22 June 2009

Dear Lucas

My twin brother (Jason) holding Lucas
Kara's creative genius at work

His first Tigers hat

Kara made my first Father's Day a memorable one (as you can see from the previous two images). Here's part of the sermon from yesterday (Lucas's uncle Duncan held him on stage while I spoke this blessing over Lucas).



Dear Lucas,

You were born in a fascinating time, 2009. This is the year America swore in its first ever Black President. The Red Wings almost one another Stanley Cup and the Pistons learned how hard it is to replace a leader. North Korea is . . . well . . . being North Korea. Cold Play continues to dominate the music charts and television continues to put out better material than movies (when you are older I’ll tell you about a guy named Jack Bauer). Oprah still rules the world despite the fact that Al Gore invented the Internet. America is in the midst of two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan). Jay Leno is no longer the host of The Tonight Show. John Updike (famous writer), Chuck Daly (former coach of my favorite basketball team, the Detroit Pistons), Paul Harvey (America’s storyteller) and Hellen Suzman (Civil Rights advocate from South Africa) all died in 2009. It’s been an interesting year. What a time to be born!

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Christianity on the whole continues to struggle in the U.S. while the faith flourishes in South America (Pentecostal Roman Catholicism), parts of Asia and Africa (which now has more Christians than the U.S.). By the time you turn twenty-five, there might be less than 50 million Christians in the United States.

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I can’t wait to teach you to throw a two-seam fastball, how to defend someone who’s faster than you in basketball, the proper way to shave, the definition of a good book, the power of film, how to tell a story, and what it means to be dedicated servant. But more than all of those things, I have some specific prayers I bring to God on your behalf. These are the things that matter most to me. I hope this is a blessing to you as you grow in God’s Big World.


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I pray you will know God as your abba father. The Psalmist tells us that you were “fearfully and wonderfully made” Lucas. The Psalmist also tells us that God knew you in your mother’s womb. God is so passionate about you he has your name, not your initials because God cares about the details of life—God has your name tattooed on the palm of your hands. “Father” is Jesus’ chief metaphor for God. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he refers to God as “father” (abba) fifteen times. In his day, that was as scandalous as describing God as our “mother” today. The point was not so much about gender as an all-loving God who is interested in the details of our lives. There’s nothing you can do to cause me to love you more. There’s nothing you can do to cause me to love you less. No matter where you go, or what you do, I promise that I will try to be the kind of father who points you toward the Father Jesus so beautifully embodied.


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I pray you will, as a result of knowing God as father, have Sunday eyes, loving people without conditions. You are entering a world that is drunk on division. We try to divide and create tribes for any possible reason. You will be tempted to allow racism, sexism; classism, elitism, and bias enter into your heart. Those attitudes are not from God for God has no “grandchildren” or “stepchildren”—only children created in his image. Friday eyes see people for who they are. Sunday eyes allow you to see people for who will one day become. Paul said that when we are immersed in the Jesus Story we are a new creation, therefore we see others in a completely new light. I will try to model this in front of you as I interact with others.

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I pray you will be a risk-taker. If you want to be a concert pianist, be the best concert pianist you can be. If you want to build homes in Trujillo, Honduras, be the best carpenter you can be. If you want to practice medicine, do so with every ounce of energy. Whatever you do, don’t play it safe or give in to the societal pressures to “have it all” and live the “American dream.” Whatever you do, do it as if you are doing it for Jesus himself. I promise to not be the dad who lives my dreams through you . . . Even if that means I give up sports to learn the intricacies of concert pianists.



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I pray you will possess a deep humility. You are entering a world under siege. Evil and sin do not reside “out there” among “them.” Rather, the Bible teaches us that evil runs right through the middle of us. As you grow older, you will make mistakes. You will make choices that will hurt yourself and others. The more you own your secrets and scars the less your secrets and scars will own you. Jesus teaches us to be the same person in secret as we are in public. His brother was so moved by this teaching he told a group of Christians that “confessing sins to each other” was vital in the spiritual life (James 5:16). I promise to emulate this by sharing my own shortcomings with you.

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I bless you today with every ounce of fiber inside of me. As you grow in God’s big world may you come to know that you will only find rest when you rest in God. May you become the person God dreamed you to be when he gave you to your mother and I. God’s gift to you is your life. What you choose to do with your life is a gift back to him. I will never be the same because of your presence in my life.



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Peace,





Dad



P.S. I know the "---" are not grammatically correct but it's the only way I could format the page for blogger. If blogger no longer exists by the time you are old enough to care, I tell you more about it.

20 June 2009

Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University

One of my alma maters, Lipscomb University, is hosting the Christian Scholars' Conference in Nashville Thursday through Saturday. The conference's focus is "the power of narrative." Thus, the speaker line-up (Locke, Robinson, Taylor, and Collins) reads like Cabrera, Pujols, Fielder, and Jeter for baseball fans. 

The largest newspaper in Tennessee did a fantastic piece on the conference recently. Click here to read the entire piece. Here's a snippet.

Those who equate religion with guilt and repression will welcome recent surveys that chart declines in traditional faith.

But religion's decline, if it happens, means other grand narratives must pick up the slack. What will emerge to infuse life and civilization with meaning if the old spirituality recedes?

Society flirts now with the removal of a whole set of ancient coordinates — belief in the soul, the power of blessing, the wisdom of the past, the mystery of an invisible God who oversees history, and a moral code that respects inwardness, practices courtesy and condemnsCheck Spelling cruelty.

If those fade, then what? The world scrambles to find replacements — conspiracy theories, anti-semitism, the dream of winning the lottery or becoming a high-maintenance celeb. Science becomes the new faith.

Writer Marilynne Robinson says that won't work.


If you think this focus sounds interesting, you need to make plans to attend another Lipscomb Conference led by David Fleer in October. I'm proud that my alma mater is taking the task seriously to incorporate the story of God into the emerging cultural landscape. 

19 June 2009

Life and Art



Stephen King is arguably the most popular fiction writer in recent American memory. In his memoir/guide to becoming an effective writer, he warns the writer that might me tempted to shape their life around their craft instead of their craft around their life.


I suggest the metaphor works well for academicians, pastors, teachers, athletes, writers, and anyone else who tends to become addicted to their "craft" at the expense of those closest to them (something I regularly confess to . . . though I have to admit that since Lucas's arrival, I have done almost no serious writing and I'm perfectly content with that . . . for now).


King begins by talking about the massive oak desk that sat, for six years, in the center of his writing room.


For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere. King confesses the chaos that this led to, the sheer egocentric view of life that ultimately tore his personal and family life apart.


A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put it in a large living-room suite where it had been, picking out the pieces and a nice Turkish rug with my wife’s help. In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza. They usually left a boxful of crust behind when they moved on, but I didn’t care. They came, they seemed to enjoy being with me, and I know I enjoyed being with them. I got another desk—it’s handmade, beautiful and half the size of the
T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave . . . It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

See Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Scribner Publishers, 2000), 101-102.

16 June 2009

MISC.

Excellent article on Tim Keller's passion for Manhattan. I love the "localness" of Keller's gospel. It's good and right.

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You can listen to a dialogue sermon Patrick Mead and I did on "heaven" (May 3rd) from a scientific (Patrick) and theological (moi) perspective. I also did the first week in this series (April 19th) at Rochester Church.

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I really appreciate Barbara Brown Taylor's question in An Altar in the World: "What is saving my life right now? What is saving my life today?" For me the answer changes. Today: Kara's love for Lucas is saving me today. Definition of save--rescue from my propensity to live according to the wrong story. That is, I play the wrong part, I take on the wrong role.

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Rochester College has launched a MRE degree in missional church leadership. Mike Cope wrote a good blog about this recently. Mark Love is a perfect fit to lead this focus and for Rochester College in general. The program can be done long distance. If you are a minister/lay person interested in learning more about the missional church perspective, you will want to investigate this program.

15 June 2009

Lucas in Real Time

Here's a short video for our family and friends Kara put together last night per Lucas's birth. Enjoy!

Lucas Joshua from Kara Graves on Vimeo.

13 June 2009

Stephen King's "On Writing"

Here are some highlights from Stephen King's On Writing. I highly recommend this book. In addition, if you are interested in the craft of writing, you might like this book, this book, and this book.

p.50 ...an original story I called "The Invasion of the Star-Creatures." I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.


p.57 [The editor said] when you write a story, you're telling yourself a story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are NOT the story.

p.67 I did as she suggested, entering the College of Education at UMO and emerging four years later with a teacher's certificate...sort of like a golden retriever emerging from a pond with a dead duck in its jaws.

p.77 Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel *&%$ from a sitting position.

p.101 It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.

p.106 Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

p.118 Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.

p.122 You should avoid the passive tense. You can find the same advice in The Elements of Style. The timid fellow writes "The meeting will be held at seven o'clock." Purge this quisling thought! Put that meeting in charge. Write "The meeting's at seven." There, by God! don't you feel better?

p.124 The adverb is not your friend.

p.128 Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as "good" and other sorts as "bad," is fearful behavior.

p.145 If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.

p.150 Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.

p.153 For me, not working is the real work. When I'm writing, it's all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damned good.

p.154 The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero *&^% from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.

p.164 I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way.

p.176 It's also important to remember that it's not about the setting, anyway--it's about the story, and it's always about the story.

p.208 Once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means and enrich your following drafts with your conclusions. To do less is to rob your work (and eventually your readers) of the vision that makes each tale you write uniquely your own.

p.212 Take your manuscript out of the drawer. If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you're ready. Read as if it's someone else's work. "It's always easier to murder someone else's darlings than it is to kill your own."

p.215 Every writer has an ideal reader. "What will this person think when he/she will read this part?" For me that person is Tabitha.

10 June 2009

Sexy All Over

I'm giving a message/sermon/teaching this Sunday on sexuality in our culture. I cannot shake this story from my mind as I rest in this week's lectionary's text from 2 Cor. 5: If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.

In 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Gonin led a group of British soldiers in liberating a large concentration camp. In his journal, he gives an account of the dehumanization they'd encountered:

I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men, women and children collapse as you walked by them . . . One knew that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diphtheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it. One saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene , with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women croutching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves . . . [a} dysentery tank in which the remains of child floated.

The troops cared for the victims of genocide in ways that go beyond description. One by one. Wounds bandaged, tears wiped, stitches sewed, broken limbs put into casts. These soldiers demonstrated in a powerful way, what it looks like to look at the world, and fellow humans with “new creation” eyes.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the postmortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity (Rob Bell, Sex God, 30).

09 June 2009

Lucas Meets the Paparazzi

Here's film from just after the birth of Lucas. I think he's about twenty minutes into his "out of the womb" experience in this clip. For the record: he survived the paparazzi.


video

05 June 2009

If These Trees Could Talk

Today, Elie Wiesel (pronounced Vee-zel or Wee-zel) returned to the place he lived for a time, the place his father died. This is the concentration camp that, at the time of its liberation by western military forces, contained infants living in modified horse stables. Walking down a beautiful stretch of scenery several decades later, Wiesel turned to his company and lamented, "If these trees could talk . . . "

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Last summer, Wiesel spoke to Rochester Church/Rochester College. Here was my recollection of that evening.

I don't quite know how to describe the Elie Wiesel event from this past week hosted by Rochester College at the Rochester Church of Christ (adjacent to campus). 2009 is Rochester College’s fiftieth anniversary, and John Barton (V.P. for Academic Affairs) deemed it a good idea to invite one of the twentieth century’s most important writers and thinkers to campus to talk about the role of language regarding such religious concerns as faith, reconciliation and forgiveness. He could not have selected a more important voice.

The auditorium was at “capacity” by 6:30 p.m.—Wiesel didn't enter the room until 7:20 p.m. When he finally entered, the entire room (about 950-1000) erupted in sincere applause. There's something special about having a presence like Wiesel in a smaller, more intimate setting. I suppose it would be similar to listening to Eric Clapton play in a smaller venue, or hearing Maya Angelou recite her work in a high school auditorium. The venue was large enough for the event to feel important, small enough that the audience felt like participants, not spectators (as happens in church most Sundays). Jew and Gentile, some Christian some not, gathered to hear from this leader who survived the Holocaust over half a century ago.

As for the speech, Wiesel stood in one spot the entire 50 minute presentation. He weaved rabbinic wisdom and story-telling, with personal wisdom and lessons regarding "the power of language for forgiveness and reconciliation." There were times he strayed into philosophical fields and historical nuance, but, for the overwhelming majority of his speech, he kept the diverse crowd within reach.There were too many great quotes to list in their entirety (e.g. "I am defined by me relation to you. If I honor you I honor God. If I dishonor God I dishonor you." Or . . . "After the Holocaust, of any other profession, writers committed suicide at a higher rate than any other profession. Why? Because, writers need words to make sense of their life. And survivors of the Holocaust shared one conviction in common: we had no words for the abandonment we'd experienced." Or . . . "A handshake sometimes has the weight of a poem." Or . . . If Auschwitz did not end racism in the West, what could?")Wiesel shared several incredible stories of his work in reconciliation with well-known world conflicts and leaders.

One story lingers in my heart. Following Nelson Mandela's release from prison, Wiesel held a reconciliation conference in which he invited the then President of South Africa, along with Mandela. After listening to Wiesel and Mandela describe the brutality of ethnic genocide and institutional racism, the young president stood up and declared to the entire audience, "I was born into apartheid; it's all I've ever known. My fervent wish is that I now am able to attend its funeral."After the crowd left, I found myself contemplating the “so what?” of the night. I cam to this conclusion: As humans, we only get one brief shot to make a difference in this world. Most of us might not have the opportunity (or burden) to impact the world to the degree of Elie Wiesel. I am certain however, that with our very words, we can create and heal more worlds than we'd ever thought possible. I left the Wiesel event with more hope than I've had in a long time. Enough hope to think that God might do his best work in the midst of human chaos and suffering.

The United States is in the midst of an intense political campaign, in case you had not noticed. We, the baptized, should take Wiesel’s sentiment seriously that language possesses the power to create or destroy. The church should be the community which models to the rest of the world the meaning of such words as truth, dignity, respect, mutuality, honor, dialog, and trust.

If you have not read any of Elie Wiesel's work, I would start with Night and eventually find my way to The Messengers of God and The Kingdom of Memory.

04 June 2009

Love


Lucas is four weeks old today. Here's a fun photo for you.

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Everything in me says "yes" to the truth of this statement: The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.

My time as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, minister, teacher, coach, and writer bears witness to the accuracy of this statement.

But I'm not always right. So, do you agree with that sentiment? Is indifference the antithesis of love (and not, as we sometimes suspect, hate). Perhaps indifference is the tenured result of hate. That is, perhaps indifference is the result of hate stretched out over a long period of time.