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

woo

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

GRROOOWWWWLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!

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.