Come on up to the house

Videos!  What an idea!  I’ve loved this song for a while and am excited to share it.  I love the combination on Tom Waits’ ragged voice and this wonderful metaphor of an offer of grace: “Come on up to the house.”


A very interesting take on brokenness by Bill Tell of the Navigators.

No More Big Red Buttons?

I had lunch with a former professor of mine the other day.  My time in Canada is coming to a close, and he was asking me about it.  He asked, “How have you changed the most in your time here?”  Normally I don’t feel like I have good answers to those kinds of questions, but for this one, I was ready.

I said the biggest change was that now I had a positive identity.  When I came to Canada to go to graduate school, my identity was largely negative.  I had been living in a city with what seemed to me to be a pseudo-Christian culture, a place where people added a little Jesus-language to the American dream, gave a little shake, and call it Christianity.  I hated it.  I knew it wasn’t right, but couldn’t articulate a better way.  I knew who I wasn’t, but I didn’t know who I was.

Now it’s different.  Through some long, hard years of study and reflection, I’ve come to a place where I can articulate a better way.  I have an understanding of my faith that gives me life and is compelling.  It revolves around the concept of shalom, something I’ve written about on here before.

The next question: “How will it be going back?”  I had to laugh at that one because I know that I will encounter things that push my buttons and piss me off.  But as I thought about it, I realized it will be okay.  Those things are no longer a threat to me.  Now I my identity is rooted; I am defined by something else, something better.  With a solid center I shouldn’t be as susceptible to reacting against, to feeling like I need to set myself apart.  I know who I am and that will be enough.

Haha, that’s the theory anyway; we’ll see how it goes!


I saw the book earlier this fall and I knew.  I knew that I would need to read it, knew that it would be important to me and knew I should wait to read it for a while.  The book in question: Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.  The guy who wrote it has a Ph.D in political philosophy from Chicago and runs his own motorcycle repair shop.  The book’s blurb: A philosopher/mechanic destroys the pretensions of the high-prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one’s hands.  Yeah, I need encouragement to think that way like I need a hole in the head.

So I bought the book yesterday and plan to read it over Christmas.  But I started it on the busride home yesterday, couldn’t resist.

I’ve struggled to figure out what it is that bugs me so much about my job.  I’ve had plenty of boring or uncompelling or frustrating jobs, but this one gets to me like no other.  Well, I didn’t make it through the introduction before I found my answer.

Crawford writes: “We want to feel like our world is intelligible, so we can take responsibility for it.”  That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, but he goes on to elaborate:

“I would like to consider whether this poignant longing for responsibility that many people experience in their home lives may be (in part) a response to changes in the world of work, where the experience of individual agency has become elusive.  Those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and that as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.  The rise of “teamwork” has made it difficult to trace individual responsibility, and opened the way for new and uncanny modes of manipulation of workers by managers, who now appear in the guise of therapists or life coaches.  Managers themselves inhabit a bewildering psychic landscape, and are made anxious by the vague imperatives they must answer to.  The college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker, and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in.  He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, and affable complaisance.”

It ain’t me babe.  Can I put that in my resignation letter?

I have a confession to make.  For the first few days, I read everything I saw about the whole Tiger saga.  It goes against my values; I think our tabloid frenzied, celebrity obsessed culture is a destructive distraction, but I participated with gusto.  Those invasive telephone-pole-truck-cameras were there because of me too.  I couldn’t stay away, after all, I watch golf because of this guy.

But almost immediately after Woods’ “confession” I started reading about how, in his imperfection, he was a perfect example and how he would be a better man after all this.  That put me over the edge and I stopped.  But I can’t get it out of my head; this writing is catharsis.

A perfect example?  Of what exactly?

“ ‘Atta boy Tiger, way to carry on a lengthy affair while your wife was pregnant, get in a mysterious car crash and confess once there was no other way out!  Great read, great read!!”

I’m pretty sure we don’t need more imperfect examples.  I think it’s been established: Nobody’s Perfect.  You don’t need to prove an axiom, you just state it and move on.  The shortest distance between two points is a line.  End of story.  I’d like my examples to be, you know, good examples.  What we need is more examples of human beings actually flourishing.  That’s the belief and the hope that is harder to keep burning.

The other article was worse.  Rick Reilly, I’m calling you out.  Tiger, a better man?  Eventually, that will probably be true.  I know, you put that qualifier in there too.  But you also lionized him once again.  Hopefully he will become a better man.  To say so right now is like turning the knife.  Right now Tiger is a jackass that is just beginning to feel repentant about what it seems he was still trying to cover up only a short time ago.  Right now Tiger is a jackass who lived a lie every day by apparently carrying on a prolonged affair that started when his wife was very pregnant.  Can we mourn the staggering implosion of another high-profile family for just a moment before we re-canonize the perpetrator?  The jury will still be out for a long, long time over whether Tiger can become a better man.  It’s none of my business, but I hope so.  For the sake of his family.

That’s the thing that I hate about these stories.  Almost every time it boils down to: Men cheat; boys will be boys.  There’s always a line in there about how men need to have their needs met, and if they aren’t, they tend to look elsewhere.  Blah, blah, blah.  That may be true enough, but just once I would like to read something that nails these guys to the wall for being so damn selfish.  Look, I am a guy; I can think with my dick too.  But my heart and my mind tell me that I would be destroying everything that’s important to me.  U2 sings about not “trading love to find romance.”  Bono has been married a long time, he knows.

It goes deeper though.  What if the equation was tipped the other way?  What if the excitement really did outweigh the commitment for me?  That’s the part that no one talks about, the part where the selfishness really comes in.  First, there is a woman who has been betrayed and feels like a fool because she has been living a lie.  Great start, you’ve turned the entire life of the person you pledged yourself to upside down.  Then there are the kids.  One of the major things that helps kids thrive is a stable, loving relationship between two parents.  It helps them feel secure.  How many of us have significant baggage because of our parents?  My parents stayed together, but I still have had to work really hard to not carry their shit with me into my life and family.  These kinds of things affect generations.  It’s about more than just a philandering dude.  It’s even about more than his sobbing wife.  An entire web of relationships is broken.  The titillation pales in comparison.

I’ve stopped reading about Tiger.  I don’t need to hear this story again.

Memo to Tiger: Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  Just keep that in mind.

Death and Life

For the last few hours I’ve been sitting outside and staring. Just staring. Tonight I was informed that one of my students died on Friday night. Yes, I’ve been crying a bit. Shayne is my first. I can’t say I’d ever considered this scenario. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs you know that there was a period of my life when I thought death followed me and struck down the people I cared for most. But that period has long since passed and now I’m struggling with what I’d only heard people talk about: how can someone so much younger than me, with so much potential, be gone.

I only had Shayne in one class last year. It was the fall semester and he immediately distinguished himself as a curious student who was intellectually gifted. But his curiosity extended beyond the classroom as he sought to understand the world and people. Shayne came by my office frequently. Sometimes we would just talk about politics or music, while other times we would talk about life. We spent hours talking. Our backgrounds were different. I’m a country boy from South Dakota and he is a second generation African-American from Zimbabwe. He grew up in the ghetto in Indianapolis. Ironically, what we shared in common was death. His father had died before he was born. After moving to the states, he saw friend after friend die. We talked a lot about this, especially after Shayne realized that I am a Christian.

Since he was very young he looked after his mother, who had a bad habit of picking cruel men. He told me stories about when he was a child, her boyfriends would beat her. And there Shayne stood. He told me about her choices and how he had to grow up so very fast. And he did. He didn’t return to school this year because of finances. He told me of his dilemma this last spring, he asked me to pray for him: that he would have wisdom in knowing how to best protect his mom.

I can’t imagine all that Shayne faced. I can’t imagine the circumstances leading up to his death. But it has made me pause to think about the people in my life and how much I care for them. I think of my students. I think of life. But death seems to have that impact: causing us to look down, rather than up. Rather than looking at the forest, I see the blade of grass. I see a student with so much potential struck down before that potential could be realized. It’s heartbreaking.

What is interesting to me now is how this is the first time I’ve reflected in the midst of grief.  Shayne and I weren’t best friends. Our interaction was very much as a student and professor. But in that relationship something grows that I hadn’t realized before tonight. This relationship goes beyond attachment and extends to seeing someone for who they could be. I wonder if parents feel similarly.

But death comes and we go on, however slowly. To feel the loss of one student makes me hope for the others. I’m not one to think of tragedy as purposeful, as if it happened for a specific reason. That kind of fatalism has always bothered me and doesn’t seem very Christ-centered. In a fallen world there is death and that death is the result of sin. Can tragedy result in triumph? Absolutely. Death reminds me of the purposefulness of living a life of reconciliation and redemption. It reminds me that a life of shalom is a difficult life and prompts us to act in defiance of “logic” and social norms. I’m reminded once again that the difficulty of living shalom is also its beauty. As a friend of mine once told me, “It’s the struggle that is beautiful.” And, again, I must agree.

The Breadth of Joy

This week school begins. I did have several mornings and afternoons of meetings this past week but the slow trickle of students back on campus didn’t register until Saturday as the freshmen class arrived with their parents. I do realize I’m getting older but this years freshman look so very young, which is due to the fact that they were born in 1991. As some of those interested in speech and debate have dropped by my office, they are filled with so much anticipation for the next four years. They want to be involved in everything, get good grades, and be the very best. They hope to change the world or, at the very least, make a difference. I like freshmen like this because their minds and hearts are open to the education they are about to receive.

Compare this with one of my neighbors, Al. He’s 80 years old and his health is quickly deteriorating. He’s having an operation on his back in a couple of weeks to do something very similar to what my grandfather just had done. Al’s problem is a kind of arthritis that deteriorates his spinal cord. He has been in pain ever since I’ve known him. He has difficulty walking or lifting. He calls me his young professor because I help him carry in his groceries, take out the trash, or any host of tasks that have become unbearable for him. I love talking to Al.

Al’s wife passed away several years ago. He worked in one of the many now defunct factories that populate our town. And he talks about the past with laughter and nostalgia, which I’ve found is very rare in older people. He loves life but knows that he’s not going to be around for many more years. He and his wife were not able to have children but he has dozens of grandchildren in our apartment complex, albeit non-biological.

Last week I got home from a very long day of meetings. I just wanted to go upstairs to my apartment and take a nap but there Al sat on his porch. He smiled and I walked over. We talked for the next couple of hours. As we sat there, I realized that I’d never asked him why he always has a smile on his face. So I did and he told me, “Because life is grand.” There he sat, in pain, but  happy to be living. Yes, he’s a Christian, Southern Baptist to be exact. Maybe our conversations will be the subject of a future blog.

Al and my freshmen have something in common that I’d never noticed: joy. Freshmen are just so happy to be there. Yes, they are scared out of their mind but they are happy, as is Al. The difference between the two is the depth and breadth of their joy. I’ve been thinking about this issue over the weekend and I don’t have a nice and tidy way to end. Maybe you can help me.