Friday, May 26, 2006

a couple of conversations

this morning kellie told me that she would be returning from work later than usual because she has an appointment with galadriel* to get her eyebrows waxed. since galadriel is a trans-gendered person, i made some throwaway lament about her “leaving me for galadriel,” and thought that was that. but it wasn’t.

a couple of hours later, one of my co-workers, a Jew who married a Catholic and has a sister that is borderline fundamentalist Evangelical, dropped by my cube to talk about her sister’s friend who is a former methodist minister. the former qualifier was stamped upon this woman because she recently married a trans-gendered person. of course, the full story is more complicated than that. it almost always is. the reason the former methodist minister married the trans-gendered person is because she was widowed by her methodist minister husband who struggled mightily with chemical depression and ultimately decided to take the short road home. Apparently, a few years into her widowhood the former methodist minister found a nurturing relationship with this trans-gendered person – according to my co-worker they both have kids, love God and are a perfect match – and they decided to make their union official. my coworker unraveled this rather confounding narrative to me because she is distressed that the trans-gendered woman, who is married to the former methodist minister, is going to take her life because she feels almost completely alienated from society and the church. apparently the pastor of the methodist congregation that the couple attends recently barred the trans-gendered individual from receiving communion and my co-worker fears that rejection might become a tipping point. confused yet? i was.

after my co-worker finished telling this story i almost trotted the one thousandth variation on the “God loves them just the way they are, but too much to leave them there” soliloquy. my co-worker knows that i am some stripe of pastor, so i felt somewhat compelled to provide the evangelical position on this issue. but i didn’t.

instead, i sat back and thought about how proud i am of my wife, who knows how important it is to love and leave it to God to judge. i hail from a culture that often sets that equation up quite differently. back home, in the spit shined buckle of the Bible belt, it often seemed like our Christian duty was not to engage homosexuals, adulterers and addicts with the love of God, but to disengage from them, lest the merest hint of their sin stain our souls. as i reflect on my experiences in that place and culture that I dearly love, it seems that we often twisted paul’s admonition to “judge those in the church,” for those who sinned outside the church were usually the objects of our snide comments or malicious disengagement, while those who “stumbled” within the church were showered with unconditional love.**

where am I going with this? places i don’t yet understand and have doubts about my ability to find.

here’s what i can tell you, one of the greatest gifts that my wife, the sinners and saints community and the emergent conversation has bestowed upon me is the ability to love others and leave the judgment to God. does this mean that i am “soft on sin?” i don’t think so. i actually take the life-threatening consequences of my sin, the shortcomings of our community and the systemic sins that plague all institutions really seriously. does this mean that i’m a proponent of trans-gendered marriage or think that the methodist pastor’s decision was completely out of bounds? i’d have to answer both questions with a slightly qualified “no.” i think the marriage issue is a really tough one because it is a referendum not only on our morality but also upon our understanding of church and state. moreover, i am quite sure that the methodist minister has struggled mightily with his decision and is probably between a denominational rock and a personal hard place.

in sum, all i’m saying is this: Jesus said that he did not come for the healthy, but the sick, not for the righteous, but the unrighteous. moreover, Jesus never side-stepped the eventuality of judgment, but he led with love.

he led with love.

i think it’s best that i follow his lead and leave the judgment to Him. and i am so deeply grateful that i have a wife, a community and a conversation that is helping me to do just that.

*her name has been changed to protect her anonymity. but rest assured, the nom de plume does reflect her incredibly unique name.

**james ault summarizes this tendency quite well in his spirit and flesh: life in a fundamentalist baptist church. if you haven’t read this volume, you should.

rear entry gentry and kevin smith clark present: office conversations that make us want to crack f&%#ing skulls

maybe it’s just us, but we think that since seinfeld signed off some eight years ago, intriguing water cooler conversation has slowly gone the way of the buffalo. seinfeld gave us so much: opportunities to replicate the contest, chortles about shrinkage, annoying new greetings…now all we’ve got is gossip about america’s damn idol and britney’s fertility.

so, lest we stalk through our offices with liquid cooled AR-15s, we would like to let you know that any conversation that starts with…

“did you watch idol last night?”

“hi, this is _______, looks like we’re playing phone tag.”

“actually, gas is five cents cheaper at…”

“moving forward..”

“can you believe this weather?”

“is it cold over there? ‘cause i’m freezing over here.”

“where are we going to grab lunch today?”


makes us want to crack fucking skulls. just though you should know.

if there are particular conversations that you want us to steer clear of, let us know. we’re big on relational reciprocity like that.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

where i muse about my mistress

as pathetic as it sounds, my greatest regret in life is failing to put it all together as a pitcher. “pitching is 90% mental.” i’ve heard that phrase so many times it has become cliché and have internalized it to such a degree that it is now dogma. i suspect that phrase, “pitching is 90% mental,” is scratched in the margins of the new covenant that has been carved on my heart. but no matter how many bullpen sessions i endured or critiques of my mechanics i absorbed i simply could not adequately reconcile my b+ arm with a f- head. i understood the concepts of pitching well enough, had carefully studied grips and schematics of mechanics in my head, but this knowledge never enabled me to pound the zone or keep my cool when i failed to do so. i think there’s a metaphor for concerning the relationship between theology and praxis in there, but i’m too tired to flesh it out.

maybe next year i’ll get in shape, cut it loose and see if a more developed head can make use of my rapidly declining ability. until then, i’ll continue to serve as a coach and ball bitch for the
beverly brewers.


well that was a sappy way to introduce a spankin’ new storyline. last night the brew crew had our second game, but the first one i was able to attend. although i have to admit that returning to a dugout after a ten year absence was relationally (i knew the names of 3 players before the game began) and physically (damn, these kids are big. i’ve never felt more like a pencil neck than i did last night) intimidating, after a couple of innings i was screaming at umpires and muttering imprecatory curses at my players like an old pro. good times.

here’s a sporting question for you baseball fans. if your team is getting no-hit in the bottom of the seventh and has failed to hit a single ball out of the infield all evening, do you drop a bunt down to break up the no-no?

of course, this is a theoretical question. we didn’t get no-hit last night or anything…


okay, so i confessed that i’m currently the brewers ball bitch, but it’s not a responsibility that i treasure. so, if you have thirty some odd free evenings this summer, enjoy taking the shine off of brand new baseballs with a little bit of dirt and don’t mind scrambling down a rocky cliff in order to pluck game balls out of a forest bog, feel free to apply for this open position. although this is a non-paying position, it is not without benefits. our ball bitch can expect to be constantly hit upon by our hormone laden, adolescent bench warmers and so reap the fruits of a revitalized self-esteem, develop sumptuous calf muscles while scratching for balls and, after the game, receive one free drink for every three rounds that she carries to the team table at the pickled onion.

if you’re interested in this position, you’ll want to apply soon since aime is already winning the hearts of our bench warmers and has her heart set upon fraternizing with our starters.


fortunately lboros is neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. bonds did not hit his dinger in the first or second game of the series and did not play in the third (a lop sided affair which featured more footage of drunk fat men trying to get in and out of mccovey cove without cracking their skulls than it did of the game itself). unfortunately, albert pujols has now decided to be barry bonds’ chief advocate – he has publicly declared that he hopes bonds breaks the hammer’s record and has openly wondered whether ‘roids are really that beneficial for players – and new found chum. i have to agree with Bernie miklasz when he asserts that pujols harms his reputation by bonding with bonds.


does my incessant baseball chatter annoy people as much as american idol conversations annoy me? if I hear one more comment about kelly clarkson, wolfgang puck, and/or the startling use of a lobster, my head’s going to explode!

by the way, i now believe that american idol has usurped the WWE’s place at the bottom of the culture pool. if we ever have to deport members of our society for the purpose of population control, i think the pecking order will look thus:

a) american idol fans. sorry mom!

b) the regular viewing audience of wwe raw.

c) nascar fans. just so you know: those who have the number “3” stuck to their car windows, honored in their dead drivers memorial gardens or shaved in their hairy backs, will go first.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

concerning the meet

you can catch up with these guys:

over there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

is lboros a prophet or a son of a prophet?

yesterday, lboros - the finest redbird writer in the blogosphere - made the following prediction:

"now comes the king of steroids, still a-questing after no. 715. he's gonna hit it against the cardinals, no question about it -- the set-up is too rich with poetic justice for him not to. what better manager for him to hit it against than the one who gave baseball's original steroid sinner, joe canseco, his first big-league job -- and presided over needle-tainted clubhouses across two decades and two franchises? and what better team for barry to inflict the indignity on than the one that witnessed the juice-fueled destruction of homerdom's other mystical number, 61?"

there is little doubt that lboros' forthtelling (or speaking truth about the present) is right on. as every book on 'roids that is worth its salt has noted, la russa is linked in a circumstantial, if not causal, way to the genesis of the steroids era.

that being said, let us hope that lboros is as shitty a foreteller as he is a spectacular forthteller. i, along with the rest of the flock, do not want to have to cringe everytime we see a poster of, or merely think about, 715.

you can read the rest of his article here.
where you are, ain’t where you wished you would be…

over the last couple of days i’ve felt a strong leading to spend time praying over, listening to and walking the diz through the crossing, which isn’t exactly compton but is one of the rougher neighborhoods in beverly. on account of my association with bootstraps i know quite a few people, most of them kids, in the neighborhood so i usually don’t find this five block area as unsettling as some.

however, yesterday when the kids i’ve known for years either blatantly ignored the sight of me or opened with the question “what are you doing down here?,” and one of the guys that keeps his office on one of the street corners said something that suggested he was more hostile towards than interested in the diz, i realized how much of a stranger i really was. the crossing may be only six blocks from the house, but in some ways i am a complete stranger in those environs.

this feeling of displacement that clung to me like smoke made me wonder how my after school kids feel when they are bussed over to complete their homework in the damp, cool basement of the big white church. as they practice their multiplication tables with moonlighting private school teachers and receive frequent admonitions from middle class strangers such as myself do they feel as displaced as i do as i traverse their streets? moreover, when the older kids venture through the upper middle class neighborhood on the east side of town as they make their way to the beach, do they feel as alien as i do when someone pulls back their paper thin curtain to take a cursory peek?

although the few moments i have spent in the crossing as of late have been charged with internal dissonance and a strong sense of displacement, i suspect that it is in the midst of such awkward environs that God really molds me. perhaps, instead of shying away from the crossing in order to spend more time in my safe, middle class context, or, on an even more practical level, instead of intellectually, emotionally and relationally disassociating myself from my awkward and taught with tension work environment, I need to lean into these experiences and let the Spirit shape me in the midst. i have a strong, growing suspicion that it is in the midst of displacement that i’ll hear God speak, see the divergent strands start to converge and feel all of creation trembling with God’s redemption.

i don’t know…much of anything, actually. furthermore, i am far from the first to suspect or say such things. but that’s where i’m at right now.

Monday, May 22, 2006


commenting on the little apocalypse in matthew 24 and luke 21, n.t. wright argues that a first century Jew would know that the apocalyptic imagery in the texts related more to their immediate context than to the explosive left-behind inspired "end times," because the Jews "knew a good metaphor when they saw one." much like a first century Jew, i think a wise pastor knows a good metaphor when he sees one as well.

that’s a long way to introduce fragment of pastor david hansen’s work which really spoke to me today. i was going to scribble it in my journal instead of posting it here, but i suspect a few of you might be encouraged by it as well.

"To my surprise, the trail takes me into a hundred yards of tall, long-needled pines. The trunks measure about 12 inches in diameter. The branches are dead and broken off 20 feet up, about a third of the tree's total height. They do not look intentionally planted, neither do they look native to this eco-niche. The trees crack and creak loudly as they bend in the strong wind.

Imagine a large man in a hundred-year-old maple rocker on a hundred-year-old oak floor, and multiply the sound by a hundred trees. In 45 years of walking in the coniferous forests of the West, I've never heard anything like it. These trees are not thriving. The wood must be compromised with long fractures. Yet, they are amazingly resilient against the wind. The cracks in the trunks have undoubtedly been caused by the wind, but, ironically, they also allow the trees to survive the wind.

Thus, ministry for me.

The ministry makes the cracks, the cracks make me resilient, but the cracks make the ministry: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Cor. 4:7-10). That which makes me whine and groan allows Jesus Christ to shine through my life."

you can read the rest of the article here. also, if you are interested in a fresh, whimsical and wonderfully written reconsideration of pastoral ministry, pick up hansen’s the art of pastoring: ministry without all the answers, in which he envisions the pastor’s life (and every Christian's life for that matter) as "a parable of Jesus." i’ve read the book twice and still find it riveting.

okay, back to school, back to school...
where i get all political

just this once, let the record show that i passionately support a policy of our 44th president george w. bush. i think his immigration plan is one of the most important, forward thinking pieces of policy that a chief executive has put forth, and congress has actually considered, in years. i agree with w. when he asserts that the guest worker program will: better help us regulate the inflow of immigrant labor, reward long-term, hard working, tax paying immigrants with an opportunity to become citizens and provide the low-cost labor that a number of our industries (including service and agriculture) need to succeed.

i also believe that his plan to assign 6,000 national guard troops to augment the border patrol is a fairly meaningless move that is merely intended to mollify his base (who, somewhat absurdly, have painted this initiative as a regan-esque amnesty), but my differences with him in this area are trifling. i truly hope that this initiative navigates this way through the house of representatives and ultimately becomes law.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

shit that has been making me laugh: carlos, impersonator of the cockatiels

yesterday afternoon, after introducing ourselves to beth and james maynard - the hip anglicans who are creating a neo-monastic community on mill street in beverly - kellie, james and i stopped by "the beverly wild bird and pet supply." shortly after we stepped through the front door of this small quirky shop that serves as a sort of whole foods for our animal friends, james and i found ourselves face to face with a man who we would soon come to know as carlos.

carlos wore a drab, castro inspired hat pulled down over his ears and sported some of the glassiest eyes i have seen in some time. as soon as carlos stood in front of us and locked his glassy eyes with mine, i had a feeling that we were in for quite a ride. fortunately, my immediate assumption was right.

carlos: "man, i am taking care of a whole school of animals!"

me: (wondering what kind of school would hire carlos) "is that right?"

carlos: "yeah. my wife and i have a cockatiel, two parakeet, four gerbils, three bear hamsters - we used to have fourth, but he died. i need to bury that one - and a few cats."

james: "sounds like you have a full house."

carlos: "yeah, that cockatiel, man he crazy. he follows my wife around the house like a dog (here carlos did his best impersonation of a puffed up, strutting cockatiel) and he stands at the screen snapping at the passerby and threatening to attack them."

me: "that sounds like quite a bird."

carlos: "oh yeah, he crazy. after he started hearing the baby cry - waah! waah! - he thought that was the best way to get attention. so now, when he gets angry, he screams at my wife (here carlos decided to impersonate the cockatiel yet again), waah! waah! waah!"

james and me: (while trying to avoid eye contact) "hmmm."

carlos: "yeah, man. i got to get more stuff."

at this point james and i went into the nook that featured bird accessories in order to snicker about our encounter and carlos went over to pick up some sort of grass bedding for the hamsters. as we left the nook the two of us were surprised to find ourselves, once again, face to face with carlos."

carlos: "you see this grass shit? it's good for the hamsters and - (stopping to affect his best shit-eating grin) good for the owners too! it remind me of my shit."

with this, carlos turned on his heel, walked back towards the register and put his grass on the pile. james and i avoided eye contact yet again and the shopkeeper, who was strangely non-plussed, said simply "taking care of your little friends carlos?"

my friend kevin smith clark often accuses me of being a "crazy magnet." in moments like these, i suspect that he's quite right.
shit that has been making me laugh: brokeback atari*

*please note: this clip is neither for the faint of heart nor for those with good taste. watch at your own risk.