Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry Christmas!

The strikingly beautiful aspect of the "Happy Holidays" situation at work (see Thursday's post) is that "Merry Christmas" has wrecklessly torn itself from the prison of cliche.

For most of my life, "Merry Christmas" has been the default greeting in December. It had very little meaning to me though, a Decemberfied "what's up?". With H^2 now becoming the purposeful go-to cliche this time of year, MC has become rarer than Hammer. And with rarity comes preciousness. Diamonds, to us the Econ101 example. Or wins for the Carolina Panthers.

One must work to say "Merry Christmas" these days. It no longer just rolls off the tongue of the masses. I've heard it from customers maybe five times in the past 10 days at work, and, to my surprise, nothing makes my face light up more - not even a Kris Jenkins sighting these days. I feel a sense of connection with folks when they tell me Merry Christmas because I know that they share what I claim to be most important in my life - love for Jesus.

When someone tells me "Merry Christmas," they no longer just want me to have a good day or enjoy my presents or take some time off of work. They are wishing me the internal peace Jesus brings to a restless soul, the purpose the manager brings into my rut every day, the salvation that the cross made possible, the new life which exists in an empty tomb. The greeting tells me that yes, I am a stranger among the masses, an exile in a faraway land, a pilgrim not yet arrived, but that this person is one with me.

In the end, I think this is what most moves me about the greeting. A lot can be said for Christian community. I think this is one blatant advantage the Christian life has against a dog-eat-dog, self-reliant, not me-first but me-only world. But that's for another day. All I know today about community is that I like it. When people greet me with "Merry Christmas," they tell me that they too believe Jesus is coming and has come and that that makes all the difference in the world.

So use your "Merry Christmas"'s carefully this week but use them in abundance. The world has ceased wearing the phrase out, so let us use it often. It may mean a whole lot to a nameless face out there, especially one checking you out at a register or putting books on a shelf in the back corner of the store.

On another note, my blog year ends here. I'm going to try to spend the better part of next week working on an application, forcing half-marathon training into my schedule, and enjoying Christmastime with my family. Thanks to all of you who have read along with me. Writers love nothing more than readers (and editors!). If anything irresistable comes along, I might drop in occasionally, but if not, I'll start posting again the first Monday of the new year.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Holi. . . . ugh

My "Happy Holidays" experiment at work is crumbling like a Santa Claus sugar cookie in February.

For those who missed it, I decided a couple of months ago to use the phrase "Happy Holidays" in lieu of "Merry Christmas" at work in order to convey my best wishes to all customers regardless of religious persuasion. I figured that saying "Happy Holidays" did not consitute denying Christ while berating people with "Merry Christmas" could cause indifference at best and alienation at worst. Instead, I hoped that they would see Christ in the way I interacted with them. Greetings are always trite when compared to actions anyways.

Now in the front lines of what the media portrays as this cultural trench warfare, I find myself unable to use "H^2." My heart just isn't in it. It feels fake. For whatever reason, telling customers to have a good rest of their afternoon and to enjoy their day seems more genuine than "Happy Holidays." Maybe it's the vagueness of the phrase or the cliche it has become - both of what destroy any meaning the phrase may have.

The big thing though is that this debate has become so part of the season that the phrase has become politicized. "Happy Holidays" no longer means "Enjoy the December month with your family, friends, and time off from work." In the retail world, it more closely means "Hey, I'm being politically correct and don't really care how December goes for you. I just want to flaunt how progressive I am." At least, it feels this way to me. When I say "Happy Holidays," it implies that I don't celebrate Christmas and thus am not a Christian. That more closely resembles denying Christ in this particular environment. By faith I am clothed in Christ. I don't want to don a secular parka.

I still do not wish people "Merry Christmas" when I check them out at the registers because I still do not want to come across as a heavy-handed and alienating. I do not think these are the ways of Christ. In lieu of any holiday greeting, I simply wish them the best for the day or the afternoon or the night. I am satisfied with this because it is genuine. I really do desire that the customers that come in with good attitudes continue to smile and that those who are grumpy will find a reason to laugh.

That being said, Redeeming Prufrock isn't retail. So Merry Christmas to you all. And I do mean that.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas in Da House

Around the Christmas holiday, my old high school raises money for impoverished families in the area who have children in the county school system. The money funds presents, essentials, and meals for the family's Christmas. It's a simultanously impressive and humbling program. The amount of money raised by this far-from-wealthy community simply from 1500 students asking for donations is astounding. As a former student who shopped for these children as well as delivered the food and presents on a late December morning, very few other things will move a high schooler quite like it. It still stirs emotion in this college grad, as these students and the community work to fill empty chairs that exist in their community around the holidays.

The school and it's efforts were recognized by Rep. Sue Myrick in the United States House of Representatives last Friday. I don't know much about what goes on in the House. I've been told a lot of absenteeism and newspaper reading. But I like this.





Friday, December 8, 2006

Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I would like to honor and recognize the students, teachers and administrators at Sun Valley High School located in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the past two weeks, Sun Valley students have given more than $23,000 out of their pockets to help the less fortunate in their area. This money will go to a program called the Sun Valley Children's Christmas Party, which will help needy elementary children in their area who won't have a Christmas.

The Sun Valley Children's Christmas Party has been helping impoverished children for more than three decades. It began as a small project to help a handful of needy families experience the joy of Christmas. Today, thanks to the generosity of the Sun Valley community, 30 to 35 needy elementary children, and their families, will have a Happy Christmas this year.

I am most impressed by this effort because it is student driven. Not only do Sun Valley students raise the money, but on December 14th, a group of students will actually pick up the children at school and take them to Monroe Mall where they will purchase them new clothes, shoes, and coats. They take the children to visit Santa, have lunch at Chick- Fil-A, and end their visit by taking the kids to get ice cream. Later, Sun Valley students will shop for essential items, food, and new school supplies for the children, as well as toys and gifts for their brothers and sisters. Then on December 16th, the students will deliver all the gifts to the family as well as food for a Christmas feast.

Leading this student driven program are the co-chairs of the Children's Christmas Party, Student Council President Alexandra Knight Efird, and Student Council Vice-President Paige Lillia Donham. Their hard work has not gone unnoticed. Likewise, the Student Council faculty advisors, James P. Wall IV and Christopher Martin, have also worked countless hours to help the students in their effort. I would like to recognize the efforts of students in the classes of Mr. Wall, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Faulkner. They raised the most money out of all the classes at Sun Valley, and Mr. Reynolds class alone raised over $2,000 for this effort.

Mr. Speaker, I am honored to say that I represent Sun Valley High School. In a day and age where people tend to think only of themselves, here is a shining example of a group of young people who know what Christmas is really all about. I commend them for their efforts to make their community a better place by helping the less fortunate during this holiday season. I hope that this wonderful effort will continue at Sun Valley for many years to come.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Life-Blood of Christmas

My brother, one of those great people who possess both wisdom and compassion, talked with me last night about the commercialization of Christmas. The amazing thing about the holiday season, he said and I eggregiously paraphrase, is that people actually run around crazy and spend money for others rather than themselves. I countered with haughty retail experience: "The real reason these people buy stuff. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . You ought to see their attitudes. . . grumble grumble grumble. . . Don't even get me started. . . grumble grumble grumble. . ."

How often I forget that my cynicism belongs on the cross, crucified with Christ, along with the rest of my sins.

The truth is my brother is right. A lot of people really do spend so much of their free time thinking about what to buy other people, taking the time to actually go pick it, and agonizing over the deicisions. I am grateful for last night's conversation that opened my eyes to reality today at work.

This morning, a woman came in looking for a specific book. She wanted it for a gift, so she came to this bookseller, and more importantly his database-ridden computer, to find where said book might sit. The computer did its job, and I did mine. I left her trailing me back up to the front of the store, book in hand, mission accomplished. Ten minutes later, I see this same customer back in the section where we had found our book. Her body seemed pulled both towards replacing the book and towards the check-out line, the physical manifestation of an internal struggle that kept her from committing to this book because it might not be perfect enough to convey her feelings for a person she loved.

Closer to lunch, another woman came up to the info desk wanting a recommendation. You see, an elderly couple she knows had just received some bad news. Not bad news like 3-months-to-live bad news, she assured me. It's just that the retirement home might the wife's lot for a long time. She wanted a book that the husband could read while he visited, maybe even read out-loud to the wife. Emotion was written all over her face. We wandered around for a while, as I threw out any option I could think of, wondering which ones might lighten the mood, which ones had sad endings, which ones might be a vehicle of comfort. Eventually, the woman decided on five books, you know, just to give her some options. She thanked me, and I head back to work as she walks slowly to the registers. Thirty minutes later, I finally see her leave the store.

Why are these books such a big deal? Why can't people just pick something and go? It's a fast-paced world out there anyways. What is it that makes them linger?

It is love. I hate cliches, but it can't be avoided here. These folks, and so many more who I see and who I don't see, spend hours picking out gifts, agonizing over the decisions because they recognize what I often miss in the holiday blur of retail. Gift-giving is a rare opportunity in a world that hates awkwardness and vulnerability to show that you love someone. These customers exert so much of their time, their money, and their emotion, yes, their emotion, picking out silly books because they love.

In terms of macro-economics, Christmas fuels commercialization. Borders beat its $22,000 plan last Friday by $8000. The craziness leaves many of my co-workers frazzled, stressed, and angry. The Smith's often do shop in order to keep up with the Jones's (no offense to any readers named Smith or Jones). And honestly, no one really needs a Playstation 3.

But when I look at the micro-economics behind each transaction, economics exit stage left. Gift-giving this time of year allows people to show love, love that may have been bottled up since the last birthday or maybe even since last Christmas. And people take advantage of the opportunity, trying to find the gift that is just perfect enough to convey their feelings towards others.

Commercialization is merely the skin which the world wears during Christmas time. If I take time to stop and actually take the world's pulse, I find that something indescribably beautiful is flowing through its veins.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Very Silent Night

I'm have trouble getting in the Christmas spirit. Heck, I always have trouble getting in the Christmas spirit. And this year I don't have the month-long academic siesta that usually provides the supreme jolliness in my holiday season. I'm trying though - going to the children's choir program at church, listening to the Christmas radio station, wrapping presents on Dec. 10, wearing my Santa hat around the apartment.

So as Johnny Mathis's version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" cycles ad naseum through my head, I started thinking if this is really the most wonderful time of the year, and my mind runs across those who will never get in the holiday spirit this year. Or more precisely, those whose holiday spirit will be one of misery and not of joy.

I hear it said often that the holidays are a very difficult time for lots of folks. This has never really been the case for me, except the year Grandpa passed away a few weeks before Christmas, so this statement usually hits my face and bounces off into nothingness - the former part of the infamous "I am rubber, you are glue" assertion. This year though, it's hit home really hard, as I encounter person after person who is hurting, just hurting. The holidays only add to this pain, as the world tells us to run around in glee and joy and presents. It must be like Valentine's Day for a lot of singles except this time is's a month long and much more obnoxious.

I don't know what to do about this, as the holidays will be a time of great joy for me. My family will be under the same roof, healthy, for the first time since summer. Grandma is coming. And to top it all off, I learned today that I will have Christmas Eve off from work. So much anticipation, so many blessings.

Yet, my mind is haunted at night and in solitude by the empty chairs that will be around the Christmas tables of my friends. The family with an empty chair for a child who is passing time on Christmas Day in the deadly hornet's nest of Iraq. A co-worker who won't even put out another chair this lonely Christmas because her family lives in Massachusetts and someone has to be at Borders to sell gift cards on Christmas Eve and to redeem them on the 26th. Someone's first Christmas without a parent, the chair only filled with memories. Another Christmas without a child taken by cancer, the simple word "Why?" taking the seat instead. Multiple other co-workers going through Christmas alone for the first time, divorce papers seated where a committed spouse was once thought to have sat. My friend's boss who will have an empty high chair where a 2-month old child should be experiencing his first Christmas. The nanny, who put the child to sleep the night that he died, and the permanent empty chair that self-forgiveness will never take.

For these folks and so many more, Christmas night will be a little too silent.

Ignoring the abundant blessings God has given me would make me an ingrate. Ignoring the abundant pain of those around me would make me a robot. My prayer this holiday season is for balance, to be humbly thankful and humbly compassionate.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, behold, You are there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

One Look, One Touch

Two men, stymied by the crowd.

People don't like me. Taking money from the poor, my poor, people of Israel just like me. It feeds me though - and provides a little extra. I am despised because of my job, collecting taxes for the government. Their share and mine. People don't like me. Today, though, there is a crowd, and I can hide in a crowd. No one will see me today. No one will cut their eyes or slice their spit my way. A man who calls himself God is coming, and they won't have time for me. They just want to see. I cannot see.

We used to run, play, laugh. Back before the worries of this world pressed in on us. Seems like ages ago, way back before the accident. A simple twist of fate that left my friend paralyzed. Wrong place, wrong time, as they say. But love forged over time does not change with circumstance, and I love my friend. Would do anything for him. He suffers daily, has suffered daily for years. We no longer run or play together. Hell, he can't run or play at all. We no longer laugh. But still I stand. A crowd has gathered to see a man who calls himself God, a man who heals, who performs miracles with power. I am part of that crowd. My friend is too, lying here on his mat. Hope is dim, has been for a while. We no longer laugh.

I cannot see. It's hard being 5'4". I want to see. They say this man eats with sinners, with the lonely, and I have not had a friend in a long time. The crowd is dense. My short frame, stocky from years of good food, can squeeze between bodies no further. I still cannot see. Yet through the gaps I see hope. A tree.

We no longer laugh. Paralysis is not a laughing matter. The burlap mat rubbing sores into an atrophied body. The desire to do what once came so easily, and restlessness, bluntly grinding away at the soul. Futility, knowing this will be my friend's lot until death. Yet today, a glimmer of hope exists in this man, the one who has healed fevers, spirits, demons. I do not laugh because of the hundreds, nay thousands, that stand between my friend and the front door. The door I can just barely see through the bodies. Then through the gaps I see hope. The roof.

A tree? What self-respecting man climbs a tree? Why would I expose myself to the people? They spit on me, curse at me, strike at me when I can flee; what shall they do when I am caged in limbs and leaves? I will look foolish. Have I no shame? Why risk for one look at this man? What will the people say?

The roof? Who tears a hole in his neighbor's roof? What will the onlookers say about a destroyer of property, about one who cuts in line? What will the owner say? How can a modest man like me pay the damage? And what if my friend falls as I lower him and his mat down to the ground? I will look foolish. Have I no shame? Why risk for one touch from this man? What might the people say?

What the people might say ceases to matter when he calls me down from the tree. Not out of disgust or discipline but for dinner. He wants to dine with me. Me! A wee little man. Who am I? Not a politician or a religious leader. I have not had a friend in a very long time. This man who calls himself God wants to eat with me. A sign of friendship, a sign of commitment, a sign of acceptance. I am accepted.

What the people might say ceases to matter when my friend stands. He stands! And this man says by my faith. Certainly only little faith have I, no larger than a mustard seed. More questions than faith, actually. Who am I? A poor man, no doubt, but my friend stands! We laugh, overjoyed, amazed and filled with awe. We laugh. He is healed.

I am accepted. Me of no account. Greedy, selfish, having little to offer and giving nothing. Despised by men because reputations don't change, and maybe rightfully so. I am a wee little man, after all, small and insecure, a point of ridicule now and always. And yet, there is something about that man Jesus. A little belief, a refusal to stay passive. One climb up a tree. Forevermore, never to be friendless.

He is healed. By my faith, a faith of no account. Not like the preachers or the teachers or the leaders. My lot remains to be laughed at by men from here to eternity, and maybe rightfully so. I tore a hole in my neighbor's roof, a folly for all times, to be sure. And yet, there is something about that man Jesus. A little belief, a little love. Just a little, but it was enough to overcome passivity. One climb onto a roof. Forevermore, never to be wounded.

Two men, who would refused to be stymied by the crowd.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Same Ol' B

I am currently in the process of filling out an application for a ministry position. I use the term "filling out" loosely because I all but completed the same application last year. Copy and paste has great utility, I am learning.

The questions are extensive, basically asking me who I am and what I believe in a very in-depth manner. I've been fascinated to look back at my answers from last year. It very much feels like an out-of-body experience, and on some level, I guess it is. I'm looking at the descriptions of this person and what he believes like it could be anybody. But it's me! Or more correctly, it was me.

Looking back from the future, I find that I am able to look at myself and my views more objectively and more critically. In the present, I always think I am right. Looking back at the past though, I will more objectively criticize my wayward ways because they sometimes digress from the present me, the one I am slow to criticize. I've found myself on occasion reading my answers and marveling, "Man, that was dumb." Makes me wonder about the dumb stuff I am writing nowadays.

My opinions on many things are different now than they were. Almost without fail, I have either altered my views or added depth to the reasons I hold them. My beliefs have often become clearer. My confusion has often become more gnarled. Regardless, I am different now than I was a year ago, and this encourages me. God, indeed, is not dead and has been moving and shaping me over the last year. This is very obvious in the occassional life-altering moments of the past year. But what the juxtaposition of the two applications has shown me is that he has moved in consistently subtle ways too, ways that I cannot pinpoint but which have made me a different, hopefully more mature person now than I was.

And yet, the first question of the application asks me to choose from a list of 13 the three characteristics (1-3) that most aptly describe me and the one (6) that least likely describes me. The results:

Last year: 1. Can structure my time 2. Exercise leadership 3. Know myself fairly well 6. Can function in a job where there is more to do than time to do it in

This year: 1. Can structure my time 2. Know myself fairly well 3. Have considerable drive 6. Can funciton in a job where there is more to do than time to do it in

Amidst all the change, I'm still me with similar weaknesses, stregnths, personality traits, and quirks, all seemingly woven into whatever it is that makes up me (DNA, RNA, cells, whatever it is). What a great reminder that God has wonderfully and purposefully made me. He knit me together, counted the hairs on my head, and guides my growth until its completion in the day of Christ Jesus.

Alas, as the rapper Ginuwine so eloquently put it, even though I might be on tv, cuz I got my own cd, all you will ever see, [is the] same ol' g. Or the same ol' b, to be exact.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Faith in Prayer

Prayer requires great faith. A couple weeks ago, my pastor said that, of all the spiritual disciplines, we often pray the least because it requires the greatest faith from us.

My prayer life has suffered since returning from Boston in September. I can very easily attribute this to time. After all, that's the popular thing to do in Christianity and in my life. It's not that 40 hours of work per week requires more time from me, but it makes my time more rigid and thus more inconvenient to do things like exercise, read, make phone calls, and/or spend time with the Lord. But this excuse lets me off the hook too easily.

Prayer requires too much faith from me. Don't get me wrong, I love prayer. But what I love even more than prayer is prayer and action. In fact, if I'm really honest, I think I like the action better than the prayer because I can control it. I know that I will get stuff done or at least work hard enough in trying that the world surely can only find me blameless. Prayer, on the other hand, places the action in God's hands. And, in reality, I don't like it being there. I don't trust it. I don't have the faith.

So I often believe that God exists and say that God exists but I refuse to act like he exists. Specifically, I don't pray for him to do things in my life. Functional atheism, I've heard it called.

I prayed a lot in college because I found myself in situations where I knew I was not adequate. On a daily basis, I encountered conversations and responsibilities where I knew I was utterly incompetant. Nothing I could do would guarantee success, so I obviously needed God's help. Thus, I prayed for God to do what I could not.

Nowadays, life is easier. I have to put books on a shelf. Beyond that, I don't really have to do much else (except make decisions about my future, care for my co-workers, family, and friends, grow in my relationship with God - important stuff I can easily discard as tangential when it's inconvenient or hard). It is a lie that I can do anything on my own without God, but it's so much easier to believe this lie when things seem easy. My facade of control seems to work in this life of ease. Prayer is often the odd-man out because I don't functionally believe it really will do anything, certainly not anything I can't do on my own.

And then there's Nehehmiah, praying for days when he really doesn't have the time. There's Jesus, so often with the people yet consistently slipping away to pray in solitude to his father. There's the throne of Heaven, where the prayers of the saints are incense wafting before God and moving him to respond in power with thunder and lightning.

Oh Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Smut, Please

Odd Encounter of the Week: Immoral Purist

I should never complain about my job for many reasons, but here's two to start with:

1) Borders was the only place that called me back when I flooded the marketplace with my resume. Say what I will about retail wages but, without Borders, I'm in worse financial shape than the referendum-ignoring Charlotte Bobcats. For that, I am more grateful than I often act.

2) My days are rarely ever boring. One day, I think I will yearn for this aspect of my job. Take yesterday, for example. First, I got invited to a Christmas party in north Charlotte by a customer who described herself as a "marketing guro." I had known her all of 45 seconds before the invitation to this shindig; she promised there would be "divas." Hmm. Then around lunchtime, an ambulance showed up to take care of a 90-year old customer who passed out in the cafe. She came to after the medics arrived and by all accounts is fine now, but it was quite the scene for some time. Finally, a customer who constistently and loudly berates Borders employees when she shops visited the store for the first time since I started working there, and true to form, she yelled at our cashier. Her code name, given by my manager many visits ago, is "Big Bird."

My favorite from yesterday though was a phone call we got mid-afternoon from an unsatisfied customer. It seems Jane Doe had recently bought a DVD from Borders and felt she had been misled by the cover. I won't name the movie, but suffice it to say this was a movie that was a popular romance/drama and spent months in theaters. It's important you know this movie is normal.

So ma'am, what was the problem with the movie?

"It wasn't explicit enough."

Oh, sorry about that. I bet that must have been embarrassing to have been watching it with your kids and have that awkwa. . . . Wait, what was the problem?

"It wasn't as explicit as it was in the movies. I could see the editting lines during the sex scene. The cover led me to believe that it was uneditted."

Shame, dignity, anyone? Who asks a question like that? Certainly no one in the 4+ year history of the store, according to my co-workers. More importantly from my vantage point, how does one respond to a question like that?

I know for a fact the movie wasn't editted which makes me wonder what she thought she saw in the theaters. And how the cover of a dramance could hint at an increased level of sexually inappropriate content is beyond me. "You asked for more smut. We delivered!" Movies just don't do that. It's not like this was American Pie or some other flick which solely prides itself on transforming the gross into the humorous.

I've heard of the term "moral purist" before, even had it derogatorily tossed my way a couple times during my life. But never before had I encountered an immoral purist. She wanted her vulgarity, and she wanted it true, complete, and unadulterated. Moral alloy not allowed.

Her complaint continued on for minutes. This was serious business. She was very angry about her disappointment, and we eventually had to give her the phone number for corporate Borders, sending her up the chain of command. I hope she wasn't disappointed that it wasn't a pole.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Buckeyes and Gators and Wolverines, Oh My!

I really thought they would give the title shot to Michigan. I've been prepared to lambast Florida's BCS snub for weeks now. A team that goes 12-1; beats #8 Tennessee, Alabama, #9 LSU, Georgia, #8 Arkansas, Steve Spurrier, and Bobby Bowden; and only loses at #11 Auburn because their punter can't catch a snap deserves to not be left out of a championship opportunity. Given that this year's SEC was one of the toughest conferences to come along in the past decade, it's one-loss winner earned the right to play for the National Title.

Then, I got my way. OSU/Florida on January 8th for all the marbles.

During bookshelving solitude today, I realized that one could also make an argument for Michigan similar to the one I would have made for Florida. They played a similarly difficult schedule, ended up with the identical numbers of losses, and looked like the second-best team all fall. They, too, earned a right to play for the National Title.

So where do these competing arguments leave us? With a mess. A BC-Mess.

Good cases can be made for either Florida or Michigan (or 11-1 Wisconsin or even 12-0 Boise St.) to play on January 8. This is the case every year, last year excepted. The BCS always ends up with multiple one-loss teams or the truly disasterous multiple undefeated teams of 2004 when Auburn got maybe the biggest shaft in the history of college football, going undefeated and winning the SEC but not getting a chance to play for it all.

This year, it doesn't really matter who has the strongest claim on #2 because those futile arguments emerge nearly every year. We should not find surprise at the controversy. What matters is that, once again, the BCS has failed hundreds of student-athletes who have earned a chance at a dream. It fails us fans too, but I prefer to feign the noble route.

Can you imagine what a playoff would look like this year? Go 8 teams deep and your first-round match-ups are: Ohio St/Boise St, Florida/Wisconsin, Michigan/Louisville, and LSU/USC. Take it out to 16 teams, and you include Auburn, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Arkansas, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers. At least 13 of those 16 could feasibly run the table. What an amazing three weeks it would be!

To make this situation more painful, Division I-AA football pulls off a playoff system every year. Ask the folks over at Appalachain St how great it is. Furthermore, the NCAA basketball playoffs may be the most exciting sporting event on the planet.

Alack and alas, a playoff is never to be. My favorite Broadway show of all time (and it's not even close), Phantom of the Opera, includes a song with the line: "We've past the point of no return / the final threshold." The NCAA long ago crossed the final threshold, carrying its bride called Mammon with it. Money talks, and it speaks loudly in favor of the current system. Louder than fairness, competition, great games, sportswriters, fans.

Louder than the 107,501 seats in Michigan's home stadium.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Grey's Theology

At the risk of exalting the trivial and desecrating the sacred:

I think Grey's A revealed God's character last night.

I know such a claim is absurd and probably damages my authorial credibility. If you aren't still reading, I understand. If you are, wait until you stopping laughing to continue reading.

But check this out.

Christina and Burke sin, er screw up royally. Huge, consistent mistakes that hurt others, themselves, and their relationship. Bailey demands justice. After all, punishment must follow sin. . . . sorry, I mean C&B must be disciplined for disobeying the rules. Regardless of Bailey's righteous anger, my bad, I did it again, her desire for fairness, the Chief will have none of it. He chooses grace, whoops, I mean he let's them off the hook for no reason other than that he loves them and it's good for the kingdom, I mean, hospital, yeah, hospital.

I just can't keep the religious language out of there.

I've often wondered about the A's treatment of Christianity and have noticed subtle yet powerful Christian themes underlying the plot. I don't know whether this evidences an intentional insertion of Christian themes or whether we just simply can't escape God and his truth. Every character is "damaged goods" (Meredith's own words). The withholding of truth burdens the holders and hurts all. Honesty frees. Relationships are often utterly broken. Death rules, and the world has no answer for it.

And last night was an example of how God the Father interacts with his creation. In an attempt to cover our naked brokenness, we hide who we are and sin, hurting everyone around us including ourselves. Relationships break, and we buckle under the weight of our sin and the conviction it causes. All the while, we rebel against God, refusing to play by his rules while trying to hide our mistakes. God, being perfectly just, demands punishment for this rebellion, but being perfectly loving, spares us the wrath which we deserve. The punishment is poured out on Jesus at the cross, the place where justice and love meet. We receive forgiveness, love, and grace even though we don't deserve it and get to enter the Heavenly kingdom, the place we were made to be all along.

Obviously, last night's Grey's A left out the crucial part of this salvation story - the cross. But given it's context of the secular world of television, it came pretty darn close to giving us a Biblical picture of God's character which demands justice yet bestows grace.

Sin. Confession. Justice. Love. Grace. Reinstatement. Change. All the key players were there. Oddly enough, so were the characters of Grey's A.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Eye of the Beholder

This morning, over a jelly donut and a medium blueberry iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, a friend of mine relayed a quote to me from Sigmund Freud. The gist of it went as such: Beauty has no intrinsic use, yet without it, we could not live.

Most would agree that despite the fallen nature of the world a bounty of beauty exists all around us. I think Freud may be on to something with this idea that this beauty has no use. Certainly nothing tangible is gained from gazing at Notre Dame or holding a month-old child or viewing a perfected piece of art. However, things which we find beautiful, whatever they may be, move us in a way that the mundane does not. They stir our souls.

This begs the question as to what beauty is, what quality it is that makes us marvel in awe and appreciation at certain things. What is it that makes me unable to take my eyes off a sunrise when glancing at another south-Charlotte strip mall makes me want to move to Boston? What is it about Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral that awakens a small but powerful excitement deep within me while reading a newspaper article often leaves me reaching for the remote? Why can't I cease to smile when a child approaches the register but must force a good presentation whenever the approaching customer is above the age of 11?

In each case, the basic facts and outcome are the same. My eyes scientifically perform the same process whether looking at sunrises or suburbia. I gain knowledge whether reading Eliot or watching Brokaw. Borders makes its $7.98 regardless of the customer. Why then do I behold beauty in one situation but not the other? Why do I respond differently to situations with discrepancies in perceived beauty? What is it that stirs my soul?

I don't know. I don't know why trees with autumn leaves are beautiful to me while gravel is not. I don't know why the rolling Appalachains of I-77 stop me in my tracks while the flat piedmont of I-85 lulls me to sleep. I don't know why the voice of Sara Evans makes me say, "Dang." But I can't deny beauty, even if I can't say exactly what it is or why it exists.

And I like not having an answer to this question. I can't explain it away. I can't frustratingly roll it around in my brain until I need a Tylenol. My dominating ration can't destroy my beleagured emotion. God has simply provided things in life which I find beautiful. That is good. That is all I need to know. So I go enjoy the gift.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Garfield Effect

Odd Encounter of the Week: Dead Garfield

For the better part of the last decade, Tiger Woods has dominated the PGA Tour. While he's done this in nearly every way possible (majors, regular tour tournaments, coming from behind, leading the entire way, etc.), he never loses when holding the lead going into the last round. This is a remarkable pattern, given the inherent inconsistency in the game of golf as well as the talent of the other players on tour. When Tiger leads, everyone near him seems to wilt from him like petals falling off a flower. He's simply so good and so intimidating that the games of those near him crumble, giving rise to the Tiger Effect - basically a hex on anyone near the top of the leaderboard on the final day when Tiger has the lead.

Saturday was a gorgeous day. One great thing about North Carolinian weather is that it can sleet on Tuesday and be 70 on Saturday. I went out to the golf course to take advantage of the sun and to get away from the super-staurated football solution (holler back, Bio majors!) that is Thanksgiving weekend.

Things were rolling along as usual when my playing partner and I stopped the cart in the middle of the third fairway. Our third shot on this par 5 was 110 yards from the flag, center-cut in the fairway. As I stood over my shot with 9 iron in hand (I'm not a long hitter, as those of you who have seen my frame would probably guess), I look towards the flag where a dead, orange cat lies 15 yards in front of me directly in my line. It looked like Garfield except without the watermelon-shaped body.

I've seen plenty of roadkill in my life but never any fairwaykill. I was amazed at this new sight. My first inclination was that someone must have plowed it with a golfcart, a la your standard issue roadkill. No gore existed though, eliminating this option. My next thought was that the cat got hit by a golf ball and died on impact, a la Randy Johnson and the bird (yes, folks, that mass of feathers was a bird a split-second earlier, before Johnson's fastball destroyed it). Again though, no sign of outward damage or Johnsonian pulverization. It seemed Garfield was strolling across 3 fairway and simply decided he had had enough, laying down peacefully and entering eternity.

Now a dead cat in the middle of the fairway is nothing to shake a stick at and really isn't blog-worthy. Except that cat put a hex on me. Seriously. I don't believe in spells or curses or hexes - except when it comes to sports. The Chicago Cubs, any Madden football game cover, Duke football (honestly, a missed 17-yard extra point and a missed 19-yard field goal cost them 2 wins this year), Sports Illustrated, the city of Philadelphia (which has become the new Boston of sports hexes), Tiger Woods's playing partner in the final round, and a whole pile of other evidence prove that jinxs, in fact, do exist. I'm a believer.

So I take a hack at my ball and skull it 30 yards over the green into a swampy area labeled "Hazard: Propane Waste." Of course, I skull shots all the time, but my playing partner, who is substantially better than me, left his pitching wedge 30 yards short of the green and 20 yards to the left. I could blame these shots on our lack of talent, on the fact that my hips came through the swing too early and made me top the ball, on the fact that golf is not a game of perfection, but no! Personal responsibility be darned! I blame Garfield.

The PGA Tour may suffer from the ferocious attack of the Tiger Effect, but, that day, on the third hole at Larkhaven, I came face-to-face with another feline jinx - the Garfield Effect. And like the players on tour not named Tiger Woods, I succumbed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Giving Thanks. . . . For What?

Last Wednesday, on Thanksgiving Eve, two of my co-workers were having a chat when one of them responded to Thanksgiving well-wishes by calling the holiday "stupid." Wha?!?!? Surely not Thanksgiving. Everyone loves Thanksgiving. You can complain that we don't get a day off to celebrate what America's veterans have done for us or why we celebrate a day in honor of some Irish guy or even that Christmas is a religious holiday that doesn't affect anyone who doesn't prescribe to a certain set of beliefs. But come on, you can't have a beef with Thanksgiving. Only turkey! (Ed.'s note: Sorry.)

My co-worker feels that he has nothing for which to give thanks, and this is his problem with Thanksgiving. He doesn't believe in any higher being and thinks it would be silly to have a day to celebrate every time during the past year someone loaned him some lunch money or did something else which would deserve thanks. "Who should I thank tomorrow?" he asked. "My parents for giving birth to me? My grandparents for giving birth to them?" Valid question.

As much as I hated to hear him decry a great holiday full of food, fall, family, and football (and this year, Grey's A), I really respected him for thinking through the meaning behind the holiday. I think a large number of us just float through holidays enjoying a day off from work/school or complaining why we don't have a day off from work/school.

And honestly, I think a lot of his argument makes sense. If one does not believe in the concept of god, then we are, in large part, self-made people - except for our actual existence which we owe to our parents, as he acknowledges. Without any diety to thank for providing us life, nourishment, friends, jobs, salvation, purpose, and really everything, thanks really shouldn't be a big part of our lives except when someone opens a door for us or gives birth to us. Nothing really holiday worthy there.

Now this certainly does not apply across the board. I'm sure many non-religious people feel they have much to give thanks for - to other people, to good fortune, to whatever. It's just interesting how Thanksgiving has never really been tossed into the "Religious Holiday" bin, and yet here it stands, making no sense in the context of a godless world to my co-worker and to this blogger. It's funny, no matter what corner I turn, life just doens't make much sense without this Almighty guy who calls himself my Creator, Savior, Lord, and Friend standing in the middle of it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Miscellany

I haven't done this in a while, so it's time for some rambling:

-My buddy Jeff (frequent commenter on Redeeming Prufrock) came down with a stomach bug 10 minutes before Thanksgiving dinner. This is catastophe, and I relay this to you because this situation deserves as much pity as can be garnered. There really are only 10 other minutes during the entire year during which it is worse to become sick.

-I never thought I'd say this about a John Fox-coached Panthers team, but they play with no heart. There is no reason a team with Jake Delhomme, DeShaun Foster, Deangelo Williams, Steve Smith, Keyshaun Johnson, Mike Wahle, Jordan Gross, Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, Maahke Keomatu, Thomas Davis, Ken Lucas, Chris Gamble, and John Kasey should be 6-5 playing in the shambles of this year's NFC.

-I learned shelving today that Lyons Publishing Group put out a couple books on horses. One of the titles: Lyons on Horses. Immediate hilarious mental image that becomes more and more disturbing the more I think on it.

-Wonder how many people left the Thanksgiving table early to watch Grey's A Thanksgiving night.

-Dwayne Jarrett's one-handed, left-handed catch against Notre Dame Saturday night was sicker than Jeff at Thanksgiving. He could've used both hands but decided he didn't need to. Kind of like USC could've dropped 70 on Notre Dame if they had played with both hands. Ohio St./USC seems a lot more watchable than Ohio St./Mich, Part II from this sports fans couch.

-It's hard to get in the Christmas spirit working in retail. We've had the nutcrackers and other such decorations up since Halloween, and a lot of the "holiday spirit" I get from customers is disgruntledness. So here I am, walking around the store like it's not the most wonderful time of the year, when Perry Como's Christmas album comes on over the loudspeaker. A Como Christmas melts me like Southern snow in the December sunlight. Merry Christmas and Happy Hollidays everyone!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Who are you? Why are you here? Go back to Weddington!

My high school's biggest rival was Weddington High. The institution opened up after my sophomore year and took half of our class with it. They were richer than us, so they were better than us. Or at least they acted that way. And we did too.

At the first football game ever played between the two bastions of intellect and hormones, us Valleyites would yell, "Who are you? Why are you here? Go back to Weddington!" at anybody wearing green who would venture to our side of the stadium. What wit we had. I guess we thought that if we used enough condescension, this would suffice as an insult.

The night before Thanksgiving has recently become a reunion of sorts for the people who went to the two schools and graduated around my year, so Wednesday night I bumped into a lot of old friends at Phil and Tony's. It was really fascinating to see folks whom I had not seen in years and, more interestingly, to see the people we had become and are becoming.

My interactions with my old chums got me to thinking about how my generation will be viewed by history. Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation was defined by its response to World War II. Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation wrestled with restlessness and the need to be on the road. The '70's had the hippies. But who are we? Why are we here?

Looking back on the night, my generation seems sad - not pathetic sad but lack-of-happiness sad. Most people in high school didn't care about these existential questions, but even the ones who used to care have seemed to have surrendered to them. We have no answers. The people I interacted with in that room seemed empty, grasping for any purpose that might hide the fact that life seems to have no purpose.

We do community service not because we want to serve the poor but because we want to bolster our resumes to get into grad school so that we might become rich ourselves.

We have smiles on our faces but unhappy, hollow eyes.

We still suffer from the pain of romantic relationships that ended years ago.

We accept being underpaid now, knowing that our current sacrifice means we will eventually be joyfully overpaid for the majority of our lives.

We spend our social nights screaming brief, meaningless conversations over loud music that allow us to avoid any kind of substantial human interaction.

We find passion in politics, a passion that manifests itself in hatred for the other team rather than in love for those whom our policies claim to help.

We make alcohol, and the avoidance it provides when used in high quantities, a must-have for any occasion.

Anytime one tries to place a label on a generation, generalizations are unavoidable. I understand there are lots of exceptions to this particular situation I encountered Wednesday night, lots of people who have found a purpospe in life beyond self-comfort and the facade of certainty. Yet, these folks seem hidden. The bar is the face of our generation, as we mold ourselves into who we will be. The Pacific islands created the Greatest Generation, and Route 66 grounded the Beat Generation. The late night/early morning bar seems to provide the setting of this generation. What that says about us, I don't know. But it's fascinating.

Who are we? Why are we here? We don't seem to have answers to these questions. I'm fascinated by the answers that history will give for us.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Unpleasant Pillar of Faith

A friend of my often tells me how his co-workers ask why he believes in unpleasant things like Hell and predestination. I always love his response. He refrains from theologically defending unplesantries, instead acknowledging that they aren't particularly pleasing to him either. He finds it incredulous that the questioners think he wants to believe in Hell.

This then begs the question why anyone would believe in something that makes them feel bad when there are so many things to believe in that don't hurt as much? In an age where we generally can get whatever we want, these beliefs run counter to common social sense. Yet, here is what draws my friend, and me, back:

A calling to believe personally unpleasant tenets reminds me that I'm not playing the game of life by my rules.

If everything I believed made me feel warm and fuzzy, my thinking would be flawed. Everyone else in the entire history of the world got it wrong because life runs according to whatever puts a smile on Robert Bennett Humphries's face. Abusrd. And good, especially for those of you who aren't Robert Bennett Humphries. I'm just simply not that smart. I'm just simply not God.

He created the rules, heck, he created the game. At it's core, this is what a Creator God is all about. He made us, and we are utterly indebted to him for everything about our existence. The clay cannot with any integrity make demands on the potter. God made us, the world, and the rules which govern it. We can submit or rebel, but it should not surprise us that everything does not follow our whims, desires, and wills.

We are called to play by God's rules, not the ones of the world. Poverty in a treasure chest of wealth. Humility when confronted by mockery. Evangelism in a room of silence. Brokenness in a world run by power. Discipline amidst distraction. Forgiveness when wronged. Truth against the paper mache of facade. Acknowledged sin in a culture of tolerance. Interest where indifference rules. Love in the face of an enemy. Cross-carrying up a Calvary of couches.

None of this stuff is going to win a popularity contest, as it all runs counter to worldly thinking. The good news is that this is all for our good; what a graceful potter we have. It's just that, in the moment, these things often aren't what I want to do or what I want to believe in.

And it's even more troubling when I have to speak about these unpleasantries to people who don't follow Jesus. I am often embarrassed by these things because I know persecution will follow - not in the form of death sentences like our ancestors received but in the form of social ostracization, the most overwhelming influence that often keeps me from hiding my faith. We end up hated by the world, foreigners in a strange land. I don't like this either, but once again, I'm not making the rules.

If I were to create a religion, it sure wouldn't look like this. And yet it is that fact that stands as one of the most solid pillars on which my personal faith is rooted.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Odd Encounter of the Week: The Nature Boy

I spent a large portion of my 3-day weekend at Appalachain State University watching the Southern Conference Women's Volleyball Championships. My friend's girlfriend plays on Furman's team, so we have become groupies. The games are fast-paced and intense, and the fans get to sit close to floor and yell. Plus, this Tar Heel and Panthers fan needed a winner to pull for this fall (although, as an aside, the Panthers defense looked super for the first time all year yesterday; hope abounds).

Our new-found volleyball affinity has led to many odd encounters, most notably one with a large, potty-mouthed college student with many muscles and few neck who did not take kindly to our cheering when we roadtripped to Burlington for the Elon game. But these are stories for another time.

Furman, the #2 seed, got upset Friday afternoon by UNC-G, the #7 seed. Heartbreaking, especially for the players who played their last competitive volleyball of their lives that afternoon. As we were walking out of the stadium, we decided we should give away the package of tickets we had bought to people entering the stadium. We surely had no use for them and could save the arrivers 20 bucks or so.

I approached a couple of people in App State gear, but they already had tickets. I moved down the line and asked the next couple in line if they wanted my tickets. They accepted. As I handed the tickets to this bleach blond man in his mid-50's, I realized I recognized him. It took me a minute, as I mentally groped about for the identity. And then, from the dark annals of my memory, dating all the way back to my early high school WWF phase, I placed this face with none other than Ric Flair, inexplicably nicknamed the Nature Boy (if someone knows the beginnings or meaning of this nickname, I'm all eyes).

Given that I no longer follow "professional" wrestling, I didn't freak out. Flair was before my time anyways. Now if it had been Kane, that's another story. He's my favorite, er, was my favorite. I definitely would've wanted an autograph. And a picture. Ben and Kane. That photo would've been as timeless as the Choke Slam. Or even the Undertaker. Has there ever been a better nickname, given personality and context? I submit there has not. My favorite UT memory was a "buried alive" match in which the loser was the first person to get buried in a ring-side, pre-dug grave. I know the Undertaker participated, but I can't remember whether or not he won. On second thought, he had to win. He's the Undertaker, for crying out loud!

Ah, the good ol' days of the WWF. But I digress.

So I handed Ric my tickets, told my volleyball posse about my recent brush with fame, and moved along. This celebrity looked fairly normal, just another guy going to watch a sporting event. And he really is just a regular guy. He's seen around Charlotte all the time, and his daughter even went to pre-school with my brother. Maybe this encounter wasn't so odd after all.

Flair's trademark still is a loud scream that reads, "WOOOOOOOOOO," and seems to increase in pitch as the O's drag on. Meeting him as person instead of wrestler seemed to turn the "WOOOOOOOOO" into a "woo." It's amazing how speedos, wrestling rings, and hype can change the look of someone. Take those things away from the wrestler, and it's like putting glasses on Superman. You can hardly tell who he is anymore.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting Faith

A final post before I head off on a 3 day weekend a la montagne, as the elite would say:

Christianity claims some of its uniqueness in the fact that one does not have to do anything in order to receive salvation. No rituals or works required. Through the cross and the ensuing resurrection, God has done everything needed for us to claim righteousness and Heaven. All we must do is believe, accepting this work that Jesus has done on our behalf.

With this line of thinking, I have often thought that faith/belief/un-doubt is the one thing I must take care of on my own. God has done all the work; it is my responsibility to believe. Even James writes that we "must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord" (1:6-7).

Yet, as I described yesterday, I find that doubts plague me, especially in times of big decisions. Like sin, I struggle and often fail in this faith realm. I find myself incapable to do what seems needed to be done, a position I am frequently in but one that does not seem allowed in matters of faith and doubt. If I must have perfect faith for this whole Christian thing to work, I'm washed up the Red Sea without dry land.

Then, once again, Jesus is adequate where I am not. Even in matters of faith.

I love the father in Mark 9:24 who cries out to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my disbelief!" Jesus doesn't respond to an admitted lack of faith with wrath. He doesn't wag his Mutomboian forefinger and say, "Not in my house, you won't. I won't move until you have faith." He simply responds by healing the man's son, fulfilling his request.

Help me overcome my disbelief. What a radical request. And what a comforting one for me as I often find myself failing at faith. It's ok to ask God for help, even with unbelief.

The beautiful thing is that God heals the son every time. He may not fill the request as I want him to, but he never abandons me. I look back at the times where I failed to act out of faith, the times when I acted in faith on accident, and the times when I steeled my face and purposely acted in faith. Through them all, God was faithful to me, patiently hearing my pleas to overcome my lack of faith and working for my good in each of the situations.

Paralyzed by fear and nervousness, I often lack the faith required to really live a reckless life of service to God. Fortunately for me, God remains sufficient, his power, track record, and compassion overcoming my unbelief where I cannot.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Having Faith

I have a tendancy to make following Jesus great fun because entering a relationship with God provides a lot of pretty cool stuff. This has given rise in my life to what I've heard some phrase as "consumer Christianity" where I selfishly pick and choose the things that I like from faith and leave the rest sitting on the shelves.

A community that tries to genuinely love? Grab one of those for me.

Purpose for times of pain, hardship, and suffering? Toss that in the cart.

Peace, love, and joy? I'll take two, thank you very much.

These gifts from God are good, and he delights in giving them, along with a plethora of other blessings which usually go unnoticed in my sight. For all of this, I like having faith. It's fun because it serves me.

Last Wednesday, a guy named Chris (check out his blog, it's worth your time) left this as a comment on my blog concerning a monologue he has with God: "Sick? Yes, God, I've heard that before... Dead? Oh, I've heard that too. And don't get me wrong, I'm mighty thankful for how you got me out of that jam. Death to life, yeah, good stuff there. But I think I've got it from here." He didn't post this in the context in which I am using it, but the tone of it is applicable. His comment describes me in the consumer Christianity I often buy into. I take the stuff I like from God - death to life, getting me out of the jams, etc. - and then peace out.

Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - the receivables of faith are only part of this word, a word that should move me to great action rather than a great wish list.

While I often call these gifts from God parts of my faith, in and of themselves they do not require faith at all because I will take them whether or not I believe in God. Good companionship, comfort, peace, love, and joy are all things I want in my life regardless of whether or not God exists. It takes no faith to reach out and grasp them.

What takes faith is doing the things I don't want to do - serving, sacrificing, risking. These things must take root in a faith in something greater than me because they provide my selfish flesh nothing.

An opportunity to serve God through my occupation has recently entered my life, and at random intervals during my week, it shakes my faith to the core. If I were to do this, it would risk my entire existence on the existence of God. In other words, if God doesn't exist, I am wasting my life. The words of Paul from 1 Cor 15:19 haunt me: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." I don't want to be pitied more than all men. If I pursue this avenue, my existence rests on there being something more to life than what I see. And that takes faith.

So while peace, joy, purpose, and all that stuff are parts of my faith, given my self-serving nature they don't require much faith from me. Stepping out and risking my convenience, happiness, and reason for existence actually requires faith, maybe more than I have. . . .

But that's enough for today. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

401(k), Medical Insurance, and Celebrities

Odd Encounter of the Week: Roy Williams' Daughter

Borders is starting to become the equivalent of Morton's or the Hollywood walk of fame (or whatever that place is called where all those names are carved in stars on the ground). While working, I've bumped into Kris Jenkins and Antawn Jamison's brother-in-law while just missing Panthers kicker John Kasey.

So today I'm chatting with a woman who frequents the store a couple times a week. We met about 2 months ago when I inquired about her t-shirt from the now extinct "23" restaurant that used to sit on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. She graduated from UNC with an English major and still spends some weekends back up there visiting, so we usually have lots to talk about.

I was recounting my past weekend to her today, mentioning that I had gone to the Georgia Tech/UNC football game on Saturday. She countered by saying she was going to the Sacred Heart/UNC basketball opener tonight in Charlotte. Interested in attending myself, I asked where she got the tickets and how much she had to pay for them.

"Well, me dad's Roy Williams, so -"

I cut her off. "What?!?!? You've gotta be kidding!"

As if people lie about something like that. Good thinking, Humphries. And just for more irrational good measure:

"You're kidd - no, people wouldn't kid about this."

For those of you not familiar with the UNC culture, basketball is a big deal. In fact, it's the biggest deal. Butch Davis must not - and cannot - know this yet. Roy is the head coach of said basketball team, the man who we all greeted at the Dean Dome at 9pm on a weekday night my sophomore year when he decided to be our coach. Roy wins. And wins National Championships. Roy takes an interest in the school, both its athletics and academics. Roy does his job with class and abstains from placing his fist under a player's jaw. In short, Roy does his job about as well as one can do it, and the UNC nation loves him for it.

I stiffled my urge to plead for tickets, an autograph, or a handshake and promptly tried to gain control of myself. I didn't want to pull a 10 year-old school girl routine on her like I did Kris Jenkins (see blog entry from Oct 17). I really hate this awe I have for celebrities. They are people too and probably get tired of being treated like ideal concepts or beings uniquely defined by their occupations or relationships. Being related to Roy is probably pretty cool, but I imagine being an individual is even better. Yet, that thought still couldn't control my instinctive reaction to hearing that I was and had been speaking to Roy's kin.

Just like my encounter with Kris Jenkins, I once again walked around the store with a smile on my face the rest of the day, wanting to do nothing but share with family and friends that I had just had a brush with greatness. Say what I will about Borders but the job has turned out to have some pretty nice perks besides the retirement and medical plans.

Monday, November 13, 2006


No time for blogging exists when one has obtained one's first ever tickets to a Monday Night Football game.

Go Panthers!!!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sitting by the Phone

The Backstreet Boys released a song a couple years back entitled "The Call." It was genuis. They actually used a telephone ring as part of the percussion section. If cell phones can bring music into the telephone world, why not bring telephone rings into the music world? Pure genius.

The song opens with the line, "Let me tell you the story 'bout the call that changed my destiny." While this refers to AJ cheating on his girlriend, that line would also fit comfortably in the context of Christian culture. We talk about calls and callings all the time, places where God wants us to go and things God wants us to do that often "change our lives."

I struggle with this concept of a call. Maybe it's just the nomenclature of it. In normal everyday terms, a call involves the telephone and clear communication with another voice. I don't really get this with God. I haven't ever heard a voice, so I would never tell anyone I've "heard a call." I will qualify this comment by saying that I do think God "calls" us to everywhere that we go. I've never been anywhere or bumped into anyone on accident. Given the usual usage of the term, I think "calls" happen all the time. I am purposely called to Borders at this stage in life. My roomate is purposely called to the dentist office. My friend is purposely called to seminary. I just don't like using that terminology.

A call implies a confidence in God's will that I usually don't have. If I knew God to be calling me somewhere, I don't think I'd be as nervous about actually taking a step in that direction. In some of the larger decisions in my life that might have constituted a call (summer ministries, leadership positions, etc), I didn't feel overwhelming confidence that this was where I was supposed to be. The opportunity, passion, and discernment were present to make the decision, but I couldn't guarantee that this was where God was definitely calling me.

And I don't think I need to. In his book Sacred Thirst, M. Craig Barnes writes story after story of people who come into his office for prayer and guidance during a big life decision. "After we finish praying," he writes, "there is usually still no burning bush or burning conviction. As these folks leave my office, I often wonder if perhaps God hasn't put his hands in his pockets, shrugged his shoulders, and said, 'It doesn't really matter either way, because I love you.'" I find that profoundly comforting because it emphasizes God's care for us along the journey, in the present, rather than placing the importance on choosing the correct destination.

This concept of call also seems to box me in, as if there is one place and one place only where God wants me. Life decisions become a large game of Let's Make a Deal. My potential futures lie behind doors 1, 2, and 3. God is Monty Hall. Only one door is correct, the other ones are hilarious booby prizes, for everyone else but me. Choose wrong and there God is, saying, "Wow Humphries, you really missed that one. Good luck dealing with the fall-out of that choice." God's character is too faithful, too redemptive, too sovereign, too loving for this.

In lieu of this call terminology, I float along using opportunity, passion, and discernment to guide me in decisions, taking comfort and strength that God is with me in the heavens and in the depths, caring for me along the way and providing me his work to do whereever I am. Maybe that is the definition of a call, and I'm just refusing to use the term. Regardless, unlike the rascals from the rear of the road, I'm not counting on a call to change my destiny. I think those situations come in every moment I'm alive.

But that's all for now. My battery is low, just so you know. I'm going to a place nearby. I'm going to a place nearby. Gotta go.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Oprah Effect

Some folks have commented substantialy to yesterday's post, so take the time to sift through it and offer thoughts, if you desire. I won't distract with anything today except the recent happenings at Borders.

I've worked 5 of the past 6 days, and the first 4 of them, we sold out of this book entitled You on a Diet by noon (we open at 9:00am). There are no nice pictures on the front, only a solid blue cover. An excessive number of diet books and plans exist in our store. The price is $25.00 which is not cheap as far as books go. So why the heck can't we keep this thing from flying out of the store?

Becaue the author, Michael F. Roizen, went on Oprah.

Now I have never watched Oprah, and I know very little about her. I know that she is rich, that she has a tv show, and that Tim Meadows did an impersonation of her on SNL. But I am currently learning a lot about her without ever seeing her show or hearing her voice.

Every customer I talk to about the book can't tell me anything about it. I don't know what the diet requires, what it's consequences are, if it's any different from South Beach or Atkins or Dr. Phil. The buyers don't seem to know either. All we know is that Roizen went on Oprah with the book. Sold.

I had heard this was the case with her book club, but I'm seeing the dominance up close right now, and man is it impressive. Shipments arrive in quantities of 60 and then simply flow from the truck to the cash register without ever touching the sales floor. And it's all because of Oprah.

Again, I don't know much about her, but I do know she has figured "it" out. She's got to be one of the most influential people on the planet. I don't know of anyone short of Harry Potter that could pull this off - and even HP's got magic on his side. I really wish I had been around Borders when she put a trinity of William Faulkner's novels on display during the summer. Most English majors won't even read Faulkner for fun. He's verbose, consciousnessly streamed (making up words is fun), and darkly comedic. Not exactly beach reading. But I bet it sold. In the dead heat of summer, I bet it sold.

She's untouchable. I remember a while back she had a fella on who was pushing his autobiography, I believe it was. It came to light later on that he purposefully and overtly lied in the telling of his life. One would think this might cast doubt on Oprah's reputation as a book selector. Mr. Roizen's bank account reveals the foolishness of this thinking.

It's really a fascinating and awe-inspiring thing to watch. I don't know how she does it or what she's done, but whatever it is, she has mastered it. I feel priveleged to be able to witness it, like wandering through the Uffizi or watching my school win the National Championship, because people that get the intangible "it" like she does don't come around very often.

In his portrayal of Oprah, Meadows would often be carried around on a platform thing by peons, a la old-school Egypt. I always laughed because Meadows sounded funny in falsetto. I'm starting to see the commentary behind those skits now, being a witness to jaw-dropping market influence and domination. I've still never seen her show, but I now can't say that I've never seen her presence.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scattered Thoughts of a Newly-Churched Guy

I really hope you all who read my blog take the time to read the comments. Nearly without exception, they are more constructive than my posts, keeping my ramblings in line and elaborating on areas I left untouched. On Monday, Jenn left a comment concerning the Haggard situation that I want to draw attention to because I think it rightly responds to this situation that is so ripe for judgment and "holier than thou" thinking.

Her comments also spawned some thoughts in me about church. Admittedly, I have had precious little experience with said institution. I attended throughout my youth but more because the NFL pre-game shows were so bad and because everyone else down here in the South was doing it. Plus, I was scared of Hell. I thought going to church might provide some fire insurance, of sorts. 1 hour every Sunday for eternity seemed like a bargain. In college, it felt more like an obligation, as I attended on Sunday's but chose to primarily invest myself on campus. Only now in the post-college life am I starting to really learn what church is, how I can serve in it, and how it can minister to me.

My thoughts today concern this image of the church as "a hospital for sinners." I have heard the phrase concluded with "not a museum for saints." I believe this phrase to be truth, but as stated Monday, the world doesn't see the church this way. For whatever reason, most of us church-goers don't come across as people who need help, which could be an issue given that Jesus says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The world seems to miss this point entirely, but I'm not certain it's them missing it so much as us sending the wrong signals.

I think about my Sunday mornings. I never look better during the week than I do Sunday morning. I dress well (or as well as this notoriously bad dresser can). I am in a good mood given that I did not wake up early to go to work. I am further in a good mood because lunch out and football await. I talk about God most of the time I'm there. Usually, I am shaven. And I never spend enough time with anyone to really let them hear much about my life. Small talk is, after all, small talk because one never gets to anything big. Except those few people who know me really well, most people see me - and everyone else - Sunday morning as people who have their stuff together. Nevermind what I look like and think about when I roll out of bed at 6am, er 5am, Monday morning. Nevermind the thoughts that motivate my actions throughout the day. Nevermind the trivialities which I allow to consume my life (speaking of which, I could use a big night out of Elton Brand tonight). All they see is me and a room full of well-dressed, smiling people with God on their lips.

The really frustrating thing for my beloved cynicism is that this situation occurs through no real action of my own. I'm not really faking anything, given conversation in Sunday school and smaller groups tends to be real, raw, and honest. Just at the moment in that large group setting, life is good since I'm not at work, hearing about God, and waiting for football. I want to blame myself, Christians, somebody, but this anti-hospital appearance seems to just kind of happen.

I guess the blame (that word is too negative but it's all I've got right now) lies in recognizing what this portrays and not doing anything about it. But even then, do I not shave? Do I wear a tank-top to worship? Do I confess sin the instant anyone says, "Hey, how's it going?"?

I don't know. Perhaps worrying about how the world sees us would all go away if I spent the effort caring about my walk with the Lord. Humility seems to be the answer to the world's view of Christianity, and that has to start on the individual level. If the world new Christians as humble lovers and servants, maybe it would change its perception of Church or Christianity, regardless of what Sunday morning may look like. After all, patients in a hospital are defined by humility, completely dependent on the care of another. There can be no "holier than thou" thinking when I have to ask another to empty my bedpan.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Boulder Life

Odd Encounter of the Week: 5:15a.m.

One of the greatest challenges I have found in the post-collegiate life is how to avoid the monotonous predictability known as The Rut. Wake up. Breakfast. Work. TV. Dine. Sleep. Repeat. Unlike college which offers up a mine of extra-curricular gems from which to chose, the real world provides only a monolithic rock out of which one must chisel her/his life. The temptation exists every day to trudge home from work and veg. After all, it feels good. Plus, things like television, cat naps, dinner, fantasy basketball (Three cheers for Lamar Odom!), and couches can fill time rather well. In the end though, these gratuitous distractions merely leave me feeling sluggish and bored.

I have recently attempted my first carvings into this boulder of life, trying to craft some sort of excitement. Church shakes up my Sunday. Grey's A parties consume me Thursday. Trivia Night and its impressively lewd team names entertain me on Wednesday night. All of this is fun and gives my week some sort of variance. But what I really need is something exciting, something immature, something irresponsible. Like a 5 hour round-trip drive to the beach at 10p.m. Or streaking.

Last week, I got invited to join a group of middle-aged guys who play pick-up games of basketball at a local church starting at 5:15a.m. on Monday's and Friday's. What a great idea! Nothing goes on at 5:15a.m. No work, no Grey's A, no nothing. A little wildness, a little adventure, with no inconvenience. I'm so in!

Until I encountered 5:15a.m.

The first morning I got out of bed and got dressed. I then proceeded to stand in my dark room contemplating what I was doing. I tend to commit to things with intensity, so I knew if I went out that door, I was probably sentencing myself to pre-sun wake-up calls twice a week for the next 9 months. Pride wouldn't let me go once and not return. This is stupid, this is stupid, this is stupid, pounded in my head over and over. I thought about a step towards bed. Then I stopped thinking. And that is what one must do to do anything at 5:15a.m. Simply shut the brain off and move. I crossed the threshhold of my door, spurning the currents of the Rubicon. The dye was cast.

So twice a week now, I wake up way too early simply to feel young and irresponsible, which is ironic given that I am going to spend time with dudes in their 30's and 40's who have families and respectable jobs. They're a fun gang to play ball with though. They call archaic double dribbles, set picks with their elbows out, flatulate in the lane, argue about the score, acknowledge airballs with mockery, make fun of called touch fouls, and take the games too seriously. My kind of people.

The first morning I played, I had a headache by 10:00a.m., and it didn't relent all day. My body is starting to adjust, but it really doesn't matter. Sometimes we just need to do something for no reason, to just be stupid, as I reminded myself that first morning. It makes us feel alive. So here's hoping this Odd Encounter of the Week continues to become less and less odd.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Finger Pointing

Two situations. . .

(1. Last week, evangelical leader Ted Haggard, pastor of a 14,000-member church, admitted to purchasing methamphetamines and receiving a massage from a gay prostitute. He denied using the drugs or having sex. Who knows what the truth really is, but when methamphetamines, ministers, and media all come together, it's enough to make one say, "Geez."

2. Also last week, a co-worker explained to me how she had grown up going to church "3 times a week," then gave up on it because of perceived hypocracy. Another co-worker had recently invited her to attend church, and she initially accepted. . . until she learned her ex-husband's mistress attended that church. She told me, "I just can't sit in the same pew with people like that.")

. . . last week made me feel like I'd been punched in the stomach.

Each of these situations left me disappointed, angry, and helpless. I found myself wondering how such a prominent member of the church could mess around with drugs and prostitutes with so much at stake. I inwardly scorned this woman for pushing my co-worker away from God through her actions. I gave up trying to speak truth in love to my friend who is hurting beyond my comprehension, a hurt that is currently linked with the church.

Ugh. Right in the stomach.

These two situations are first and foremost sin issues that must be worked through by the individual within community, but they relevantly confront my life because they are image issues. These people represent the faith which I claim, so, on some level, they affect me. People have consistently labeled the church as a place full of hypocrites, people who don't practice what they hear preached. When folks do things like that described up above, it seems to give validity to the charges.

Try as they might, all organizations deal with this image stuff. Borders asks that I not arrive to work sporting a neck beard (or "neard" to all you facial hair afficianados out there) and avoid saying anything that might remotely sound like "dang" or "shoot." Yet, even my manager gets short with customers on occassion. (As a side note, my manager recently filled out a Transaction Abort sheet after a frustrating interaction with a customer that read: "Transaction Abort - Reason: Bitch." Probably my favorite thing that will happen in my tenure at Borders. But I digress.). UNC basketball exudes an image of class and integrity, a culture instilled by the impeccable Dean Smith. Yet, the players still show up to Matt Doherty's firing announcement in casual, indifferent dress. And Miami University football. . . . well, they don't even try when it comes to image. Just win (or go .500), baby.

In today's world, image issues must be confronted, and how Christianity deals with these image issues makes it utterly unique. The world tries shaving, clothing, punishments, seminars, rituals, anything to try to make its people perfect, to try to fix its image problem. Christianity does not exhaust a package of blue Bic razors on my neck. It does not demand formal attire at the hiring of the new coach. It does not "punish" fighting football players for 1 game. It does not base its image on its people because it knows that sins are unavoidable, given the imperfection of man.

Christianity simply points to God.

So while situations like 1 and 2 are disappointing and tough to swallow, they are not deadly because we don't follow men. God is always at the center, regardless of what man may do, which is good because the Father is everything that man is not. The situations of last week clearly show this. Man sins. God is immaculately holy. Man is fickle and untrustworthy. God is eternally faithful. Man is greedy, driven by self. God is perfect love. That which is based upon human efforts will ultimately fail - even image correction. That which is based upon God's character will stand forever.

So what do I do when confronted with situations that seem to make Christianity blush, that seem to verify our hypocracy, that seem to show people that faith doesn't change anything?

Keep pointing to God and away from us. Like I should've been doing all along.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Grey Friday

Thoughts on Grey while trying to be ham:

-I watched last night's episode in a room with 4 other men and no women, even while #3 West Virginia and #5 Lousiville were running up and down the field on each other with a potential National Title shot on the line. I think that says something, but I'm not sure what.

-Christina and Burke are becoming painful to watch. The scene where he destroyed Bailey, one of the favorite characters on the show, to cover for Christina just hurt. She only loves him as an ideal concept, not a man, and that's really a hard thing to watch, especially when it hurts others (and eventually kills a patient as I believe it will).

-Question: Has Meredith actually ever done anything medically successful on the show? She does the routine stuff with a clipboard, but we never see her step up in crunch time (bomb episode excluded, which wasn't really medical) like Alex did last night, for example.

-One of Grey's finer moments occured last night when Izzy told the burn victim that asking for help doesn't make you crazy. We all need community to support us, and it was nice to see that acknowledged.

-I believe men should cry more. However, I do not want to cry at a tv show about fake people. Occassionally, Grey's makes me really fight it though (ie, last year when the father of the girl killed in the car crash puts his hand on the other driver's shoulder as a sign of forgiveness). It happened again last night when the fiancee called the baby girl, who wasn't biologically his, his child. It oversimplified a complex situation and it was pure Hollywood, but it still tore me up. But only a little.

-McSteamy is becoming a one-trick clown. All he ever does is sleep with people, and it's starting to be hilarious because it's all he does.

-Next week looks like a classic episode. All the men in the mountains, McSteamy going after Grey, and, everybody's favorite, castration!

-Grey's A was featured on the cover of US Weekly magazine this past week with the headline: "War on the Set! Violence, a gay star forced to come out, Patrick Dempsey's bravery. Who'll get fired - will Grey's Anatomy survive." A) Of course, Grey's will survive; it's the best show on television and has a cult-like following, yours truly included. B) We had the story of the on-set brawl last week. Redeeming Prufrock, always one step ahead of US Weekly :)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hangin' with The 'Low

Odd Encounter of the Week: Cardboard Barry Manilow

Sophomore year of college, my roomate Nate and I went through our Barry Manilow phase. And don't act like you never did. We were watching the Simpsons one day when Krusty the Klown starting singing a song to his not-so-trusty sidekick, Sideshow Bob. The ballad was set to the tune of Manilow's "Mandy" and went something to the effect of: "Oh, Bob, you came to Apu's and you framed me, then they took you away, oh Bob." We thought the tune was catchy, so we searched out the actual song through a music download engine. Manilow and behold, "Mandy" ended up on the playlist for 214 Morrison.

As time went on, we grew tired of only one Barry Manilow song to jam out to, so we added such great hits as "Copacobana" and "Can't Smile Without You" to the list. The 'Low had become our third roomate. We would put quotes from his songs on our AOL Instant Message profiles and use them as away messages ("at the Copacobana," "I can't smile with you :) ", "listening to Barry Manilow," etc.). Many people laughed. Some condescendingly turned up their noses. A couple responded with downright anger at our disgraceful musical taste.

After two weeks, the persecution proved too much, and we ruefully evicted Barry from our copacobana. We haven't smiled without him.

Until now.

A cardboard poster of The 'Low appeared in the inventory room of Borders last week. Remembering the good ol' days, I coveted said cardboard. Being new to the store, I asked if one could get one's hands on this poster when the store had no more use for it - hypothetically speaking, of course. My co-workers ensured me that the poster would be mine, or "one's," if one would simply put his/her name and date on the back of the poster. I found a pen and immaculately scribed: "Give to Ben please!!! 10-24-06"

Yesterday, the poster finished its run at Borders, and I strolled out of the store with a large cardboard picture of the man who looks like Mike Krzyzewski with blond hair. It looks great in our living room right next to our framed college diplomas and the television. Our third roomate has returned. His smile now greets us with warmth after a long day at work, saying, "Hey roomies, welcome home. Good to see you." We anticipate soaring to new highs with the return of our old friend The 'Low.

Justin Timberlake may be bringing sexy back, yeah, but Apt. 9601L is bringing Barry back. As soon as we can get to our parents' house and retrieve the "Ultimate Manilow." With The 'Low back in our lives, we can now smile again.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Good News in Humility

Thoughts like those from Monday's post used to frustrate the heck out of me and drive me to despair. A truer acknowledgement of my sin and the futility of my efforts made life seem vain. Humility can't always be the truth because there's no point in doing anything if I have no hope of ever doing it right. Moreover, I must question my value if I mess up even my efforts at service. Really, what good am I then? But a couple of truths emerge from humility that destroy the despair and have become some of the most beautiful truths in my life - giving my life purpose and worth.

1) I do not have to save the world.

And this is a good thing because I can't. Given the state of my heart Saturday night when I was "serving" and doing "good works," it's a good thing that the world's salvation isn't on me because we would be in a world of hurt.

A friend and I used to yell at each other, "You ain't the light!" (John 1:8 - "He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.") We had tendencies to whittle ourselves down to nothing, trying to be everything and doing everything for everyone. The truth is we can't and don't have to. That's God's job, and he does it quite well.

Regardless of how I sometimes think and act, only God can perfectly care for us as we need to be cared for. Humility forces me to this beautiful realization. What great freedom from anxiety, what great hope for the world then flows forth.

2) God allows me to be a part of his work in this world.

Few realities have so impacted my life as this one. As excited as I get about Julius Peppers messing up a right tackle or Steve Smith gliding into the end zone, nothing compares to the rush of seeing God doing work. And this joy can only exist if the work is God's and not mine.

There is no room for pride here - only humility, adventure, and awe. We can see some of this in White's words from yesterday. Accepting God's invitation to the Christ-life places us in that galactic struggle of good and evil, makes us warriors, and allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. The last item in the list is crucial for this discussion. This isn't something of ourselves, and the something sure isn't ourselves. We are merely a humble part. And what a pure gift it is that we are called to come along for the ride, even with attitudes like the one that I had Saturday night.

Perhaps that was the saddest part of that whole ordeal. The Almighty and Sovereign God who created everything was serving his children and working for their good - and I missed it. Fortunately, these opportunities to be a part of God's work are constant, as God doesn't quit on me even when I choose to avoid an opportunity. What purpose and excitement this brings into my life, all because the good work is God's and not mine. Humility must be.

3) The God who does all of these good things that I cannot do calls me his child.

Nothing more can validate my existence or my worth. Regardless of my failures and my futility, God calls me his son with whom he is well-pleased, a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus, the beloved, all because of Jesus's work on the cross. I am not worthless because of my failures. On the contrary, God redeems them, releases me from them, calls me to be a part of his work, and desires me to pursue a loving relationship with him. My post on Monday seemed to be some of the worst news of my life. Yet, somehow God transformed that reality into the best news of my life - that I have purpose and value.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Anti-Prufrock

I've got some more thoughts about the good news and joy that comes from yesterday's not-so-happy thoughts, but I'll save them for tomorrow when I have a little more time to flesh them out. For now, I recently ran across this passage that reminded me of Prufrock. This fellow articulates similar questions about purpose and security, but, unlike Prufrock, he has a response to the individual's struggle for identity and meaning. I like what he has to say.

"That's what I want for my life: To be caught up in the sweep of history. To be in the center of things. To be making a difference. To be at the heart of the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. Where can that happen in the real world? How can I be a part of something that is bigger than I am? Where in life can something so grand be found?

Then it came to me - as startling sudden as a rip of lightning and as poundingly affirmed as any thunder that could follow - that's what God's invitation to the Christ-life is all about! There is a galatic struggle going on, and I could be a warrior. I could give my life to something that was bigger than I was, that would live on long after I was gone. What I did mattered and could impact all of history - even into eternity." -James Emery White, From Serious Times

Monday, October 30, 2006

Flunking Humility

I recently ran across a quote which has become my current favorite. To prove this, I have placed it in my e-mail signature. The line is as follows:

Humility is always truth.

Concise lines have a tendency to unexpectedly and intentionally stop us cold. This one hit me pretty hard. The words are from Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel, in which he briefly continues his point by saying that this humility, this truth is "the blunt acknowledgement that I owe my life, being, and salvation to Another."

Given the assumption that one believes in god, there is nothing spectacular here. Almost by definition, the concept of "god" involves creation, power, and the general quality of being bigger and better than us. Accordingly, we are at least partially indebted to this being (who is more [every good adjective] than us) for creating us. What pot would think itself more powerful than the potter? Thus, one can only brag on onself but so much.

Yet, Manning uses the word "always." In a "True or False" question, we are taught to always put a big ol' "F" if we see the word "always," as there are (ironically) always exceptions. Should Manning's line receive an "F" from us as readers? After all, certainly we can rightly claim some credit for our deeds some of the time.

Saturday night I found myself in the beloved role of Designated Driver, affectionately known as D.D. I spent the hours between 11p.m. and 1:00a.m. carting people around South Charlotte. Everytime I re-emerged at the bar for another load, I was lauded with compliments about my character and sacrificial nature by my peers.

On the outside, this was a situation where it appeared I was doing some good and deserved credit for my actions. Perhaps my utter humility was not the necessary response in this situation. What my lauders did not know, however, was the condition of my heart at this time - the bitterness with which I cruised down Ballantyne Commons Dr., the curses that were internally (and at one point, verbally) directed at the people I was "serving," the jealousy I had for those who were not driving. Had they known this, they would have been disgusted. And rightly so. Heck, if I hadn't known people were watching, I probably wouldn't have even volunteered to drive.

All of a sudden, the compliments, the credit, and the un-humility seem ridiculous.

The truth of the situation was that Jesus was serving these people, and I simply bitched about it. I had a front row seat to the Almighty God doing what he does best, and all I did was wallow in my own sense of entitlement. Jesus got those folks home, in spite of me, not because of me.

And this is always the case in my attempts at servanthood. When I am honest with myself, I rarely ever serve people out of love. And when it does happen, it's an accident. I don't even realize it in the moment. Personal gain, glory, and pride are always present, as I feel like I'm passing Christianity with flying colors. All the while, I'm failing humility, servanthood, and Christ-likeness. It is Christ doing the holy, pure, and righteous serving, not I.

So where is there room for boasting? Even in my "good deeds," where is there ever room for boasting? Manning really pegs me pretty well because, in my life, humility really is truth. God is surely responsible for my "life, being, and salvation." But he is also completely responsible for any good that I might do, for it is God "who alone does great wonders" (Psalm 136:4).