Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Slowing down...

[I’m listening to White Ladder by David Gray.]

We had just left from taking in good coffee and conversation at Eclipse Coffee. I knew that I wanted to spend more time with her, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I could go about it.

“Do you want to go for a walk in the park?”

So we walked. This park had so many memories for me. My freshman year, I laid here looking at the stars with my first college room mate, a high school friend, and a girl that I haven’t talked to in 4 years. My senior year, we convinced a friend to ride her bike into the creek while we video taped her…at night…in December.

Now, I was walking with my future wife. She was walking too fast.

“Slow down.”
“When I walk, I like to exercise.”
“But don’t you ever just slow down? Don’t you ever just…stop and look into the sky?”

We stared into the depths of the night as the stars stared back in a sort of brilliance dimmed by the town’s lights. In slowing down, in stopping and looking, in listening to her breathe…I think I knew that I loved her.

We still walk fast sometimes. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we run from each other. But when we slow down, when we stop and look, when we listen…we know we love each other.

That’s part of what defines us, isn’t it? When we have the capacity to take in the world and can do so in such a way that we admire the marvel of ingenuity and creativity expressed, then isn’t life just a little better? When I was running along on Monday, all I could hear was my own breath and my feet hitting pavement [along with the occasional passing car]. I’ve loved these early morning runs [whether I’m alone or not] because it affords me the opportunity to see a Birmingham that isn’t mired in poor bureaucracy, it allows me to see a city that isn’t brim-filled with noise pollution and late August heat.

What I see when I run are the wisps of clouds painted deep purple, orange, and red as the sun rises. I see the lines filled with mortar that separate bricks on a house that’s over one hundred years old. When I run by the firehouse mission, I see men who are hungry and eagerly awaiting the opening of doors of kind generosity. I see police who are coming to protect and serve their community. When I run by the Merita Bread Bakery I can smell the wonderful aromas of mass produced bread.

Going a little slower, I get to notice all the wonderful things that I never see when driving to work with the purposed intent of arriving early enough to check out my gold box on

With the good, I see the bad too.

I see the man who has build his bed out of boxes under the Red Mountain Expressway. I see the shanty home built behind a fence under cover of brush across the street from an attorney’s office. I experience the indifference of drivers when they don’t see me running in the crosswalk and nearly move me one step closer to meeting my Savior and Friend. I can smell the factory emissions [when I’m not by the bread factory]. I see that shady guy who is sitting in his car on the bridge of Richard Arrington that separates the North side of downtown from the South side of downtown. I see that guy walking down the street with a large stick to protect himself. When I walk the same way he does after my run, I can see the fear in his face and feel the tension between us.

Tomorrow is Thursday. Two days from now is Friday. On that Day, people will say, “I can’t wait until this day is over.” Out of the other side of their mouths they will say, “I am so afraid of dying.” I just think it’s so strange – it’s so strange that I would work so hard through my day without telling my wife how much I love her. It’s so strange that young lovers would walk through the night without admiring the richness of the sky above them. It’s so strange…

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Forgetful Jones...

[I'm reading Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris]

When I was growing up, my parents bed was positioned in a sort of funny way. If you can imagine it, the headboard was positioned so that it worked as the hypotenuse of a triangle formed by it and a corner of their bed room.

You might imagine this as an absolutely wonderful hiding place for a small child.
Children, however, don’t stay small forever.

One day, I climbed over the head board and placed my foot on the guitar (much as I had always done). Much to my chagrin, the guitar was no longer capable of withstanding the enormity of my weight and I had one crushed guitar under my foot.

For quite some time, no one knew that there was a broken guitar behind my parents’ bed – well, I knew.

It was the sort of secret that couldn’t be kept for too long. My dad never played the guitar (I never really knew where he bought this one), but he was aware of his possessions and he eventually found out.

Here’s the kicker though, I only remember two things about the guitar. I don’t remember where or why he bought it. I don’t remember what kind it was, or even what color the pick guard was (or if it even had one). I just remember my dad picking it up one day as acting as if he was playing it and how much fun it was to “make believe.” The other memory is obvious – I remember breaking our toy.

It’s always interesting to think of how selective our memories are, and to think of what we keep in our catalog of thoughts. I sort of think about this text where Christ is talking to His disciples about loving their enemies. He talks about how easy it is to love your friends and how divine it is to love your enemies.

Jesus portrays this profound idea of God’s mercy, right? He tells us that God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust – on those who are good and on those who are awful jerks. If we are to love for and pray for our enemies [as Christ is talking about in Matthew 5:43-48] then we effectively live out an aspect of God’s character in his mercy to man.

See, the guitar had many attributes. Maybe it had metal strings, maybe it had nylon strings. Maybe it was made of poplar, or pine, or birch. But I can only remember my dad and I play with it [rather than playing it] and that I broke it.

More often than not, we don’t remember some of the wonderful characteristics of God, other than the fact that He lets us play with religion and that we broke this relationship we were supposed to have with Him. What Christ proposes here is not a sort of laissez-faire attitude towards life and sin, but seriousness in our comprehension of God’s character.

See, the life of people who tend to think of themselves as “religious,” or “spiritual,” also comes off as a bit judgmental at times. Much of this is borne [I’m convinced] by the fact that we believe that God loves our religion. It’s easy for me to forget that He loves me. It’s easy to forget that I was His enemy and that He has brought forth peace for me through Christ.

It’s easy to forget that when Christ was praying for His enemies, that He was praying for me too.

So, I don’t remember the guitar because we threw it away – it was worthless. My hope for myself is that I do not become so careless with my understanding of the different aspects of who God is. I guess you can say that it’s a hope borne out of a sort of fear.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A menagerie of sorts...

I’m listening to Ray LaMontagne’s Trouble.

In addition to listening to music, I also like to read.

Right now, I’m reading Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. I don’t really know how this strange love for things related to American History started, but I think that it has yielded some spectacular role models. Of course, every man has his flaws (otherwise, he would be no man at all – more of a figment of your imagination), though Roosevelt was a man of supreme intelligence, wit, and progressive thinking.

Do you know who the first black man to visit the white house on official invitation was? Theodore Roosevelt had Booker T. Washington (not to be confused with the wrestler, Booker T) over for dinner during Roosevelt’s first year as President. TR (as Roosevelt will be referred to from here on out) was elevated to the office of Commander-in-chief after William McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz in 1901. Let’s go back to Booker T. Washington though – because he was the sort of guy that a lot of people did not agree with. You see, Washington believed that for his time, segregation was the way to go. He looked at the relationship between whites, blacks, and the nation at large much like fingers on a hand. Whites were one finger while blacks were another – they were separate but equal.

This led me to think of the body of Christ in an odd sort of way, for, ”As it is there are many parts, yet one body.” Now, the hand that BT Washington spoke of and the body of Christ are completely different, or at least they should be. Washington’s point of view was that power would be accumulated through perseverance and education. From the perspective of the body of Christ, you must believe that the accumulation of power in the vain of which he spoke isn’t all that…important.

The body at large, however, does believe that power is important.
The body at large believes that property is important.

What is seen most often, really, is that the body doesn’t see itself as a body at all. In that, there is certainly no appeal to the head for wisdom or guidance. We are, as I’ve heard recently (if you know the source then let me know as it’s slipped my mind) a group of people who so critical of others that we are blind to the fact that we are all being changed by the same process. The implication is that we demand perfection from others – from other Christians, from those who are not Christians, from our family, from our friends, from our customers and employers, etc.

In my own life, time and time again, I find that I am having to ask my wife for forgiveness because of how I have not let God work out Christ in her life in this process. Time and time again, I become angry and lose this honest sense that all is how it should be now considering the fact that we live in a world whose nature is to be pretty screwed up.

The visit of Washington to the White House was not only momentous, it was also scandalous for his time. Blacks were seen as brutes – they were uneducated and hadn’t evolved into the same capabilities of understanding as the white man. They were believed to be controlled by mere instinct and appetite rather than by reason.

I have to believe that things were sort of the same when Christ came to me.
If I forget that, then I forget or neglect my need for a Messiah altogether.

That’s the beauty of this Christian life, isn’t it? Christ has come and invited this brute of a man who is so often guided by his lusts and appetites to sit at a feast with a group who has moved beyond. He has opened the gates of this wonderful city to me and He has promised that I belong here just as much as anyone else (Just as TR told Washington).

When I think of that, when I think that I belong to something bigger, it’s a wonderful feeling. And when He says that to me, it’s not because He thinks I’ve lived this spectacular life of service – He knows I’m a pretty screwed up guy. No, when I sit across the table and He gives me a glass of wine and says, “This is my blood,” and gives me a piece of bread and says, “This is my flesh,” He is telling me that His blood and His flesh are how I came to belong here.

I know...that’s a long way from Roosevelt.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


[I'm listening to X & Y by Coldplay]

In your relationships, do you gauge your commitment by your emotive state or is commitment an action based on something so much more transcendent? Laura and I were talking about this while driving tonight [long night-time drives always make me tired and they always enhance my desire to think and speak]. My hypothesis is that most relationships that fail do so because one [or both] of those who are involved expected that the relationship would be…perfect. At least, they expect that it will be near perfect.

The problem is that by our very nature, no perfect relationship is humanly possible.

Day in and day out, whether at work or at home, I struggle to have control. That very struggle creates such a wonderfully deep and earnest tension in things that relate to the relationships.

But I’m not in control.
I can rarely even control myself.

On possible solution is to be committed to the purpose of the relationship. My emotions will fail me. My wife will fail me. I will fail my wife. My convictions, sad as it sounds, will fail me. But if the purpose of the relationship is transcendent – if it is above me and comes down to my level – then it’s sort of incorruptible, right?

I can misconstrue the purpose altogether, and if I do it’s not that the purpose has failed me, I’ve failed the purpose. I think that this is why you’ll see the figures quoted wherein it is stated that marriages in states [or nations, or dogmas, or political entities] that prescribe prearranged marriages have a lower rate of divorce than democratic, or relative, state.

In the relative state, our attention to the relationship may be directed to the purpose to which we attribute to the relationship. In respect to marriage, the designated purpose may be to raise children. It may be to seek economic ease or stability. It may be to satisfy the base lust of the flesh. It may be just because you think that you really gel with someone, or that you really think that “this must be the one.”

In a static state, however, there may be less room to designate various purposes as the meaning for marriage. I would think that the Christian sense would provide for a static state in marriage. From what I understand, the purpose of my marriage is transcendent as it is a picture [whether fair or poor] of the relationship that Christ has to the Church. Those purposes listed in the relative state may be benefits of the static state [or of each other], but if my commitment is to finances then my commitment fails when I stop cashing in. If my commitment is to children, then I leave the nest as soon as my little chicks do. If the sole purpose is the satisfaction of my lusts, then my commitment is drawn away as quickly as my eyes are.

My opinion is that the marriages that are really making it are the ones that are drawn to the transcendent purpose. Of course, that purpose is given different parameters by different systems of belief. I don’t think that Christian marriages are better by association [far from it, too many fail], but I do think that the static state holds far better and away than any other system.

In the idea that my marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, you see the death of Christ for the sake of the Church. You see the death of the Church and of the self for the sake of Christ. It’s a sort of paradox of sacrifice, right?

In the idea of general relationships, you see the same paradox in the static state of Christianity. When Paul writes a letter to a church in a town called Philippi, he tells them to consider the other guy as better that themselves – as more significant.

If I can keep that in mind, then my relationships [both in and out of marriage] become simultaneously more simple and still yet difficult. On the end of simplicity, I don’t have to look at the people around me [or the woman beside me] and judge them by the measure of self. Still yet difficult because my deepest desire is to be better than the people around me [or the woman beside me].

More simple because I have a different sort of freedom that allows me to do this.
More difficult because now there is this fight in the depth of my heart to do the right things and to want to do the wrong things.

What makes it worth the hope that all of this is real though, right? What makes my death in relationships worth the sacrifice is the belief that Christ has done the same thing. If it is the case that Christ hasn’t – if it’s the case that He really hasn’t prepared digs in His city for me then [frankly], I’m wasting my time altogether and you can feel free to pity me for it.

So then, the hope for my marriage is this idea that it its transcendent purpose is to model an incredibly transcendent relationship. That’s a bit heavy, and now it is late.

Thank God I have the freedom to try this.
Thank God I have the freedom to fail [because I will, over…and over…and over].

Monday, August 14, 2006

If I should be so bold...

[I am reading Sidewalks in the Kingdom... by Eric O. Jacobsen]

Something that Laura and I talk about is the strange world that people who blog tend to live in. You might know it as that world where you would write to millions of people the very sort of thing you’d never say to those same people in person?

I’ve seen on my blog (and on others) the phrase, “Thank you for your transparency.” I mean no offence to the person[s] from which the phrase has come, but when I write this blog, there is some vague sense of anonymity. When I read other blogs and see the sort of things that I don’t believe people would ever tell me in person, I tend to think that they believe that they are writing anon as well.

This lends to what I really don’t want my blog to be, and to what most blogs really are – an arena for venting your frustrations. I guess the medium exists due to the very fact that so many of us feel so absolutely disjoint from our fellow human beings.

The question begs, “Have my friendships become so superficial that I feel my only hope for respite is found on some hard drive in Mountain View, CA?”

I don’t think that I’m being very vulnerable if I write my thoughts and feelings online. The next time I see you, the conversation we have probably won’t revolve around what you’ve written on your blog unless one of us brings it up. Sadly, it’s a heck of a lot easier for folks just to ignore what’s written in the blogosphere and never have a real dialogue about what’s really on their hearts and minds.

I’m not trying to buck the medium.

I’m not trying to rant (of which the artist formerly known as West Coast Rev will say that I am).

What I am saying is that vulnerability here is not real vulnerability unless I am willing to come to you as a fellow human being and lay my life naked before you – in person. There is no true transparency on the web because all of us are sitting away from the pressures, from the questions, and from the judgments of others when we tippity-type from our computers.

It is always easier for any of us to write whatever we wish when there is no one staring us in the face asking, “What?” or “Why?” Still, we propagate the strange construal that writing anything in the blogosphere is akin to bearing our hearts.

*note, I assure you that this blog has nothing to do with what anyone has written about me; I am speaking of generalities. As far as I know there are no derogatory comments about me in the blogosphere @ this time. If you know of any, feel free to let me know.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I am an island. I am a walrus. I am alone. No, I’m not.

[I am listening to Give Up, an album by The Postal Service]

Sometimes I can look at a situation and be so engulfed in the emotion of it that I totally lose track of…a lot.

I was sent a link to a friends’ “photo,” site recently and felt kind of bad – sort of unwanted and even alone. I saw pictures of people I know – people I had felt somewhat close to – and they were all without me. I wanted to belong; I wanted the understanding that I was needed as much as I needed them.

What I got was the impression that I didn’t matter.

The disjointedness from people that you have this sort of communal bond with hurts, right? When we see common faces together and think that our bond with them is just as strong as their bond is to each other, but we see them without us on numerous occasions…doesn’t it make us feel like we should reject the relationship altogether? Maybe not you – maybe you’re more mature than I am. Maybe you’re more aloof – more above those things.

I guess I’m not.

I can’t help it; I’m just made that way.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone…”

On the up end, I thought of moving this past weekend. If you don’t know, the short of it is that we were forced to move because our Land People were moving into our apartment [that is the huge brief of it all]. We found a new apartment in two weeks and sent out e-mails for help on extremely short notice. The help that came was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t ever express to those who helped how incredibly thankful I am for them.

My mother and father-in-law came down with a teenager they had hired, we unloaded all the boxes from our apartment to the U-Haul in about 1 ½ hour. As you can imagine, when nine friends showed up to move things up to our new apartment the work was short and sweet.

The point is that I have a tendency to focus on the bad. I become filled with this general sense that I really deserve better. On the one hand, it’s not good for me to be alone. It’s not good for me and my wife to be alone…unless we do what married people do. But the point is that God does provide for our needs, even in friendship.

Why worry so much about the friends who punked us when we have friends who love us?

Why? Because friends are friends. You expect them to be according to perception. When you get punked, it hurts. That’s why.

To those who helped [you know who you are], as strange as it may seem, my thank you will never be enough. I am grateful for your friendship.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I Really Like Coffee.

If you were to catch me during a layover in any airport in our great nation, you’ll probably notice that there is a cup of coffee in my hand. One of the perks of being a citizen of the richest country in the world is that you get to spend obscene amounts of money on a drink that seemingly has no nutritional value (of course, there are studies…right?). If you know me, then you know that there’s always coffee in my house, and if there is not then there is probably a Gene in your local coffee house.

Enter: Dr. Kim, my dentist.

My next check up is actually in about two months. As far as teeth go, I’m somewhat healthy. I have a few fillings, but they’re all from my fat and sugar-laden childhood trek towards obesity (which, I believe, was broken in college).

In any case, Dr. Kim loves to remind me that my teeth could always be two things: whiter and straighter.

Ergo, he tries to sell me the two things United Health Care won’t pay for: Zoom Laser Whitening and Braces.

The context: Dr. Kim is a younger guy. He sort of works in an urbane setting (for those of you who are familiar, his office is set sort of between Highland Park, Lakeview, and Forest Park off of Clairmont Ave.). All of the ladies in his office are young people. Every room of “operations” has a flat screen television for your viewing enjoyment (or listening, since I can’t very well see anything when two hands are crammed into my mouth and my head is tilted back).

Dr. Kim sees this specimen of young man walk in, and of course he probably thinks, “This guy lives in the richest country in the world. He probably has expendable income that he uses to buy obscenely expensive coffee with. I bet, given the opportunity, he would use that money to purchase teeth whitening and braces for his two (yes, two) crooked teeth.”

Nay, nay, good doctor.

He assumes that I would be so vain as to actually purchase something so worthless. As you can see, though I may have somewhat of an overbite my teeth aren’t entirely crooked. Furthermore, Zoom Laser Whitening would be a proven waste because my teeth would be stained once again during my morning cup of coffee.

But that’s what he banks on: My vanity.

The issue is deeper, isn’t it? Sometimes Laura and I talk, and we complain, and we grumble about how awful things are. Case in point: we have to move, and it’s kept us in a pretty poor mood lately. We’ve argued quite a bit. We didn’t want to move, but due to various reasons we have to move (nothing negative by any means). We have to step back and realize that there are just bigger things that should occupy our time.

Dr. Kim is a conduit of our culture. He’s there for the upkeep of my teeth (to remind me that I don’t have cavities and that I should floss…more…). He’s also there to remind me that things could be better. I could have a brighter, straighter smile. I have to step back to remind me (and him, every single time I go to the dentist apparently) that a brighter and straighter smile just isn’t that important to me.

Day in and day out, I listen to people’s problems. Frankly, I’m kind of getting sick of it. Why? I looked at this feature today (for one). If you don’t have the time to look at it now, please do later. It’s a picture essay with documentary on the New York Times website. It’s not that people I talk to don’t have real problems, it’s just that they aren’t looked at with any sense of what’s peripheral and of what’s of great substance.

I’m getting sick of myself too. I’m getting sick of how I complain about not getting to eat what I want for dinner. I’m getting sick of how I complain about the air conditioner not working at work and having to endure 80 degree heat while I type away working on other people’s problems.

There seems to be so much more that’s important out there…

But how can I worry about that?
I need to purchase a $4.00 cup of coffee and Dr. Kim wants to straighten my teeth.