boon-dog-gle: (noun) work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy.
free: (adjective) provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment.



I wrote the following story to be included in a literary journal that is being put together this year at Covenant Seminary, where I go to school. I don't pretend that it's great literature, but I think it's o.k. It is based in reality but is not necessarily accurate according to my experience. Let me know if you have any reactions or suggestions. I used to write often, but haven't much in the last several years.


Kyle e-mailed me to say he would be in town for a day on business and would have an hour or so of free time in the early evening. I wrote back and suggested we meet at a coffee shop I knew near his hotel. I would already be there studying, I told him, so he should just come by whenever he was available and look for me. I chose familiar turf for our reunion because I expected that our time together might pass at a slow crawl. It’s amazing to me that I could admit such a thing, even to myself—it showed how far our relationship had deteriorated.

As it turned out, I didn’t get much studying done. I was a bit anxious walking into the cafĂ©, even though it was a couple of hours before Kyle would arrive. And I suppose the large mocha didn’t help, but my stomach was doing somersaults all afternoon until Kyle walked in. He saw me right away, waved, and stopped at the bar to order a soda before coming over to sit with me. We shook hands and began some inane small talk.

“How’s Kim?” I asked. His wedding had been a little more than a year before. It was also the last time I saw him. I was a groomsman at his wedding, not the best man. His brother was best man. It’s funny; I don’t think he ever said a nice thing about his brother when we used to hang out in junior high and high school.

After talking for a while about his new marriage and new house, he asked, “How’s school?” At the time, I was finishing one master’s degree and getting ready to start another in a different field. So, I told him what classes I was taking and described the program I would begin at a new school in the fall.

From this shallow starting point, neither of us had the courage to delve much deeper in conversation. While we sipped our drinks, we struggled along in chitchat for a little longer but it seemed that gaps of silence were swallowing large measures of our time together. I don’t think either of us had the ability to articulate what we were feeling, even if we had wanted to. We sat together like two acquaintances mourning the loss of a friend that each of us was close to. Yet, the pain of our loss was too deep to face so we skirted around that issue as though we had something else worthwhile to talk about. The strange dynamic was that the person whose loss each of us was mourning happened to be the one in the other seat.

During those silent moments, my mind flashed back to the memories of our times together that seemed much more real to me than the present situation. The defining images of our friendship have always been the weekend in 8th grade when our bond solidified. Kyle and I had known each other for a few years before and we were friendly, though not exactly “friends.” But, when we were assigned to work on a science class project together, we found that we really clicked—which surprised us.

At that age, I was pretty shy but at the same time managed to be free-spirited. I was known as one of the “funny” kids in our grade. Because I got good grades and was generally respectful to the teachers, I could get away cracking sarcastic comments out loud in class once in a while. Like most of my classmates, I was also obsessed with television, movies, and especially music. Kyle, however, was not like most of my classmates. He was known as “religious” and although he was generally liked, he was also a bit of an outsider.

So, I was a bit anxious walking up the driveway to Kyle’s house after my mom dropped me off in the late morning on a Saturday to work on our science project. As it turned out, though, it was the beginning of a great day. We started off sitting at his kitchen table with two blank sheets of paper talking about our assignment. At some point, Kyle started to do an impression of our teacher that was dead-on with some of Mr. Clarke’s patterns of speech. Seeing that I was amused, he began to do a roll call of impressions of various teachers and classmates in our school. Eventually, I was laughing so hard that I was doubling over and then—“pbbht”.

“Dude! You farted!” Kyle shouted. And then he joined in the unrestrained laughter.

As two insecure teenagers, we found it to be such a relief that we could be ourselves with each other. As the day passed, far more impressions, bad jokes, bodily noises, and laughter took place than work on our assignment. When evening came, I called my mom to ask if I could stay for dinner since Kyle’s mom had offered to bring me home afterward.

For dinner, the family was having Parmesan chicken. I was particularly hungry that night and after having two full chicken breasts, Kyle’s mom offered me the last one and I accepted. It remained a joke for many years following that Mrs. Dana would ask me if I was hungry for more Parmesan chicken. The most remarkable thing about that dinner, though, was the interaction in the family that I observed. They certainly didn’t live up to the “religious” stereotype that I had prepared myself for. They seemed to enjoy one another’s company and they actually talked to each other. On the rare occasions my family sat down together for dinner, we usually turned on the TV. And, when Kyle’s dad prayed before the meal, it wasn’t just a formality. Instead, he actually spoke with meaningful words that he made up on the spot, including thanking God that I could join them. The laughter from earlier in the day continued throughout dinner as the family joked with one another. When Kyle’s mom teased me about picking all the pieces of turnip out of my salad, I knew it was a way of including me in the fun of the evening and not intended to mock me. I didn’t realize until years later that I was witnessing the relationships of the only family of committed Christians that I would know until my junior year of college.

Since Kyle and I didn’t get much work done on our assignment, his mom said I could come over for a couple of hours again the next afternoon. I did, and we threw something together since it was due in class the next day. And, even though Mr. Clarke only gave us a C+ on our “simple machine”—a complicated system of weights and levers designed to pour a pop can (but didn’t)—I knew the real outcome of that assignment was the discovery of a trusted friend.

Of course, our trust in one another only grew and we developed countless other memories. Eventually, we could freely share not only laughter, but also tears of grief and even heated arguments. But, as we sat in that coffee shop, all we were sharing were awkward silences.
The memories that were flooding my mind suddenly seemed far away. I so wanted to talk openly with Kyle, the way I used to do, about what I was feeling. I thought that maybe, if I just made a comment like, “Boy, things sure are different from the way they used to be,” it might open the way for us to have a real talk about our relationship that was slipping away with the years. I believed I had almost built up the courage to say it, when I looked up at Kyle. I sensed he was about to say something. So, I waited.

“Well, I have to get back to prepare for my next seminar,” he said. “It was good to see you.”

“Yeah,” I replied, as my heart fell. “Thanks for contacting me. Let me know when you pass through again.”

We rose from our seats, walked to the door together, and shook hands. “Bye, Kyle,” I said.



Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!


The new Pope... is tough to keep up with this blog! I even missed a Top 5 list! I've had lots of ideas I've wanted to communicate, but it takes not only time but also a lot of emotional energy create a post. I'm going to get back to my thoughts on worship leaders soon, but today I have something else to ramble on about.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. When I was in college, I had a spiritual rebirth in which I believe the Holy Spirit gave me an understanding of the Gospel for the first time. I realized that in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, my sin was dealt with finally and fully. I knew that my salvation in Christ meant knowing God as my merciful and loving Father rather than as a vindictive Judge.

For some time, I was very confused about what community of faith I belonged to. I attended Catholic mass on Saturday nights and went to a "non-denominational" Protestant church with friends on Sunday mornings. Eventually, I only went to the Protestant church. And finally, after my wife and I became engaged (of course, she wasn't my wife then), we settled in a church that belonged to the Presbyterian Church in America denomination.

After leaving the Roman Catholic church, I held a significant degree of resentment toward it for some time. In that church body, I saw only the elements that I perceived to have been obstacles to my understanding and receiving the Gospel revealed in Scripture. To some extent, I still see those obstacles. I believe that there are significant problems with the theological committments and ecclesiastical structures of the Roman Catholic church that make it difficult for people to understand the free grace that God offers in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners. Yet, as I have matured in my faith and become less insecure about my own theological commitments, I have become more able to see value in the beliefs of even those I disagree with. So, while I still have disagreements, I see much glory and beauty in the Roman Catholic church.

On Sunday, Benedict XVI was installed as the Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Roman Catholic church. I read the text of Benedict XVI's homily from that service and I was rather impressed. I encourage you to click on the link, read it, and let me know what you think. I cetainly have disagreements with some of the statments and themes from the homily. But, I was also encouraged that the main emphasis of the Pope's message was Christ. In the end, he did not leave us with a call to self-righteousness, or even to the sacraments, but instead with a call to find true freedom and real life in a relationship with Christ. That is a message of unencumbered Good News. And, I am thankful for it.


Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!


Question of propriety...

I'm in a class this semester called "Christian Worship". It is not so much a class on the varieties of expression of Christian worship in different cultural and temporal settings, as a class on the questions-and "appropriate" answers-that presbyterians ask when considering how they should arrange their worship services on Sunday mornings in their suburban American churches. While I am a presbyterian, if you sense some frustration in that summary, you are perceptive. Today, however, a topic was raised that piqued my interest, even though it was only mentioned in passing. The professor was talking about who may appropriately serve in a leadership position of a worship service by doing things like singing, reading Scripture, praying, etc. In our theological and ecclesiastical services, this professor is somewhat "open-minded" because he argues that lay members of the congregation ought to be allowed to take part in these particular leadership roles, including women (in a presbyterian context, it is assumed that only a teaching elder my teach and preach the Word of God in a worship service). Now, this is not the issue that intrigued me. Rather, it was a rhetorical question he asked, which was something like, "What if someone asks to sing a song in the service who is known to have less than a mature Christian lifestyle?" Neither he nor anyone else in the class offered an answer to this question. The impression I received, though, was that the appropriate answer is to find a way to kindly not allow them to do so.

Why is this interesting to me? I think several issues are involved in this question.

1.) What is a "mature Christian lifestyle"? If it means someone who doesn't drink, smoke, or cuss, then I think the question is bogus. Those behaviors are so superficial that only in extreme circumstances do they reveal anything about the state of a person's heart and soul. But, if it means a life of righteousness, then I think the quesiton is again bogus. No person is made worthy by the way he or she lives to enter the presence of God. Every person who approaches God can only do so in one way-by the merit of Christ. And, because of Christ's infinite merit, every person who trusts in Him can approach God with confidence-no matter what his or her life looks like. A better definition of a "mature Christian lifestyle" would be a life of repentance and faith. The problem with that is that we cannot identify a mature Christian lifestyle by what a person's life looks like or what their reputation is. The only way, then, to identify a mature Christian lifestyle is through the person's profession-of faith in Christ and sorrow for the sin they continue to commit. Surely, we can expect growth in maturity of faith and holiness, because our God who is the object of proper faith has promised that He will not leave us in bondage to our sin and He loves us enough to continue to transform us into the image of His Son. Yet, it is highly questionable to me that a test can be applied at any given point in time which will be able to accurately determine whether another person's profession is genuine. Thus, even with the best definition of a "mature Christian lifestyle" that I can give (which may not be the best there is) this qualification is not very helpful for determining who can appropriately lead in worship.

I actually have a lot more to say on this topic, but this post would get absurdly long and I need to do some other stuff. I'll continue my rambling later today or tomorrow. Let me know what you think so far.


Top 5...

I haven't given as much thought to this post as I probably should have. But, maybe it's better this way because the list will be more instinctual.

This week: Top 5 rock albums

1.) "Nevermind", Nirvana
2.) "Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness", Smashing Pumpkins
3.) "Led Zeppelin IV" (aka "ZOSO"; actually, it's untitled), Led Zeppelin
4.) "Rattle & Hum", U2
5.) "The White Album", The Beatles


Not so surprising...

Conan O'Brien is a comedic genius. Anyone who disputes this has, in my view, a severe lack of judgment. There are some, I know, who have not watched him in years because he began so badly. When he took over for David Letterman (more than 11 years ago), his show was probably one of the worst in television. I used to watch it once in a while just to see what would come out of the train wreck. Eventually, though, I quit watching. But, I started up again a few years later and noticed a difference immediately. Sometimes Conan can be a bit crude, but overall he is daring, edgy, smart, and plain funny. The skits and bits on his version of "Late Night" are classic: "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog"; "Actual Items"; "In the Year 2000"; and his visits to various off-set locations are among the best.

Anyway, I say all this to set up something that I believe you should read. You may not know that Conan is actually a graduate of Harvard. His major was something crazy like "the literature of Flannery O'Conner" or something obscure like that. Well, he gave the commencement address at Harvard's graduation a few years ago, and it is one of the funniest speeches ever. I thought about just posting the text here, but it is really long--and copyrighted--so I didn't want to hassle with it. But, here is a link . Please read it, especially if you are old enough to remember the 80's, but only if you are in a place where it will be socially acceptable to laugh out loud with snorts and guffaws.


Surprise random link of the week...

Here's this week's link: Have fun!


Well said...

This posting is my attempt to recover the "greatest post ever" that was lost the other day.

The other day I was listening to a lecture given by Dr. David Calhoun on St. Augustine and how he essentially recovered the doctrine of grace for the Church. After the lecture, a question was asked regarding the people who called themselves Christians for the centuries preceding Augustine. After all, if they didn't understand or believe in grace, how could they be saved?

Dr. Calhoun's response was, I think, well said. His point was: we are saved by grace not what we know or believe about grace. I think this is important for us to remember. In the theological and denominational circles I am most closely associated with, there can often be an attitude that belief in doctrine is what saves people. At the very least, people give the impression that the better your doctrine, the better you are saved. This, of course, is ridiculous. We are saved by Christ. The instrument of our salvation in Christ is God's grace. And, the conduit through which we receive God's grace in Christ is faith. But, it's not faith in the doctrine of grace, or the doctrine of predestination, or the even the doctrine of Christ--it is faith in the Jesus Christ the person that is the key.

After all, none of us completely understands grace. In fact, none of us has perfect faith in Christ. But, because of God's grace that He offers to His people in Christ, the amount of our knowledge or the strength of our faith are not the crucial factors. God's commitment to show us grace in Christ overrides our ability to know or believe. So, while ancient Christians may not have had a well-rounded grasp of the doctrine of grace, if they believed in Christ and therefore trusted in the same gracious God that I do, then their salvation is no less certain than mine.

Realizations like this is one reason I love to study Church history. If I can learn to respect and love fellow Christians from the past despite their differences from me and despite their faults and foibles, then maybe I can learn to love my contemporary fellow Christians despite their differences from me and despite their faults and foibles. And, in the process, maybe I will become a little more lovable to my fellow Christians, despite my many faults and foibles.


Top 5...

Before giving this week's list, let me say how p.o.'d I am because the other day I wrote a long post that was lost because the blogger server was down. What's worse, it was very likely the single greatest post in the history of the world and now you all won't benefit from it. It was full of wit and wisdom and eloquence. But, too bad so sad! I might try to revisit the topic another time, becuase (all b.s. aside) it was a good topic. Anyway...

This week: Top 5 vacation spots I've been to

1.) Estes Park, CO and Rocky Mountain National Park (counts as one)
2.) Miami, FL and the Keys (counts as one)
3.) Washington D.C.
4.) Southwestern U.S. - Arches N.P., Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, etc. (counts as one)
5.) Panama City Beach, FL


Surprise random link of the week...

In case you're wondering what this post is, here's a link to the original in this series.

Here's this week's link: Have fun!


Marvelous insight...

The following quote is a real sentence from a published book. The author must be pretty courageous to make such a bold claim! I'll spare him the ridicule that might come from citing his name.

"By the mid 1700s, the wealthy elite were enjoying an age of favoritism."


Coffee shop philosophy...

The coffee shop I frequent here in St. Louis is across the street from a prestigious universtity (Washington University). So, my guess is that 70-80% of their customers are from Wash U or some other institution of higher education in the area. It's got a pretty cool atmosphere--sort of an outdoorsy, cabin-in-the-mountains type of vibe. I like to study there for the atmosphere, good caffeine, and (usually) good music they play through the sound system.

Maybe the most intriguing aspect of the cafe to me is that the walls in the bathrooms are made of chalkboards for which the management provides colored chalk. I like that they do this because it provides a welcome diversion while I'm TCB. I've read everything in there from vulgar poetry, to mathematical equations, to self-righteous political barbs. The two most common subjects are comments for or against Christianity and "enlightening" quotes from famous thinkers.

While I do appreciate the blog (that's bathroom-log [not to be confused with the other kind of bathroom-log]), it makes me curious about a few things:
1) What kind of person spends the extra time in a smelly bathroom to leave a message that only a few other people will read?
2) Does this person think about what he will write beforehand, or does inspiration strike him while TCB?
3) Does this person consider who else has touched the chalk and what he was doing immediately prior to doing so?


First things...

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...

I wonder if the Church usually leads with the things of "first importance" as Paul did? It seems like the Church is often perceived as the champion of "family values" or conservative politics or even Western culture. We would be more faithful to our mission if we were instead viewed as the champion of Christ in accordance with the Scriptures.


Top 5...

Well, it's been a while since I've posted. We were in Miami last week visiting some good friends and having a great time. I'll recap the trip in a later post. But, since today is Saturday...

This week: Top 5 breakfast cereals

1. Apple Jacks
2. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
3. Fruity Pebbles
4. Cap'n Crunch Berries
5. Lucky Charms

Honorable mention (in no particular order): Clusters, Frankenberry, Raisin Bran Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios

G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."