Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Checking in...

I have been working on a Christmas mix CD. It is rather tough to narrow some of these down, but here is what I have. I need to point out that I wanted to include the "Peace On Eearth/Little Drummer Boy" duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie but apparently Martha Stewart has bought the rights and you can only get it on iTunes if you buy an entire album of Christmas Cocktail Party Songs or something like that. Well, at this weird point in the cosmos where my tastes have coincided with those of Martha I have to put my foot down. Martha, I think you got railroaded on the whole insider trading deal, but give me a break. I will not buy an album for one song. That is what iTunes is all about (not the Hokey Pokey). I am afraid my list will just be incomplete. Otherwise, I think it is a good list. It is not all the songs I love but I love all these songs. I think it is an interesting mix of artists and styles, but I would still welcome any thoughts on something I may have overlooked. One other note: I love instrumental pieces, but I did not include them because the message already has a tough time being heard.

Let it Snow! Chicago
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Johnny Matthis
Angels We Have Heard on High "Palmy" of Veggie Tales
Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) U2
Twelve Days of Christmas Relient K
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Take 6
Go Tell it on the Mountain Steven Curtis Chapman
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas James Taylor
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Jackson 5
It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus Harry Connick, Jr.
Silent Night Mercy Me
Sleigh Ride The Carpenters
The Christmas Song Nat King Cole
Merry Christmas Baby Eric Clapton & Sheryl Crow
All I Want For Christmas Play
Wonderful Christmas Time Paul McCartney
O Holy Night Josh Groban
Joy to the World Broadway Inspirational Voices
White Christmas Aaron Neville
Auld Lang Syne Relient K

Go with me on the Veggie Tales song. It is awesome at any age and one of my favorites. Other than that, here are some other songs that got honorable mention: Christmas Tears, Eric Clapton; Christmas Blues, B.B. King; Merry Christmas From the Family, Robert Earl Keen; and more. Any glaring omissions?

I haven't been blogging much lately. All of my writing has been for the private audience of sadistic professors (you know who you are). I haven't even read a blog in at least a week and a half. I have had enough traveling to do lately during the holidays that it seems a waste to add ego trips to the mix. Yet that is what so many blogs have become. I think it is a little dangerous, frankly, to feed one's self esteem so freely. A fat ego is not a heathly one. So feel free to take your shots at me. I allow anonymous comments for this very reason. I think it is easier to keep my opinion of myself in check if I allow others to do it, too. This does not mean that personal attacks are appropriate, but I think you understand. I'll be back in a week or so, but in the mean time I may post some repeats. We'll see...

Monday, November 14, 2005

People I Know

I have a weird group of friends. They run from people who have no home down to millionaires who have several. Frankly, I am equally at ease around either end of the spectrum, but it is still really a strange mix when you think about it. Today, I would like to tell you about my friend Bill.

Bill and I have known each other for about three years, now. He has worked on the ranch during that time. To see him, you would think he is a crotchety old man in his 80's. He is actually a crotchety old man in his 50's. Missing one arm and several teeth, his appearance is one of someone who has had a tough life. So is his story. To hear him speak, he comes across as someone who is wary and often on the defensive. You probably would be, too.

Bill and I have gotten close during these years. He is my snake hunting buddy. I remember hearing stories about crazy ol' Bill before I met him. When I did get acquainted with him I told him I would like to watch him hunt rattlesnakes. I still remember his answer.

"Watch?" he yelled. "Hell! Ya ain't much good a-watchin'! If you're going you're gonna carry a bucket and a stick and catch some snakes!" I was instantly less enamored with the idea. Eventually I went, however, and now I really enjoy the insane hobby of rattlesnake hunting.

I have talked to Bill a few times about his faith. The first time I came away very ashamed. When I brought it up he said that he had, in fact, been baptized, but he had no real use for church. I let him explain at his own pace and a little later he did. He said that he had grown up very poor. Frankly, if you saw where lives even now this might have more impact. But anyway, he said that his grandparents raised him, his brother and his sister who had polio. He still remembers the day the preacher stopped them one day and told them they really needed to find some nicer clothes before they came back. They never went back. I can hardly blame them. I might be a little crotchety and defensive, too. When he was baptized it was in a muddy stock tank. He maintains that he still has yet to darken the door of a church service.

Bill was trouble incarnate as he grew up. He says he was always getting into fights. His main two reasons for fighting were people making fun of his disabled sister and people making fun of them for being poor. I can hardly blame him. I might be a little crotchety and defensive, too.

When Bill was 17 or 18 he had his arm torn off in an oil field accident. He had just gotten married, but that marriage failed shortly thereafter. I might be a little crotchety and defensive, too.

Bill is one quarter Cherokee but 100% outdoor mountain man. Even with one arm, he can make beautiful arrowheads, knives, hatchets and art from flint using the same methods the Indians used. He hunts and works with one arm better than most people do with two. He admits that he cannot tie his shoes, but that is the only thing he says his handicap keeps him from doing. Have you seen the latest styles in Velcro shoes? I might be a little crotchety and defensive, too.

Recently Bill had a rough couple of weeks. His wife and his mother both fell seriously ill and almost died. The same week, he wrecked his truck. I found a truck for him to use and he sure used it. He lives about 30 miles from Abilene but his wife was in the hospital here. His mom was in New Mexico. He did his best to take care of both. I visited him frequently while he waited in the hospital here. I also hauled his truck to Abilene for him and put it in a shop for repairs. In the course of all that I also told him I was praying for him. His response absolutely floored me. This is nearly a direct quote.

He said, "I know you are. And I know it's working. I can tell Jesus loves me and I love Him, too. Yesterday, drivin' the dozer I looked around and the sky was pretty and there were deer walkin' around and birds flyin' and I just stopped for probably 20 minutes and I prayed. I prayed about all this stuff that's been goin' on and my bad luck. I prayed for you, too, and about all the help you've been givin' me. I appreciate it more than you know." I tried hard to swallow a lump too big for my throat. "But I still ain't goin' to church with you."

Maybe my theology is wrong-headed, but I told him that was just fine with me. I figure his church is outside in the open spaces where he feels a relationship with God. It would never work to try to put that in a box.

A few weeks later I loaned Bill some money to help him out on a deal. Yesterday he brought me his first payment- in the form of two big bags of 50-cent pieces; two thousand of them. He said he had been collecting them for a long time and decided he didn't need them and wanted to start paying me back. I told him I was not in a hurry to be repaid, but he insisted. I've already decided I'm not going to deposit them. It just doesn't seem right to spend something that took him so long to collect. I'll just hold on to them until he misses them enough to take them back.

Anyway, that is an example of one member of my strange circle of friends. There is so much more I could tell about crazy ol' Bill, but it would take too long. So, like Inigo Montoya, "Let me sum up." Bill is the very type of person who often falls through the cracks, but in getting to know him I have learned a lot; about people, and about Jesus. And maybe, he's not so crotchety and defensive after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Smile, and the world smiles with you...

Does your mind wander during the sermon at church. Don't get me wrong. Mike is one of the best preachers around, but when I am at both services I start to daydream the second time around. And today's topic was somewhat racy. I have joked before that sometimes when I try to daydream my mind starts wandering, but that kind of happened today. For instance, I was sitting the pondering just how many pitch pipes might be in the Abilene landfill when I looked at the back cover of a book on sexual sin from which Mike was reading (I was sitting on the front row). The picture of the author was one wherein the writer seemed downright gleeful. So, my mind went to what makes us want to smile for pictures. Consider other book jackets, for example. Often the writers look very deep in thought, as though either pondering another passge in their book or going to the bathroom. Or what about school pictures? Michal Kate actually stuck her tongue out for one of her early pictures and we bought that package with more enthusiasm than if she had been a child model (That's what she usually looks like anyway). We just loved the memory of what a stinker she could be. And that's the point behind pictures, I guess. To capture memories. Which is why we smile, I suppose. We want to manipulate those memories more than we want to capture them. People threaten their kids with punishment if they don't smile. We are all familiar with the forced smiling brought on by saying "cheese." I just wonder what other things we might try to get people to take on a certain expression. That might be a fun experiment. Perhaps next time instead of a smile I'll try to get someone to give me "shocked." Maybe I could tell them how many pitch pipes are in the Abilene landfill.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Abilene High game in Brownwood last night was fun. Connor and his buddy, Blake, watched Napoleon Dynamite on the way there. I think it's safe to say they didn't get it.

By the way, did you know that Napoleon Dynamite was one of Elvis Costello's pseudonyms? Another tidbit from the Durringtonian College of Irrelevant Knowledge.

I'll miss next week's game, so they need to win it so I can catch the next one. I'm sure they'll honor my request.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


This entry may sound like it is from a soap box and some of it could be, but frankly a good bit of it is just me asking questions that might bug people. I really enjoy that sometimes. This happens to be one of those times.

Today I was walking through Sam’s Club minding my own business when I looked up to see an interesting statement on the back of the shirt worn by the man in front of me. It said:

Come as you are
Leave Different

I stopped and pondered this. We often say “Come as you are” but it seems like we don’t have many expectations about what happens after that. Just come. It almost seems as though we no longer expect any behavior change. Sure we acknowledge that Jesus wants our heart and we assume that once he truly has our heart that our behavior will follow, but we don’t talk about it any more. Perhaps we don’t want to scare anyone. It's not like anyone should change to be like me, nor anyone like me. After all, I am still working on not being like myself. But we never seem to suggest that our behavior is all that important anymore. We don’t much act like we care about anyone else's either.

For instance, even here on this blog I have talked favorably about third world debt forgiveness and the possible merits of “ONE.” However, is something like that enough? Do we think that our modern incarnation of Jubilee will be sufficient to fix major problems or just postpone them? Even Jubilee came around every seven years. Is it blasphemy to point out that under that system things returned to the way they had been in just seven years? Would the year of Jubilee have been necessary if the problems were fixed or might a preventative approach have had more staying power?

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that God is always willing to forgive me when I continually fail him, but if this is a constant recurrence does it not sound as though I may have become a vampire Christian- wanting Christ only for his blood but not willing to actually pursue a new way of life? Rather I should be sharing how Christ’s love has changed my life and how it can, in turn, change the lives of others. Further, consider the implications of this argument on topics like helping the homeless or other poor.

I despise the chasm between the wealthy and the poor. I not only hate the numbers but perhaps even more I hate the sentiment. The very notion that people will turn their backs on the legitimate needs of others is reprehensible. Sadly though, this sentiment is a thread that runs through all classes, not only the rich. Certainly, there are wealthy people who refuse to peer down from their ivory towers and consider others in need. But there are also members of the middle class who are clawing their collective way into those ivory towers rather than finding contentment and re-channelling those efforts to the benefit of others. Not only that, there are many among the poor who refuse to utilize their gifts and blessings and choose instead to live off assistance thereby denying aid to others who might truly need it.

Frankly, the notion of wealth redistribution is flawed both logically and in assuming the worst of people at each end of the spectrum. It assumes that we must force charity on those at the top of the income ladder and it assumes that all at the bottom are only worthy of a hand-out and not a hand.

Even if these factors were not in place, it is flawed because it is using the world’s most inefficient machine to do the task. For every dollar squeezed through the government machine, less than a dime makes it out the other end after all of the bureaucracy and money diverted to pork and campaign matching and on and on. Not exactly the definition of stewardship. Still, since the days of FDR over $5 trillion (yes, that trillion- with a “t”) has been fed into programs for the poor. If that had gone to a hand up instead of a hand out how could there possibly be any poor people left? Obviously, whatever we have been doing is not working. Maybe we should try some accountability. What if we actually helped out a single mother with children rather than supporting the sedentary lifestyle of a chronic system abuser? What if we actually provided rewarding employment assistance for someone who is disabled rather than for another bureaucrat? What if, instead of funding the elections of career politicians, we make careers possible for people seeking jobs from small businesses? What if?

The fact is it is much easier to toss someone a dime from a distance than it is to help them learn how to earn a dollar. We do not risk getting dirty or getting bogged down in relationships. Nor do we risk the frustration of expecting people to actually change their lives for the better. And isn’t that much cleaner and less disruptive of our own plans?

An old joke says that a woman marries a man expecting him to change and he doesn’t whereas a man marries a woman expecting that she won’t change and she does. Maybe that’s why we have collectively ignored the concept of change. Perhaps it’s just easier. I have heard a popular speaker in the emergent movement say that Jesus is about being- not behaving or becoming. Really? That's a much easier response than I was expecting. Still, I am glad that Christ has not given up on the idea. I still have some changing to do and precious little chance of getting it done. Christ extends his grace to cover that gap, but knowing that nobody else really has any expectations takes a lot of the pressure off.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wordsworth v. Skynyrd

Pursuant to a recent remark on materialism and also touched on by Stephen, I have in retrospect decided that Lynyrd Skynyrd might have hit upon it better than Wordsworth. Who would have thought? Consider these lyrics:

Mama told me, when I was young
Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely, to what I say.
And if you do this
It will help you some sunny day.

Ohh take your time... Don't live too fast,
Troubles will come, and they will pass.
Go find a woman and you'll find love,
And don't forget son,
There is someone up above.


And be a simple kind of man.
And maybe some day
You'll love and understand.
Baby be a simple kind of man.
Won't you do this for me son,
If you can?

Forget your lust for the rich man's gold
All that you need is in your soul,
And you can do this if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.


Boy, don't you worry... you'll find yourself.
Follow you heart and nothing else.
And you can do this if you try.
All I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied.


Perhaps this song uncovers a missing beatitude. In the middle of so many other blessings offered for traits that seem unattractive in today's society, it occurs to me that calling someone simple is not especially complimentary. But I think that there is merit to simplicity. To understand that "one thing" that Curly suggested in City Slickers may not be possible to many but to trust in that "one thing" could be our only hope rather than to pursue many "things." I may at times question or doubt, but ultimately satisfaction is unattainable unless I simply trust in that one thing. All things considered, I want to be a simple kind of man. I'll schedule some time to work on that when I get a few minutes.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For my birthday on Saturday I had class all day and then that evening I drove a hay ride in a circle for three hours. I am pretty sure that such a thing might be a redneck's dream of combining NASCAR and haulin' hay. It is at this point I realize I am probably not a redneck.

Trick or Treating was fun, but I think our kids enjoy "Boo-ing" people more. It is where we prepare treat bags which we then leave on someone's front porch before ringing the doorbell and running. Sometimes we will all dress in black and go running around in the dark like idiots but we have great memories. Besides, it's a nice way of reversing the "gimme" emphasis of Halloween. I highly suggest it.

We're getting closer to wrapping things up on the house across the street. The carpet upstairs goes in tomorrow. We went with wood downstairs. I am willing to show it if anyone is willing to look at buying it.

Holiday plans for my side of the family are vaporizing before our eyes. I understand that schedules are difficult to blend, but it gets challenging when then plans for 20 people revolve around one or two or they simply cannot be done.

I was impressed by the silence from the conservatives even when it looked like some of their main guys might be going down in flames. It stands in stark contrast to the character murder of Kenneth Starr. He is a good guy that did not deserve the treatment he received simply because he was assigned a task to perform.

Once again, I return to one of my favorite quotes:
"...Cause and effect are in God's hands. Is it not the part of faith simply to let them rest there? God is God. I dethrone him in my heart if I demand that he act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice... The one who laid the earth's foundations and settled its dimensions knows where the lines are drawn." -Elizabeth Elliott