Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the trailers are gone

when we moved to the austin suburb of Cedar Park seven years ago, it was much smaller. the official population in 2000 was 26,049; in july 2006 it was 52,058. i'm no math whiz, but that seems like cedar park pretty close to doubled in six years. there were fewer streets and fewer people and fewer stores and fewer schools and fewer parks and fewer cars and fewer houses and fewer wal-marts and drugstores and fast-food restaurants and doctors' offices.

when we moved here, there were a couple of old trailer houses facing the big road that connects our part of cedar park to highway 183. they were ugly. all bunched up together. they'd been there a long time, obviously. as the years passed, one field next to them was turned into a gym, and another into an office park, and another into a shopping center. a starbucks. a baskin-robbins. but the trailer houses stayed, hunkered down in some scrub trees, with their shitty porches and gravel driveways.

i drove by today; the trailers are gone. the austin community college campus next door is now building a big parking lot where those trailers used to be.

i'm sad. and feel weird. because there are now fewer trees. and fewer open fields. and fewer birds and fewer deer and fewer cacti and fewer ranches and fewer farmhouses and fewer country folks and fewer places to be quiet. now there are more televisions. more telephone poles. more electric light bulbs. more trash.

i love, love, love austin. it's creative, and funky, and weird, and there are parks and lakes and beautiful buildings, and artists, and musicians, a laid-back atmosphere, and a kind of sweetness. and austin is very "green" in that it's a very environmentally proactive.

but as of the 2007 U.S. Census estimate, in austin alone, not counting the greater austin area, which includes cedar park, there are 743,074 people. add Leander and Cedar Park and Westlake and Bastrop and Del Valle Round Rock and Pflugerville and others i'm forgetting, and you're at about 1.6 million people. austin grew about 28% between 2000 and 2007.

i love austin. i don't ever want to live anywhere else. i love the people here. and i love that it's a dynamic, growing, exciting city.

but that's a lot more televisions and streets and houses and stores. and a lot fewer trees and farms and animals.

and part of that is my fault. cuz i live here. and i drive my truck here. and my wife drives our minivan here. and we didn't build a new house; we live in one that was about eight years old when we moved in. (the folks at the back end of the neighborhood told us that behind them back then was a cow pasture, and a calf wandered into their yard.) but we contribute to the landfill. and we shop in the new malls and stores and eat in the new restaurants and send our kids to the new schools and buy gas in the new service stations.

i'm sad that the trailers are gone. yeah, they were ugly. yeah, their time was over. but they were like the farms, and the open spaces, and the wild spaces, and the scrubby trees, and the big live oaks that have been growing here since before white people came West. i love farms. i love trees. i love places where people aren't. and i am supporting the trailers' and the trees' extinction.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

read The Shack. no, seriously. read it.



this is a beautiful book. i'm not really a traditional christian in my theology, and that's not a good or a bad thing necessarily; it's just how i am, right now, in my life's journey. i was wary when friends recommended The Shack by William P. Young because i don't like christian books usually - especially christian fiction. and i don't like books that use sweetness or emotionality to get me to go along with the theology or doctrines of the author.
The Shack grabbed me right off. it took me to a place i didn't want to go. and i made it through the first section of the book, which is harrowing. but it's part of the story - to get to what happens as this man shares his experience of the transcendent and beautiful presence of god.
jesus is an important person in the book, but not the point. at first it bothered me that jesus is in the book; i wanted a completely non-traditional god, a blank slate, something i could come to with skepticism. and christians love to talk about jesus-as-their-tribe's-hero-and-poster-child as the centerpiece of all theological thinking. but after a while i didn't mind; mr. young's telling of his protagonist's story is so vivid, and so True, whether it's true or not, and it's such an open, strange, deeply affecting portrait of god and god's relationship with us, that it rang deeply True for me. and i liked the jesus in the story - he's middle eastern. not white. as would be the case. and, this book's jesus says he's not a christian. that made me happy.
in the book, god is also african-american. and asian. and hispanic. male and female. that helped me too.
and in this story, god is mysterious, and huge, and while explaining god's self, god is also beyond any doctrine or theology or seminary. the man in the book doesn't have any use for religion. what he wants is real. me too.
by the end, i was crying. the tag line for the book says it's "where tragedy meets eternity," and says the book "wrestles with the timeless question, 'Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?'" - but that, for me, is only a part of what the book's about. it's not an explanation of doctrine; it's a story of transformation, and the world beyond this world that is here with this world. and it's about healing. big healing. i was reminded of c. s. lewis' best work as i read along, and especially now that i'm reflecting on it: not preachy allegory, but deeply imaginative, and spiritually strong, storytelling.
it's not an easy read. i mean, it's an easy read - about 250 pages, not hard to follow, told well. but the subject matter, and what this man goes through - not easy. but worth the work of feeling through it, at least for me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

9 things i have learned about marriage

my wife and i celebrated 25 years of marriage week before last. i've been thinking about that. i've been thinking about what i've learned. i've decided to pass some thoughts along. some of these are what i've learned in my own marriage; others are things i've learned through friends' marriages. and divorces. and heartbreaks. and joys.
these are in no particular order.

1. do your own work. figure out your own shit. your spouse is not responsible for how insecure or angry or lost you feel. your spouse is a friend and partner. not god. not in charge of your emotions. if you're angry, it's about you. if you're sad, it's about you. if you're toxic, it's about you. if you're empty, it's about you. do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
2. do not do your spouse's work for him/her. you're not the judge. in fact, in some ways, because you've got so much invested in how you feel about this person to whom you've given so much power in your emotional life, you're unable to see this person clearly. give input if they ask you for it. otherwise, just shut up and let them figure out their path. if they're in big big trouble, that's different; that's an emergency. respond accordingly. but otherwise, do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
3. listen a lot. shut the hell up and listen. don't fix anything. just listen. it may be that this will drive you insane. that's about you, of course. do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
4. if your spouse is so toxic, so mean, so angry, so deflated, so codependent, so addicted, or so skewed that s/he cannot or will not figure out their own shit, problems, toxicity, then don't stay if you can't be well. don't be bullied. don't be manipulated. it's not worth it. if you've tried and tried, possibly for years, and the other person just won't cooperate, you're not a doormat - and you're not getting any points from god for staying. get on with your life. it's your life. don't be a victim. do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
5. find your own joy. if you're joyful, it'll rub off on the other person. if you're not, that's okay too; you're not stuck forever. life moves. believe it or not, your joy can be alongside the other person's joy and it can be beautiful. but don't delay joy because you don't think you deserve it, especially if the other person isn't following her/his joy, bliss, path, whatever. this doesn't mean that you have an excuse to just leave the other person in the dust. you're attached. your destinies are intertwined. walk alongside the other person. but find what gives your life meaning and your heart joy. and do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
6. celebrate. play. don't work all the time. stop talking about household management all the time. have some damn fun. not having any fun? why not? what are you so afraid of, or angry about? figure that out. do your work. learn about yourself and what you're afraid of and angry about. and then celebrate where you are, right now. take a walk. see a movie. play a game. make love. take a nap. whatever. celebrate that you're here, now. where else could you possibly be? it's a freakin' miracle. so do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
7. work it out and listen to each other. figure it out. talk. listen. open up. pay attention. what's the purpose of your marriage, of your being together? i mean, seriously? what's the point? what are you trying to achieve? surely it's for a reason that you've woven your lives together, had children or not, made money or not, learned lessons or not. why do you live where you live? what's the purpose behind that? maybe a lot of what you've done, you don't even know why. but you chose it. if it's the right purpose, then stick with it. if it's not, then grow and evolve. but do so on purpose. is your marriage about making the world a better place by being together? is your marriage about making money? is your marriage about having friends? is your marriage about power or prestige? be honest. and look in the mirror - together. decide. keep deciding over and over and over. do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
8. respect. the person you are married to is a child of god. a broken child of god. a hopeful child of god. she deserves to be treated with respect. he deserves to be treated with respect. stop holding power over that other person. they're not your servant. it's not their job to fix it for you. and it's not your job to fix it for them. you'll want to kill them sometimes. that's probably because you feel inadequate deep inside. just do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.
9. trust yourself and god and the universe enough to be patient in this moment. be patient. slow down. breathe. nothing is a crisis even though it feels like it. no decision - other than a life-threatening one - is an emergency. breathe. be patient with the other person. they're fucked up, right? so are you. be patient. keep breathing. and when it's time to act, to decide, to speak, not to speak, to take a step or a leap or to be still, if you're being patient, you'll know.
you will make mistakes. you, yourself. you will screw up. you will lie, or fail, or cheat, or miss something, or speak inappropriately or at the wrong time, or lose sight of what matters. give yourself a break and the other person a break. this isn't a sprint. it's not even a marathon. this life is one moment. then another. then another. maybe. be in this one. trust. breathe. do your work.
i have been good about this sometimes and terrible about this sometimes.

come to think of it, these are pretty much rules for life in general. so, there you go.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

the dark knight



i've never seen anything quite like this movie. it's astounding. this was not the wonderful ride of "Iron Man," at the end of which i and everyone else in the theater clapped with joy. this is a movie that takes you down, down, down into sacred places. places of heroism. and ugliness. and beauty and hope and possibility. and loss.
heath ledger's performance of The Joker is stunning; jack nicholson's joker was a rube compared to this complex, troubled, truth-telling psychopath.
but the rest of the cast are excellent as well; christian bale as bruce wayne / batman does a beautiful job of balancing the dilemma this story gives The Batman: how do you maintain your sense of self, and honor, and responsibility, in a seemingly incoherent universe, against enemies on both sides, and not lose your confidence and strength? what if what you're attempting to do seems only to be making things worse?
aaron eckhart as harvey dent, maggie gyllenhaal, michael caine, morgan freeman - even eric roberts - everyone is excellent. complicated. troubled. hopeful. especially gary oldman, whose lieutenant gordon is bearing perhaps the heaviest burden of anyone in the story.

as i said earlier today to bob c, this is a crime drama, a jarring and frightening suspense movie, a meditation on good and evil, a challenge to beliefs and assumptions about order and chaos and human nature; it's a collection of psychological studies, a descent into despair, a call for hope, a horror movie with a mass murderer stalking citizens, a story of love and loyalty. and it's got kickass action. and brilliant, subtle, serious acting.
it demands a response from its viewers, like "Do The Right Thing." it pits a man willing to serve with a code of honor against a man who has no conscience, like "No Country For Old Men." it studies men facing corruption and what it does to them, like "The Departed." it studies layers of power and their seductive quality, like "The Godfather." it presents people in the crucible of deciding what their role will be, and whether they'll pick up the task asked of them, even if it is sure to end in despair, like "The Return Of The King."

and it is very much the Jesus stories.

this is not a comic book movie. it's way more than that.

so, don't take small children. and don't go in without a willingness to look within yourself and at the world you live in - and to consider what your response will be to your role in that world.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

read good omens by gaiman and pratchett.




this book (it has two covers here, for fun) is a HOOT!
good omens: the nice and accurate prophecies of agnes nutter, witch.
my friend meris recommended it, and i read it and i loved it. it's by neil gaiman, a great writer and a pioneer in the graphic novel field, and terry pratchett, whose work i didn't know, but it turns out he's important too!
it's a book about the apocalypse, which is scheduled for saturday. here's the official tag for the book:

There is a distinct hint of Armageddon in the air. According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witch-finders are getting ready to fight the good fight, armed with awkwardly antiquated instructions and stick pins. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. . . . Right. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.

Except that a somewhat fussy angel (on the dark cover, above) and a fast-living demon (on the white cover, above) -- each of whom has lived among Earth's mortals for many millennia and has grown rather fond of the lifestyle -- are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. If Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they've got to find and kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he's a really nice kid). There's just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him. . . .

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

no, no - i'm fine; why do you ask?

it's good to be back in austin. we got back just in time for the 4th birthday of journey i.f.c., and the annual picnic, and a great worship service, and a long but lovely day sunday. and i think i must just be exhausted. may was tough, june was much tougher, july moves between intense journey stuff and time away, and that feels weird. and now i'm back with it and that feels good. but obviously my subconscious is feeling a little unsettled:

last night i dreamed I was in a chaotic Old West style restaurant, it was massively noisy, then Jackie Kennedy had passed away and she still had her clothes on from 1963, and she's like a big doll, only it's her, but it's not gross, she still looks like she did. And I was arranging her in a big cardboard box, and trying to repack her correctly, as her packaging had been when we opened the box, and I wasn’t sure how to put it back together, and I was hoping it was at least close, and the radio was playing about her being a Roman Catholic president's wife, and I thought, was she Catholic, or did she convert? In the dream I'm remembering seeing her eat supper with her family - did she cross herself at the end of the blessing?
Meanwhile I'm in charge of a group of children and family members around this table in this Old West style restaurant and I cannot read the menu for shit, and then I can't read the check for shit - it's scribbled on, and circled in red dry-erase marker, and the numbers aren’t clear, and meanwhile kids are running around, and the waitress has wandered off, and then I'm outside the restaurant,
and now I'm riding backwards in a wagon, and I'm IN a Western, and it's nighttime, and John Wayne is driving, and some guy is singing, and we're looking for a place to stay, or food, or something or other. it's dark. it's dry. it's bumpy. it's not bad ... just ... backwards ...
then there's an observatory across a valley from austin. and i'm with a man i know and am sort-of friends with but who is also weird and irritating (i don't know, now and awake, if this is anyone specific), and we're moving up the hill toward the observatory, and i say how beautiful austin is, and there are rocks and bumps and the road's no good and it's dark.
Then I'm in a comic book shop, which it turns out is next to the Old West restaurant (but impossibly hard to find a place to park for - which as I remember now was also true of the restaurant) and I want a couple of graphic novel/comic books that look GREAT ... even though I'm not sure what the stories are, because my son is the one who knows comics and continuity - and then I look at the books and there are almost no words, so I'm fucked because now I REALLY don’t know what's happening with them. Plus they're expensive. So I'm depressed.
And driving in and out of the parking lot, it turns out, was impossible too. so, i'm not sure how to get anywhere. but i'm working on it. pulling into a spot, then backing out and making a loop around the far side.

That's pretty much it.

i think thursday night i'll go to the midnight show of The Dark Knight and feel better. because both The Batman and The Joker are crazy mofos, and my stress-dream is NOTHING compared to theirs ...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

back from the quiet

so i spent the week last week at a beautiful camp called Pilgrim Pines outside Swanzey, New Hampshire. Pilgrim Pines is wonderful. it's a conference center, youth camp, retreat center, and family camp of the Evangelical Covenant denomination. it's a Swedish denomination, originally connected to the lutheran reformation. swedes. weird! i've never heard of it! turns out, it's not a big deal down here in texas. imagine that ... we have so many swedish towns ... not. ... but it's a happening denomination up north and in the midwest ... where there are more swedish-american folks ... and as america has grown, the denomination has grown, and it's not all swedish-americans ... although a lot of them have names that end with "son" - gustavson, anderson, gunderson ...
anyway, i was asked to go up there by a dear friend and a great man of faith, Jim Condap, who's a stud. he and his adorable wife, erin, just went to see Rush, the great rock band, last night for their anniversary. erin's first Rush concert; jim's 22nd. jim, a former youth pastor, loves loves loves people. he loves god. he loves what he does. he's a beautiful soul. he adores his wife and two little daughters.
he asked me to come up to his E.C. church in connecticut six or seven years ago to lead a small retreat for his group of friends, who'd been reading my book wrestling with god. it was really good. he emailed a year ago to ask me to come up and speak at family camp at pilgrim pines. it was a gamble on his part. he didn't know how the Covenant people - from teens to young adults to old folks and everything in between - would react to me; i'm not one of them, not like their usual speakers. jim took a risk, because he considers himself as a pastor to them during the summer, and he wants to continue to give them the good stuff, even though it's sometimes not what they're used to back in their home churches.
i spoke on the theme of jesus trying to get us all to know that it's not about the rules, but about knowing that we are god's beloved.
it was a wonderful experience - at least for me and my wife - in a beautiful camp alongside a gorgeous small lake, nestled in mountains and tall trees, in the middle of nowhere. jim put me and leslie up in one of their nicest cabins, and sent us to a lovely restaurant on wednesday night for our 25th wedding anniversary. i fished, canoed, read, napped, walked, and practiced sabbath. and worked hard to give those people something meaningful to take with them. i hope it was. i think it was.
so, thanks jim, and erin, and pilgrim pines. for the rest. for the sabbath. for the welcome. for being real people. for taking the chance that this not-Evangelical-Covenant-pastor-with-an-earring-from-a-weird-church-in-weird-austin could give a gift to you. it was an honor.
OH - AND - NO TV. no stereo. no internet (except in one little building, not our cabin, so that was great). we got home LATE last night and slept LATE today and turned on the TV and realized i didn't want to watch any of that shit - no cooking shows portraying perfect little dishes and parties, no reality shows about goober people competing about stupid things, no home-improvement shows selling me on the idea that i need to improve my already-just-fine home, no 2400-hour-a-day news about a lot of shit i don't need to worry about. today is about rest, and get ready for journey ifc's 4th anniversary worship and celebration tomorrow, and prepare tomorrow's worship talk, and check in with friends i've missed, and be with family.
turn off the tv. look at the sky. listen for god. don't allow them to sell you shit you don't need or need to do. play. get rid of clothes you don't wear. know you are already everything you ever need to be. you are god's beloved.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

see this film NOW



WALL-E

it'll do your heart good.

plus, the Pixar people are JUST FRICKIN' GENIUSES! IT'S AMAZING! THEY'RE FREAKS!