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).

Always.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brain Hash

My friend Alex Kirk used to do a Grabbag Friday on his blog which involved random thoughts heading into the weekend. I really like this idea because it prevents too much thinking on a Friday - especially the rainy Friday afternoon of a 3-day weekend. Plus, regardless of what Alex may leave as a comment, it is I who desire to be like him. Not the other way around.

-I had to close the store for the first time on a Thursday last night. Grey's A was a rerun. There's something divine at work in that, I think.

-Speaking of work, I noticed a genre of DVD yesterday called "Horror Comedy." Perhaps my reaction to Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was exactly what the creators were shooting for.

-Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets starting center and, more importantly, the second round pick of my fantasy NBA team "Ridin Dirty," sprained his ankle yesterday. Yao, get your ankle (along with your field goal percentage, points, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, points, and blocks) well soon!

-Just finished reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Really interesting read. His writing is very informal and scattered which is hard for me. I'm kind of old-fashioned and prefer writing that is straightforward and continuous. Give me the literary 1600's over the 1960's anyday. Still, it was nice to be stretched. He had some really interesting ideas on our falsely exalted view of humanity as anything more than machines. He also argued for a ho-hum attitude towards death, given that it happens all the time and happens to everyone eventually. The only hard thing was, given his darkly comedic and semi-absurd tone, I can't really tell if he was defending these two ideas or mocking them.

-Two songs I just can't get enough of right now: Fergie's "London Bridge" and Dierks Bentley's "Every Mile a Memory."

-Two great ways to enjoy a rainy day: 1) take a nap while listening to the rain beat against the gutters and 2) go running. Mission #1 has been accomplished. Off to #2!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Howling

I have never understood the appeal of horror movies. Fear and fright have never seemed enjoyable to me in real life; I can't imagine willingly placing myself under their control for entertainment. A friend once tried to explain to me that horror movies gave one the rush of danger without the negative consequences. Eh. Accordingly, I have never engaged the horror flicks that seem to consume non-ESPN cable tv this time of year.

So Tuesday afternoon, a friend google chatted me from work and said Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was playing on AMC at 8. I was skeptical. He questioned my manhood. I told him the World Series was on at 8, questioning his manhood. I had seen all the Austin Powers movies anyways. In the end, I decided it was time to buck up and confront old fears. Plus, one has to take advantage of this time of year. As much as I want to keep the Halloween spirit in my heart year-round, I never can seem to do it.

Halloween 4 was bad, but in that "this is so bad I'm enjoying it" kind of way. The dialogue was horrendous, both in its writing and in its delivery. My personal favorite:

Man: "What are we dealing with here?"
Other Man (dramtically): "Evil."

It felt like a high schooler had written and acted the scene. Plus, I have never watched a movie that had so little plot. An hour into it, very little had changed besides the setting (insane asylum to country suburbs) and the body count (1 to 4). No creativity. Just a large, silent, masked villain chasing a little girl for no apparent reason, leaving a couple bodies and two exploded gas pumps in his wake. In fairness to the movie, I had not watched Halloween, Halloween II: The Nightmare Isn't Over!, or Halloween III: Season of the Witch, so maybe I simply missed all the plot development.

Speaking of the villain, Michael Myers, he was my favorite part. The characters claimed he wasn't human which implies some type of super powers. The only powers I saw were:

1) the ability to stick his thumb through a man's forehead
2) the ability to beat the good guys to every location, despite the fact that they left the previous scene before he did and were in a car
3) the ability to juice someone's head with his hand like I would juice a citrus fruit simply by squeezing it

According to my analysis, he's either just really strong or from Star Trek. Not very special. He was hilarious though. Just stalking around, not saying anything, being huge, squeezing people, and eventually falling into a grave (note: they never checked to see if he was dead, the perfectly cheesy and cliched plot hole to allow for Halloween 5: The Return of Michael Myers, Again).

It was a great night. My buddy and I howled and howled. But not with fright as AMC's commercials would've made you think. We howled with sheer delight at the unintentional hilarity of this horror movie.

My first experience with Halloween horror was great. Tonight at 8 on AMC: Hellraiser. I have to work from 4-11pm. Time to call in sick.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Forgetting to Remember

A lot of the Psalms talk about remembering the deeds that God has done. In fact, a couple of them consist entirely of a listing of God's movements in the lives of the Israelites. My particular favorite is Psalm 77:10-11: "Then I thought, 'To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.' I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago."

This act of remembrance falls through the cracks of my spiritual life quite often, and it seems to never get the credit that other aspects of our faith do. Prayer, scripture, and fellowship get network broadcasting while remembrance is relegated to AMC next to "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers."

The recent postings on risk and sovereignty have forced me to look back at my life a little, and it amazes me how much I have forgotten or choose not to think about. The gaze towards the consequences of my risks and decisions, and the fact that they turned out ok, forces me to acknowledge God's work in my life. Herein lies the importance of remembrance.

Remembering what God has done leads me back to worship. Just as the listings in the Psalms always progress towards thanks and an acknowledgement of God's character, so too do the listings of God's work in my life lead me to realize just how big, awesome, loving, and relevant my God really is. Like the Psalmist, I am able to praise God for what he did in the Bible, but what a poignant gift it is to be able to praise God for revealing himself in my life. And these workings are present daily if I would only see them. Remembrance reminds me in a relevant, tangible way of God's character and of my need to worship him.

It also leads me into faith. One of my favorite requests in the Bible is when a father asks Jesus to help his unbelief. When I request this same thing from God, he often responds through my memory. When I have doubts as to whether God will care for my next step, as to whether he is really on my side, as to whether he even exists, to this I should appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. He has come through again and again, proving himself faithful as he says he is. Through risks, decisions, victories, and disasters, God has never abandoned me, regardless of what I thought in the moment. What great hope I would live in if I only chose to remember.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Freedom of Sovereignty

Yesterday was Monday, meaning I took my place in my Monday Morning Quarterback armchair to sift through a bunch of "what if"'s about my Panthers. What if Delhomme had thrown the ball into the stands instead of to the Bengals safety? What if the much-talked-about defense could've come up with a stop in the last 4:00? What if I had been able to watch the game, tossing my will and superstition behind the blue and black? Alas, what if?

What if's can haunt us. Ask John Bunting. If Joe Dailey gets the ball in the end zone against Rutgers, we might be .500 and Bunting might still be employed for another year. What if's can drive us crazy if we allow them too. We can always second-guess big decisions that we make, wondering what life would look like if we had gone to a different college, taken a different job, or moved to a different city.

It gets rather scary when we start playing the what-if game with our small decisions because, so often, moments we thought were routine and inconsequential turned out to be life-changing. A buddy of mine has recently been developing a relationship with an old friend who he simply ran into at the post office. This chance meeting has changed his life now and could for the long-term as well. A last-minute decision to go to the beach 3 years ago eventually landed me in a position which changed the entire focus of my life. One afternoon in high school, the decision to go for a run - a decision I made with routine regularity - resulted in a broken leg that ended my competitive running career and thus sent me to a different college.

What if my friend doesn't go to the post office? What if I stay and watch football instead of going to the beach? What if I just take the day off from running? All minor decisions which had huge consequences.

As someone who likes control, these questions can drive me nuts. They basically imply that EVERY decision I make matters - and matters a whole lot. What stress that puts on things like deciding what to eat, whether to watch tv or go to a friend's house, whether to get in my car, whether to go run, whether to do anything!

Enter the freedom of God's sovereignty.

I don't know much about sovereignty. The concept tends to run me around in theological circles til I get nowhere, very dizzily. But I can't imagine God watching my life from above and saying, "Damn, where did that come from?" to anything that might happen to me. In his Word, God claims soveriegnty over my existence, even over the little decisions. I can't micromanage every little decision in my life to ensure I get the outcome I desire. But I don't have to. God is in control, guiding my life to get me where he wants me in big decisions and little ones.

One of the things God promises us is freedom. This releases us from the bondage of a lot of things - guilt, fear, sin, all kinds of stuff. I personally love that his sovereignty frees me from worrying about the multitude of consequences that could result from even the smallest decisions. He takes the consequences under his purposeful direction and moves powerfully for my benefit. What freedom that provides me as I make hundreds of decisions every day. Coincidence doesn't exist, as I am where I am for a reason. Praise God that sovereignty doesn't deal in what-if's.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Worth the Risk

The significant mileposts in the progression of my life have been marked by risks. Some of these risks "paid off," providing some of the greatest moments of joy and celebration in my life. Others bombed, wrecking me emotionally and spiritually for months at a time.

Looking back at these situations, I've decided I don't like the phrase "paid off" (ergo, the preceding, grammatically unecessary quotation marks). The phrase implies that the risk was simply about the result. If the result is success, then risk good. If the result is failure, then risk bad.

The results of our decisions are important; it is a good thing for our work to bear fruit. At the same time, labeling risks simply by the results may entirely miss their point. Life, after all, is about how we live in the moment and not about where we end up.

In the risks in my life, either joy or wreckage has usually resulted, but growth/maturation/learning/etc has also tagged along. Wallowing in results, I often miss this truth about risks - that regardless of the outcome, they always drew me to a greater dependence on God and a fuller understanding of who he is. In those moments, I understand what it means to be weak. God tells us that his power is made perfect in weakness, so these moments of risk show me God's power in a way that I refuse to see when I arrogantly hold onto my facade of control, comfort, and certainty. By taking the risk, I get a small glimpse of that often cliched by rarely realized life of dependence on God.

If they are prayerful and in the interest of God's purposes, risks have always been a good idea in my life. Not because they will end in raving successes. And surely not because they will be fun and increase happiness. But because they more poignantly and more really reveal to me the powerful and loving character of my Father. Whether amidst the emotioal ruins of a risk gone bad or the pristine peak of victory previously unknown, I can look back and see that everything worked out, that I had been cared for all along. A little more has been learned about who God is. And that makes it worth the risk.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Reflections on Kenan

The Tar Heels game last night was bad beyond words. Rarely does one see announcers struggle so badly to say something, anything, like Fowler and Herbstreit struggled during my time watching. But honestly, what do two guys who are used to watching Ohio State, Florida, Texas, and Notre Dame say about that team? After watching it (ok, ok, occassionally flipping to it), I needed happy thoughts. A couple reasons why I love Kenan Stadium:

-T.A. McClendon fumbling on the 1
-the way everything looks from the stadium above the treeline
-unlike basketball, one can always get tickets
-the way it reminds me of my childhood; we always went because of aforementioned tickets
-going into the 4th quarter against Miami - with a chance
-last Saturday was 60 degrees and sunny
-dancing to the band because, hey, we had to entertain ourselves somehow
-stubbing my toe on a torn-down goal post
-the hype of an ABC television truck watching my walk to class on Friday morning
-pretending to run the option down the elementary school hall because Jason Stanicek gave me something to get excited about on the weekends for the first time in my young life
-beating Wake Forest for my first college ACC win - a year and a half after I enrolled
-singing the alma mater
-Julius Peppers
-how I've never been in that stadium without someone I cared about beside me

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kickin' It Old School

The churches I have attended the past 3 years have all maintained a tangible, obvious respect for the Church's history. At most services, we would read a creed, a catechism, or some other old school text (by the way, thinking about this today made me label a CD at work "old school," which created an awkward stare and silence from my middle-aged, female customer). I never knew how much I had appreciated this until I visited some churches this past month that did not include this in the service.

It's good for me to engage this material, as I do it on my own sparingly at best. Subconsciously, I think I think that my generation is smarter than every other preceding generation. Plus, I'm often too lazy to work through long sentences and un-modern language. And the writing is often boring. Admittedly, all of this is to my discredit.

This past Sunday at chruch we read from The Westminster Confession, "Chapter XVI of Good Works." It really did a great job of explaining one of those Christian paradoxes with which I often struggle - the co-existence of faith and works. I tend to gloss over lists without thinking about the content, but the listed items in this text are really powerful. Plus, the listed items are so intense that they need be separated by semi-colons instead of commas as only old school lit can do. Without further ado:

"Pastor: Good works are only such as God has commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.

People: These good works, done in obediance to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

All: We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sun, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Holiday merchandise has started seeping its jolly way into the inventory shipments at work. In this business, we don't keep Christmas with us all through the year (to quote the classic video Christmas Eve on Sesame Street), but it does hang around for a solid four months.

This puts us employees close to the front lines in the annual Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate which has seemed to rage during the past couple seasons of joy, peace, and every other adjective that is non-raging. To clarify the issue for my purposes, the phrase "Merry Christmas" has been increasingly under attack by people who claim that America is full of people who aren't Christians and thus do not celebrate Christmas. The words should be replaced by more inoccuous ones such as "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings." Folks on the other side argue that this is simply another step toward the secularization of our society.

It amazes me that such a large part of the Christian community gets so fired up about this. What really is at stake here? A repetitive "Merry Christmas" will not bring anyone closer to the freedom and grace Jesus offers, nor does saying "Happy Holidays" constitue denying Christ. Win or lose, it seems like nothing is gained. Except maybe pride.

I try to place myself in the position of one who does not follow Jesus. Say everyone walked around greeting me with "Happy Hannukah" during the month of December. This would not bring me to a blind rage, but it certainly would not mean anything to me. Moreover, I would receive it with indifference and thus miss the thought and well-wishes which were intended with the greeting.

Alienation and interpersonal coldness are not the things of Christ.

It seems as if the Christian community wants to hold on to this idea that we are a society which has submitted itself to God and his laws. The truth of this is obviously debatable, but irrelevant in this conversation. I think we need more God in our society. But I wonder if bludgeoning everyone with this banal greeting is the proper way to accopmlish said goal. We get so fired up to share Jesus with our culture through this holiday greeting. Yet, we often balk when we can really share Jesus with our culture by tithing, listening, forgiving, asking for forgiveness, serving, speaking, praying, loving, and a whole heavenly host of other things which we tend to be not so passionate about.

So at work this holiday season, my hope for my customers is that they have a "Happy Holidays." Here's also hoping that they hear Christ in everything else I do and say.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Big Jenk and Ben

The plan was to write something of substance today. I wallowed in Grey's A and football for a couple days, and it was time to start thinking about something that mattered again. Then, at 12:30, 335 lbs of substance walked into my life.

Odd Encounter of the Week: Kris Jenkins

A little backstory: I have a Carolina Panthers problem. I really really like them. I was a founding member of the 5-person "Panther Nation" (complete with screen name, website, and pledge of allegiance). I have a gameday uniform composed of Panthers sleep pants, socks, t-shirt, hat that looks like a real panther head, and Growl Towel. I used to unintentionally wake my suitemates up on Sunday morning, growling as I headed out the door to church.

So today, I'm shelving books in the Interior Design section when I look over and a large football-player-shaped man is hanging out in World History. I examine his face and, lo and behold, it's Kris Jenkins, the 6'4" 335 lb starting defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers.

I immediately become nervous. I HAVE to talk to him. He's in my store! But what do I say? And can I shake his hand? Should I talk about the game or does he get tired of that? How do I make him think I'm cool and not just a groupie?

I spill some of my nervous energy out onto my co-workers. Unfortunately, everyone on the clock with me at 12:30 is a woman. Not to play off stereotypes but a lot of women don't like football. These don't either. And they sure don't know who Kris Jenkins is. I tell them all about him and how I want to talk to him.

They say I am blushing.

Anyways, I finally work up the nerve to approach him under the cover of work. "Sir, can I help you find anything?" I ask in as professional a voice as I could muster.

And then the moment came. . . . he says Yes!

Ahem, I mean, uh, I help him find the book he was looking for like any good bookseller would do. Man, I am nervous though. I want to act normally, but how can I be normal when I am in a conversation with Kris Jenkins, the guy whose picture was my computer background all summer as I longed for my Panthers while listening to nothing but Red Sox and Patriot gibberish?

He is looking for Sun Tzu's The Art of War on the computer search engine. Of course he's looking for such a book! So he can further pummeled the stripes right out of the Bengals' offensive line next week!!! I attempt to help, but he's so big that I can't get close enough to the computer to do anything without bumping into him.

Later at the shelves when I'm helping him find which translation would be right for him, one of my co-worker confidants comes up with a Panthers calendar and asks him to autograph it. He awkwardly hesitates, as I had played it cool up to this point - except for my nervously shaky voice. The whole time he has been just Average Joe, all 335 lbs of him. Then she tells him it's for me, that I'm a big fan.

@#$%, my cover is blown. No way he thinks I'm cool now.

But Ben, he never thought you were cool. He 6'4" and plays in the NFL. Your 5'11" and shelve books.

Oh, yeah.

As he's heading to the cash register to pay, I decide to show off my football prowess, offering the keen analysis, "By the way, ya'll played a great game Sunday. Take care."

"Thanks, take it easy man."

Then he smiled at me. I was giddy the rest of the day.

I could go on all night, but that's enough. Besides, I have a calendar I have to go hang on my wall.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

From the Charlotte Observor, Friday, October 13, 2006:

"Grey's" doctors get physical

By Sandy Cohen
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -Doctor, doctor, give us the news. But ABC is staying mum about the reported on-set scuffle between the actors portraying Dr. McDreamy and Dr. Burke on TV's top-rated "Grey's Anatomy."
An argument between Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey got physical and led to a temporary pause in production, the New York Daily News reported in its Wednesday editions.
The actors shared a heated exchange Monday about cast members' delaying a scene when Washington, 43, grabbed Dempsey, 40, by the throat and shoved him, according to the newspaper.
Representatives for the actors said the two have made amends.
"Differences are inevitable, " Washington's publicist, Cynthia Snyder, said in a statement. "They were aired, resolved and everyone has moved on."
Dempsey's spokeswoman echoed that sentiment:
"There was an argument on set. In any close-knit family, sometimes people argue. But everybody made up and went back to work."
On-set arguments are common, said TV historian Tim Brooks, co-author of "The Complete Dictionary to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows."
"Diva-like conduct is certainly not unusual," he said. "You have a lot of egos there, and you have a lot of creative people who think they're more creative than the other."
"Moonlighting," which aired from 1985 to 1989, was famous for its fighting on set, Brooks said. More recently, rumors of on-set animosity dogged ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and The WB's "Charmed."
But physical violence "is pretty unusual," he said, adding that anything that harms an actor's appearance could affect their work.
"Dr. McDreamy needs his cheekbones," Brooks said. "Real violence can lead to fictional violence that can end your job."
Now in its third season, "Grey's Anatomy" has been the No. 1 show in the Nielsen ratings for two of the new season's three weeks.
The romantic medical drama centers on the personal and professional lives of surgeons and interns at the fictional Seattle Grace hospital.
Besides Dempsey and Washington, the show stars Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl and Ellen Pompeo.
The show earned 11 Emmy nominations this year, including one for best drama, and won the prize for outstanding casting. It was also nominated for three Golden Globe awards and Oh won for best supporting actress.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Everybody's Workin for the Weekend. . . .

. . . . and I'm included this time!

The beautiful thing about retail is that sometimes you work 9 out of 10 days because so many of your co-workers request one weekend off that the only way the company can avoid giving you overtime is to give you a 3-day weekend. This is my current lot.

Thoughts heading into my mini-vacation:

-Friday Dose of Grey: Christine treats Preston like a icon or a machine, not man; this really bothers me. In light of yesterday's post, I found it ironic so much focus was placed on people defining themselves by their job (the salesman, Burke and Christine); as usual, Bailey spoke reason into that discussion. Addison gave me some ammo to defend her with, admitting her mistake and genuinely serving her enemy, Grey, with the words she spoke to McDreamy. I continue to love Addison.

-I'm heading up to Chapel Hill to see this wretched UNC football team for the first time in person this weekend. One must support in good times and bad, so I'm off to put my time in. I think people overact and call for coach's heads too often, so I don't like to do it. But Bunting has to go. We've had hope because of improved play and good recruiting classes the last 2 years that we might soon start winning. At some point though, you do actually have to start winning and that hasn't happened. Hope has left Kenan Stadium. Bunting should too.

-Speaking of football, it's a good sports weekend to be off. Got UNC/South Florida tickets, then will be home in time for #2 Florida/#11 Auburn Saturday night, followed by a huge game for the Panthers at Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. Plus, all this time will give me opportunity to prepare for my upcoming Fantasy NBA Draft on Monday night. I'm sure ya'll hear more about that later.

-Finally, while shelving, I've noticed that one of the most prolific writers in the "General Dogs" section has the last name of Katz. One of his titles: "Katz on Dogs." Talk about a calling.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

cos(Ben) = stress

My fun level at work has increased over the past week because I am getting to know my co-workers. Nothing makes work better than laughing with the people around me. A lot of this is simply because I've been there long enough now to start establishing some relationships. But it's also because I've "earned" the right, through my hard work, to be included in the employee group. I've proven worthy of their companionship.

I think stuff like this is part of the reason most of us hate work. Early morning alarms and boredom are no fun, but it seems this hovering stress of constantly having to prove ourselves simply flattens us. Even when we succeed, when boss acknowledges good work, when co-workers begin to offer respect, that only serves to place more pressure on not only continuing to succeed but improving, so as to garner further notice.

What a stressful grind, I'm finding out. Who I AM matters naught; what counts is what I have DONE, and lately at that. The most charismatic, warm-hearted, loving employee won't survive if she/he is unproductive. John Bunting will soon find this out. Being does not matter, only doing.

Maybe this is the way it has to be in the business world. I, afterall, want Bunting fired too.

However, this serves to remind me of how God views me and, consequently, what my identity really is. I don't have to work to earn God's companionship. I don't even have to please him - which is good because I usually don't. His grace and mercy suffice. What freedom there is in that, especially when contrasted to the burden I feel at work.

God identifies us as his children, "marked in Jesus with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13-14). The imperishability of the word "guarantee" is a beautiful thing. My real, spiritual identity as a beloved child of God doesn't change. I don't live under the stress of trying to earn favor. Unlike at work, my worth doesn't oscillate up and down like a cosine function. It is constant, eternal, and freeing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Bahahahaha. . . . oh."

I went to hear a talk on Luke 15 last night, and something I had never seen happen before occurred. The speaker, Derwin Gray, chastised the crowd. I've seen speakers convict crowds, challenge them, even explicitly point out sin, but this was something different. He was talking about the brokenness that exists in Charlotte and began going through examples of what this might look like. His last example was, "Housewives living in huge nice houses addicted to pain pills and drinking Zinfandel."

A lot people started laughing, probably because they think the drink Zinfandel is funny, for whatever reason.

DGray would have none of it. He aggressively said, "Hey ya'll, that's not something to laugh about. This is reality." The place went from laughter to silence in an instant. Awkward.

Mad props to DGray for unflinchingly creating the awkwardness because what he did is not something that's easy to do. As a speaker, you want the Lord to speak through you, and you want to get the Biblical message across. But you also want people to laugh. Maybe more than anything, you want people to laugh. DGray inadvertantly got the laughs but put his message and reality before any desire he had to entertain, to endear himself to the crowd, or to be cool. For the rest of the night, the laughter was a little hesitant, as everyone actually had to think about what was said before responding.

Which brings me to a scary point. I, and I believe a large part of the Christian community, have gotten good at this Christian stuff - singing, listening to speakers, greeting one another - to the point that we don't have to engage anymore. We know when to laugh, when to be quiet, when to look like we're paying attention, when to raise our hands, when to close our eyes. We can successfully play this game, rather than actually engage the Lord and what He's putting in front of us.

For all our talk of being real, we often mindlessly fake it, even in our supposedly most important settings. No wonder the world, which must deal with real and raw issues, often wants so little to do with us.

DGray exposed the audience last night, not allowing us to play the game. Thank God for it because there really is too much at stake in worship, prayer, community, and Biblical teaching. For one night, we were made uncomfortable and actually had to think about what was being said before pretending like everything that was said was hilarious. And before pretending who knows what else.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wicked Pissah of a Day

Odd Encounter of the Week: Floor Urinator

Those of you who know me well knew this was coming. At some point, this blog thing would deteriorate into toilet humor. Today is that day. Sorry it took so long for those of you looking forward to this. Just sorry to the rest of you.

A couple of weeks ago, my trendy Borders earpiece announced a disasterous situation to those of us on the clock: someone had peed on the men's bathroom floor. Hide the women. Hide the children. We have urine.

Being low man on the totem pole (and, conveniently, male), I volunteered to go clean it up. I've cleaned public bathhouses on RV campgrounds for three summers, so I knew Borders could not dump anything on me nearly as bad as the messes I've cleaned up at camp. I marched in with my mop bucket and mop, quickly dried up the stream, and headed back to shelving.

Days later, this fellow returns. We have another mess. This time when the alert goes out through our stylish headsets, a manager replies in excitement that he had noticed this same mess 4 times in the preceding 2 weeks!

Borders is pissed.

So today, 9:45am, we thought we had him. I was called in for Bathroom Recon to flush out a potential perp. I felt like I was on some undercover mission. Call me Double O Se-Ben. I entered, ready for anything, and got nothing. Dry floor, empty stalls.

Then again, 12:35pm, we thought we had him. I got called in to the bathroom to try and catch him with his pants down. Again, no pee.

We aren't giving up though. I have been placed under orders to check the bathroom on the hour for every am shift that I work. I feel like I've been promoted. Once again though, this Odd Encouter of the Week isn't actually a physical encounter. . . . yet (insert determined, intimidating face here). However, after cleaning up this guy's urine, I feel like I've more than encountered him.

So Floor Urinator, if you are out there reading this, know that this Book Shelver is hot on the trail you are leaving behind. Literally.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Invisible Grind

This summer, the US fielded a basketball team to compete against other countries in the World Championships. I pulled for Team World. Not out of political protest. Not out of disdain for overpayed, anti-team NBA athletes. Not because I just like to root for the underdog.

I pulled against America because Coach Krzyzewski coached the team.

For all of my non-North Carolina readers out there, Coach K coaches Duke University's basketball team, the arch-rival of my beloved UNC Tar Heels. I couldn't bring myself to pull for the US because, if they won, a large part of the credit would be bestowed upon the coach, K. The media would have lauded him for succeeding where others failed, for ingeniously being relational with NBA players, and for being the greatest coach of all time. For all my love of country, I just wouldn't have been able to stomach all of this K Love.

So it goes with leaders. At the front, getting lots of face time, being loud, making "great decisions," they usually stand to receive great praise for good things that happen. This is one of the reasons why I like leading. The spotlight gets shined on me, and I get all sorts of credit and lovin' when things go well.

Unfortunately, this is a faulty view of leadership, one that I prescribe to all too often. Leaders are foremost servants. In fact, leaders cannot lead if they do not serve. And the problem with servanthood is that it must be done beyond the eyes of an admiring mass. Far from being a loud, visible, glorious role, leading requires, above all else, invisible grind.

Jesus, arguably one of the greatest leaders of all time, corrects my worldly thinking that leadership places a person staunchly and consistently in the glorious spotlight. When the disciples (among whom were some proud, thunderous personalities) asked him who was to be considered the greatest, Jesus replied that it would be the one who rules like the one who serves.

Now this is not an argument for passivity. Being a leader requires courage, vision, loudness, assertiveness, and other active qualities usually associated with the term. But perhaps servanthood requires the most strength, the most action out of them all. The strength to pray when no one is looking. The strength to invest time without compensation - either in money or in compliments. The strength to serve when the desire just isn't there. Whether of a family, a church, a nation, or any other group, true leadership does not occur in the glorious glow but in the invisible grind.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Everybody's Workin for the Weekend. . .

. . . except for me and my pals in retail.

When I begin my job search a couple weeks ago, my top priority was to find standard hours, working M-F 9-5 or something to that affect. I wanted consistency, 2-day roadtrips, and most of all, the ability to watch football.

One of the inconvenient fortunes of most retail businesses is that a high percentage of sales occur on the weekend, necessitating the need for labor hours. As such, the concept of "weekend" does not really exist for retail employees. Borders does a great job trying to give us weekends off, as our scheduler works hard to give us one a month. However, this still leaves many Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the clock.

Though sometimes bothersome, this situation has offered me a fuller life these last three weeks. No longer can Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesay simply be "W-Day minus 5," "W-Day minus-4," and "W-Day minus 3." The goal of my days cannot be to simply survive in order to get closer to the light of the weekend, as no five day tunnel even exists.

This forces me to live every day. I must find purposeful activity in everyday whether it be errands, fun, calling friends, rest, dinner out, exercise, movies, reading, or football - all activities usually reserved for my free time on the weekend. Otherwise life becomes nothing but a futile drift upon the waves, floating towards dry weekend land that doesn't exist. My schedule has destroyed my old subconscious thinking that Monday - Friday were inferior days, merely to be tolerated until I could really live come Saturday and Sunday. What a way to throw 71.4285714285% of my life away.

So here's to The Day, each of them. It is the one the Lord has made.

Besides, there's football on Monday, Thursday, and Friday too.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What GCDC Does for Me

Sometimes I question my salvation because I'm a young Christian male and don't know how to play the guitar. It seems like everyone knows how. I have this recurring nightmare that at the pearly gates, St. Peter asks me to play a GCDC chord progression for admittance - and I have to just stand there like an idiot while everyone else parades in jamming out to "Lord, I Life Your Name on High."

Despite this complex (and admitted bitter jealousy), musical worship does something for me. While shelving today, I kept wondering why this is, given that worship doesn't need music. My life should be one big act of worship to God anyway.

Musical worship makes me stop. I have to either sit, stand, sing, or zone out. There aren't many options. Running an errand or crossing something off my to-do list is impossible. My Type A personality is stuck. Worship forces me to reflect and, in doing so, changes my worldview.

As I read and sing words of God's character and actions, I see the truth of these words in my own life. In a given life situation, I usually feel like I'm doing - and that I need to do more. Reflecting at a later time, I can see the invisible hands at work. Conversations coming out of nowhere. Work getting done despite my bad attitude. "Luck" covering up mistakes that I've made. Friendships enduring despite my indifference. Boss complimenting me even though I did nothing special that day. God continuously does so much for me, and I miss most of it, self-absorbed and self-congratulatiing.

In moments of reflection, I cannot take the credit. It would be a lie, and deep down, I know it. This is when the person of God and his promises to me become real. They aren't empty words. They aren't simply things I should know because I live in the South. They aren't an academic or theological course of study. God's grace and power become the reason for all of the events in my life, both that I do and that happen to me.

This moves me to awe, to thanks, to worship. In this moment of reflection, life must become all about God, as it should be and as it was meant to be.

GCDC, play on.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Calling My Allstate Agent

I never knew what a Type A person was until someone called me one. And then someone else did. And then another. I still really don't know what it means; if someone were to ask me today, I wouldn't really know what to tell them. To get my working definition of the term, here's some ideas I associate with it:

pefectionism
stress
worry
control
distrust
apparently, heart disease (per dictionary.com - I just looked that up)

This list has shaped a large part of my life whether it be gray hair at 17 (hooray for Taylor Hicks for making gray cool again!) or stress fractures or hours worth of high school reading (honestly, who did their reading in high school?). This Type A-ism also causes huge problems in my relationship with God. I'm often uncomfortable because I can't control Him, fit Him into a box I can handle, trust Him, or match the standard that He sets.

Last night, I musically worshipped for the first time since June and was reminded again of the good news in this Type A battle that I fight. So many of the songs we sang asked God to do something - transform, take, love, conform - all the things that I wish I could do, being the controlling being that I am. I can't do these things though. I already tried.

What a beautiful reminder that God can and does. And he won't have it any other way. He is the actor in our lives. He "alone does great wonders" (Psalm 136:4). What a lie I buy into that I can do great wonders, as I then proceed to drive myself into the ground in futile attempts. There is freedom in knowing that I can stop stressing, stop trying so hard, and stop feeling like I'm failing. And not because I become indifferent or apathetic. My Type-Aism couldn't accept that. But because, as I was reminded last night, I know that I - and the world around me - are in good hands.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wanted: A Lighter Leg

Some moral (for lack of a better word) situations in our society have become so talked about that they have become near cliches. Men often spend an excessive amount of time at work, passing on other supposedly "more important" things in life. True servanthood emerges when no one is looking. When life gets busy, exercise is the first aspect of life to exit stage left.

I used to think that when approached by these issues (if I ever allowed them to approach me, as my haughty thinking went), I would immediately recognize them, buck the societal trend, and perform magnificently where so many others have simply proved the cliche.

Alas, reality and humility. My old nemeses.

Over the past couple months, I have noticed these cliched situations emerge in my life. I see them clearly. I know the proper course of action, as I've heard about them in songs, movies, and Delilah's nightly radio call-in program. And yet I still choose to fail - or perhaps more accurately, I choose passivity.

Wanting to please men, I actively labor for more hours at work.

Too lazy and stubborn to serve, the trash in my apartment continues to waste away.

In lieu of running, I give sugar to whatever Willy Wonka product is closest at hand.

I was suppose to rage against these things, but suddenly they are a very real part of my life. The good news is I seem to at least see the problems. Identification and confession may be the first step towards a solution. Unfortunately, my other leg seems rather heavy at the moment.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Flirting With the Slammer

Odd Encounter of the Week: Shoplifter

I was at work shelving dictionaries last week when my trendy, Old Navyish ear piece exploded with the question:

"Should I call the police?"

Seconds later, "Call the police."

Immediately interested, three successive options ran through my mind:

A. Run into the backroom to avoid getting shot.
B. Hurry to the front of the store. Whatever this is could be entertaining to watch. If nothing else, it will break the workday rut.
C. Keep shelving.

Choosing passivity, I comfortably settled into option C and listened to the ensuing earpiece exhortations, trying to figure out what was going on.

Turns out a couple of customers spotted a young fellow in a Lakers jersey trying to shoplift boxed set DVD's from the store. A couple employees were notified and approached the guy at his car. He proceeded to run. My co-workers chased him a bit, but he was fast. Nevertheless, we knew his car and thus, his license plate. One co-worker wanted to tow his car. I thought the trade made sense for us - his truck for a "Sex and the City" boxed set. After all, crime doesn't pay. Plus, it would have created the hilariously awkward moment when he returned to drive home, only to realize his car was gone. What do you do at that point? I don't know, but it's got to be awkward.

We did not tow his car. We didn't need to. He had left his keys sitting in the driver's seat, door unlocked. Criminals are not smart sometimes.

I'm not sure what the ultimate outcome of the situation was, but it provided some entertainment and laughs for me while drowning in Oxford, Merriam Webster, and Larousse. I guess the misnomered thing about this Odd Encounter of the Week was that I never actually encountered the person. That's too bad. I hadn't been in the presence of a thief since high school when shoplifting ranked as the 4th most popular social event behind high school football games, birthday parties, and Bojangles runs.