Visiting Charlotte

I just got back from Charlotte, North Carolina. If I had to sum up the trip in one word, it’d be y’all.

Believe it or not, y’all actually means “you all” in the local dialect. As in, “What would y’all like to drink?” or the possive form “Can I take y’all’s order?” The most frustrating part of my trip was translating the local dialect into a form of English I could understand. The southern drawl actually drawls so much that the words run together into a sort of mumble, similar to how I’m often accused of speaking. It seems we could all learn to enunciate. I found myself starring blankly at many a waiter and waitress, for the life of me not understanding a word they said. I often tried to fake it by nodding my head in agreement, but that seldom works when you’re asked what y’all want to drink.

Before signing off for the evening, I’d just like to clarify that I mean no ill-will toward the southern dialect. They probably had just as hard of a time understanding me. I’m simply pointing out the differences in accent and the confusion it causes, something that can make you quickly relate to a foreigner to whom English is a second language. Too often people hear accents and quickly assign a persona to the dialect they hear. I would suggest this is nearly a form of racism that somehow assumes a certain dialect corresponds with an IQ or standing in society. Learn to appreciate differences, don’t just laugh at something different from you. When everything’s the same you get a pretty boring room. Okay, I’m done now.

Lost in the Music

The April snow fell all day long, turning to a fine drizzle by the time the bars closed. All the while I was lost in exceptional music, nodding my head and tapping my foot, letting my mind drift to thoughts of a 16 year old girl who thinks she’s wiser than her years, a couple that’s not officially a couple but blessed with a child, a girl who cries for help but all people can seem to do is nod and smile. I thought of the man who asked for a fucking quarter, and how I shrugged my shoulders and kept walking, thinking that I didn’t have a quarter, and even if I did, it was just a plain quarter–not a fucking quarter. I thought about grace and mercy wearing flesh, and what that means to the man on the street, to the woman bringing my Coke, to the pretentious college student that used to be me, except I’m not a college student anymore. I love getting lost in music. If you can truly slip away and forget where you are it’s worth more than the price of admission.

Introspective thoughts courtesy of Trace.

I lost my cat tonight.

I got a cat tonight. For about ten minutes. My wife and I went for a walk and we stumbled upon this black cat. We kept walking and the cat started following us. It followed us for four or five blocks and around three corners. I named it El Gato and it was our cat. Then a dog sitting in a window started barking at El Gato, and El Gato decided to stare the dog down. We kept walking and El Gato never caught up. I lost my cat tonight. I’m very sad.

Worshipping What Sells

The worship parade needs to stop. The recent trend in Christian music where every artist suddenly spends a vastly higher percentage of their time singing worship songs is nauseating. Now there’s nothing wrong with worshipping God. What I have a problem with is milking a marketing trend.

Worship albums are successful right now, and putting out an album motivated by profit potential that’s supposed to be worship to God is just wrong. It’s bad enough that we blur the line between Christian business and Christian ministry.

My absolute favorite are the bands that do nothing but worship. Sonicflood performed during a chapel at work today. Sonicflood is a band entirely dedicated to the worship trend. They do worship music. They sing the same worship songs everyone else does, and that’s all they do. They don’t even do it better than everyone else. Today’s concert was dull.

In the Psalms it says to sing a new song. So why are we still singing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”? It’s a great song, but worshipping God is not about what makes us happy or what makes us feel good. I may love that song, but my opinion doesn’t matter. We’re talking about worshipping God, and what I think of the song I’m singing doesn’t matter. If I’m more attentive or more passionate because it’s a song that I happen to like, then I’m focusing more on what I want than what God wants. That’s not worship. When you’re worshipping the focus should never be on my likes or dislikes.

That’s the problem with the worship trend. It’s not based on what God wants, it’s based on what sells.

The Summer I Started Listening to U2

That summer my life changed. I wouldn’t say that summer changed my life, only that my life changed during that season. I was on my own for the first time in my life. I was a few months into a new relationship, one that would eventually lead to marriage, and a few months out of another, longer relationship.

“When you stop seeing beauty / You start growing old … I lost myself in the summer rain,” (Summer Rain)

I was working at what would one day become my vocation, for the first time in my life. I was doing something that mattered to me, not just stacking frozen peas. I was also learning what it’s like to earn a living, knowing the value of a hard earned dollar, and what it’s like to go hungry because you’re poor. Not that I starved that summer, that’d be overstating it. I simply learned what it’s like to live with only enough food to survive. Snacks didn’t fit in the budget. I endured heat stroke, playing the crowd for another two bits.

“Like a preacher stealing hearts / In a traveling show / For love or money, money, money,” (Desire).

My grandparents celebrated 50 years of marriage that summer, while my parents celebrated their roughly 25 years together by separating. When I finally came home that summer it was to help my mom move out.

“Trenches dug within our hearts / And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart,” (Sunday, Bloody Sunday).

My home church started to fall apart that year, too. Back stabbing and gossip and pride and who knows what else sunk their teeth into our little congregation and tempers flared, people left, and I was left wondering from afar what happened to Christian love.

“Yeah I’d break bread and wine / If there was a church I could receive in / ’cause I need it now,” (Acrobat), and then “please…please… please get up off your knees,” (Please).

That summer I discovered public transportation and pleasure reading, and what a perfect pair the two make. That was also the summer I started listening to U2.

“I’m wide awake. / I’m not sleeping. / Oh, no, no.” (Bad)

The Grown-Up Version of Life

Spring has finally sprung. When you can don your shorts and shake the dust of your Schwinn, you know winter has left the building.

So what’s going on with the world? I read two articles in Time magazine (1, 2)this week about women deciding when to have children. Do you put your career first, or your family? I read the articles with detached amusement. I thought they’d have something decent to say, something applicable to my own life. A year out of college, fitting in comfortably to work, thoughts about family starting to drift in. But instead the articles turned a deaf ear.

The first assumption the article made was that only women have to deal with the choice of when to have children. The entire article dealt with women putting their lives on hold to have a family. The article never mentioned that men are also involved in this choice. I always thought that’s what a family was. Just because the wife gets pregnant doesn’t mean she’s the only one with a choice. And just because the man’s a man doesn’t mean he can’t put his life on hold for a family.

And that’s another thing. Putting your life on hold for a family? Putting your career on hold for a family? What is this, some kind of race to see who can get to the financially well endowed line first? If you come in with kids you get a bonus, but not quite as much if you make CEO by the time you’re 40. Is this the grown up version of Life, by Milton Bradley?

My life is a cohesive unit. Nothing waits for anything else, and there is no mark of happiness I’m trying to reach. There is no financial ladder I feel compelled to climb, there is no chart of success that I look to. There is no career timeline that I will lay my life down to follow. I will do work that I enjoy, make the money I need to live, and raise a family to love with my whole heart. If that means I don’t get to be managing editor, that’s fine by me. A title doesn’t make me who I am. If that means I have to go back to stocking the freezer aisle, that’s fine by me. I will enjoy it. A man’s position in society does not determine his worth.

Maybe it shouldn’t amaze me that Time magazine missed women’s lib. In my house we both wash the dishes. In my house we’ll both change diapers. And in my house either one of us will gladly stay home from work to take care of our children. That’s not putting anything on hold. That’s prioritizing. And if I decide to go back to work when my kids go to school, I don’t have to play catch up. Catch up to what? If I go back to work it will be because I like the job and I need to make money to provide for my family. I won’t climb your corporate ladder for the sake of climbing your ladder. Maybe it shouldn’t amaze me that Time magazine thinks life is really the game of Life.

I won’t play your game.

In Time magazine they tell you to look ahead to where you want to be when you’re 45 and plan your life back accordingly. 45? Excuse me, I’m 22. There’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. It’s a smart thing to do. But there’s a problem when you live your life like the world owes you something. 45 isn’t promised to you. 23 isn’t even promised to you. Live your life for today, and let tomorrow worry about itself. Somehow we think we can plan ourselves into eternity. But then you can’t get pregnant, or your first born gets run down by a drunken driver. Then where are you at when you’re 45?

That’s how people get divorced. They focus so hard on life at 45 that they forget today. They spend all day at work and the marriage disintegrates. All the while they’re looking forward to living it up in middle age. Middle age assumes you’ve been promised 70. You weren’t promised anything.

Count your cards because they’re coming up short. You think it’s all in the bank, but in reality you’re a big disgrace. This world is not my home, and I shouldn’t get too comfortable.

I am a Pharisee

Why is the modern church such a miserable failure? Jesus would shake the dust from his feet, call us whitewashed sepulchers, and weep. But for some reason we don’t realize it. We think we’re Jesus’ happy followers, when really we’re nothing but Pharisees.

I’ve known much of this, but for some reason it’s never sunk in. Recently I’ve been reading a few books that have smacked me upside the head with the revolutionary idea of what Christianity is really about (The Jesus I Never Knew, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, and What’s So Amazing About Grace?). I’ve known that Christians are surprisingly like Pharisees, but it’s never sunk in. I’ve never realize how much of a Pharisee I am.

Christ didn’t come to condemn the world, he came to save it. Yet Christians spend their time condemning the world, picketing gays and bombing abortion clinics. Jesus said let he who is without sin cast the first stone, but we’re already laying blame, effectively hurling rocks on our own heads. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Anything less is sin. The bar’s pretty high and obvious that we’re all sunk. That’s the point. Yet we decide that some sins are okay, and some are definitely not. Having a beer is not good, but being overweight is okay. Premarital sex is a big no-no, but divorce is okay. Listening to secular music is not good enough, but being greedy is just fine.

The church has fallen so short of the glory of God. And that’s okay. We’re human. We’re supposed to fall short. Unfortunately we try to reach the glory of God on our own, and in turn rely on amazing pride instead of amazing grace. It should break our hearts that when someone turns away from God, they’re so often turning away from a Christian who is more Pharisee-like than Christ-like. If only that person who turned away knew that Jesus flipped over tables because of the very same thing that turned them off.