Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Are You With Me?

I like Rob Bell.  He's a neat guy.  A guy I would have wings and a beer with, to talk about the things that matter.  He's passionate about finding meaning and purpose behind why we believe what we believe.  He wants to help humanity, fund causes, and fix this broken world through humility and love.

I listened to him - There was a time when I saw him as a teacher, a guide, an explainer of things.  Listening to his sermons he delivered at his old church ( gave me some clarity about merging the old world saints and dogma with the modern world.  He made the Old Testament interesting and relevant.

I watched his videos - NOOMA videos changed my mind and heart.  They got to the core of topical ideas that I struggled with.  I bought them, I showed them in small groups, sermons, and lent them to friends.  Cool music, visually creative, and relevant.

I read his books - "Love Wins", "Sex God", "Jesus Wants to Save Christians", "Drops Like Stars", "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

It was through his books that I first sensed a change.  A progressive (I chose that word purposely) shift in his  great teaching into something more like opinion happened.  Rob seemed to be working out his view of Christianity in a paradigm shift.  At first there were nuggets of questioning whether his statements were for shock value or carefully placed hand-holds that would guide a follower off toward a different peak of understanding - Rob's understanding.  Something that slowly gnawed the edges of Absolute Truth into a more universally (another carefully placed word) free explaination of the Gospel raised flags and caused me to more carefully consider every sentence and word that he chose.

Examples - Rob Bell with David Crowder (20 seconds in): "No one takes the Bible literally.  No one."  Even taken in the context he is speaking of the Bible as poetry, a lament, a saying, the Gospel - it's an incorrect absolute statement.  Then he collects his collective agreement when he asks, "Are you with me?" and everyone says, "yes"., Rob...many of us are not with you.

I still read his blog - Rob is a dynamic voice in modern Christian discussion.  One of his latest blog posts discusses the Flood.  He says:
"Much of this cynicism is due to the way stories like these have been told-often by well meaning religious people trying to prove that there actually were two animals at a time that went in to an ark.."
I presume "well meaning religious people" is a compassionate description of those poor mis-guided souls who take the Word of God literally.  He goes on to say:
"What this stilted literalism does, in its efforts to take the story seriously, is often miss the point of the story."
So we're not to take the "story" seriously?  The narrative in the Bible goes into detail about the ark's dimensions, features, types of wood used....and what we're supposed to get out of these details is that it's a piece of fiction designed to give people a "more relational understanding of the divine"?

I don't buy it.  

Start picking and choosing what is literal and what is intended for illustration purposes only and you backslide into not needing your Bible at all - especially if you rely on progressive Biblical scholars to explain it to you.

I'd still have those wings and beer with Rob and talk about life, humanity, love, and theology...but I'm no longer "with him".

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

“Close to You” or “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”?

So what is it about human nature that we feel a need to be close to other people?  I’m not talking about relationships, communication, verbal interaction – I’m talking about the physical presence of having someone, ANYONE, around you? 

I’m an independent software consultant/developer and do 90% of my work out of my home.  My other offices away from home tend to be public libraries, coffee shops, and bookstores.  One would tend to assume that my typical day is quite lonely – me lost in my logical world listening to JS Bach and New Age music floating on an island inside my head.  The truth is that I cannot get away from my fellow man.  I enjoy company as much as the next guy, but something that is consistent is the fact that I can never be too far from someone wanting to rub auras with me.

Case in point – there are several rectangular tables with 6 chairs around them at the public library.  Through some conspiratorial self-preservation glitch in my brain, I have to be facing a door or the inside of the room.   I never have my back to anyone.   With that in mind, I find an outside table in the corner and set up.  Invariably, which is again the case today, I get a guy sitting one chair away on my same side of the table.  No one is sitting at any of the other tables.  The only thing that keeps this older gentleman (and now his wife sat down opposite him) from sitting on my lap or directly next to me is my computer bag that is taking up a seat.  I’m not performing Top Secret coding, plotting to take over the world, or doing my taxes on my laptop, but having someone even occasionally glance at my screen makes me feel violated.

Another story – sitting at a Barnes & Noble working away with two laptops out (yeah – I’m that good, or that inefficient).  The place is packed.  Elderly American of African descent taps me on the shoulder (quite startling when reaching the crescendo of “Bolero” in my earbuds) and asks if I wouldn’t mind driving her down to a church on Tibbs near Speedway.  I pull my headphones off, look around at everyone else – working away with no distraction.  Then I start looking for the cameras because I’m sure I’m now on an episode of “What Would You Do?” or “Candid Camera”.  The love of Christ within me says I should probably drive her downtown, but the procrastinator in me that knows I’ve put off this work two days and am on borrowed time puts his foot down.

How many times have you gone to the movies after a flick has been out for a few weeks and you're one of the last of your friends to see it?  There are six people in the entire theater and just as the lights are dimming and you think you have five rows to yourself, one or more people come in and sit in the seats directly around you.  Happens more than you care to guess, doesn't it?

The urge to be close to someone in these experiences is not as creepy as an empty bathroom with 10 urinals and the guy stands next to you….but it causes me to think about loneliness and a sense of belonging, even with those we don’t know.  We share a wink of time on a big rock hurtling through space, so every moment should be considered special.  I’m amazed at how often Jesus was interrupted during his ministry. Without the records of the times he was interrupted, we not only miss a large number of miracles, but the thrust of the message that life is about interruptions. 

It’s about squeezing in close.
It’s enough to be in the same room together after five decades of marriage. 
Finding another English speaking person in a foreign land. 
Holding someone’s hand in a hospital. 

As annoying and inconvenient as these interruptions are, our attitudes should be less like the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, and more like The Carpenters’ “(They Long To Be) Close to You”.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wild Game

to answer your question - yes
dachshund / yorkshire terrier mixes are faster than squirrels
usually found on a more seasonal menu

served on a bed of grass
just after the high pitched squealing has ended
golden in color with delicate paws and jagged little teeth
removing the tail (typically just for garnish) is a must before savoring the meat

i was in the middle of gnawing the thigh from a back leg
when the waiter (another human in a dead-end job)
removes the tree rat from my plate

i watched as he carried it over the fence
dug a hole, and buried my hard-earned dinner
rude.  i'll never eat here again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Queen - A Review

The fifth Patrick Bowers thriller, “The Queen”, by Steven James, careens through a Wisconsin winter like a snowmobile at full throttle.  James starts our protagonist on a case related to his old nemesis, Richard Basque, then changes gears as Pat Bowers is assigned to a seemingly unrelated side-case that acquaints him with a new conflicted  nemesis, Alexei Chekov.

For those who love high tech adventures and suspense, this book stands toe-to-toe with the best Clancy novels.  From Agent Bowers’ geospatial three dimensional profiling program, ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) transmission technology for submarine contact, to the behind-the-scenes experimental government technologies used by spy agencies and Eco Terrorism, this book has it all.

James does an excellent job at balancing the thrills with deep character development where we dig into Agent Bowers’ past with an introduction of his brother and sister-in-law, Sean and Amber.  Bower’s complicated relationship with his daughter Tessa creates a nice tension with an underlying question of what forgiveness and reconciliation mean.  Did Pat Bowers and his on-again, off-again love interest Lien-hua Jiang finally get around to tying the knot?  You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

Having read the past four Patrick Bowers novels, I am always expecting the unexpected twists at the end and “The Queen” didn’t disappoint.  This is required reading for adrenaline junkies!

“Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I’m headed off on a retreat, a break, a sabbatical. Booked a literal cabin in the woods and I’m unplugging from daily life for a few days to sit, listen, watch for a signpost, and course-correct.

I was unsure whether to label it a retreat or sabbatical. After reading Merriam-Webster’s definition, a retreat can be:

  1. An act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.
  2. The forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or advanced position.
  3. A place of privacy or safety
  4. A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study

As it turns out, all of these definitions apply (aside from the “group” in #4).

The definition of a sabbatical is: a break or change from a normal routine.

I was thinking the term “sabbatical” would be more religious in meaning, having the root of “Sabbath” or rest. It also applies.

Regardless of what you call it, I’m on a mission to reset and redefine my life. The issue for me comes with having to sit and listen and understand this small piece of the puzzle that I’m allowed to see in God’s plan for me. I’m impatient when someone starts a sentence or I see where a conversation is going, but it’s not coming together fast enough. I jump in, assume the end, finish it for them. My spiritual walk has been the same. God hands me a few pieces of puzzle. I snap them together, assume I see the picture and start throwing more pieces into it and then find out the picture isn’t turning out as I had hoped or that God has moved onto another picture altogether I’m supposed to be helping with.

My good friend and one of my mentors recently threw out a couple metaphors for me to consider:
“It's interesting to me how we humans think.
When we think of plans we think of complete plans.
For instance, we design a complete house with all the details before we start to build it.
God doesn't seem to work that way.
I think He likes to reveal the foundation design (sometimes after the fact) without letting us in on the rest of the plans.
He calls that "faith".
"Hey, I'm going to give you a little taste but not the whole you still trust me?"
I believe all this stuff you're going through will start to sort itself out, but one of the most important questions you can ask is "What's next?"”
And another:
“A relationship with God is often like playing chess against Him.
The early moves of the match are pretty predictable - I ask for forgiveness through Jesus and He gives it.
However, as the match goes on and He takes pieces (of your past life) from you it gets both more interesting and less predictable.
I know I always like to know the end game when I make plans, but God doesn't like to reveal His end game on earth.
Of course He revealed His ultimate end game through Jesus, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in between acceptance and human death.
The intent of this reset is to deal with the direction of my family, ministry, and work (not necessarily in that order). I need to take a more proactive approach to leading my family with one teenager and two more to follow into the teens shortly thereafter. Do I want to continue to pursue writing for my music project, poetry, a book? Should I reconsider where I fit in with my current church family? Where do I want or need to be in 5 to 10 years with my business? Heavy stuff.

Not all of my questions will get answered, but I’m hoping to get some guideposts and clues for the next steps and a fresh perspective when I return. Sitting in God’s first cathedral (the great outdoors), will be the best place to listen.

The great thing is having a wife that understands you enough to know it’s time to take action, step away, and refocus. Without her coaxing and insistence, I would be stewing in un-fulfillment for the next season of life.

Maybe this will be the first of a yearly process of getting my life re-aligned…

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Revolving Doors

People often complain about change, are inflexible, get anxious. Life being analogous to a book, how else do you separate one chapter from another? Without these breaks, stops, and starts, this narrative would be a boring run-on sentence.

This weekend I come to the end of a chapter that wasn't planned. It never entered my mind as a possibility.

A week before the big change nearly 5 months ago, my future prospects in my work (I run my own business) waned and 36 hour weeks turned to 15. Margin was created in my life and an unsettling question of security crept in. An unfortunate situation occurred that created the need for me to step into the position of interim worship leader at our church. Sure, I love to sing. I've fronted a band, led worship every so-often, but never thought it would turn into even a short-term full time gig.

The time frame for finding a new worship leader was up in the air. The position is a difficult one for a church to fill. The estimate was a couple months to a year or more. My wife and I thought and prayed about it. It meant change for our family. The extra time required to do the job perfectly fit inside that margin that got created just a week earlier. I accepted the challenge and jumped into the world of ministry. Balancing work and family time with the demands of the worship leader position [selecting the themed music for worship, walk-in, and specials, charting, transposing, scheduling, practice, rehearsal, meetings, phone calls, texts] took a month to hammer out before we got into a good groove. I set aside one day (Tuesday) for all things worship: meetings, music stuff, most correspondence.

I found the new position easier than expected but something was missing. Like water into a cup that was unable to reach the rim, there was a crack that was keeping me from being completely fulfilled. The search took off and within two months, a prospect was found. Interviews and dinners and vetting. How could this be? It seemed that God had wrapped this gift, set it down in front of me, and in the midst of peeling away the layers of satisfaction, I forgot to read the tag on the outside of the present.

It wasn't for me.

My gift was finding myself and defining my path in the midst of something close to what I love, but the provision was meant for another person or group of people. An offer was extended and an end date was in sight. In God's perfect timing, I gained a new client and my other work has picked back up to the 30+ hours per week range just before I let go of the reins. Simply amazing!

The exciting part about knowing the final paragraph is coming is that a new chapter is about to begin. I have a rough idea for the outline of this new section. I'm keeping Tuesday as a "free day" to work on music, not work. I've had a music project camping out on my bucket list for too long and I want to mark it off by the end of the year. It has been an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve and to receive the support that kept our worship going.

This roundabout in my life reminds me of a poem by Billy Collins called "I Go Back to the House for a Book". Who am I without this experience? Who would I become if this chapter continued for another year? The answer to these questions is "exactly who I'm supposed to be."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Messing with Perfection

i went out to revise the blank white canvas
that was my driveway

without consulting the Artist i picked up the brush
that was my shovel

and i walked line after line across the page removing the paint
that was the snow

the effort to restore the masterpiece brought the sweat
that caused me to go to Lowe's to buy a snowblower
that was on sale.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Bishop

How long has it been since you’ve picked up a book you literally could not put down until you finished every last sentence of the epilogue? The Bishop by author Steven James is that book for this year.

Book four in the Bowers Files starts off with a disturbing scene like the jerk of a roller coaster as you head to the first big hill. In Steven James fashion, our hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, is pulled into another thrilling mystery pitting his unusual investigative techniques against psychopathic monsters.

James does a wonderful job of mastering the use of the first and third person to give the reader just enough information to let them play detective, yet withholding enough of the converging plots that you feel compelled to keep reading. His books are graphic, violent, informative, and introspective. The Bishop is no exception.

Midway through the book I was sure the mystery was about to be solved, but wouldn’t you know it…the first half was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the story was concerned. The story pulls you behind the scenes of the halls of the FBI, body farms, primate research facilities, the offices of lawyers, politicians, and hotels.

The Bishop is not a run-of-the-mill thriller. It tackles the scientific and ethical definitions of what it means to be human covering subjects such as transhumanism, metacognition, and intentionality.

Patrick Bowers’ personal life is the glue that holds the novel together and is woven into the story ingeniously giving the feel of a seamless transition between action, drama, romance, and horror. By the end of the book, I had no less than four people tagged as the person or persons “whodunit”. Now THAT makes for an exciting ending.

I anxiously await his next novel, The Queen, due out in 2011.

The Bishop is available August 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Come join the Launch Party!

Steven James Launch Party!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The Bishop" Launch Party

I'm excited to be reading the 4th book in the Steven James series called "The Bishop". Even if you've never read one of his books, plan on attending the Facebook launch party!

Steven James Launch Party!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Testing Begins

This is where the rubber meets the road and stops to consider the fork. My day job is spent as a self-employed software developer. I started the business on the downward trough of a recession and the effects are finally throwing me up onto the beach. A recurrent question throughout my adulthood has been "what do I want to be when I grow up", and the answer is typically "I don't want to grow up, so that's a stupid question!" The rat raced IT realm requires that you continue learning, pushing the envelope, and lowering your rates to compete with foreigners doing the same thing for one fifth what you charge. Declining budgets and software life cycle spirals (at least for Lotus Notes) have handed me plenty of free time.

With that free time I have invested in recording equipment to work on a "project". It is 7 years in the making. Season after season brings sparks of creativity followed by the small (yet overwhelming) voice saying "no one will care - this is mediocrity at best". I'm putting the noise-cancelling headphones on and plugging ahead for the sake of the idea, not the audience. A friend of mine recently told me that there shouldn't be a confidence killer because if I really believed that God provided a gift, He's not going to let me fail, especially if I am singing to Him. He is the audience.

I've got a couple gigs lined up and will be looking at doing more. Time is no friend though. Without a decent line-up of original tunes, I need to fall back on covers. Learning covers takes time and takes time away from the original songs.

Right now I'm down, but not broken. Open to anything but not discouraged.

Ready for what this test brings - especially the outcome.