Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas...no small deal

Isn't it interesting how Jesus' popularity skyrockets for 5 weeks at the end of the year. Granted, the holiday vernacular has changed in recent years to bypass His name, and once in a while a baby Jesus is stolen from a nativity scene, but by and large, Jesus is a pretty popular guy in December. Now, this isn't to say that he's not a popular guy the remaining 47 weeks in a year, but clearly, this is the time of year where His name is heard more. To put it mildly, celebration of the birth of Christ is a big deal. Most likely, from the very place where you read this, there will be some sort of Christmas reminder nearby. That could be a nativity scene on your coffee table, Elvis Presley singing "Blue Christmas" in the background, or perhaps it's the array of lights assaulting all darkness from your neighbor's home. With all the fanfare and celebration that revolves around the Christmas season, you'd sure image the first Christmas was a big deal. However, that wasn't the case. The most influential person ever to walk the earth entered it among no fanfare. There weren't songs playing, there weren't elaborately decorated trees, his name wasn't in lights, and people weren't gathering to light candles the night before. No, when Jesus entered this world, it was not a big public event (even though there were prophesies). Simply, a boy was born in a barn, and some visitors arrived. As my former college professor said, "With all that he was and that he would be, you would have at least expected him to glow in the dark." Instead, he arrived like any other baby; crying and vulnerable.

Perhaps that is the reason that Jesus' popularity is so high during this season. Many of us like to think of the unassuming and vulnerable baby Jesus instead of the controversial and powerful grown up Jesus. Baby Jesus is sweet and soothing. Grown up Jesus, when you get to the core of his message, transforms your life. You see, we're not always comfortable with transformation, or change that alters our worldview. When the Jesus the man says "...any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33), he's suddenly not as sweet and soothing as he seemed as a baby. Jesus the man destroyed the former the lives of those who followed him and rebuilt new ones. The baby Jesus did not. Maybe that's why we latch onto his name during the Christmas season. We'll conveniently forget about the man who calls us love our enemies, give away our wealth, and concede our wants so that we can celebrate him as a baby by giving and receiving presents.

This year, let's not only celebrate the baby whose conception was immaculate and whose birth was unspectacular. Let's celebrate the arrival of the man who changed the world by loving people. Let's celebrate the arrival of the most influential man in history. Let's celebrate the man who brought redemption. Jesus, God incarnate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mircales Don't Have to be on Christmas Day

Standing in a hospital lobby and soaked by cold November rain, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. My stomach knotted as I saw that Emily was calling…I knew that meant news about Chris. His operation began at about 8 am and all we knew was that the surgeon had finished about 10. With the knowledge that the surgery was anticipated to take between 3 and 4 hours, I had a bad feeling about the doc being finished so early. Before I even had a chance to say hello, Emily, her voice full of excitement and relief said: “You’re not going to believe this…they can’t find anything!”
“What do you mean they can’t find anything?”
I replied.
Emily: “As in the tumor is gone…the doctor said it isn’t there!”

The following day an MRI confirmed what the surgeon had found…rather what he didn’t find. Dumbfounded, he stood before Chris and Emily saying that he didn’t know what to say. “On Tuesday the tumor was revealed on the MRI…it was focalized (as he made a circle with his thumb and index finger). Today we can’t see anything but normal brain.”

People across the country and scattered globally were praying for Chris…fervently asking for healing, or for a miracle such as this. What an amazing example of God’s power!
Here are a few comments/ text message responses by people that know/love Chris:

“If anyone deserves a miracle, it’s Chris Morgan” - Lee Johnson

“I’m all over the place…smiling but crying at the same time. Just awesome! I’m mad at myself for ever doubting God’s power in this.” - Matt Bentley

“UNBELIEVABLE!!”- Loni Garcia

I wish I had the same faith my mom has…who said she was “going to pray for this to just disappear.” That sounded good to me, but I can’t say I ever truly believed that was a possibility. Looks like you were right mom.

Perhaps God is easiest to see when reality is without rationale.

How bout you? You see Him?

God wins.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

True Friendship

Today I write to ask for your prayers for a brother. Chris Morgan went beyond being my friend years ago…when someone is more familiar with the contents of your refrigerator than you are, it’s safe to say that they’ve reached family status. My brother Chris is battling brain cancer…and he needs your prayers. Thursday he will undergo his second operation in four months, this one to remove a 2 cm tumor.
Chris is the most loyal person I’ve ever known, and has always been there for me….even when I didn’t know I needed a friend there. For example:

We lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs in 1999 (Chris‘s senior year and my soph)…we were miserable…so after eating our weight in Applebee’s riblets, Chris sang off key the whole way home from Oak Ridge…I felt a little better.

In High School, within a span of 24 hours I went from having 3 dates to 3 different proms to 0 dates. Chris told me that I would have just spent a bunch of money, said something stupid, and that none of the girls really liked me anyway…I felt a little better.

In middle school, I got really mad at Chris for saying that I was too fat to be getting in a go-kart. After fussing at him he said, “Buddy, some guys are fat…and that’s ok”…I felt a little better.

We went fishing one hot summer afternoon…I was bummed because I didn’t catch a single fish. I looked to my left and see that Chris somehow fell in the water and got his shoelaces caught around a log. He had to carry the log to the shore to free himself…I felt a little better.

I was upset after a breakup in college. I didn’t care about the Steelers game on TV and I barely ate any of the pot roast and mashed potatoes on my plate…Chris knew that the situation was dire. That’s when he called me out for not putting enough effort in the relationship…and told me that he knew I felt guilty and that I had a phone that worked if I wanted to use it…I felt a little better.

We watched Tennessee blow an undefeated season by getting clobbered by Auburn on a rainy night in Knoxville…Chris said let’s eat as much pizza as we can…I felt a little better.

I was ditched for another guy by a girl I was kind of dating on New Years Eve 1999. Chris showed up at my door ready to drive wherever to whoop whoever. Instead we celebrated the millennium in downtown Kingsport with a random group of friends we found…I felt a little better

My beloved Black Lab Jake died on his 8th birthday. Chris cried too…and to this day he can’t ring the doorbell at my parents house because he expects to hear Jake’s bark and frenetic clatter of claws on the hardwood…I felt a little better

We were digging a hole in South Carolina and hit a gas line, breaking it. I beat myself up for not knowing the gas line was there. Chris said “Well, now you know it's there”…I felt a little better.

I have a million more of these stories, but I’ll stop. Notice that Chris didn’t really say anything too profound, and that he didn’t really do anything heroic here. (though there have been times where he has done both) What he has said or done hasn’t really mattered. What matters is that I’ve always known that he’s my brother , that he loves me as a brother, and that he cares. Right now the least I can do is to show him how much I care and love him as a brother. I do that now by asking you to pray for Chris…pray for the surgeons, pray for his wife Emily, and pray for his baby daughter Gracie. Ask God for healing. Chris has always let me know that I’m not alone in a tough time…Thursday I want him to know that he is anything but alone.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Weather Channel Half Marathon

Some people are born to run...they've got chicken legs, a fast metabolism, and no body fat. Some people are born to run to the front of the line at the Pizza Hut buffet...tree trunk legs, a lazy metabolism, and Homer Simpson's upper body do not a runner make. I'm pretty sure I fall into the category of the latter, but my sister had the idea for her, my dad, and me to sign up for the Weather Channel Half Marathon in Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day...and being one for crazy ideas/overzealous goals, I decided to give it a shot. The race started at 7:00AM...and if you know me, you know I'm not a morning person, so getting going that early was going to be a challenge in itself, so I decided that while I was running, I'd make mental notes as I ran and do my best shot at a running diary....so here we go!

5:00 AM: Wake up feeling sorta cocky
5:30: Eat 2 bagels and drink coffee
5:35: Read that eating a breakfast high in fiber the morning of the a half marathon is a bad idea...
6:00: Understand why it's a bad idea
6:30: Get dropped off at the race site along with my Dad and Sister(both running) by my brother in law...who has planned to go immediately after to a place called "Grandma's Biscuits"
6:45: Angie asks us what our favorite Thanksgiving dish is...to take our mind off the fact that we're freezing...Dad and I both have an answer involving gravy.
6:46: Wonder if gravy is a typical pre-half marathon discussion topic.
7:00: Suddenly want a "Grandma's Biscuit
7:08: The race starts! (maybe I'll get warm)
Mile Marker 1: Feel like the 1st mile went by quickly...also I'm amused by the people all around me who wore layers and are now throwing them on the side of the street
Mile 2.5: a Waffle House to my left and a Dunkin Doughnuts to my right taunt me with scents of hash browns, filled doughnuts, and waffles....I must really like high fiber breakfasts...
Mile 2.6: McDonalds follows and I remember the time I finished second in a cheeseburger eating contest...I then mentally curse all the fast food burgers I've ever eaten for adding this extra weight...especially the 13 I ate that day (yes, I'm mad I didn't win)
Mile 4: A bunch of Marines pass me...they're wearing boots and carrying flags...I feel like a pansy
Mile 4.3: Inexplicably, I catch the Marines...I feel less like a pansy
Mile 4:4: Realize that they slowed down because one had to pee...then they all pass me and speed off...I feel like a pansy
Mile 5: Finish a climb up a hill...it's the only one of the day...I feel great!
Mile 6: They're giving away some sort of energy jelly beans...I like free stuff, so I grab em.
Mile 6.1: Wonder how in the world I thought I had gone up the only hill as I stare at the base of what seems like Mt. Kilimanjaro
Mile 6.3: The hill is not my friend and realize that I'm only halfway through.
Mile 7: Finish the hill and remember I want to climb Kilimanjaro one day...so I throw a jelly bean up in the air and catch it in my mouth on the run...secretly I hope someone saw me
Mile 8: high five a giant chicken
Mile 8.5: A little girl whiffs me on a high five...
Mile 9: loving my ipod shuffle..."Viva la Vida" finishes and "Bad Day" starts...draw your own conclusions...I was too tired to do so.
Mile 9.5: have stopped all humorous thoughts
Mile 10: start to hate running...its concept and its practice
Mile 10.5: realize that my shoes were tied too tight...I quickly blame every one of my flaws, all the current pain, and the economic recession on that minor fact.
Mile 11: want to quit...my knees are toast and my ankles feel like toothpicks connecting my legs to my feet.
Mile 11.5: fat guy passes me...I'm impressed
Mile 12: Tom Petty's "The Waiting is the Hardest Part" starts...he's right.
Mile 12.4: see Olympic rings ahead at the finish...holy crap...I just might finish this thing
Mile 12.6: pass the fat guy
Mile 12.7: wonder if the fat guy just thought "hey, that fat guy just passed me"
Mile 13: pass the Olympic rings and see the finish line
Mile 13.1: wobbly legged, sore, but all in all feeling good, finish in 2:14:33
9 minutes later: Dad finishes...60 years old and he just whooped a half marathon...I thank him for inherited good genes/stubbornness/determination
7 minutes after that: Angie finishes...it was her idea...I thank her for the great idea/motivation
10:00 AM: we climb in the car and ride home...someone suggests Krispy Kreme...I don't object :o)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

National Missionary Convention- Tulsa, OK

Hey guys,
I spent 5 days last week/weekend at the National Missionary Convention in Tulsa, OK. Every year, NMSI has a booth at the convention where we spend time networking and recruiting. Since my new role is Director of Summer Internships, it was important for me to be at the NMC to meet potential interns. I was blessed to have a lot of great conversations with missionaries, potential missionaries, friends, college professors, and pretty much everyone in between. From your typical productivity standpoint, the conference was great considering we had a large amount of people interested at NMSI. However, the way NMSI measures productivity is different from the way most of us do. Growth is not a core value of NMSI. Let me say that again…growth is not a core value. We do not exist to grab people and send them on the mission field. We exist to help people realize the dream, vision, or ministry that God has given them. This philosophy is a big reason that I am here. We’re not in competition with other mission organizations either. If someone is better suited with another organization, then great. We want them to go work with the other group and be blessed in their endeavors.

For example, a man approached me and asked what we were about. After a brief discussion, he asked “Are you a Christian Church mission?” I responded that we consider ourselves a New Testament ministry, and I am from a Christian Church background, but we have affiliates that are from a wide variety of denominations. Visibly irritated, he simply said “so you’re interdenominational…” and walked off. So, NMSI isn’t the place for this man…though I didn’t entirely appreciate his response, I (and the rest of us) want this man to find a place that is a good fit for him, and wish him the best of God’s blessings. So I’m proud to represent NMSI…and the NMC was a great venue.

Since the NMC was in Tulsa, I thought you might appreciate a few random facts/observations.
*Tulsa is the 45th largest city in the US
*Tulsa has the nickname “Oil Capitol of the World”
*Trying to find food or convenience items in downtown Tulsa is like trying to find a penguin in Florida
*The Doubletree hotel gives you a free cookie when you check in…they will also give you more of these check in cookies if you’re nice and smile
*Tulsa’s wind can stop you in your tracks
*Tulsa is called the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”
*The new BOK center is state of the art and looks like a place where a NBA team should play
*We were not in the BOK center
*We were in the Tulsa Convention Center
*The Tulsa Convention Center has seen better days...

Hope you enjoyed the random facts! I’m running a ½ marathon on Thanksgiving…you’ll hear about that soon!

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones

It’s not everyday that one of the world’s biggest bands plays a concert 2 hours away. Also, it pretty much is everyday that missionaries are without the expendable $100 or so to go to such a concert. So, you ask, what is the solution to this quandary? How bout we go for free!
Determined, 4 of us set out to Fort Lauderdale to find cheap tickets for Sunday night’s Coldplay concert. In the past, I’ve had great luck getting into football games by purchasing tickets from people outside the gate (with the notable exception of Steelers vs. Bengals in 2005), so we figured we’d give it a shot.
After a few fruitless hours of scaplers saying things like “You’re not getting in for under $150...this ain’t the Grateful Dead,” or more harsh words like “you may as well go home,” we finally caught a few breaks. The opening act was almost finished and tickets were still selling for absurd amounts…it looked bleak…and then my buddy Ryan hit the jackpot. First, a man who was late, and in a rush to get in sold his extra pair of seats for $40. Moments later, another person handed him 2 tickets, and as he wrote on a piece of paper said “hey, check out website.” (it happened to be a concert review site)
So there it was…4 tickets to Coldplay for $10 each. Let me say the obvious…they rocked. I don’t know what it is about British guys, but they always seem cooler than those of us who aren’t. If something is said in a British accent, I tend to give the statement immediate credibility. (sort of the opposite effect of my accent)
Anyway, for nearly 2 hours, Coldplay was flawless…their driving chord progressions, insightful lyrics, and varied instrumentation mesmerized 20,000 people. I’m convinced that “Fix You” is the most uplifting sad song ever. Viva La Vida was brilliant as well…it wonderfully depicts the futility of man’s adoration of other men.
Getting to go was great…but “nobody said it was easy.”
Back to deeper thoughts soon…

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election thoughts

I'm not a terribly politically charged person. I'm a person who has strong opinions, but at the same time, I don't see the world as entirely black and white. You'll never hear me say that I'm a Democrat...nor will you ever hear me say that I am a Republican. (That statement is probably enough to keep me from ever being elected to public office)

That being said, I've been truly surprised by much of the reaction I've seen regarding the results of our election (from both sides). I don't care who you voted for. As a former pastor/current missionary, I feel some sort of unspoken obligation to have a firm stance supporting one of the two candidates...and not only that, but I feel like I should have specific Biblical convictions making the choice black and white. However, here I see no black and white...I see positives and negatives on both sides...so that unspoken obligation is not fulfilled.

Anyway, here is what saddens me:
Christians saying that Obama could be the anti-Christ.
Christians saying that Obama is the savior.
(and other statements of similar nature to each of these)

Each are usually said tongue in cheek, but I've come to learn that if you say something with sarcasm, it's what you really mean but don't have the guts to say.

Do we feel like our political party (either one or neither one...follow me?) is the one that sides with God? Do we feel that our nation is the one that God prefers?

So here's what I think...I think we have a little too much American pride. Let's not forget that Nationalism is caused 2 world wars and countless smaller ones. Essentially, the thought that "our culture is better than yours" has caused countless deaths, injustices, and atrocities.

I remember one night in Kenya, sitting around a fire and talking to another guy in his early twenties...I knew him only as "Ole'." We talked for a while about America, Africa, their differences and their similarities. He said he felt like Americans thought they were better than everyone else. I immediately took offense and told him we didn't...and specifically that I didn't. His response resonated with me "It's because you follow Jesus," he said. "That's why you don't feel that way."

Maybe it is.

Let me say that I'm not dissing our country here...not by any means. I'm saying that our ties to Christ must be stronger than our ties to our nation or our political parties.

So there's my soapbox. If you follow Christ you should feel ok...because God ultimately has the future in his hands. Amidst economic disaster, natural disaster, and global disorder Christ is supreme.

Jesus is our only savior, and may we only boast in Him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back home and back to FL

First of all, sorry I have not posted in a while...I'd say I was able to see a good number of those of you who read this during my 10 days back in Tennessee. But if you're not among that group (or even if you are), I thought I'd let you know what I've been up to.

I spent the 10 days home in Tennessee, working toward getting 100% support. I was privileged to speak in Knoxville at Thorn Grove Christian Church, at Oakwood Forest Christian Church in Kingsport (where I grew up), and at Life Bridge Christian Church in Kingsport.

My friends and the congregations were very supportive and took genuine interest in NMSI and my ministry within the organization. Each meeting was a blessing, and I left feeling encouraged.

While I was home, two things truly stood out to me:
1. I have a great family
2. I have great friends

I know that for some, the idea of getting together with family does little more than cause frustration and create ulcers. With my family, it's not that way at all. I'm blessed by parents, siblings, nephews, and nieces that I truly love...and love me back. We may all not agree on politics, church, or some other issues that tend to divide...and the great thing is, that's ok. Whether or not we love and care for each other has nothing to do with opinion or action. Love is deeper than difference. Maybe this is some bragging, but really...I'm blessed to see good marriages modeled by my parents, and each of my siblings and their spouses. So I can't wait til Thanksgiving!

My friends are great. Maybe this is more bragging, but I really am blessed by a great/eclectic group of friends. During my time back in Tennessee, I was able to spend time with a variety of friends. I just want to take a moment though to talk about one of my best friends, Chris Morgan. Chris and I go way back...I mean, we were in church Christmas plays when we were kids, we played high school football together, and I was proud to be the best man in his wedding to Emily. A few months ago, Chris found out he had a malignant brain tumor which required an operation. I encourage you to check out Chris's story at this website: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/chrismorgan

My thoughts on Chris, his friendship, his recovery are another post entirely, but for now I merely want to say that Chris is doing so well, and being able to spend time with him while I was in Tennessee was great. We were even able to go to the Tennessee-Alabama game last week. Even though the Vols aren't so good, we had a blast...and it was great to spend time with my friend...who by the grace of God is getting better every day!

Thanks again for checking up on my blog...I'll have some election thoughts tomorrow. They probably will not be what you expect!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Today I got in an elevator that displayed a small sign saying "Take the Stairs!" This message was accompanied by a stick figure energetically hoofing up a flight. I immediately wondered if the elevator was encouraging me to take the stairs because it was broken. (it was not)

Cigarette ads in magazines have pictures of people doing something like lighting up while having a cookout on a rooftop with a pool. Then has a tagline like: "Newport Cigarettes, Alive With Pleasure!" Followed by a disclaimer that essentially says "consistent use of these products will eventually kill you." Well, at least you'll be "Alive With Pleasure" until you die young.

When I sold lawn and garden equipment at Sears, we were encouraged to pitch the excellent quality of the product (they really did sell great stuff). However, management only cared whether or not we sold extended warranties. Basically, I was supposed to say "Buy this mower and it won't tear up on you...except when it does...and that might be on a frequent basis." (my response to the bosses was always 'how can I sell a warranty if I don't sell a mower first'...it seemed to baffled them.)

Two months ago I stood in the Atlanta airport holding a boarding pass for a flight from Atlanta to Knoxville. Due to a few absurd circumstances, the customer service agent said: "You are not flying today." So I had a had a document that told Delta "Matt Hickman gets seat 27C on flight 1732 to Knoxville." But Delta said "Matt Hickman cannot have seat 27C on flight 1732 to Knoxville." (The boarding pass is now a $200 bookmark)

Seriously, I urge you avoid Delta if at all possible. Their policies defy logic and their customer service department has all the answers to questions you don't ask. Oh, and I'm excited to go home and see everyone tomorrow...I'll arrive on an 11:00 flight from Atlanta...on Delta.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Abandoned Buildings

About 10 years ago, I was traveling with my parents back to Tennessee from a visit to Florida to see my brother and his family. I loved and hated these trips…loved them because I got to see my family…hated them because riding in our egg shaped Toyota van was like riding in a mobile greenhouse. The giant windows had no tinting and the a/c blew 77 degree air with all the ferocity of a wheezing asthmatic. On one of these journeys, dad decided to wind through the back roads as opposed to driving monotonous I-26. Only 30 minutes or so off of the interstate we came upon a gas station, saloon, restaurant, and department store, each appearing to be suspended in 1955. Every building was abandoned, bearing its own thick coat of neglect. Passing by, we realized that we had stumbled through a modern ghost town. I openly wondered why the place was abandoned…in movies there always seemed to be some sort of disaster or supernatural cause that emptied towns. In seeing buildings forgotten by man and time, I could not avoid feeling slightly depressed. I don’t really know what it was…maybe just seeing emptiness and finality made me sad.

Roughly ten years later those feelings returned as I walked through Hisarya, Bulgaria. Though this town is home to roughly 15,000 people and numerous businesses; abandoned buildings stand on every corner, casting their hollow shadows. This place was like an inhabited ghost town. A three story hotel was started, but never finished, its glassless windows exposing its belly to the elements. A school boasting an elaborate arched entry and open lobby sat without any inhabitants. A large building intended to house shops, businesses, or apartments lay in shambles, though still displaying an advertisement for razor blades. Again, I could not pass these places without their sadness latching on to me. Around these buildings were open businesses and homes, bustling with movement and conversation like saplings growing in a rotten stump. Still, the feeling of melancholy and heaviness remained.

I think the reason that these feelings infected the forlorn structures is because each one represented something finished and unfinished. A dead dream. A lost cause. A missed opportunity. Gone. Lost. Past. Over.

Our society loves to preach hope…hope in politicians, athletes, books, celebrities, progress, and positive thinking. Each of those have a hollow ring to me. People always fail…hope is not truly found in people. My heart hurts for those who live unaware of the abounding love and grace of Jesus. Picturing my life without Christ is like one of those abandoned places…standing empty, forlorn, and wanting.

Maybe that’s why abandoned buildings make me sad…because there are so many all over the world...

Monday, October 20, 2008


Sorry it has taken me so long to post. Oddly, I had internet access in Bulgaria, but had no such luck in Greece. I thought it might be good to take a minute to fill you in on what we did in Bulgaria and Greece.

Once every three years, NMSI has an event aptly named Triennial which gathers all affiliates from around the world. This conference is a chance for the NMSI family to reunite, meet new members, discover the ministries worldwide, and have a time of spiritual renewal. I was truly blessed by getting together with our 250+ missionaries, learn about their ministries, and understand what the short term division can do to serve them. The things that God is doing through NMSI is staggering…from Bible colleges in Uganda, to church planting in Myanmar, to Gypsy village ministry in Bulgaria, God is being honored and the Gospel is being spread worldwide. I’m proud to be a part of this organization and I’m excited to see where God is going to take me on this journey.

The past two weeks were truly a blessing filled with education and spiritual renewal. In the next coupe of days I’ll be adding more reflections from the past two weeks

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A few observations

Here are a few random thoughts regarding travel, culture, and whatever else enters my mind.

1. Spanish people make out a lot in public...a lot
2. Bulgarian fire extinguishers are huge...and look like they're about 50 lbs...so if you're wanting to put out a fire quickly, you're in trouble.
3. The big dude who sat next to me on my flight across the Atlantic silently resented me for 8 hours...I'm sure of it.
4. The feelings were mutual.
5. Speedos are never a good idea.
6. Number 5 applies to you as well.
7. There are a ton of really cool cars in Europe than aren't in the US
8. Techno music is not as cool as some people think.
9. Unless I am just not as cool as I think I am
10. I just realized that number 9 is entirely possible
11. I think I'll stop here

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thoughts from a Bulgarian Lobby

I'm sitting in the lobby of a Bulgarian hotel, surrounded by diversity, dank post communist decoration, and the Cyrillic alphabet. I'm in an aging burgundy leather chair occupying a convenient spot in the middle of the lobby. Caddy corner from me sits an older Asian man with a wispy moustache. His thin glasses peer down to the screen of his gray Dell laptop on which he types away. Behind him sits a rotund woman who seems to be a local. Her fire truck red hair matches her lipstick as she glances at me with suspicion in her tired eyes. To my right is a couple from Germany. She's a native German and leans forward on her chair, deeply focused on the book she is reading. Her American husband sits close and stares at nothing in particular. To my left stand two female Bulgarian desk clerks. Both are rather attractive, one answers the phone, the other seems perplexed by whatever it is her computer is telling her.

Right now I'm paralyzed by the truth that each of these people have a story. Deep, intricate stories filled with love, grudges, victories, defeats, and who knows what else. Far too often I merely pass by others, entirely wrapped up in my own story, recently filled with transition and heartache. Sometimes my story is just too important to me...I guess we're all wired to be consumed with ourselves. Perhaps part of growing up is seeing your story fade and the stories of others grow. I do know that my story is still being written, just like the man in front of me, the lady behind him, the couple to my right, and the women to my left. The portion of my story that has been written isn't all that important really...how the rest will be written is. Maybe when my story engages the stories of other people, its place of importance will finally be found...as a distant third behind God and others.

For the moment though, I'll just soak in my eclectic surroundings and allow my story to be written more deeply.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deserted Roads, Late Nights, and Good Music

Some combinations are so perfect it's hard to imagine one part without another. Lennon and McCartney, steak and baked potato, Homer and Marge, mountains and trees, Montana and Rice, vacation days and the beach, long flights and babies...well ok...maybe not that one. For me, another one of these combinations is night driving and music.

Driving in the day is different, you and the world are exposed to one another and the things that happen in sunlight are the sort of things you want to know about. You can drive at night in blissful ignorance of what goes on beyond your horizons. So if you add the mystery of the night to the romance of the open road, the song you listen to seems to mean just a little bit more. I don't think it's any coincidence that there are so many songs about the open road (Midnight Rider, Running on Empty, Born to Run, Take it Easy, Country Roads etc.).

The other night I had the perfect combination: driving down a remote highway at 2 AM while listening to a cd full of my newest itunes purchases. I guess it was the mood of the night, but I seemed to find profound meaning in nearly every song. With waves of desperation in his voice Tom Petty told me that "...it's so painful, something that's so close, but still so far out of reach." The Who said that "I don't need to fight, to prove I'm right." And then Coldplay asked me to "Look at the stars, look how they shine for [me]." My soul, simmering in brilliant musical philosophy was rudly awakened by "Lido Shuffle" by Boz Scaggs." You probably don't know this song right off the bat, but look it up and you'll remember it...then you'll probably download it...then it'll be your #1 guilty pleasure song. I really tried to find deep meaning in this overtly pop tune discussing a gambling addiction...but it just wasn't there. Even though there was nothing meaningful to take away, I couldn't keep myself from rocking out in the way you can only do in your car.

So maybe there was no deep meaning in Tom Petty's words either. Maybe there didn't need to be. Maybe there's no deep meaning in music, the road, or the night...regardless of the metaphorical possibilities. Maybe there's just good music, the freedom of the road, and mystery of the night. So instead of manufacturing profundity out of lines like "we are all just prisoners here, of our own device," I should just drive and enjoy the music.

I think grizzled old King Solomon was right in his first line of Ecclesiastes. So I should just relax and enjoy the music. I'm convinced that Jesus would road trip with me and rock out to Springsteen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who likes to discuss the weather?

This morning I checked my Hotmail account, which still thinks that I am in Kingsport, TN. The home page alerted me to the brisk 64 degree temperature, accompanying scattered clouds, and light wind conditioning Kingsport. I then laughed to myself as I looked out the window to my right which revealed a palm tree being assaulted by the tyrannical Florida sun. East Tennessee, this is not…the lizard that stood mockingly on my shoe this morning told me so.

I’m a big fan of good conversation. From deeply personal truths to discussing the merits of the Steelers front 7, I love authentic conversations. So, whenever I bring up the weather, it seems trite. In high school I went on a pseudo date with a really attractive girl from another school. This was 1999, so I was probably wearing a plaid button up shirt tucked into straight legged jeans held up by a brown leather belt with a gold buckle and workish boots…I can’t remember if that was stylish or not (I can‘t imagine how it would be), but it was what I usually wore. So essentially when I got dressed I probably should have known then that I was in over my head. I picked her up and as we drove down the road in my 88 Saab (the Great White Hope as I liked to call it), I opened the manual sunroof and the surprisingly hot February sun warmed us. Unfortunately, we struggled for conversation. I asked a ton of questions and got mostly one word responses. After only a few minutes I had used up all my good stuff. There was nothing left to discuss but the weather…with only shallow conversation to follow…at that point I knew it wasn’t going to work out.

Today I don’t feel trite as I bring up the weather. Maybe it’s because I’m still expecting a crisp September morning to signal the coming seasonal change even though the lizard said it wasn’t gonna happen. Or maybe it’s because the change in my surrounding weather signifies a bigger change for me. And like the autumn in Tennessee, this change is welcome. Make no mistake though…I may be in Florida, but I Tennessee boy I will always be.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First Blog

*This is post #1 of a blog that I intend to update at least once a week (maybe more). Comments, remarks, criticisms, and any other input is always welcome. Also, I am archiving some writings from the past that you're welcome to check out. Thanks for venturing here!

I sit here, my mind rambling, at my new desk at New Mission Systems International. Behind me is a world map dotted with thumb tacks representing the locations of our affiliates. These red tacks are in places like East Timor, Malawi, and Estonia. I'd say each of us could speak to someone today who is unaware that any of these places exist.

The diversity of this world can overwhelm...especially when you feel called to relate to those in the most remote/dire places. I speak often of a moment when these differences pierced my heart. In the spring of 2005, I walked in to a Haitian village in the Dominican Republic (if you're unaware of the prejudicial issues between the Dominicans and the Haitians look it up...the way the Haitians are treated is tragic). I meandered past homes and shops that were constructed with materials that I would throw in the recycle bin or take to the scrapyard. About 10 of us were there, and we could not help but be spectacles, seeing as how we were white, educated, and relatively wealthy. Essentially, I was the socioeconomic antithesis of everyone I met. Bothered and embarrassed as I was by that fact, I was met with something beautiful...the warm, loving, and sincere welcome of the Hatian people. At that moment I realized that these differences were entirely irrelevant.

I'm reminded of Paul's writing in Colossians 3:11: "Here there is no Greek of Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian (a barbaric group considered by others as a step above wild beasts), slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

Paul is speaking of a life in Christ, and in this passage reminds of the inclusiveness of the Gospel. No longer was a life with God limited to the Jews. So as I think of far off places and different cultures like East Timor, Gabon, or Andorra, I realize that those differences are entirely irrelevant regarding the Gospel. As Paul writes, Christ is all and in all. So I celebrate the love that he gives me that is extended to the reaches of this world.

That is why I am at this missions sending organization today...to share that truth...and to love people...wherever they're from, whatever they look like, whatever they think, and whatever they do. As Christ modeled.