Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long Time No Blog

For me, blogging (writing a blog, that is) seems to be such a laborious and self-conscious activity. I did a couple of blog entries last year (here and here) where I analyzed various blogs I enjoy, and why the writers of those blogs write them.

I gladly participated in, and tremendously enjoyed, The 40 Day Fast. I felt like blogging took on a higher purpose, and allowed a large group of people to focus on real needs in the world and how we can meet those needs, instead of being so self-focused.

But all anyone needs to do is look backwards through the full collection of my blog entries, and you'll notice that... well, for starters, there really aren't that many of them. I could say something about "quality not quantity" here, but it wouldn't be sincere. The real reason, it seems, is that I still can't find a purpose for doing this. I could do it. It's not impossible, and I certainly don't mean to sound whiny or upset about what I'm saying here. I have had fellow bloggers compliment my writing and encourage me to do more. In fact, in the back of my mind, I keep hearing my high school Creative Writing teacher's words to me when I graduated: "You have a real and genuine talent for writing. Please don't disappear into the woodwork and never let anyone ever hear from you again." I knew what she meant -- she was encouraging me to cultivate the gift, and not let it languish unused.

But frankly, I seem to be much better at reading blogs than writing blogs. "Well, of course," you might say, "that's a passive activity that doesn't involve creativity or passion or participation." But I do enjoy participating. I enjoy commenting (especially long comments!). I enjoy interacting with the people who write the blogs, and letting them know when I agree or when I disagree. I enjoy exploring the subjects they have started discussion on, and very much enjoy the feedback and give-and-take of blog-based conversation.

I feel like for every thought I have that I could blog about, there are already twenty other bloggers out there who have already written on that subject, and likely done it better or more thoroughly. Again, I need to emphasize that I'm not saying this to sound like I'm down on myself. I'm not struggling with personal significance or relevance. I have a very good sense of who I am, and more importantly, I feel like I am genuinely growing in a knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is, and how that affects every aspect of my life.

But I can't get over the sensation that I'm artificially contriving something when I write -- that I'm breaking no ground, achieving nothing substantially useful. That is, that I'm writing merely for the sake of writing.

And speaking as a reader of many blogs, one of the important things that seems to make them better is when they are written regularly. It doesn't have to be every day, but I don't like reading blogs (like mine) where most entries start out with an apology for how long it's been since I last blogged. When one does not blog regularly, then when a new entry is created, it often goes unnoticed, because nobody bothers to visit any more.

I know plenty of other bloggers who have just sort of stopped blogging. Usually, they don't say that's what they are doing. They typically leave some entry there at the top of their blog, and it's several months old, and eventually they get dropped from my blog roll. No point in visiting when there's nothing going on.

So by now, you may be wondering -- "Are you trying to tell us that you don't intend to blog any more?"

Well, I don't know. I guess I don't want to exclude the possibility of ever writing another blog entry. But I also don't want to do something half-heartedly, or out of contrived obligation. For the moment, I guess this entry can act as sort of a final entry, and a placeholder for possible future entries.

So, yes, I am currently not planning on writing new blog entries. I have Google Reader getting feeds from about 25 different blogs, each of which I read regularly and enjoy very much, and I typically comment on about half of those. I have real-life friends (e.g. Seth and Amber, those rad New Yorkers who we can't wait to visit again!) who I continue to interact with largely through blogging. So don't be sad. I'll see you all around -- you know, in the cyber sense of "see".

Friday, September 07, 2007

Lord, I Was Born a Ramblin' Man

The title of this post is pretty much baloney.

I'm much more of a homebody than a traveler, and rarely seem to venture outside my normal routine. But considering that the last time I posted, I was going to California, one could get the impression that I travel a lot or something.

This week, I am on a rare, but probably much-needed, vacation. We will be driving to Pennsylvania and Virginia to spend several days with family (some of whom I have not seen in over 10 years, in fact), and taking a brief-but-exciting tour through New York City between stops. Lord willing, it is our intention to spend much of our NYC time in the company of Seth and Amber of Five Cent Stand and FancyPants Factory fame.

We will be driving, so one of the oddest things about this trip will be parking our vehicle in New Jersey and taking a train over to Manhattan. We could drive in, but most of the reasonable-sounding advice we've received is that it's much more pleasant using the public transportation and not having to worry about traffic, parking, theft, etc.

Once again, I'm sure my public will eagerly await my return to Tennessee.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Going Back to Cali

Even though I live in Tennessee and work for a company based in California, I rarely have to actually travel to California. But this week, that rare exception is occurring, and I'm off to the Golden State, where I'll be staying for about five days. I'll primarily be staying in the Monterey-Salinas area.

It's mostly for business, but hopefully this trip will also involve visiting with some old friends. And eating some real Mexican food. (I love living in Tennessee, but what we have here that is called "Mexican food" mostly isn't).

I still hope to do a wrap-up of my thoughts and feelings following The 40 Day Fast. But like my favorite superhero Brant, I've been addicted to playing a lot of "First Life" lately.

It seems like the blogosphere has been a little slow lately. I think that's pretty normal this time of year, with summer being in full swing and everyone traveling and taking vacations, or swimming or hiking, or whatever else. Looks like we'll be doing all that vacation stuff later in August or early in September this year. My wife has never been to Pennsylvania (or anyplace else in that general vicinity), and I have a lot of family up that way, and a sister who lives in Northern Virginia. We're still trying to figure out who is going to travel where to see whom, and who will be hosting what, and on which date it will all be occurring, and all that. (My wife is much better at all the planning and figuring schedules out. So I'll just let her do her magic).

Not sure if I'll have time to blog from California -- but if not, I'm sure my public will eagerly await my return.

Useless trivia for the day: Reno, Nevada is west of Los Angeles, California.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - DAY 40

Today is the final day of The 40 Day Fast. Today's featured blogger is Toby, who is talking about ways that we can show love and support to American troops who are in harm's way. Please read Toby's post today.

Also, because this is the final day, Kat (the wonderful young lady who organized The 40 Day Fast) is inviting anyone else who wants to be part of this to join in fasting today, or to get involved in any one of the causes which have been highlighted during these last 40 days. She has also been continuing with the momentum by organizing the purchase of goats for needy families.

In the next few days, I hope to post a few thoughts here about what this experience meant to me, but briefly I'll just say that it has truly and genuinely been moving and life-changing -- and I intend to continue with the momentum that has been started here, by remaining aware of the many needs that are all around me, as well as all around the world.

Thanks and Kudos to anyone and everyone who got involved in this effort!

Monday, July 30, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Tressa

Tressa is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. She has an excellent and touching post about the Dalit people in India -- Tressa and her family traveled to India to minister to them last December. She is highlighting an organization called Global Spectrum. Please visit Tressa's blog today.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Charla

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Charla. She is highlighting an organization called World Gospel Outreach that is working to reach the people of Honduras with the Gospel. Please visit Charla's blog today.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Ted

Ted is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He has an excellent post about being overwhelmed by the gravity of the statistics regarding problems in the world, but how he overcame that and was moved to action. Please read Ted's blog today.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Kat's Mom and Heather

Today we have two different bloggers for the 40 Day Fast. Both Kat's Mom and Heather are featured today. Kat's Mom is talking about Celine, the child that she sponsors through Compassion International. Heather is talking about getting our priorities in line, and realizing that it is important how we spend our time and resources. Please visit both of these bloggers today!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Carlos

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Carlos. He is discussing the problem of child labor. The facts and numbers he has provided surrounding this issue are overwhelming. He will be making additional updates throughout the day, so please visit Carlos' site today. While you're there, I highly recommend spending some time on his site and taking a look around. Los is a fascinating and colorful character who loves the Lord, and serves Him with an original and unique style that is infectious.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Jessica

Jessica is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. She is living less than a mile from the border of North Korea, and tells of the distressing and seemingly hopeless plight of the people in North Korea, who live under an oppressive and iron-fisted dictatorship. Please read Jessica's post today.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Dray

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Dray. He reminds us of how blessed we are relative to the rest of the world, and that there are many great ways to get involved in helping out. Please visit Dray's blog today.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Erin Mount

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Erin Mount. She shares her story about a young girl that she mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and reminds us that loving the people who need it most is not always easy, but is critically important and has a huge impact on lives. Please visit Erin's site today.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Amy

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Amy. She takes a shocking and heart-wrenching look at the victims of the worldwide sex slave trade. She is highlighting an organization called Shared Hope International that is working to eradicate the marketplaces of sexual slavery. Please visit Amy's blog today.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Brody Harper

Brody Harper is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He has an excellent post about the difference that we can all make in the lives of the children we sponsor through Compassion International. Please read Brody's post today.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Euphrony

Euphrony is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He gives a sobering historical reminder about the horrors that man can visit upon his fellow man, and then brings it close to home for each of us with a personal reminder to actively work against evil whenever we get opportunities. He then highlights two organizations that are working to change things. Please visit Euphrony's blog today.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Lorijo

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Lorijo. She is discussing child sponsorship through an organization called Bridge of Hope, a ministry of Gospel for Asia. She has also posted a beautiful song called Prayer of the Children that you can listen to from her site. Please visit Lorijo's blog today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Shawn

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Shawn Wallace. Shawn has an excellent post regarding some very practical and immediate opportunities that each one of us has every day to show kindness and touch the lives of those around us. Be sure to visit Shawn's blog today.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Andrew Osenga

Andrew Osenga is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He has eye-opening and heartbreaking information about the Dalits in India. He is highlighting an organization called Dalit Freedom Network that is working to bring real change in the lives of these severely oppressed people. Please visit Andrew's blog today to read more.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Tim Harms

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Tim Harms. He has a great post with some personal thoughts about examining our motives, and highlights an organization called Tom's Shoes. Please visit Tim's blog today.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Lucas Parry

Lucas Parry is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He shares some of the heartbreaking poverty that he has personally seen all over the world, and highlights an organization called Kiva that uses an ingenious method of getting help directly into the hands of those who need it most, to give them opportunities that they would not have otherwise. Please visit Lucas' blog today to learn more.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Michelle

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Michelle. She has a great reminder that each one of us lives in the midst of a rich mission field each and every day. Please visit Michelle's blog today for another excellent and inspiring post.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Mark Jaffrey

Mark Jaffrey is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He works at a church in Cairo, Egypt and describes the plight of the South Sudanese refugees who have been fleeing to Egypt. Please read today's post and find out more about Mark's cause and his urgent prayer requests.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Marianne

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Marianne. She does a great job of reminding us that each one of us can play a part in making a difference, but we have to get started first -- even if what we do seems like such a small part. Please visit Marianne's blog today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Transition Pete

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Transition Pete. Pete does a fantastic job, as he first makes an honest self-assessment and wants to make sure his heart is right before the Lord. Then, he has excellent information about an organization called Food for the Hungry. To top it all off, he has a great audio interview with Kim Cutler of Food for the Hungry, who has fascinating and helpful information from her experiences with helping to meet the needs of people around the world. Please visit Transition Pete's site today!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Scott

Today Scott is the featured blogger. He is bringing attention to life in the colonias in south Texas, in one of the poorest areas of the entire U.S., as well as an organization that is working to assist the churches in the colonias. Please read Scott's blog today.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Todd

Todd is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. He is bringing attention to the atrocities occurring in Darfur. Please visit Todd's blog today to read about this important cause, and some very good practical suggestions about how each of us can work to change what is happening there.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - William Guice

Today's featured blogger for the 40 Day Fast is William Guice. He is highlighting an organization called Kiva. I must admit that this is the first time I have heard of this organization, but the idea behind it is extremely intriguing. Please read today's post and join me in learning more about this compelling cause.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Valerie

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Valerie. She shares a story about her experiences during hurricane Katrina, and offers suggestions for all of us to start making changes, in today's post.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Susanne

Today's featured blogger is Susanne. She is featuring another great organization, called Bulgarian Child, that is doing the Lord's work in Bulgaria. Please visit Susanne's blog today to learn more about this organization and the great work they are doing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Steven

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Steven. He makes an impassioned and heartfelt plea to continue working on the great causes around the world that we have been highlighting thus far, but also to remember that we can all make an important difference right where we live. Please visit Steven's blog today and read a great message that serves as a great reminder on this day when people are having fun, relaxing, and celebrating Independence Day in the United States.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Jeremy Thiessen

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Jeremy Thiessen. Not only is Jeremy a member of the totally rad band Downhere, but he's also a prolific blogger and genuinely good guy. Please visit Jeremy's blog for a very inspirational song and his featured cause for today. While you're there, be sure to bookmark Jeremy's site and return often!

Monday, July 02, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Ryan G

Ryan G is today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast. Ryan highlights the sad and needless suffering in the world caused by a lack of something we take for granted -- clean drinking water. He offers a way we can help through an organization that is helping to provide equipment and assistance for drilling wells in developing countries. Please visit Ryan's blog today to find out more about this vital need.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Truevyne

Today's blogger for the 40 Day Fast is Truevyne. She is highlighting the heartbreaking plight of children in China. Please visit Truevyne's blog today and also read an important follow-up that she wrote in regards to her cause and an organization that is working to change things.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Jeanine

Today's blogger for The 40 Day Fast is Jeanine. She works for Youth with a Mission, a great organization that I've been familiar with for many years, through various friends and acquaintances. Once again today, Jeanine's cause highlights heartbreaking and grim realities from our world, but also several different organizations that are working to change things. Please visit Jeanine's blog today and join us in another important way that we can make a difference in so many lives.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Stephen

Today's fasting blogger is Stephen. He writes:
As we live in the tension of the already-and-not-yet of the Kingdom of God, as we embrace its paradoxical nature and hope and wait for everything to be made new, let us live our lives today as evidence of the redemptive work of Christ so that others may hear and see the echoes of His Kingdom in all we say and do.
I've had the pleasure of spending time with Stephen, and he is another young person who gives me tremendous hope for the next generation, and what they are doing for the Lord. Please visit Stephen's blog today and join him in rebelling against indifference, as he highlights another great cause.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Stephanie

Today's blogger for The 40 Day Fast is Stephanie. She is discussing a very important issue which, quite frankly, is oftentimes the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody sees, or wants to see. We have all had friends or family members affected by this (or perhaps you yourself were), and the need for help and healing is tremendous. Please read Stephanie's blog today and prayerfully consider what the Lord would have you do to become an agent of help, hope, healing, and change in the lives around you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Callousness to Healing

When I decided to take part in The 40 Day Fast, I knew immediately what organization I wanted to highlight. I prayerfully considered, and God confirmed it in my heart.

But the cause I wanted to focus on that this organization was helping with was much tougher for me. Not tough to decide on -- once again, that was easy and I believe the Lord has impressed it upon me. But it's tough because I need to make a very humbling confession about it right up front: For most of my adult life, I have been extremely calloused, cynical, apathetic, and sometimes downright mean and hateful about it.

The area of need I will be discussing is HIV/AIDS. The organization is Compassion International.

As I was studying the statistics, I was quickly overwhelmed by the gravity of the problem, but I'd like to highlight a few quick facts:
  • Since the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in 1983, more than 25 million people have died from this deadly disease.

  • Every 14 seconds a child is orphaned by AIDS.

  • More than 12 million African children and 15 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

  • By 2010, it's projected that more than 25 million children worldwide will be orphaned by AIDS.

  • There are 14,000 new HIV infections each day: around 2,000 of those daily infections are in children younger than 15 years of age and 6,000 are in young people ages 15-24.

  • Currently, 38.6 million people in the world live with HIV; 24.5 million of those live in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • 2.3 million children younger than 15 years of age live with HIV.

  • Nine out of 10 children living with AIDS are African.

  • Females are 12-20 percent more vulnerable to HIV transmission than males of the same ages.

  • Every minute a child under 15 dies of an AIDS-related illness.

  • Each month, more people die from AIDS than were killed in the Southeast Asia tsunami that shocked the world in late 2004.

Sources and lots of additional facts and information: Here, here, here, here, and here.

How We Can Help
Okay, so the statistics are sobering and grim. But the whole point of this is healing, hope, and solutions. Compassion is an excellent choice for many reasons: They are Christ-centered. They are child-focused. They are church-based. Compassion provides a unique opportunity to help because they build credible and lasting relationships with people in the affected communities. Some practical steps available:

-Please consider sponsoring a child in a HIV/AIDS affected area. As you browse the child profiles on the web site, these are the ones with the red ribbons on the photo.

-If you have Flash installed, Compassion has a very nice portal on their site which also highlights this cause, provides direct links to relevant pages, and has a nice "Send to a Friend" utility to make it easy to spread the word to your friends.

-You can make a donation to Compassion's AIDS Initiative, either a one-time gift or a monthly commitment to help care for AIDS orphans.

-My wife and I sponsor a girl named Lidya in Ethiopia (an HIV/AIDS affected area) whose father has died, and whose mother is very sick. Please join us in praying for Lidya and her mother.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I spent many years with what was quite frankly a wrong heart regarding the people suffering from HIV/AIDS. I was told it was a judgment from God against sinful sex, or drug use, and I chose to believe that there was nothing I could do about it anyway. I heard about it so often in the news that I chose to harden my heart and close my ears. Eventually, I had to repent and acknowledge that the heart of Jesus was broken over this, and that if I really want to be part of His ministry on the earth, I need to be willing to extend His Grace freely to others, just as He has done to me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Kristin

Today, Kristin is the featured blogger for The 40 Day Fast. I actually met Kristin in person some weeks back after church one Sunday morning. I wasn't expecting it, I was quite shocked to look up and see her and Brody walking in my direction, so we exchanged a few quick words, and I let her know that I am a reader of her blog. (What a great couple they are -- she's this cute little thing with big piercing eyes, and Brody looks like this big intimidating mountain-man who could probably be really scary if he wanted to. Okay, but he's not scary at all, he's like a big teddy bear or something... uh, yeah. But he could be scary, that's my point.)

Kristin is another great example of why I, as a member of a slightly older and often-cynical generation, still have so much hope for the future. Seriously. For somebody who is still very young, she has so much wisdom -- and has great advice about instilling important values in our children.

Please read Kristin's blog today, as well as additional excellent information she has provided about an organization called HEART.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Shaun Groves

Today's blogger for The 40 Day Fast is Shaun Groves. I want to try and be careful not to fuss and gush too much over Shaun, but here's the simple and honest truth: Nobody has had more influence in my life in the last few years than Shaun. He often pokes good-natured fun at himself, and makes jokes about being a soft-rock star. And while Shaun's music is great, and I own his CDs, the truth is that I just generally don't listen to music that much these days. So it's not Shaun's music that has influenced me -- it's his writing.

Shaun is always challenging me, always challenging my preconceived notions about things, always asking pointed questions that have no easy answers, always inspiring me to dig a little deeper and to consider more carefully what the Kingdom of God really means to me, and what effect that Kingdom should be having on my life if I truly believe in Jesus like I say I do.

Please visit Shaun's blog today, and join me in being challenged and inspired.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - SAM

Todays' blogger for The 40 Day Fast is SAM. I have to admit that this is one of the things I'm really looking forward to during these 40 days, is getting to meet new people and be taught and challenged by new viewpoints. So please visit SAM's blog today and meet another person with an important story to tell, and important causes to highlight.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Brant Hansen

Yesterday, things got off to a great start for The 40 Day Fast, as Kat highlighted the problem of hunger-related death in the world, and more importantly, offered a practical way that we can start to do something about it -- one child at a time, through Compassion International.

Today's fasting blogger is Brant Hansen. An important personal note for me regarding Brant is this: It was Brant's trip to Africa last year that deeply moved and challenged me to start sponsoring children at Compassion International. If you've never read that Journal, I highly recommend it.

Then, you need to visit Brant's blog today. Brant has traveled to some of the most poverty-stricken and hopeless places in the world, and is a fantastically talented writer. If you've never read Brant's blog before, please trust me when I say that you need to bookmark it, and return often. You'll be glad you listened to me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The 40 Day Fast - Kat

Today kicks off The 40 Day Fast. A group of bloggers, led by Kat (who organized this and is also the blogger fasting today) will each be taking one day to highlight specific causes and areas of need in the world, as well as the practical ways that we can all can help meet those needs.

So please visit Kat's site today as she provides useful information and inspiration. We really can be agents of change and have an impact on lives around the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Time to Simplify

Do you ever grow weary from the endless striving? Ever grow tired of yourself, the sound of your own voice, the disappointment of your own shortcomings, the constant grinding and thinking and analyzing?

I sure do. And I'm feeling that a lot lately. The sad thing is that I'm not sure I know how to simplify things. I'm craving a return to the basics. Ironically, I'll probably end up seeking some complicated way to accomplish it. You know, like 10 Steps to a Simpler Life or something. And by the time I reach Step 5, I've already made things so complicated that I've given up on it.

I'm thinking that I probably try to complicate things because then I don't have to actually do anything. I can just talk about it endlessly, and get a warm and fuzzy feeling, and feel like I have done something useful by thinking and talking about it.

I really liked a recent quote by one of my favorite bloggers, Shaun Groves, who had this to say when a young man wrote him an e-mail asking for advice about what God's will was for his life:

Whatever you decide to do for a living, decide to love God more than yourself, love the poor and the sick and the hopeless more than your own happiness, love the intern as much as the boss, love your kids more than a promotion, love your wife more than your laptop. This is God’s will for your entire life. To pull this off you’ll need to buy as little as you can. The more stuff you own the more you’ll feel you have to work, the more depressed you’ll be when work isn’t fun, and the more you’ll equate God’s will with what you do for work, and the less time you’ll have to discover all the other things life is supposed to be about.

Brilliant. It seems to me that this is reminiscent of Jesus' words in Matthew 22, "'You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind'. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'."

There's nothing at all wrong with intellectual pursuits, and studiously searching for more knowledge, and trying to make it all make sense and find out how we fit into the big picture. But there's a time and a season for every event under heaven. And for me, right now seems like a time to peel back the layers of complexity and return to the basics.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Love and Sacrifice

After reading the latest entry by one of my favorite bloggers, FancyPants, I found myself doing a lot of thinking about a lot of different things. I don't really have any answers to questions or any solutions to problems, but I do have a few thoughts that I hope will help someone.

My wife's mother has spent most of the past 20 years of her life giving up her own personal comfort and desires to care for other people. One by one, her parents and in-laws, as well as her husband (my late father-in-law) went through long, drawn-out illnesses that eventually resulted in their death. For her, this meant vacations were on hold, life was lived for the convenience of others, and many personal sacrifices were made to comfort and care for those who were closest to her, as they gradually became unable to care for themselves.

My mother-in-law comes from a generation where these sorts of personal sacrifice were considered commonplace. You don't fuss and whine about the hand you've been dealt, you buck up and do what has to be done. It meant that the people who had spent their whole lives working hard to give her a good life could spend their final years at home, in the care of family. They were able to die surrounded by the love of those closest to them, with dignity and tenderness, instead of in a cold, impersonal place where they would be all alone.

But when it's all said and done, hardly anybody has noticed the things that my mother-in-law did. She didn't get any awards or recognition, she doesn't get any sort of payment for her time, she wasn't left any richer or better off. She is a Christian, so maybe there will be some sort of reward for her in Heaven, but that's not why she did it, and I honestly don't believe for a second that such a thought has ever entered her mind. She just did what she thought was right, and did what she had to do.

Throughout the long history of the Church, I'd be willing to bet that an almost infinite number of acts of personal sacrifice and human kindness and decency have been done. Some, like a comforting hug or kind word, seem very small and almost invisible to anyone except the recipient of the kindness (and of course the Lord, who sees all); others have been huge acts of extreme selflessness and sacrifice, putting the good of other people before oneself -- even to the point of a willingness to be put to death for others, or for the sake and furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Most people of God who have gone before us have labored in complete anonymity for long years, many never really seeing the long-term fruit of their selfless sacrifices. We know the names of a few important figures throughout history, but for every one of those, there are a million others who simply did the right thing, and served the Lord in steady and anonymous quietness year after year, never complaining or expecting a reward or recognition.

Because of countless little sacrifices of others throughout the years, we today have a high standard of living, a great deal of personal safety and freedom, and a virtually infinite number of choices set before us. We can decide who and what we will be, and how we will spend our time. By our actions and how we spend our time, we state emphatically which things in our lives have the greatest value to us, and which things are relatively unimportant. It's one thing to say we love our neighbor; it's quite another to go out of our way on a busy day to spend some time just listening to someone talk, or giving someone comfort from loneliness.

If I were to say that today's generation is one that demands instant gratification and instant results, I would be correct. That's all we've been taught, really. But I wouldn't really be solving any problems or making a difference by pointing this out -- I'd just be another complaining voice joining in the continual chorus of criticism that we all hear every day.

So instead, I'll offer what I hope will be a word of encouragement to anyone who understands what I'm saying: Simply, don't grow weary of doing the right thing. Don't grow tired of doing good for other people, and don't buy into the lie that every act of value must be rewarded with a good feeling, or some sort of recognition -- or even an understanding of how our deed fits into the big picture. If the only thing you're accomplishing is to give some weary soul a few moments of rest, or a pain-stricken body a few minutes to forget about the pain, then you are being Jesus to that person at that moment.

Servants of the Lord engage in the work of Christ in tiny increments, over a long period of time. What other things you could have done with that time, or what other things you would rather be doing with your freedom, are among the sacrifices that you are making, and there are no promises this side of Heaven that you'll ever know what a difference you've made, or how much you really helped someone.

I know this is long, but one final thing: I know that whenever there is discussion of doing good works, the subjects of motive and "dead works" come up. That is, if you're doing the right thing for the wrong reason, then you are not earning eternal rewards. Or that humanitarian kindness apart from serving the Lord is of no real value, since it doesn't glorify Him. But I'm specifically addressing Christians with these words. So straight from the lips of Jesus Himself comes this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Clear, unambiguous, without a bunch of fancy conditions. Obeying this action command from the Lord will involve self-sacrifice, and doing something for the good of someone else with your time.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Things I've Learned Lately

Since I rarely seem to blog, nobody probably noticed that I've been gone for a while. The main part of this time away was spent flying to Texas to get my aging parents all loaded up and moved to Tennessee to be close to family here. Everything went reasonably well, and after a very crazy week, I managed to get my parents, three cats, a yappy little dog, and a whole bunch of stuff (including a very heavy upright piano) moved here, all by myself.

Anyway, during these last couple of weeks, I learned a few things, in no particular order:

1. Houston is not the same place it was when I grew up there. I know that change is a constant, and Houston has been growing rapidly for many years, so no real surprise here. But it seems like it has changed very much for the worse. I grew up getting Season Passes to AstroWorld every year, and things were such that my best friend and I would get dropped off by his parents or mine literally about every other day during the summer, and would spend the whole day there -- alone, unsupervised, and frankly never fearing for our safety. AstroWorld closed a couple of years ago, apparently overrun by gang problems and neglect. Just a few days of watching the news in Houston led me to feel hopelessness and depression (I know that bigger cities have more people, and thus more crimes to report, but there just seems to be such a malevolent nature to a place that once seemed so much friendlier).

2. Southeast Texas is a giant, never-ending road construction project. Okay, I didn't really learn this, but I was certainly reminded of it way too much while there. I guess the sheer volume of traffic on the roads wears them down quickly -- that I can understand. But it also seems like the pattern is to plan a giant new highway project, and to tear everything up completely while working on it, and make everyone drive through ridiculously narrow lanes between cement barriers. Then, no sooner than they finally open the new, wider superhighway, they begin work on the next major upgrade to it. Trying to get out of Texas (from the southwest part of Houston) on a weekday seemed at first to go surprisingly well, as I cruised along the 610 Loop, thinking I had beaten the system by taking a sneaky route around town, avoiding stop-and-go traffic. Boy was I wrong. The entire east side of I-10 heading out was actually narrowed down to a single lane at one point (where they were widening a bridge or something), so traffic backed up for many miles and came to a standstill, for hours and hours.

3. I don't like humidity. Well, this isn't really a new realization, either. Middle Tennessee is nothing like the Gulf Coast, but we do have a few weeks every year during the peak of summer when it does feel sort of like that here. So I know I don't like it. But the humidity in southeast Texas is so constant, so heavy and oppressive. I don't recall it bothering me when I was a kid growing up there -- I guess it was all I knew. When we visited there during Thanksgiving a few years ago, my wife thought she was going to die. There we were, late November, and it was hot and muggy and very unpleasant, and we were sweating and could barely breathe. (Sorry, enough complaining about the weather -- some people probably like it hot like that -- and I realize that people do acclimate to their environment).

4. I hate being away from my wife. For so many reasons. She's my best friend, my lover, my biggest fan and second-harshest critic (I'm first), but so much of the time, she also seems like the glue that helps keep me together. I'm scattered, disorganized, and a whole host of other things, but somehow my wife manages to make me a much better person, on so many levels. I literally thank God for her every day and night, and being separated from her for any period of time is a stark reminder of just how much I have to be thankful for, and how much I need her and depend on her.

So anyway, it's good to be back home. I've been incredibly busy, and have a lot of work ahead of me, but things are great, and I really do have a lot to be thankful for. The Lord is good.

Friday, March 09, 2007


A man who smelled like a distillery flopped on a subway seat next to a priest. The man's tie was stained, his face was plastered with red lipstick, and a half-empty bottle of gin was sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opened his newspaper and began reading.

After a few minutes the disheveled guy turned to the priest and asked, "Say, Father, what causes arthritis?"

"Mister, it's caused by loose living, being with cheap, wicked women, too much alcohol and a contempt for your fellow man."

"Well, I'll be..." the drunk muttered, returning to his paper.

The priest, thinking about what he had said, nudged the man and apologized. "I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to come on so strong. How long have you had arthritis?"

"I don't have it, Father. I was just reading here that the Pope does."