Apr 24, 2016


This weekend marks the 10 year anniversary of this blog, Here in America.  My first post was dated April 14, 2006.  There were a few posts from March detailing our recent 8th grade class trip to Seoul, South Korea, but these were copied and pasted from my now-defunct journal on Interference, the U2 fan site, and I'm pretty sure I uploaded them at the same time that I posted my first official entry.

Me in a photo originally posted in one of my first blog entries from April, 2006. With me is my former colleague and always friend Vince Asanuma Starmer.  For me ten years and whole lot less hair means more than just a changing hairline!

Ten years.  A lot has changed in the past decade.  When I first started this blog, high-speed internet was a luxury,  not a given.  I mentioned in that first post that we had dial-up internet at home and so uploading pictures for the blog would not be practical there.  I also mention linking to my Myspace page (though even then, I think Myspace's relevancy was already fading) and to Interference.  Facebook was still in its infancy and I wouldn't get an account for another two years.   Even the concept of blogging was different then.  It was hot thing to do back then, to be blogging.  Since then the blog has been eclipsed by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.  I'm sure there are even newer, hipper social media platforms that have passed me by in my middle-age.

I've also recently reached my third decade milestone of journaling.  Last summer I blogged about my 30th year of keeping my paper and pen journal which I began in the summer of 1985.  However, once I started school my daily journal writing came to a standstill before picking up again at the end of March 1986.  Since then, I've been writing more or less continuously.

While it's much has changed in the past decade, much more is still the same.  I'm still a middle-aged adult, I'm still married.  I'm still a teacher.  Perhaps the biggest change--and it is significant--is that when I began this blog it was just me and Babs and now ten years later we havetwo sons aged  seven and 3 and a half year old.  But beyond that and a 7,000 mile change of address, I feel pretty much the same now as I did a decade ago.  The last ten years feel like they've flown by.

On the other hand, it's incredible to note how much had changed at the end of my first decade of writing in my pen-and-paper journal.  When I began I was twelve years old, soon to turn 13.  I was a sixth grader, living at home with mom and my grandparents.  A mere ten years later I was a 22 year old adult living on my own, dating the woman I would soon marry.  Maybe the only thing entries at the start of the decade and at the end of decade had in common was the lack of commentary or insight into my life at the time.  My early journal entries were a rather dull, straightforward listing of every single thing I did from after breakfast each morning to bath time each day.  Here's a sample, written exactly 30 years ago yesterday (originally it was all one giant paragraph, but I've broken the entry up for easier reading at each point where I've inserted commentary):

Wednesday, April 23, 1986, At Home

This morning after breakfast I read. [In those days every entry began with "This morning after breakfast"] 

Aunt Colleen came earlier than usual and we got to school at 8:15.  I played soccer.  Bell rang and I went in. I read. Worship. She read from "Cheaper by the Dozen". [I always referred to my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor as "she"--the literary equivalent of Charlie Brown's disembodied adult voice]

Did Reading. Had recess.  We won 15 to 8. Finally! [What game were we playing? I can't recall. I guess all that mattered as that my team won.]

Read. Did Spelling.  Did Math.  I missed 5 and got an eighty percent.  We had lunch. She read from "Cheaper by the Dozen."  Did Language. Read. Did SS. Did Math. We gave our science reports orally.  I wrote one on Louis Braille.  A lot of people didn't do it. [Sounds like the work habits of many students haven't changed an thirty years, if my classmates then and my class now are any indication].

School dismissed. Dean cut his finger so I carried his book bag. I took it to his bus.  Went home. Did exercises. Grandma taught piano. I  didn't pass on to the next song.  I told mummy and she told me to use a different note system. Looked at "Time" magazine. [That hasn't changed in 30 years.  Back then it was my grandfather's subscription, now it's mine].  

 Made school lunches.  Watched "Donald Duck Presents" and "New! Animal World."  Hung up school clothes.  Supper.  I washed the dishes.  Read Dawny her story.  Read "Rebel Raider".  It's good. [Civil War  non-ficiton undoubtedly.  I was major history nerd.]

Played stick game with Vincy.  I fell on a stick and hurt my side.  But I finished the game with him. It still hurts. Bath. Journal. Had the Hay Fever all day.

It was a simpler time, without question.  While I provided little emotion and virtually no reflection, reading between the lines, you can learn a little about what I was like as a child:  Studious, nose always in a book. I seem to have been quite aware of success and failures, wins and losses.  My few commentaries were on winning or losing at a game, my score on my math, and my failing to move on to the next song in piano lessons.  After school was a healthy balance of chores, piano lessons, and free time to play some sort of "stick game" with my brother.  It's interesting to note the lack of homework and how little screen time I had. As far homework goes,  I don't know if I just did it all at school, or we weren't assigned any.  I know in other entries around this time I often mentioned working ahead in spelling, reading, or social studies during the school day.   As far as TV goes, don't get me wrong, we loved TV.  There just wasn't that much to watch.  We had just gotten cable TV, including the Disney channel, and had also purchased our first VCR, so a lot of the time we were watching programs that had been recorded.  Still our entire screen time consisted of two shows, probably less than 30 minutes each.

 It seems idyllic in my memory, but there's little to indicate how I felt at that time to determine if my life felt as soothing and peaceful then as it seems to now.

The house I grew up in: 905 Hart Blvd, Orlando FL. We lived here with my grandparents from the summer of 1983 to Christmas 1987, not quite five years.  I took this photo last summer while visiting Mom in Florida.  My grandparents, both gone now, lived here for a few years more after we moved out and then sold the place.  My grandfather custom-built this house for our family's unique needs (note the two front doors. One opened to the living room, the other to the home office that my mom and grandmother ran their court transcribing business out of).  I think he'd be pleased to know it's still standing and in good shape.  Those trees in the front yard were planted when we moved in also. It's amazing how big they are now.

Fast forward ten years later, and my journal entries still provide little color, although this time for an entirely different reason.  By the spring of 1996, my journals had become mostly devotional reflections with writing on what was actually going on my life being quite rare.  Still, reviewing my entries from April 1996, some 20 years ago, there are clues to who I was and what was going on in my  life.  On April 19, Barbara and I celebrated our six month anniversary as a dating couple, and marked the occasion with a small spat and some soul-searching over how things were proceeding in our relationship:

Barbara and I have a special, beautiful relationship--one I can praise God for--but one that like everything else, needs the power of the Holy Spirit to keep from going astray.  In the end our calling is much higher than this.  Through Christ we will be found worthy.
                                                                                              --Journal, Friday, April 19, 1996

Young Love: Babs and I, Spring 1996

This entry is accompanied by several pages of notes written back and forth between Babs and I as we worked through the issues in our relationship.   A later entry, dated April 27, is a passionate prayer for a deeper, closer walk with Jesus and a heartfelt plea for God's closeness to a classmate from high school who had lost his fiance in a horrible car accident the night before and who himself had been seriously injured. Looking back now, it's gratifying to know that prayer was answered as my  friend made a full recovery and eventually found love again.  As for me, the journey with God is still in process.  There are days when I read these entries from two decades ago and feel I've not progressed much at all, and indeed I fear I've lost some of that innocent fire for Jesus that I had then.  But I also see how He has never let me go, and blessed me in ways I could never have predicted back then.  My prayer is still the same, and perhaps it always will be:

Finally, Lord, be with me.  Bring me into a passion to know and serve You.  Lord, I don't have it and yet when I try to have it, I just feel end up feeling guilty. Lord, God, I need you and I ask you  to come into my life.  Do whatever it takes to bring me closer.  Lord, without you, everything else in my life is unsure. Help me to seek you and know you.
                                                                               --Journal, Sabbath, April 27, 1996

Looking over the decades past, I mostly feel grateful.  And when I consider the decades to come, I trust that He'll continue to lead me and care for me as he has so far  along this journey.

Dec 31, 2015

The Ninth Annual Inspirations List: 2015

This years heroes are all about commitment.  The six women and two men on this years list epitomize the spirit of dedication. Dedication to young athletes, academic achievement, and excellence on the job; commitment to friends in need and to one's own unique vision.  They are people, that when faced with life's challenges respond with cool heads, calm hearts, and renewed determination to get the job done.  If you find yourself in a jam, you couldn't hope for a better group of heroes to ride to the rescue.

This year I'm proud to honor the following heroes and inspirations:

Shawn Robinson & Sonya Hart
Anastasia Bailey
Andrea Offei
Dawn Maycock Brothers
Jessica Peterson
Valerie Green
Dr. Donald Burden

Shawn Robinson & Sonya Hart
I'm inspired by their investment in their teams

They are savvy investors that could give Warren Buffet a run for his billions.  If the return on the investments Shawn and Sonya have made were paid in money, these two could retire as billionaires tomorrow.  As the reluctant athletic director at Columbus Adventist Academy, I'd always been grateful for whatever I could get from the volunteer coaches that came and went.  These were people who had jobs, kids of their own, other commitments, and yet were willing to take a little time to work with our athletic teams. My goal was always to keep the coaches happy, because if I lost my coaches, my kids lost their team.  But it never even occurred to me that I might have a coach who would fully commit to these kids.  Someone who would organize the practices, find assistant coaches to help him,  take the team to see the Ohio State team play, supervise an after-school study table for two hours everyday before practice, and even plan an awards banquet all on his own.  No, that would be too much to ask.  But, unbelievably, I didn't have to ask.  Shawn Robinson showed up and did it all and more.

I'd never seen anyone so dedicated to a volunteer commitment.  And then, with Sonya Hart, lightning struck twice. She's not a CAA or conference employee.  Her kids don't go to our school.  She's not an Ephesus member (or a member of any of the other Adventist churches).  She's not a friend doing me a favor (in fact I never met her until the semi-final game of the girls volleyball tournament).  She had no ulterior motive that I could find for investing her time and effort in our girls.  And yet she showed up all season long for them.  Taught these girls how to play (none had any previous experience) and led them all the way to a league championship.

Why do they do it?    The only thing I can conclude is that Shawn and Sonya see their time with the boys and girls of CAA's basketball and volleyball teams as an investment, An investment that pays returns not in temporal wealth but in the lives of young people, young people's whose future success may have begun underneath Shawn Robinson's hoop and at Sonya Hart's net.

Anastasia Bailey
I'm inspired by her compassionate friendship

You don't have to know what to say to say just the right thing.  That's something I learned from Anastasia in the sad months that followed the death of my father-in-law last November.  One of the things that mean the most at times like this, is when people genuinely reach out to you.  It's not as common as you'd think, and I understand why.  It's hard to know what to say, hard to know what to do, and it's awful to contemplate maybe doing or saying the wrong thing.  It seems a safer bet to just say nothing. I'm sure Anastasia felt that same discomfort but somehow she made the courageous choice to reach out anyway.  And it meant the world.  For Barbara especially, but for me also, Anastasia's thoughtful concern, listening ear, and words of care have helped us immeasurably as we learn to live life with loss. No one can say the right thing.  No one can make everything okay this side of eternity.  But, those, like Anastasia, who understand that they can offer words of encouragement and support, that they can make the journey a little easier, are a blessing indeed.

Andrea Offei
I'm inspired by her academic accomplishments

I never was sure if she was kidding.  It's one of the things I enjoy most about my former student Andrea.  Her dry sense of humor and her deadpan delivery often left me wondering, "Wait, was she serious. . .or was she joking?" But when it came to her focus on her schoolwork last year, Andrea left no doubt. She was absolutely serious.  I marveled at her sudden transition from acceptable achievement to top-notch performance.  She worked hard, studied harder, and asked for help repeatedly until she got what she needed. She ended the year with the same inscrutable sense of humor but a very different report card.  Andrea has inspired and encouraged me to believe that I can continue to improve my craft as a teacher, as a husband, as a father.  Andrea reminded me that growth is no joking matter.

Dawn Maycock Brothers
I'm inspired by her creative achievements

You can't create something truly unique by being like everyone else.  My sister has seemed to intuitively understand this throughout her entire adult life. She's always taken the path less traveled, and has experienced tremendous highs and lows along the way.  I confess many times I wished she'd do things a little more conventionally, but Dawn has always preferred the beat of her own drum to latest pop confection the masses are chasing after. Dawn has also always been good with her hands. For example, when she wanted a kitchen island for her house, she built it herself.  Dawn's unconventional approach to life and her uncanny ability to create beautiful things came together in this year in the brilliant brainstorm for her new product and business, Snugglins.  It's as if every decision she'd made and every thing she'd ever built was leading up to this beautiful, ingenious invention.  The road ahead is still long, and but I'm certain that in time, Dawn will realize that she's no longer alone on that less traveled path. She will turn around to discover the world has beaten a path to her door.

Jessica Peterson
I'm inspired by her commitment to excellence

She never seemed to consider herself too good to do great work.  For many people, working a job like Kroger is a stepping stone to somewhere else.  It's what you do to pay the rent until you can get a so-called real job. And in some ways that was Jessica. She was a credentialed high school English teacher, subbing during the days and working the closing shift at Kroger on the weekends while she looked for a full-team teaching position.  But in the ways that mattered most, Jessica treated her work at Kroger like it was her career. She was the consummate professional in every aspect of her job.  When I first started working at Kroger as a night cashier, Jessica trained me, and for all of the two years that I worked there she was my gold standard of excellence on the job.  More so even then my actual supervisors, if my work met her approval then I knew I was doing well.

  The night cashier assignment required a lot of extra work beyond ringing up customers.  In fact, we did very little of that.  Instead we closed all the regular lanes by 11 P.M., requiring the few late-night customers to use the self-checkouts. Meanwhile the night cashier was responsible for stocking bags, cleaning the registers, and myriad of other tasks. At 10 the managers went home, and 11, usually the last regular cashier left so the night cashier essentially had the entire front end of the store to themselves.  It's the kind of position that would have been easy to abuse.  It wouldn't have been hard to do a lackluster job and spend the majority of the time on your phone or flipping through the tabloids.  But Jessica never did that.  Her cleaning methods were rigorous and the results were flawless. Her closing routine was a model of efficiency and effectiveness.  And in the rare case that Jessica somehow finished everything on her list, she found other ways to be useful--organizing the cigarette case or cleaning out the storage drawers at each register.

Jessica finally got that full-time job, a great gig teaching high school English out in Colorado.  Though she's no longer working at Kroger, I have no doubt that she's bringing the same spirit of excellence, high standards and high expectations to her classroom and that her students, her colleagues, and her world is better for it.

Valerie Green
I'm inspired by her calm and positive spirit

I always feel reassured after talking to Valerie. As the administrative assistant and right-hand to our principal, Valerie is often dealing with stressful situations, doling out or receiving bad news, constantly confronting the unexpected.  But no matter what's on her plate, her demeanor is always positive and her spirit is always peaceful.  she has a unique way of being serious without being gloomy, dealing with urgent situations without panicking, Just being around her, I feel more relaxed and more capable, more certain that whatever crazy thing is going on is actually manageable.

Dr. Donald Burden
I'm inspired by his cool head and compassionate heart

 "We'll handle it," was his mantra. If Pastor Burden felt the pressure, he never let it show. His job couldn't have been easy:  Managing the "flagship" church of the Allegheny West Conference in Columbus, a church with a rich heritage and history and the accompanying political battles that are an inevitable part of a church that has become an Institution. I'm grateful to be blissfully unaware of what challenges Pastor Burden might have faced shepherding the flock at Ephesus.  But I did have the opportunity to experience his deft handling of situations that came up at the school over the years.  He's been unstinting in his support of our school, our principal, us teachers, and the students at CAA.  Stop and think for a moment about what an incredible achievement that balancing act is!  What I appreciate about Pastor Burden, is how unflappable he is.  Whatever storm is raging, whatever crisis erupts, he always keeps his cool.  He never has time for idle talk and gossip, and he isn't thrown by bad news.  Yet his even-handed, business-like approach to leadership is matched by his sense of humor as well as his deep compassion.  I'll be forever grateful for his decision to drive from Columbus to Dayton to Dad's funeral to offer condolences on behalf of himself and our home church. The gesture truly touched us in our grief.  In his new pastoral position in Florida, I have no doubt that he's still the same. Cool, collected, compassionate, handling the Lord's business.

Dec 5, 2015

True Story

The chatter over Fifty Shades of Grey seems to be fading away these days. I haven't heard much about it's self-proclaimed rival, Old Fashioned either.  I haven't seen either of these films so I can't fairly comment on either them.  But I do know that both films were savaged by the critics, and Grey, at least was typically not well-received by viewers (Old-Fashioned on the other hand, was almost universally loved by those who saw it, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes).

To me, all great art strives to tell the truth. This is not to be confused with telling true stories.  There are true stories that can be terribly dishonest in the telling, and fictions that express some of the greatest truths.  The definition of the poorly made film, TV show, or book (and there are many) is a failure to or disinterest in telling the truth.  There may be many reasons for this.  We all enjoy a momentary escape from reality.  We all like to laugh, to be thrilled, to be lost in fantasy for a little while.  But the greatest fantasies, the thrillers and comedies that become classics rather than occupants of the bargain bin at the grocery store, each in their own away inevitably tap into some truth about the human experience.

Truth can be dispensed with for a lot of reasons.  In Hollywood as far as I can tell,most of the time the only truth that really matters is the box office reciepts.  If it makes money, it's good and truth is often sacrificed in a race to the lowest common denominator.  Another way truth can be placed on the sidelines is when it inconveniences the presentation of a more important Message, say a spiritual or moral Truth, that one wants to get across.  While ostensibly all about getting the Truth out there, the stories and their characters are as false, unbelievable, and inauthentic as an action movie sequence in a Hollywood blockbuster.  Whether for base or noble reasons, the end result is the same.  A poor quality, cynical product shoved at an audience willing to consume junk food.

Anyway the furor earlier this year over the two movies got me thinking about how Christians appear in the arts, in particular the storytelling arts whether film, television or books. I feel there is a real lack of authentic Christian characters in the stories our culture tells.  Most often Christians are simply absent from the cultural mainstream.  Even on the rare occasions where Christians do appear, their portrayal feels a little off.  Speaking as someone raised in a Christian culture, and who has had a fair amount of interaction with the different "brands" of Protestant and Catholic culture,  I don't recognize myself or people I know in the characters I see on screen.   Exhibit A of this not quite right portrayal of believers in mainstream media would be the character of April Kepner on the other "Grey", "Grey's Anatomy."  Barbara and I have been long-time fans of the show.  We DVR the program during the week and it's our Saturday night treat after the kids are in bed.  Dr. Kepner is a Christian, but with all due respect to the acting skills of Sarah Drew (who, incidentally, is a Christian), she doesn't seem familiar to me at all.  You can almost sense the writers trying to figure out what a Christian might say, do, and believe.  And I appreciate the effort, I really do.  It just doesn't quite ring true.  The way she talks about Jesus, about her faith, and her convictions, which are very central to her choices just doesn't sound like the way I or the Christians I know would express themselves.

It's almost like they need a committed Christian to write for her character. And maybe they do.  It may not matter.

Because it seems Christians do no better themselves.  When we have a chance to write our own stories, to make our own movies, to sing our own songs, with the world as our audience, we seem to drop the ball as well.  For us, the Message overwhelms the demands for authentic characters.  And I don't think that serves the story (or the Message for that matter) well.  While we might cheer on stories and characters that promote our values and beliefs, too many of us feel that the quality of the story being told, the authenticity of the characters is of little importance.  Our stories are sanitized, family-friendly, and tie up neatly with righteousness triumphant in the end. Our characters are romanticized, speak in sermons, and feel wooden and forced.

What we need are stories of believers that are honest and real.  Stories that may sometimes be gritty and sometimes definitely not family-friendly.  Stories that end in an ambiguity more true to the real life faith journey we are on.  We need characters who are rough around the edges and who talk like real people.  We need stories of followers of God, who fall down, get mixed up, make the wrong choices and suffer the consequences (or not).  We need stories that focus on telling the truth about the human experience as a believer in God, not simply easy-to-swallow morality tales with a happy ending.

If only such stories existed.. . .

Oh, wait.

They do.

It's an anthology actually.  It's called the Bible.

It tells the truth, honestly.

Nov 14, 2015

Lord, In the Morning

Some time ago I predicted that this blog would enter a lean season, but I had no idea it would be this lean.  Until last weekend, it had been almost 4 months since my last entry.  There are numerous half-finished entries in the pipeline and others that are just topics that never made it passed the title stage: the 2015 8th grade class trip to Puerto Rico (the first class trip I’ve failed to document since I began this blog with a series of entries on our 2006 trip to South Korea). An epic pair of U2 concerts in Chicago, an enriching trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, the 20th anniversary celebration of the day Babs and I met, all have gone unrecorded here. It’s reached the point where I’m no longer sure what I should blog about it now that I’ve missed so much.  I’m feeling like I’ll be doing pretty good if I can get my 9th annual Heroes and Inspirations entry under the wire before year’s end.

So what’s happened?  How did blogging come to a virtual standstill?  A lot of it has to do with early mornings:

I'm not a morning person.

I know that mornings are the most productive time of day.  I know that many of the great men of history and the high achievers of our current day are early risers.  But when I contemplate Psalm 127, I tend to focus on the "it is vain to rise up early" part the scripture.  I find it hard to relate to people like the peppy morning folk in this song.

  I listen to this song.  I enjoy it, though the little spoken word at the very end is the only thing that keeps it from being just too much.  I understand what she's talking about it, and a couple hours after I've woken up I can even kind of relate. But really. . .this is not me.

Rich Mullins' take on rising early resonates much more with me.  While the Pathfinders might vow to "keep the morning watch", I'm more than happy to take the night shift.

My ideal situation is to never, ever have to wake up earlier than 7 A.M.  But my life is such right now that getting up late is 5:30 A.M. and early would be 4.  Between making and eating breakfast and getting the boys ready for school and being at work by 7:30, early mornings have been a necessity.

Of late, my mornings have been even earlier still.  Recently Ezra has taken to waking up once (if we're lucky) or more (if we're not) a night.  I don't know how long he's been doing it, but it's been at least a month, I'd say with only a brief respite during the week after the time changed.  Anyway,he'll come bursting into our bedroom, come up to the bed and asks us to rub his back.  Babs and I take turns dealing with him when he does this.  When it's my turn I'll walk him back to his bed without a word or a light turned on, and rub his back to he falls back asleep.  Most times, he'll be out in 10 to 20 minutes and I can go back to bed.  But there are other nights, more often than I'd like, when he can't seem to go back to sleep.  He's just restless, drifting in and out of slumber, tossing and turning.  I know that if I leave when he's like that he'll just come bursting into our room again five minutes later.  So I just stay with him.  In the worst case scenarios, this can last for hours. The other night, I was with him from 1 to 3 (and this after an brief wake up around 11:30 and prior to another awakening at 4:30).  On other nights, if he's still awake by 4 or 4:30 we both just get up and start our day.

It's during these times, squatting down next to Ezra's toddler bed rubbing his back, that I pray. For awhile those prayers would be articulate and lengthy, and I found I embraced the opportunity to come close to my God in the darkness and stillness of my sons' room.  But lately, I've been so sleep deprived that I have trouble focusing my thoughts.  My prayers are now little more than a "Jesus, help me. I'm so tired."  I've even started falling asleep on the floor next to Ezra's bed (and then he climbs out of bed crawls onto my chest and sleeps there, and that is special in it's own way).

I've realized that early mornings have always driven me to my knees. I remember back in our earlier years in Saipan, back before we had kids and had no good reason not to get as much sleep as we liked.  In those days I woke up, utterly deplete before the day  had even begun.  The only thing that got me out of bed on days like that was replaying His promise over and over in my head, "My grace is sufficient for you, My strength is made perfect in weakness."  His grace was and is enough, and I think it's the early mornings that keep me cognizant of that.

Make no mistake.  Most days I'm in some state of exhaustion.  On the worst days I medicate with a large sweet tea from McDonalds, but I hate to make caffeine a regular thing in my life.  By the weekends, I'm utterly spent, which is a big part of why my blogging output has diminished.   It’s not just that my sleep deficit is so great that I sleep away the times on Friday evening or Sabbath when I might normally blog, it’s that even when I’m awake I’m so mentally spent that I have nothing left to focus on organizing coherent thoughts for a blog entry. 

As weary and heavy-laden as I often feel, I need an easy burden and light load, and He gives me that. If arose at my leisure it would be far easier to go through the day in my own strength.  But when I'm forced to awaken before the dawn, I have no choice to but to let Him carry me through.

In morning when I rise
In the morning when I rise
In the morning when I rise
Give me Jesus

My boys in the morning light.  This is on our way to school.  Elijah has always been an early riser, while Ezra  at least used to be more inclined to sleep late.  Hoping those days return soon!

Nov 7, 2015

The Presence

There’s this song on Christian radio:

Holy Spirit you are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence Lord

The song seems to be mainly about the worship experience.  It’s a very evocative song.  One can see upturned faces, eyes closed, hands and voices raised in ecstatic worship as the faithful feel the presence of the Spirit wash over them.  Honestly, both musically and lyrically it seems intent on addressing the emotions. It’s seeking a feeling, a visceral awareness of the Presence of God.  And I suppose this is good, so far as it goes.

As a member of a faith tradition that has always been wary of an emphasis on the emotions, I’ve been taught to view knowledge and right teaching as more important than feelings.  Indeed in our religious culture an appeal to an emotional religious experience, one that over rules and supersedes reason and understanding has typically been viewed as downright dangerous. This article recently shared with me by a friend articulates well the suspicion I was raised with about the dangers of an over-reliance on emotion in worship.  Though not written by an Adventist, it could have been.

This song both musically--with it’s stirring electric guitar riff that would seem to announce the entrance of the Spirit (“Or is it lower-case, spirit, of questionable origin?” the elders of my youth would warn) and lyrically--with it’s pleading to be overwhelmed and overcome, would be a red flag in of itself.

But lately I’ve been listening to this song with different ears, and in the process I’m thinking about a third way in which the Holy Spirit is made manifest.  Instead of associating the lyrics with a church service, most likely at say Azure Hills, in California (fellow Adventists will get the joke ;), I associate them with my classroom.  Instead of relating the words and music to typical worship activities such as singing and prayer, I associate them with the mundane tasks of my workday--teaching, talking to a struggling student, attending staff meetings, all the things I do through the school day--even planning instruction and grading.  And suddenly the song has a much richer and deeper meaning to me.

Some would say that the Holy Spirit’s presence is all about how you feel in that moment of worship.  Others would say that one can only trust the Holy Spirit’s presence when it is grounded in the study, knowledge, and right understanding of the Bible.  But if the Holy Spirit’s presence is limited to either of these arenas, I question how valid the Presence really is.  If the Spirit is truly Present in our lives, then it must be revealed in our actions, in our daily lives, in the work we do, and most importantly, in how we treat other people.

Take a listen to the song, and picture your workday life, wherever that it is.  Associate it’s desire for the Holy Spirit’s presence with that arena and see how it transforms your view of what you do and what it means to have His precious Presence with us.

Let us become more aware of Your presence

Let us experience the glory of Your goodness

Jul 8, 2015

Flashback: The GC Trip

Looking back on 30 years of Journal-keeping

Thirty years ago this summer.  June 1, 1985, right after my fifth grade year, I began writing a journal.  The project lasted the summer then went on hiatus until the following spring of 1986, when I began writing again.  I haven't stopped since.

Over the next 10 months, I'll be sharing "Flashback" entries from my paper and pen journal.

The Superdome in New Orleans, LA, site of the 1985 General Conference session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  I was there.

As the 60th General Conference session continues this week, it seems appropriate that my first Flashback entry recounts one of the highlights of the summer of 1985, our family's trip to the 54th General Conference session in New Orleans, Louisiana.  There are some interesting parallels between that General Conference session thirty years ago and the one going on now in Texas. Neal C. Wilson had just been reelected president of the world church for another five years.  This past Friday his son, Ted N.C. Wilson was reelected president of the church.  The church had recently been racked by controversy over the ideas of "FDR", (Ford, Davenport, and Rea, a trio of men who had introduced radical challenges to established Adventist orthodoxy).  Thirty years later, our church is once again in the throes of controversy, with a key vote on the ordination of women to pastoral ministry to go to a vote today.  The session was held in the Superdome--a site that would gain infamy in another twenty years as a place of chaotic refuge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  This year, the church convenes another "dome", the AlamoDome in San Antonio, Texas.

But in the summer of 1985, I was just 11 years old and had no idea of or interest in the business of our church.  For me, it was just an exciting road trip with family.

Herewith the final weekend of the 1985 General Conference session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as seen through the eyes of an eleven year old kid:

The Journey

I remember well leaving in the dead of night, sleeping and waking and sleeping on the bench front seat of my grandparents Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.  I'm guessing we left in the middle of the  night so that my aunt and uncle could work a full day and we'd arrive in New Orleans in time to check in to our hotel.

This entry was typical of those written during this period of my life.  Terse, factual sentences.  Little to no overt emotion, reflection, or commentary, and virtually no description. In short: pretty dull reading.  Mercifully, the entries are short. And if you read carefully you can learn a lot about what was going on with me.  See if you can guess what I was really excited about in regards to this trip (Hint: It was worshiping with 60,000 other fellow church members, though there might have been some hero worship going on).

I've left the original spelling, punctuation, and grammar intact.

Friday, July 5, 85

I am in Louisana now. Last night we played mad till Uncle Roland and Aunt Colleen came to pick us up.  Then we left.  I sat in the front. Every time we stopped to get gas I woke up.  Finally when it was 6:00 o clock in the morning we stopped again, but I went back to sleep.  We stopped at rest area and then went on.  We ate breakfast in Alabama at McDonalds.  Then we went on we had a little snack. We went into Mississippi then into Louisiana. It was about 1:00 o clock when we got to New Orleans.  We went to N.O. airport so Lois [my mother's cousin in law] could rent a car.  Then we went to our hotel. our room had 2 beds a tv and desk and more.  We ate lunch at our hotel at about 3 Then we went to the Superdome.  We wandered around waiting for Nabih and William [my cousins, Nabih 3 years older than me and 14 at the time, and William two months older than me and thus already 12. Those two months seemed like years, as William always seemed so much more sophisticated than me].  We found seats. Then William came he lead us to the rest of the family.  Then we ate supper then we went to a meeting.  I showed William my Transformers.

"It Was All Boring"

I guess I was #notimpressed.  Tens of thousands of voices raised in united song?  A sermon by one the church's most dynamic speakers? The parade of nations?  "It was all boring."  The only excitement seemed to be the various harassers who always seemed to be "bothering" us (One can only wonder how much we bothered others, especially during one of the prayers--I think this was actually Friday night--given in a foreign language, which had my brother and cousin and me in stitches. I had never found anything quite so funny as this person praying with a straight face in what sounded to my childish mind like total gibberish).

Saturday July 6, 85

This morning after breakfast we got ready to go to the Superdome.  Then we left. We met Nabih and William. William took me to the junior services.  First there was Sabbath school then a Junior church service.  There was a freckle-face behind us he was bothering us.  We played with Transformers. It was all boring. We ate lunch in the parking lot.  After lunch we were going back to the meetings.  William and me didnt want to go.  First we went to see William's uncle. He was staying in an RV.  Then we went to the Superdome.  We saw a boring musical while these people behind us were bothering us.  Then we saw the parade of nations.  Then we went to Williams hotel.  We ate supper and played games with grandma while the adults were at a banquet.  We're going to spend the night [at William's hotel].

A Rushed Departure and "Some Street Called Bourbon"

To this day I'm not sure why the sleepover was cancelled, or why breakfast and supper were skipped.  Bourbon Street, though, is burned on my brain to this day.  I guess the family was entirely aware of what one might find in the French Quarter.  They figured, hey this is THE tourist site of New Orleans; we have to see it. Among the many NSFC sights I saw that day the one that sticks with me the most was the souvenir t-shirt depicting a garrulous looking man wearing a white lab coat with flaps you could open and close.  Innocently I opened the flaps of the lab coat to reveal a massive, highly detailed penis, voluminous pubic hair and all.  I still can't unsee that.

Sunday, July 7, 85

Last night we went back to our hotel instead of spending the [night] I never got to say bye to William he was asleep. We didn't eat breakfast.  .  .Then we went to some street called Bourbon.  It was "smutty."  Then we ate lunch and started traveling. I went to sleep. I woke up when we were in Alabama.  We saw the USS Alabama.  Then in Florida we got refreshments.  Vincy and Dawny got comic books.  Then we lost Lois car mummy was in it I was worried about her. We had no supper. I went to sleep.  I woke up in Gainesville. We dropped off Jerel [I don't remember who this person is, though the name is familiar]. Then mummy came and joined us when we got home we went to sleep.

It's 30 years later.  I'm not at the GC this year, though I wouldn't mind going again. (I also attended the 1995 GC session in Utrecht, the Netherlands as a youth delegate; that is a story for another Flashback entry right there).  I love my church, even when it's boring; even when it's wrong. It's still my church, my family, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Jun 23, 2015

My Sister's Serendipity: Snugglins

Every Sabbath afternoon I Skype with my mom and sister.  Almost four months ago during one of our regular Sabbath afternoon Skype chats, my sister, Dawn, mentioned a brainstorm she’d had for a new product.  It was an animal-shaped bean bag with an attached blanket.  She can—and likely will—share her story of how she came up with the idea, but what she wanted to know was if I’d ever heard of a similar product.  She wanted to patent the idea and copyright the name--Snugglins, but wanted to be sure it hadn’t already been done.  The idea sounded interesting and when she showed me the prototype for her product, a kangaroo beanbag with a pouch perfect for snuggling in, it proved ingenious.  

The idea was so brilliant, I figured someone must have done it.  It’s a terrible thing to say but one tends to think audaciously inventive new products are created by magical strangers, not people you actually know.  But as it turns out this amazing new product is my sister’s creation and I couldn’t be prouder.

So what makes the Snugglin’s concept special?

Creativity:  The idea of attaching a soft blanket to a cozy bean bag to make the perfect nest to snuggle up in with a good book (or your favorite device) is innovative in and of itself.  But it’s the execution that really stands out.  Dawn came up with whimsical, charming ways to incorporate the blanket into each unique Snugglin.  Of course theres the pouch of the Kangaroo, and wings of the ostrich, bat, and cardinal.  But there’s also the tail of the peacock, the pig’s mud blanket, and the “water” that shoots of the elephants trunk to create a cozy aquatic wrap.  There’s also the legs of the large birds that serve as a storage stand. One remarkable aspect of this artistic approach to her chairs, is her willingness to take custom orders.  She told me that she loves the custom orders because they give her opportunity to continue creating.

"Desi" the camel started out as a custom order.  One of my sister's customers wanted a double beanbag so that she could hang out with her son in their Snugglin.  This awesome couch of a camel is the result!

Craftsmanship:   One of the things I love about Snugglins is their lifelike appearance.  Rather than stick with a simple, cartoonish design that I’ve seen on other animal-style bean bags, Dawn chose to create creatures that feel like they could come alive.  Her attention to detail is fantastic from the gorgeous, long eyelashes on the giraffe to the sparkling sequins embedded in the peacocks tail, each  Snugglin is a work of art. 

Quality:  Snugglin’s are not factory-made.  Instead each one, is hand-crafted by Dawn.  Rather than choose one type of fabric, buy it in bulk, and make multiple animals with only slight variation in material and design, she selects materials based on what she needs for each Snugglin.  I’m not sure how she’ll keep this up as her business inevitably scales up, but I do know that she is committed to being involved in and overseeing every aspect of her business right down to the tags on each Snugglin.  I have no doubt that this care and  attention to quality will remain long after Snugglins have become a household name.

"Ossie" the Ostrich on his storage stand and snuggling up to his pal below

Be sure to Like Snugglins on Facebook  and check out the Snugglins website to place your order to snuggle into your very own Snugglin.