratched the surface.

One afternoon after school, heading home, my good buddy Justin blew my mind.  A couple of us piled into his car, and now that I think about it, I seem to remember him prefacing this experience by saying, “Prepare to have your mind blown.”  He put a CD in and this is what I heard: “Perfect Night for a Hanging” by Tourniquet.  Like Train’s Soul Sister, my mind was blown. 

“This is Christian?” I asked in awe and wonder from the backseat.  Justin only smirked and nodded.  “This is amazing!  And that bit of metal, deep in my soul, was awakened.

Nowadays Christian Contemporary Music does represent a significant portion of my musical repertoire, but it by no means dominates it.  I’ve since learned there is also beauty and truth in “secular” music.  There is also truth and beauty in metal.

Now, heavy metal music is typically characterized as “angry music.”  And, well, yeah – you wouldn’t use Atreyu or Clutch as hold music for the Anger Management Hotline.  However, what I learned from that experience my junior year is that anger is okay.  The Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not get angry,” but rather “Be slow to anger.”  I mean, when Jesus cleansed the temple do you think He was serenely wielding that whip with a sublime smile, saying, “Verily, verily, get thee out, pretty please”?  No!  His words are translated with exclamation points!

To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Um, not to be crass, but it sounds like sweet, li’l, boxed-up-baby-Jesus is pissed off.  Sure, He’s the Son of God, and God is love and Jesus is all about loving His lambs, but part of love is fiercely defending those who one loves and, conversely, hating any threat to the beloved.  And we’re supposed to be like Jesus.

Anger shouldn’t arise from any sense of self-righteousness, but out of love.  Is there injustice?  Be angry about it.  Are there any who are oppressed?  Let anger burn against the oppression.  But don’t just sit there and stew – act; and that out of wisdom.

I’m not saying just go on a mad tear and burn stuff up because James, Jesus’ half-brother, tells us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).  And vengeance?  Forget about it – vengeance belongs to God and God alone.

However, where there is evil, injustice and oppression, let the anger of God abound in your heart and then act in compassion towards those who are victims of the darkness.  Remember, our foes aren’t the people we can see, but the forces we can’t. 

Be an advocate, a voice for the voiceless, a father to the fatherless.

Be angry.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday's Notes - See Sharp or Be Flat

Oh, Friday.  You are the awkward child, always out of place, I, never knowing what to do with you.

But that's about to change...

In the meantime, Friday, let's share with the world some interesting things of note:

1) Donald Miller - well gosh...  He had some really great posts up about relationships then goes and takes them down because some folks were offended.  Anyway, he has a good blog going - check it out.

2) Derek Sivers - just discovered this guy through a tweet from Dave Ramsey (@daveramsey).  Apparently he has a book out. This video excerpt shares a pretty good idea all could stand to follow.  Sure, he's talking to business owners, but just imagine your life is a business, you're the owner, and everyone you interact with are your customers.  Now watch the video again.

3) It seems as though the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  For that, I'd like to share today's Truth For Life daily devotional - it speaks directly to the world at large and, I hope, directly to you: http://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/8/12/

4) If you like good music and not spending money, check this out.  If it just looks like something that's not your cup of tea, let today be an exception and just give it a shot.  It's a nice blend of music from mellow, to jazzy, to rock, to orchestral.  And it's FREE.

Next Friday, I hope to have the new weekly format in place...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grace Abounds In A Home With Squeaky Floors


It's Guest Post Thursday!  Today's guest is Rachel of http://becomingrachelmeitl.blogspot.com/.  Rachel is a wife, a very creative interior decorator and cook, and most recently a new mother.  

Grace Abounds In A Home With Squeaky Floors - by Rachel Meitl

The gospel of grace calls us to sing of the everyday mystery of intimacy with God instead of always seeking for miracles or visions. It calls us to sing of the spiritual roots of such commonplace experiences as falling in love, telling the truth, raising a child, teaching a class, forgiving each other after we have hurt each other, standing together in the bad weather of life, of surprise and sexuality, and the radiance of existence. Of such is the kingdom of heaven, and of such homely mysteries is genuine religion made. Grace abounds and walks around the edges of our everyday experience. - Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

A couple of months ago my husband and I moved into our "new" house (built in 1991) with a very pregnant belly.  A couple of weeks later we brought baby Audrey home.  Walking around the house the floors squeak and I'm starting to learn the spots.  I'm learning where to step and where not to step when tip toeing around the sleeping baby.

The baby is sleeping right now so I have some quiet time to do "me" things.  I'm working on a slipcover for a crummy old ottoman I got for $20 off of craigslist.  Walking around in the room with the ottoman I found a new squeaky spot and I smiled to myself.

This house immediately felt like home to me, and the squeaky floors are part of that.  They remind me of... home.  They remind me of the home I spent my first 18 years in and they make me want this to be the home baby Audrey spends her first 18 years in.

The squeaky floors remind me of my 5-year old self waking my mom in the middle of the night for a snack.  Sitting at the kitchen table with her, a little bit of pepsi, and some cheese crackers.  Loving that we were up while the neighborhood slept.  

The squeaky floors remind me of my 7-year old self racing through the house to the restroom in the middle of the night.  Racing, because I was scared of what lurked where it was too dark to see.  

They remind me of playing rummy by flashlight or candlelight when the electricity would go out.  

They remind me of dragging furniture from my room to my brothers room and from my brothers room to my room... weeks after he had gotten new wallpaper... now my wallpaper.  Blue, with little white seagulls I think.  They remind me of dragging the same furniture back to their original rooms months later. 

Waking up and tip-toeing to my dad's brown lazy-boy chair.  Curling up with my head on one of the arms and looking into the kitchen until someone noticed I was up.  My parents stirring their coffee and chatting.

The one window that always let in water when it rained.  At least it was the bathroom window!  I can even hear the sound of the wooden shutters that hung on the inside of that window.

Sitting on the back porch in a wet bathing suit, wrapped in a worn-thin beach towel, water dripping onto the floor from my dangling feet, eating a tomato stuffed with seafood salad, squeezed with lemon, and surrounded by triscuits.  

They remind me of my 9-year old self knocking on the shower wall, signaling my mom that I was ready for the towel that had been warming by the wood-stove.  Sitting with my back to that wood-stove to dry my long hair.

The squeaky floors remind me of my 17-year old self coming home late after everyone had gone to bed. Coming home to find a "mibb" warming the bed where my feet would go and a sweet note from mom on my pillow.  

The things that were normal and mundane have become the things that shape the memories of my childhood and they have become the things that bring to mind happiness when I look back.  

The squeaky floors in our new old house bring to mind happiness when I look back.  I pray that Audrey's normal and mundane experiences in this house become happy memories of her childhood one day.  I pray that she finds love in the ordinary things and I especially pray that she finds God in the ordinary things... that she recognizes all the blessings that so many of us tend to overlook.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Day the Music Shied


I love music – listening to it, singing it, performing it, even a little bit of writing it.  However, I realize not everyone shares my views.  For instance, when I was younger and would attempt to pump up the jam or express my happiness through head-banging, dad would get a low-frequency, sonic-induced bellyache.  It’s not that he dislikes music; it’s just that he prefers a different flavor of soul.  Together, he and I make a mean pair on the bass part of a song and if you happen to be standing in front of us in church and we’re singing out of hymnals, you best duck or hope your hairspray holds cuz you’re gonna get an experience.  But I digress….

Around the same time, I learned that this difference of taste extends beyond just human sensibilities and into the animal kingdom.

I was in the high school marching band from 8th grade through 12th.  This particular story takes place during my junior year, I think.  And this was probably in late August, early September and though the weather was technically cooling off, if you’ve spent any amount of time in North Carolina you know it doesn’t really start to “cool down” until mid-October.  So this was probably a hot day in late August, the humidity was heinous, and that year we had started using a nearby community baseball field for rehearsals.

The way the rehearsals would typically go is that after marching fundamentals each section would split off to various areas to warm up and go over their respective parts for the music – this is known as “sectionals”.  Then we’d all gather together in the performance arch, play through some music, then get to the marching drill (that’s where we make all the pretty shapes and do the cool marching moves).

Now, another thing to know about North Carolina, specifically the Raleigh/Durham area, is there are a lot of trees.  Where there aren’t deliberately cleared spaces for homes, fields, buildings, roads, there are trees.  Lots of trees.  Saying all that to say, the baseball field we used for rehearsal was surrounded by trees.  It’s like you step off the field and into the Forbidden Forest.

For the drum sectional we found a small clearing amongst some tall pines and oaks.  We lined up – tenors, snares and basses – and began to warm up.  We started with “8 on a hand” which is exactly what it sounds like: play eight beats with your right hand, then your left hand, 16 beats with your right hand, then eight again on your left, then right, and concluding with 16 on your left.  We’d start at a medium tempo and work our way up to a controlled frenzy to loosen up the hand and wrist muscles. 

Early in the season it’s not uncommon for someone in the line, at some point, to fall out of tempo; either dragging or rushing just a tad and we’d all do it and that was the point of rehearsal – to learn to play at tempo, in rhythm and in unison with each other.  However, at this point in the season we were definitely beyond that in warm-ups.  So it was a bit of a surprise when we started hearing random beats, way out of tempo, as we got further along with our exercise.

“Who’s doing that?” Richard asked after completing our first go-through.

Everyone looked at each other, exchanging bewildered glances.  Each of us knew we were all solid and on the beat, yet, the audible evidence was undeniable: someone’s drum had played a beat out of synch.  So we started back up and we noticed it happening again.  Normally, as we play, we stand at attention, but a couple of us broke attention to look and try and figure out what who the culprit was.

“Ow!” Kevin yelled.  We finished the exercise and asked him what was wrong.  “Someone’s throwing stuff!”  We looked around, expecting to find a rogue horn-player lurking in the trees but none was seen.  Then Eric hit his drum.  All eyes were on him and he threw up his hands.

“I didn’t do that!”

Then Richard beat his drum – except he didn’t move his hands.

“These woods are haunted!” he said.  And then we saw it: an acorn fell and hit my drum.

“We’re playing the acorns off the trees?” I asked.

“No – it’s squirrels….” Richard observed.

Sure enough, a squad of the furry little critters were running around the branches, about 30 feet up.

“Well, now that we have that settled….”  And we started again, at a faster tempo.  It was then we discovered a positive correlation between the tempo of our playing and the intensity of acornfire from above.

“Those lousy little…!”  Richard chucked one of his mallets upwards in retaliation hitting only branches and twigs.  Somewhere I could swear I heard a high-pitched, yet deep and ominous laugh.

“Come on guys; don’t give in to the rodents!” Dave yelled.

We fired it up again and the squirrels fired it down.  We kept at it for another few minutes, but the welts and wallops were more than we could bear.  Finally, we gave in and moved to a different spot.  Mother Nature won that day, but we won the war.

…that last bit really doesn’t mean anything, it just sounds good.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hunchbacked Knuckles


Most everybody I know has either broken a leg, an arm, an ankle or something major that cramps their lifestyle and requires a cast, sympathy and a little TLC (healing by R&B).  Somehow in my 30+ years on this planet I’ve managed to evade any major breakage; I say “major” because I have actually broken two bones in my body, simultaneously. 

During the early part of springtime of my year in 7th grade at West Cary Middle, everyone seemed to be “jamming” their fingers.  By jamming I’m not referring to creative ways of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, nor inducing the short-lived fad of “Marley-Fingers”, but rather the condition described by Sportsinjurybulletin.com as the following:

In a typical jam, a finger joint is forced together, with twisting of the joint involved as well. This compression and torquing often leads to dislocation, which can resolve itself within seconds or might persist until medical attention is received.

I don’t know why it seemed to be happening all of a sudden, but during that time, all the boys were walking around with two of their fingers taped together.  The question would be asked, “What happened to your fingers?” and the response would be given in a mostly non-chalant manner with a dash of pride, “Oh, I jammed it playing [insert any given sport here].”  It was like they were part of an elite club or organization: the Afflicted Athletes.  It seemed to be that if you weren’t somehow injured while playing you were doing it wrong.

Eventually the wheel of fortune spun around to me.  It happened during P.E., playing basketball.  My team was on defense and the kid with the ball came my way; I tried to steal the ball.  Instead, I jammed my fingers.  I shouted in surprise and pain – this was a new, uncomfortable sensation.  The injured digits were my ring and middle fingers on my right hand.  I felt an odd mixture of pain and numbness and I couldn’t bend them.  I told the coach, he got ‘em taped up, and it was official: I was part of the club…for about a day or so.  Most of the other guys wore their tape for days on end.  I guess I wasn’t as intense or elite because my fingers were back to normal two days after the incident and I couldn’t write very well without Ringy and Middleman helping the effort (what, you don’t name your fingers?  I don’t either, I just wanted an interesting way to refer to them).

Well, I thought after that I had paid my dues.  About a week later, after school, some of us kids were playing basketball to kill time while we waited for our rides.  I was on defense again and a fellow named Dave had the ball.  We were under the basket, I went to steal it, but he was too fast.  Instead of my left palm going around the ball, the middle and ring fingers of my left hand hit it, dead on, perpendicular to the surface area.  The odd pain I had felt a week earlier had returned, but this time it brought some friends – that is to say, it hurt a heckuva lot more. 

Almost instantly, the knuckles below the distal phalanges on my left ring and middle fingers began to swell (I used to watch Bones – and I still use Google).  They didn’t turn black and blue; they just got big.  I didn’t get them taped up until I got home because there weren’t any coaches present with access to the “special healing tape.”

Now, even though the left-hand doppelgangers of Ringy and Middleman hurt a lot more than their right-hand counterparts, I figured it’d just be a couple days before they healed.  A couple weeks later, with a small reduction of pain and no reduction of swelling, I started to worry a little.

“Hey, dad, I think I broke my knuckles.”

“Let me see them.”  I showed him the hunchbacked joints.  “If they were broken they’d be black and blue.”

“They still hurt and look at them!” I persisted.

“I wouldn’t worry about it.”

At the time it didn’t really bother me, and to this day, it still doesn’t really.  But I have learned something from that experience that has followed me into adulthood: You’ve got to be your own advocate.  When there’s something you need, something you’re going for, you can’t count on someone else to stand up for you.  And to the Christians in the audience, I’m not talking about Christ’s advocacy for us, nor the Spirit’s intercession. I’m talking more akin to how Paul stood up for himself in Acts 22:25.

Sometimes someone will stand up for you, but you can’t count on that because you don’t know if anyone will.  If you’re in need of healing and you’re denied care, don’t give up; say, “Hey!  I’m bleeding through my band-aids here!”  Or, in another vein, if you’re pursuing a dream, don’t just give up at the first sign of resistance.  Going to college, fighting for a love, enlisting in the military – all such things are worthy and noble pursuits; and they’re usually not very easy. 

A few months later I was at an orthopedist’s office with my dad and sister (she was having a follow-up examination for a broken ankle).  While they were waiting, I went and found another doctor.  I showed him my knuckles and explained what happened.  Without hesitation he said, “Those knuckles were broken.” 

Now, if only I had persisted with my dad a few months earlier they could have been treated.  Granted, they’re distal knuckles; it really wasn’t a big deal.  But what about the next time I’d need to stand up for myself when it would be a big deal?  I have my hunchbacked knuckles, the deformed Ringy and Middleman saying, “Don’t just roll over and take it up the tailpipe; fight!!”

And that’s what I’d encourage you to do.  There is a line between being your own advocate and being a jerk, but for some reason our society has fought against standing up for yourself for so long and so hard that a great deal many of us are just jellyfish, floating along in the currents.  When Opposition says, “You’re just not good enough, okay?”  respond with that rarest of vocabulary beasts: “No.”

Stand up for yourself – you’re worth it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If It Was A Snake It Would've Jumped Up and Bit Me!

Since 2005 I've made several attempts at starting up and maintaining a blog.  What you're reading now is the latest, and to date, most successful attempt - successful in terms of having a definite vision and purpose.  Today's post was originally written and put up on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at this same URL, but before the blog's mission was defined.  To a few of you, this is old hat; to others, this is brand new; to all, I hope you find it edifying and enjoyable.

Sunday - June 19, 2011
I believe it was three weeks ago to this day.  It was Sunday morning and I came in to church for Sunday School (if it’s a class that takes place before the service, it’s Sunday School, Godbless it) and I was still a bit groggy… “Groggy?”  Hmmm, I think I just made a mental connection before I’ve even gotten to my main point.

ANYWAY…

I sought out coffee from the church’s coffee bar.  There are typically 3-4 pots of different brews, each a variant of more than just “regular” and “decaf.”  On this particular Sunday there was a brew labeled “Highland Grog.”  I thought to myself, “What a clever name!  Coffee’s always notorious for being bad, and the worse it is the more effective it is in waking you up!  Verily, verily, here is a brew embracing that notoriety!” (I was operating under a paradigm I adopted from mid-1980s pop culture – specifically Garfield (And in church you gotta say “verily, verily” at least once every fortnight, but only if you’re going for real, ultimate holiness)).  Thing is, about halfway through drinking my cup of grog, I discovered I really enjoyed it.  I mean, it was tasty.  As Uncle Andrew says of Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew, this was a “dem fine” cup of coffee.

So then, that afternoon following the service I came here to my new favorite Columbushangout spot, Scottie’s Coffee and Teahouse.  Trying to stick to a budget, I decided to go for the normal brew rather than an espresso drink and to my surprise and delight I discovered they had the same brew - Highlander Grog!  “Surely the LORD has smiled upon me this day in providing this tasty, caffeinated delight!” I thought to myself (on Sundays you always think in Bible verses – but only on Sundays lest you want to risk people looking at you funny).  After my first cup I thought that perhaps this was just a seasonal flavor.

The next couple of times I visited Scottie’s I made the Grog my drink of choice.  Afraid I only had a limited time to partake of this roughly-named, lovely brewed…brew…I asked the barista about it.  Turns out this is a very popular flavor, in high demand, and it’s been around at least as long as belly button lint.  “Oh,” I said.  Then I returned to my table.

So I hadn’t discovered anything new.  I came to this country of taste thinking I was the first only to find a sign saying “Magellan wuz here, yo.”  It had been here all along and I had never seen it.  I had never been open to it.  I was just set in my mocha-swilling ways and right comfortable.  Only when I was jolted out of my comfort zone did I open my mind to new avenues of coffee goodness and discovered the joys of the Highland Grog.

I’ve been having a similar experience with grace.  Grace has been here all along, but I’ve been comfortable in my ways of works, in my ways of earning the approval of my peers and friends and family, never really tasting the goodness of being liked, loved and appreciated just as I am; with my friends, my peers, my family – and with God.  But then I’ve been jolted out of my comfort zone and all I can afford is the grace “brew” – and that’s cuz it’s free.  The resources I’ve spent on trying to earn an approval that’s been available all along could have been going towards, I dunno, building a life, pursuing a dream, you know, stuff like that.  But now that I’m acclimating myself to this good stuff, I can start putting my resources toward those thingsnow.  I reckon it’s never too late to get a move on so long as I still have something to move!  …and I do like to move it, move it.

How about you?  Are you still spending money on the espresso of earning approval or have you tried the grog of grace?  If you can’t find the grog in your current vicinity I suggest you try a new coffeeshop.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Sirrah, Do You Need a Ride?"

Benjamin Marsh is the Pastor to Youth at Cary Alliance Church in Cary, NC. He has worked various and sundry jobs throughout his short life, including: Washington Director of the Dalit Freedom Network; SAT tutor; South Asia Analyst for the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; author; fry cook; pet owner (it is a job). He is married to Olivia Marsh (www.marshpatents.com) and the father of two little'uns, Aurora and Alice. His first book, Rules for Dating My Daughter, is available on Amazon.com and lulu.com.  Personally, I like to claim him as a really good friend I've had the privilege of knowing for several years now.  I think you'll enjoy his story.

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So there I was in India. It was my first time. It was quite a time, too. At the end of my ten-day trip I got such a bad case of food poisoning that I could not leave my hotel room. I had to cancel a few important meetings. I spent a great deal of time in my bed watching overdubbed Bollywood flicks. When I called the hotel to ask for a refund on the meal that made me sick (there were some unwashed onions in a curry), they sent flowers instead. And charged me for it...

But that is how India works. Everyone there is trying to make the extra Rupee by hook or by crook. Before I came I was warned of the White Man's Tax, a levee placed on every good and service by the seller to white folks from foreign countries. Where a napkin might cost ten cents to a neighbor, from me they asked two dollars. Bargaining is a way of life in India.

Scratch that.

Bargaining is THE way of life in India.

My rude awakening to this truth came when I took an auto rickshaw from my hotel to the place of my meetings, a distance of about five miles. I came forth from my (soon-to-make-me-ill) hotel with my chin held high and my chest out, ready as Alexander to conquer India. I was going to important meetings with important people to accomplish important things.

A diminutive older Indian man with a dirty white linen shirt and a red rag wrapped around his head walked to me, his head stooped. "Sirrah, need a ride?"

My chariot awaits!

I said I did and told him my destination. He quoted me 100 Rupees, a small sum by American standards. I nodded in agreement and we took off. 

I will save a full description of driving on Indian roads for another day because completeness requires words that far exceed the abilities of this humble author. Imagine a lone bird in flight. Now imagine that lone bird in flight in the middle of a pack. Now imagine the bird is going one way and the pack is going another. Add to that scene a pack of 747's flying in every which way around the wrong-way pack of birds into which you are flying. On top of all of that add a few flying cows (cast into the air, perhaps, by a trebuchet), and you have a fairly accurate picture of Indian traffic. 

I arrived at my destination having suffered only a mild heart attack and paid the man his money. 

Meetings came and went. Important things happened. I went home weary and slept the deep sleep of a champion.

The next morning I strode out from the hotel, my head held high and my chest protruding with pride. I had more important things to accomplish in this mysterious and ancient land.

"Sirrah, do you need a ride?" 

It was the diminutive driver from the day before.

"I do, indeed," I replied, looking over his head with some pride.

As we got into the car I noticed a black box affixed to the backside of his seat.

"What is that?" I asked my dear driver.

"Nothing."

"Is that a meter?"

He said nothing. He shook his head in the mysterious Indian way that means yes and no at the same time.

"Turn it on," I said.

He shook his head again and made to take off.

"Turn it on," I said again, louder.

He shook his head and said nothing. After a brief impasse I made a motion to exit.

"No no, OK."

He turned on the meter. Our hellish ride through the Indian streets proceeded as it had the day before. When we arrived at the destination, the meter read 43 Rupees, less than half of what I had paid the man in my "expert" negotiations the day before.

As I got out of the car and handed him the money, he looked at me with a massive grin. I was confused. He had made less than the day before. I waved him off. As he left, he called back:

"Yesterday you pay one hundred AH AHAHAHAHA!"

He grin had nothing to do with the little amount I paid him. It had everything to do with the fact that he would have a story to tell to his fellow rickshaw drivers, a tale of ripping off the man. He would lord over them with his extra 57 Rupees he culled from the soft fleshy hands of the proud white man from America.

My head sank to my chest. I was a stranger in a strange land.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Less Than Bright Moment

So one night I took my mom’s van without permission to go see a girl in a nearby town.  We hung out for about an hour, walking around, talking and that was it; never heard from her again and that was okay.  On my way back, I stopped by a gas station – I mean, sure, I took the van without permission, but I wasn’t about to be a Proverbs 28:24 son.

As I was pumping gasoline, a black man named Joe approached me.  He had just finished closing up the adjacent Burger King and informed me that his car was busted and asked for a ride home.  My first inclination was to say, “no.”  But something…something inside made me think of Hebrews 13:2 and it occurred to me that perhaps this man in need of assistance was an angel sent by God to test me, to see if I would help out my fellow man.  Then, I thought what it would be like if I were in his situation and the greatest commandment came to mind; then I realized that didn’t exactly apply and remembered the second greatest commandment (duh, Cliff).  So I agreed to help him out.

Little did I know what awaited me and what grievous loss my mother would suffer…

So, Joe got in the van and he told me where he needed to go; it was going to be about a twenty minute drive to another town and he was actually looking for someone who could come fix his car.  At that point, something should have registered as sketchy – homeboy originally said he needed a ride home; once we were on the road it changed to finding a pal to fix up his busted car.  I didn’t say anything though – I was just happy to be doing my good deed.  I mean, had I not surreptitiously taken the van, poor Joe would be up the creek!  Surely what I intended for skullduggery God intended for good and this righteous act would atone for my heinous one.

We pulled into the neighborhood – it was a lower-income area.  Joe instructed me to park in one place and he’d walk up about a block or two to his friend’s house.

“Well, shucks, Joe, I can just pull up in front,” I offered.

“No, that’s alright, I’ll just walk; you stay here and don’t get out of the van, no matter what,” he said.  I obeyed and at this point was in full-on denial about the sketch-o-meter going off in my head with a five-bell alarm.

Five minutes passed…

Ten minutes…

Fifteen minutes and someone was coming towards the van.  My pulse quickened but then the moon reflected off Joe’s Burger King nametag and I relaxed.  I noticed Joe was carrying a small lunch bag.  He told me the friend he was looking for wasn’t home and we’d have to go somewhere else nearby.  Joe directed me to another neighborhood and gave the same instructions – stay there, don’t get out of the van, he’d be right back. 

After five minutes I wondered if I could figure out my back to the freeway.  After six minutes Joe returned – this time with a friend; Leon was his name.  Leon had a certain lope to his walk and a scent about him I would in later years learn was Crown Royal.  Leon sat in the seat behind me and Joe told me we had to go to Leon’s garage to get his tools.  As we drove, Joe and Leon were talking about people they knew, asking where they were, what they were doing, and in-between anecdotes Joe gave me directions.  All the while, it sounded like Leon just couldn’t get comfortable because he kept on shuffling around in his seat.

We arrived at the garage and, of course, it was locked up and Leon didn’t have his keys.  By this time it was nearing 2AM.  Leon suggested that Joe should try to jimmy the lock; Joe looked at me then burst out into laughter louder than what the situation called for.  After a moment Joe said he’d just go crash at a nearby family member’s house after asking me to take Leon to wherever he needed to go.  I was actually about to protest when Leon told me he lived only a few minutes away.  Joe thanked me for helping him out and Leon gave me some quick directions.  Sure enough, within five minutes we pulled up in front of a mobile home.  Happy to just have the whole situation done with, I watched Leon exit the van with what looked like a carry-on bag; in my haste to leave I didn’t realize that he didn’t get in the van with a carry-on bag…

I was home by 3, snuck back into the apartment and quickly fell into a dreamless sleep, and, some have speculated, lucky to be alive.  Personally, I think that’s a bit over-dramatic.  I mean, I stayed in the van – I was safe; no worries.

THE FALLOUT

Two days later mom asked if I had taken the van out late one night.  She didn’t sound mad, but quite inquisitive.  I told her indeed I had driven to Oxford to see “a friend.”  She asked if I had gone bowling.

“Bowling?”

“Yes.  You see, my bowling ball is missing from the van and if you borrowed it I’d like it back, please.”

My mind raced – Leon had exited the van with what looked like a carry-on bag…  I was able to suppress my shock and inexplicable mischievous glee.

“No, we didn’t go bowling – your ball is missing?  You sure you didn’t leave it in the closet?”

Of course she hadn’t.  And, well…sorry mom.  J

Moral of the story, think about entertaining angels, sure, but be a little discerning, too.