Visit a Church/Stretch Your Mind

Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s good for your soul to attend a church of another denomination than your own. I grew up in a Baptist church. Now I don’t have anything against the Baptist church–well maybe a few things, but my point is there’s nothing wrong with the Baptist church that has driven me to explore other denominations. I guess you could say I’ve realized the richness of diversity.

Growing up in a Baptist church you have absolutely no idea what liturgy is. That’s what the sinning Catholics use because their church doesn’t stand for anything anymore so they have to fall back on something. Or at least that’s the impression you get in a Baptist church. Not that the impression is based on anything more than ignorance.

I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a fan of liturgy. But I’ve come to understand it a little better after attending a few services that follow liturgy. Okay, understand isn’t the best word. Perhaps appreciate. I really don’t understand liturgy. But there’s a certain peace to it. A certain unity. A certain comfort. I can definitely see downsides to those, but now I can also see a positive side.

You also have no idea what church history is. I read the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed for the first time in a world history course in college. Apparently some liturgical churches recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday. What a concept: sitting down and writing out the tenets of the Christian faith in a such a short form. I bet very few Baptists could do that successfully.

It seems to stretch your mind a little bit when you walk into a church that sees God a little bit differently. They don’t use grape juice, they use wine. They don’t sit in padded pews, they kneel. They may seem like minor differences, and really they are, but when you’re talking about God above, this universal concept that so few of us seem to get close to right, a change of pace a change of perspective can be a good thing. It helps sharpen your mind, sharpen your faith, sharpen your understanding of the Spirit.

The Worship Industry

I’m getting really irritated at the way every Christian artist has suddenly felt the desire to come out with a worship album. It started as a cool trend where everyone was getting into worship music and it seemed like a soul stretching experience. But not it’s just getting out of hand. Not only are there more money-sucking praise compilations than ever before, but every artist is jumping on the bandwagon and pumping out a worship CD.

Maybe it’s good that worship is a part of so many artists’ lives, but it’s really odd that they suddenly decide to let it out now. “Oh, we’ve always done worship. That’s why we’re doing an album now.” It’s just a coincidence that a worship album will make you a lot of money.

I think it started with Petra in the late 1980s with Petra Praise. Then it started up again when Delirious? released their 2-disc set of worship music. Petra came back with Petra Praise 2 and then the Insyderz came out with Skalleluia, and the worship movement was on. Since then everyone’s been pumping out worship music left and right.

There was Michael W. Smith’s Exodus project, the City on a Hill project, Third Day’s Offerings, Waterdeep’s Enter the Worship Circle, Delirious? came back with Glo and the Insyderz were back for more with Skalleluia 2. Then came complete “worship” bands like Circadian Rhythm and Sonicflood and artists like Matt Redman and Lincoln Brewster. There’s even been a reactionary worship album from Justin McRoberts. This week both Michael W. Smith and Caedmon’s Call announced that they’d be releasing worship albums in the fall, and I’ve heard rumors that Rebecca St. James will follow suit (the source? Rebecca herself during an interview during GMA Week).

And the ultimate sign that worship is becoming it’s own genre? The crappy local bands are now styling themselves as worship bands, cranking out yet more versions of the popular worship tunes.

Call me a cynic, but this is a little much. It feels like God is easily forgotten in all the $14.99 CDs and $18 concert tickets.

More Than Meets the Eye

It amazes me what passes off for entertainment for children. Tonight I watched (don’t ask why) Transformers the Movie, which was the equivalent of The Pokemon Movie in 1986. Do you have any idea how stupid the movie was? I can’t believe I thought it was cool. I was such a dork. The best part was the synthesized soundtrack, featuring Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

Look under the cap to see if you’re a winner.

That’s what they say when it’s late at night and hot as hell. You can feel your skin melt and your body shut down. You look to the night air for comfort but only find stifling, sweltering heat.

What does a snow leopard think of living in 95 degree summers? What does a giraffe think of living in sub-zero winters? What does the polar bear think of the preschool class that comes to watch it sit and wonder if it’s gonna drink a Coke? Does the zoo keeper think of the animals behind the bars or is the zoo keeper just entertaining the animals in front of the bars?

It’s all a zoo. Or maybe a circus.

If you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself. But you can’t conquer the world with a one-person army. Contradiction is the cradle of life.

Grassroots manipulation by a big conglomeration. Is anything for real? Or is all just a big show? I want to change the world. That’s what we all say. But some flash in the pan from east Texas writes a novel and makes it big on CNN, gets his 30 seconds sound byte and the world is a better place for having seen him come and go.

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, it’s the search of today, and maybe we’ve found it and maybe we haven’t. And maybe you should just drink your Pepsi and look under the cap to see if you’re a winner.

Please try again.

Sedgewick at the Duck Farm

He saw her from the other side of the creek. She was sitting at a lone bench on the deserted side of the creek at the duck farm. At least that’s what Sedgewick always called the little barn and farm house with the duck pond and creek and the little antique shop that sold old fashioned candy to the sugar-loving little kids in the neighborhood.

Sedgewick was going for a walk that Saturday morning, and he just happened to head towards the secluded little duck farm. He liked to watch the ducks cavorting around the little converted chicken coup and then waddle down to the creek and paddle around the lazily swirling water. He especially liked to see the fuzzy little baby ducks, and even more than that he liked to watch the excited mothers and their even more excited little daughters as they cooed and fussed over the baby ducks.

But it was still fairly early for a Saturday morning and the subdued crowds the duck farm usually saw on June Saturdays hadn’t shown up yet. So Sedgewick had the farm to himself. Except for the young girl sitting by herself on the lone bench on the far side of the creek.

Her deep brown eyes were watching the dark creek water swirl around rocks and debris, carrying honking little ducks further downstream. Her face was contorted, her eyebrows scrunched together, giving herself a uni-brow. She didn’t smile when the ducks pecked at each other or climbed out of the creek and shook themselves like river-soaked dogs.

Her brown hair was pulled back in two, tight ponytails, the kind of hairdo a giddy teenager would wear to school on a lark. Sedgewick had a feeling it was left over from yesterday and she hadn’t bothered to do something different this morning.

Sedgewick watched the ducks a while longer, but his eyes kept returning to the lone girl. After several minutes of this he couldn’t stand it any more, and wandered over to the rickety bridge. He crossed slowly, pausing in the middle to watch a duck swim under the bridge and take another glance at the girl. He had been fiddling with a weed he’d picked up somewhere along the way and finally tossed it to the wind and watched it fall into the creek and then turn over in the water and twirl around a rock and disappear under the dark, clear water of the creek.

He stepped over to the other side and stopped a short ten feet from the lone bench. The other side of the creek was secluded and quiet. There was a small patch of mowed grass and the lone bench and that was it. An old chain-link fence swallowed up by brush and vines and bushes edged the small mowed area, and beyond the fence was a swath forest that looked dark and dreary but sheltered the duck farm from the noisy traffic and congestion.

Sedgwick watched the girl for a few moments, than took another few steps forward. She didn’t notice his presence, but kept her eyes locked on a dark swirling pool of water. Sedgewick paused again, feeling very self conscious about approaching someone he didn’t know, especially a young teenage girl.

He didn’t exactly know what he was going to do or what he was going to say, and now the terror of not knowing started to build in the back of his throat. She looked so lonely, so scared, so full of hurt and something that pulled at her stomach like a cramp. Sedgewick could almost read the pain in her face, in that furled brow, and he knew he had to do something, to say something. He didn’t know what was wrong, what had caused a young girl to come to the lonely side of the creek and sit by herself so early on a Saturday morning without doing her hair or even bothering with anything like that.

Sedgewick realized she not only hadn’t done her hair, it was still wispy and crumpled from sleeping, but she was also wearing her pajamas. She wore a pair of scrub pants like doctors wear and an old faded T-shirt that was yellowing from age. There was a pair of worn, crusted sandals on the ground next to her, and her bare feet were digging in the soft mud, turning her pasty white toes black. Her face was red and blotchy, she had a few undisguised zits, and her eyes were red and puffy. She’d been crying.

Sedgewick noticed all of this and wanted to offer this hurting girl what he could. He stepped forward again, this time slower than he had before. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried the best he could.

“Hi,” he said, hesitation filling his voice. A tear streamed down the girl’s face as she broke her gaze and looked over towards the voice. She saw an older guy standing there, probably the same age as some of the seniors she knew at school. His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his baggy, faded, and torn jeans, his scrubby tennis shoe was pawing at the ground. His face was soft and gentle, sort of friendly but in a mysterious way. Yesterday’s five o’clock shadowed disguised his baby face. His eyes were deep and he was chewing on his lip. It wasn’t exactly the kind of face her and her friends swooned over. It wasn’t the kind of face she used to cut out of magazines and plaster to her bedroom wall. But there was a smile of sorts in that face, and eyes that looked deep into hers, eyes that looked into her heart and somehow could see the pain that was swallowing her whole. She didn’t say anything, but tried to blink away the tears.

“I-I was watching the ducks,” Sedgewick started, gesturing to the other side of the creek. “And I saw you sitting over here… by yourself. I thought maybe you needed something.” It was a lot for Sedgewick to get out. He finished as quickly as he could and bit his lip, waiting for her response.

But she didn’t say anything for a moment. She just looked at him, studying him, trying to keep herself in this moment instead of slipping back into her memories like she’d been doing all morning. This was the very duck farm where she’d been kissed for the first time. Jackson Davis kissed her in the summer after sixth grade on this very bench when the sun was going down and the moon was coming up like a giant melon. She’d thought to herself that any girl would want to kiss a guy named Jackson, but Jackson would only kissed her that summer.

Of course when her and her little pack of friends strolled out of Henry H. Miller Junior High School on the first day of the year she watched Jackson necking with another girl and she cried and dropped her books and ran home to the comfort of her mother.

She came back to this moment in time to feel a tear roll off her cheek and land in the middle of a growing wet spot on her pajamas. Sedgewick saw that tear fall and it triggered a memory back in the depths of his mind, a memory of lone tear falling from his grandmother’s face.

“My grandfather died when I was seven.”

Unlike his previous stuttering speech, Sedgewick managed to say these words with a little more confidence, a little more assurance. The girl noticed it, and looked up to meet his eyes when he began speaking.

“I was raised by my grandma and grandpa, it was just me and them. But one night when I was seven years old I couldn’t sleep and I dragged my blanket into my grandparents’ bedroom and I was going to crawl into bed with them. The moon illuminated their room and I could see my grandfather sitting and rocking in the corner. He couldn’t sleep either and he motioned me over and then pulled me up into his warm, comforting lap. I burrowed my face in his chest. I could smell his Old Spice deodorant. I fell asleep almost immediately and awoke to the warm rays of the morning sun and my grandmother’s face. I remember the look on her face like it was only yesterday. Grief and pain clouded her eyes. But she smiled as my eyes slowly opened, a smile that knew pain and loss and joy and love. She carried me downstairs and we sat down in another chair and rocked and rocked and rocked.”

Sedgewick wasn’t looking at the girl anymore, but was staring at the dark creek water. He had never told anyone this story, and he couldn’t believe it was flowing from his lips like the call and response at church. The girl hadn’t taken her eyes of Sedgewick.

“My grandfather died that night while I slept in his lap.” A single sob rolled through the girl as Sedgewick finished. He stood there silently, still staring at the water, and the girl continued to stare at him.

“I don’t know why you’re sitting here by yourself, staring at the water, but I guess I thought you needed to know that,” Sedgewick said, trying to figure out why he had told this stranger his story. He felt naked and exposed. He pulled his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms, trying to hide his percieved nakedness. He looked away from the water, but still didn’t want to meet her grief-filled eyes.

Instead his eyes fell on a fiery yellow dandelion growing in a tuft of grass on the edge of he creek. The girl noticed it too, and lowered her gaze to the dandelion. Sedgewick slowly stepped forward, and then crouched down, his knees feeling the cold earth through his jeans, and he plucked the dandelion and looked at it.

“You just looked so lonely, and I wanted you to know that you’re not,” Sedgewick said. He didn’t know what else to say, and he had a feeling it wasn’t his place to sit there on the bench with her and be a shoulder to cry on. He had been that shoulder for friends in the past, and needed such a shoulder himself. But a stranger is never the person you turn to for such comfort. And so he knew that he could only impart so much, and what he did impart would serve this girl better if he left it at that.

So he handed her the dandelion, and she gingerly took it, and then watched him walk away, back across the rickety bridge, past the waddling ducks and the farm house, past the barn and back towards the road and back to where ever it was he’d come from.

When he was finally gone she looked down to the fiery yellow dandelion. It was the color of a bright yellow crayon, the kind she used to use to draw pictures of dandelions for her mother. For the first time that morning she smiled. The hole of grief and pain became a little smaller, and she noticed the ducks and the sparkling patch of sun in the creek.

The smile spread as the tears started flowing, warm tears that were full of a deep hurt and a deep love at the same time. That morning her mother had finally succumb to a long battle with cancer and died.

Familial Roles Rant

Whenever I want to get angry I go to my favorite rant-enducing website, (the Focus on the Family website for college students). And I can say that, because they blacklisted me. Apparently our worldviews are fundamentally opposed. That’s what they told me when I disagreed with them on population control. I thought it was a minor issue where civilized people agree to disagree. Apparently you just blacklist each other.

Anyway, today I felt like getting riled up, so I wandered over to Boundless to see what was brewing. As usual, they had something annoying. This week it was a reader’s response to an article. These are my favorite, because it’s proof that I’m not the only person who thinks they’re nuts.

Earlier this year Boundless did an article on motherhood and how it’s important for college women to think about staying home with their children rather then putting them in daycare. It’s a worthy topic. Someone wrote in complaining about several things in the article and the author wrote back with a snooty little defense of the original article. Here’s a sample that hints at what riled me up:

“First, you say that I never mention ‘the option of the husband staying at home with the children. There are many Christian males that have decided to stay at home with their children while their wives earn the family’s income.’ Actually, very few husbands do this. This may not seem fair, but it is reality. Better, I think, to plan for what is statistically probable, than for the possibility that you will be one of the few who find a husband willing to stay home with the kids.”

What bothers me about this whole discussion of parenting is that it’s a discussion of motherhood, not parenting. Fathers are basically left completely out of the discussion. Apparently we’re not very likely to stay home with the children, so that’s not worth discussing. Apparently fathers don’t count. Apparently fathers have no responsibility in this discussion. Apparently the father’s only role is to bring home the bacon. Coaching T-ball is optional.

Since when was parenting strictly a mother’s domain? Do fathers simply bring home the bacon, pay the bills, and mow the lawn? Is that my role in life? Am I only supposed to play with my kids on the weekend? Shouldn’t I be considering my career options with child care in mind? Why is it that only the mother is expected to choose between a career and her children? Apparently Daddy knows best just keeps his nose in the office and smiles and nods approvingly, maybe giving stern looks if necessary, and if things are really bad whips off the belt for a little corporal punishment. Welcome to the Focus on the Family world. No thanks.

One of these days (and it will be sooner than I like) my wife and I will want to have kids. We’re going to have to make that decision about what to do with our children. And quite honestly, I want to be involved in this decision. And not just in the “Yes dear,” approach that willingly submits to one of two options–daycare or stay-at-home mom. There’s more options than that. There’s more than two ways to raise a child. I could–gasp–stay at home. Abby and I could alternate days or even years. We could both work part time jobs. We could even make my mother’s day and move in next door to her (don’t hold your breath, mom).

All I’m saying is that raising children is not simply a mother’s domain. It takes two to have a child, and it takes two to raise a child. It really bothers me that Focus on the Family, of all organizations, decides to leave the father completely out of the picture.

Some days I’m really glad they told me they wouldn’t publish my writing.

Botched Left Turn

Their eyes met and they were stuck in a moment that yearned to stretch into eternity. The girl was maybe 12 or 13. She was riding shotgun in beat up pickup truck, an older, graying man who must have been her father was driving. He had turned left off a side street, pulling out in front of traffic from both directions, and quickly pulling in line next to the bus Sedgewick was riding.

As soon as the father pulled out he realized he hadn’t looked either way and he hesitated, but then it was too late so he floored it, but then he regained his sense and checked the traffic again, which only allowed him to know just how badly he was cutting someone off. The girl smiled and rolled her eyes in a way only a pre-teen girl could do; a girl who wasn’t yet totally embarrassed at the very thought of her parents, a girl who liked to smile and laugh and go swimming all day long and into the night when the mosquitoes would feed on you every time a square inch of bare skin appeared above the water.

Sedgewick watched the whole botched left turn and then suddenly met the girl’s sparkling eyes as the truck pulled alongside the bus. They looked at each other for a moment, and the moment stretched beyond a casual glance to the point where they both realized the other person was starring. The girl smiled and kept looking at Sedgwick, a head and shoulders slouched in the bus window, just above the TCF Bank banner on the side of the bus.

She seemed to know why Sedgewick was starring–the fact that her father had just made a really dumb driving blunder–and she took this with the same lighthearted joy that she took her father’s poor driving. Sedgewick noticed that a school was on the side street the truck had pulled out from, and he figured her father must have been picking her up from some after school activity, drama or maybe volleyball or something.

She was young, but her black hair framed her freckled fair skin and glowing smile in a way that seemed beautiful and mature. She wore a white shirt, not the cheap undershirt kind, but a dressier one that accentuated her budding breasts.

After their eyes had been together for more than a simple glance, for more than a moment, and on into just plain starring–a time long enough to exchange a volume of information–the girl looked over her shoulder to see for herself just how bad her father had cut off some poor rush hour driver. Her laugh increased when she saw the slowing car and its gesturing driver, and her eyes swept back to the road ahead, taking in the lone bus rider who had locked eyes for a tender moment.

Sedgewick watched her the whole time, his tired face slowly easing into a smile after the truck pulled away.

Unrequited Lust

Being an 18-year-old male had its disadvantages. As Sedgewick walked up to the bus stop, or just about anywhere for that matter, he couldn’t help but notice every semi-attractive female. With one sweep his eyes took in who was at the stop, if he knew them, if he recognized them, if they were new to the stop.

There was the college professor with his handbag. He always came to this stop or the next one, probably walking down to this one if he had the time, too impatient to wait at the farther stop. On the bus he read from a Greek book and got off at the University campus.

There was the big guy with the black gym bag. He always showed up just after the bus pulled up, and joined the tale end of the line of bus riders just as it snaked its way on to the bus. He went all the way downtown.

There were always a few other hangers-on, people who never showed up regularly, who might be there three days in a row and then never again. The semi-attractive women were always in this bunch, as if they changed their routes every day to stop strange men from stalking them. Sedgewick thought that seemed like a decent plan.

There was one girl who had been at the bus stop all week. She walked down 3rd street, just like Sedgewick, although never at the same time. She was always waiting at the bus stop when Sedgewick came strolling up. She got off at the University, a stop before the professor. On Tuesday she was reviewing flash cards, and Sedgewick guessed she was a student taking a summer class.

He noticed that she was something to look at. She wasn’t one of the girls that attracted whistles and long stares, but she was soft on the eyes, with subtle curves hidden under the blouse and pants.

Sedgewick always smiled and nodded to her, just like he did to every other stranger he met. He always felt like people needed to be more friendly, and a smile and nod was about as far as he could go without breaking the social norms that kept him from going up to total strangers and asking for their life story, which was something Sedgewick would love to do.

But when he nodded and smiled at this girl, he meant it. He so wanted to talk to her, find out her name, what class she was taking, where on 3rd street she lived. But he imagined it was a little spooky to be hit on by a total stranger at the bus stop. Sedgewick himself had heard one too many horror stories from scared mothers. He wasn’t about to become one of those stories.

And so his unrequited lust continued.

Drunk or Sober?

That’s what I was thinking as I walked along the concrete sidewalk, my eyes lazily flirting this way and that. I watched the water drip from an air conditioner and saw the torn and ragged canvas overhangs from abandoned and empty apartment windows.

“Get off the road, you drunk.” At least that’s what I thought when I saw the middle-aged guy in a stained wife-beater standing five feet from the corner yelling into his cell phone. The walk sign flashed, and as I crossed the street he clicked the phone off and looked at me like a long lost friend.

“Well how about that!” he shouted, “look at this weather!” And he spread his arms to the world around him, as if he’d just ordered a sunny day with 70 degree temps and little humidity on the side. I nodded and said quietly, “Yeah, it’s a nice day.”

I could never tell anymore if people were drunk or not. One day on the city bus I started talking to this crazed drunk Marine. Of course I didn’t know he was drunk. I probably figured he was crazed, but that didn’t stop me. By the time I realized he was drunk it was too late and he was jabbering about his favorite author, Mario Puzo, this Italian Shakespeare. The entire bus laughed to themselves at the kid foolish enough to talk to a drunk man.

Since then I’ve thought everyone who’s a little loud or a little crazy was drunk. Sometimes we’re all drunk. I watched wife-beater man walk down the middle of the street, gesturing this way and that towards a few other pedestrians, and I wasn’t sure if they were friends or acquaintances or just passersby.