Monday, December 29, 2008

confessions of a stay-at-home dad


Since I was a little boy, I've wanted to be a lot of things. I wanted to be a fireman until I realized that it required inserting oneself into life-threatening situations. I also wanted to be a basketball player, but discipline and athletic ability were never strong suits of mine. I'm sure there were other vocational ambitions that I harbored along with these two, but one thing I never imagined myself being was a stay-at-home dad. I never stayed awake at night dreaming of changing diapers, or spoon-feeding applesauce. But every weekday, from 8:00 til 12:00, that's my job. I pick up Cheerios, wipe noses, read books with cardboard pages, tie shoes, watch Sesame Street, and position hair bows. I buckle car seats, plan field trips, and and beg for kisses. On a good day she takes a nap and I take a shower. On a bad day she dumps her milk on the floor, refuses to put clothes on, and we both cry for mommy to come home. There are some days when I never get a moment to pause and think. There are some days she and I are both painfully aware that I have virtually no idea what in the world I'm doing. There are some days when I think about all the things I need to do but can't do because Anna Grace demands all of my attention. There are even days when I wish I were a fireman or a basketball player. More often though, there are days when she learns something new that I helped to teach her; days when I don't have to beg for kisses or count down the minutes until 12:00. And so I realize that I am richly blessed. My work is its own reward, and my boss is a beautiful little girl whose only flaw is her flair for getting jelly in her hair.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fun Pics

For some reason unknown to us, AG wanted to climb into the dryer and didn't want to come out.



Say, "Cheese!"
Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 24, 2008

Diverse and Divided

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at a Wesleyan church on the eastern end of our wonderful state. I lived a good bit of my life in eastern North Carolina, so it always feels good to go back. For me, something happens at the spiritual level any time Raleigh's in my rear-view mirror. From there to the coast, it's nothing but Piggly Wiggly's and peanut fields. I'll admit, my affinity for eastern NC transcends my infamous weakness for Bojangles famous chicken n' biscuits. As is probably obvious by my chosen career path, I like black people. I'm drawn to them, and at the risk of glorifying my own preferences, I would like to believe that I am called to them.

Like any territory blessed with fertile farm land, eastern NC has a rich, and inevitably tainted history of sharecropping, an enterprise that earned the reputation of being a new and improved slavery for the twentieth century. Because of its important role in the era of sharecropping, the eastern half of my beloved homeland has made certain that it will, save for an act of God, always be two things: diverse and divided. Despite its inherent indignities, sharecropping was for many black folks the only viable option in a land still searching for its post-slavery identity. The small community that I preached in yesterday is 85% black. Respectable white folk want to know; where in the @#$% did all these black people come from?! They came from wherever their assistance was not required, or at least not desired. And they came here because working Mr. Johnson's back forty for minimal pay was their only means of feeding their family. Of course, diversity is not bad. What is bad, I believe, is the division amid the diversity. The lack of interaction is unfortunate, but the lack of friendships is tragic. Division of races is a catalyst to injustice and oppression. Here are some questions I'm still struggling with........ -If every street were integrated, wouldn't much of our diversity be lost? -How do you reach across racial lines without violating the culture that makes each race special? - Why does every race, and not just the white majority seem to favor division over unity?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the great unifier pictures

bridges being formed... in our front yard






















Thursday, October 16, 2008

the great unifier

Ladies and gentlemen, I had myself an epiphany last weekend. Over the past year, I have tossed and turned many a night trying to figure out how to unite two races divided by a chasm centuries in the making. What's the answer? Can our children bring us together? You would think religion could do it, but alas it has served only to broaden the breach. In the end, the answer I sought was as close as my coveted collection of childhood memories. What is the answer you ask? Barbecued chicken.

I stumbled upon this revelation quite by accident. We thought that it would be a good idea to invite our neighbors over for a cookout. Understand that Laura and I literally live on the line that separates white from black in our town. It wasn't a big fiasco. There were no clowns, dunking booths, or door prizes. There was essentially nothing more than an over sized pig cooker, a cooler full of Grapette, and a milk-jug full of homemade barbecue sauce. The good Lord saw fit to bless us with one of those idyllic fall days that are only possible in North Carolina. To round out the day, we had as our cook a reformed racist who comes complete with a sleeve of tattoos and a skoal can. In no time, we had Hands Across America taking place right there in our front yard. Young black girls played with my little white daughter, while an elderly black lady made a blatant pass on my young white brother-in-law. It was magical. In light of these events, I am left with no other recourse than to conclude that the smokey sweetness of marinated poultry is greater than the fear that separates us. Indeed, barbecue sauce, with the precise balance of vinegar and spices, does cover a multitude of transgressions.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

missionaries and social workers

If you're anything like me, you have a conflicted opinion when the subject of missions and missionaries arise. On the one hand, you may be challenged by the commitment and passion of those who have chosen to pour their lives out for total strangers in a foreign land. Yet on the other hand, you may be repulsed by past exploits built on Western arrogance. You may see missions as an extension of colonialism, and therefore a veiled attempt to transform the Third World savages into our civilized image. For you, missions may conjure up images of lilly white Americans forcing pamphlets down people's throats, only to end up with a poisonous quill lodged in the side of their collective neck.

Because Laura and I are often classified as missionaries, these are things I think about. As much as I hate it, and as much of a throwback as I like to consider myself, I am a part this current generation. And ours is a generation obsessed with accommodating those God calls us to. We like incarnational ministry. We like relational evangelism. We like to focus on the questions, and pretend as if there are no definite answers. We like our preaching to be conversational, and we'd rather not speculate on who may or may not be going to hell. This, combined with our insatiable appetite for social justice makes us more comfortable with the mantle of a social worker over that of a missionary.

With all of that in mind, ladies and gentleman, here's my advice to myself and anyone who shares my struggle.......Stop whatever you're doing, and remember your calling. Put aside whatever author you happen to be reading. Do not be swayed by the intoxicating glare emanating from his retro lenses. Pick up the Bible and read the book of Acts. See that along with sharing all things together, and caring for the poor, the early church was emphatic that submission to Christ was the only option for salvation. Then, go read the history of the social gospel. See how its proponents sought to replace the supernatural grace of God with the vanity of human effort. After you're done, go pray for somebody's soul. Don't change any of the other things you're doing. Keep feeding people. Keep speaking out against sweat shop labor. All of these thing are vital, seeing as how we are called to reach the whole person, and to promote life wherever we can. But never forget that a persons greatest need is that they submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Missionaries may have been wrong on some issues, but they were right in their insistence that it's ultimately all about a relationship with Christ. In our postmodern world of communal living, human rights, and environmentalism, that's still what it's all about.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Movin' on up

About two weeks ago, Laura and I made the somewhat difficult decision to move closer to the people that God has called us to. Whether or not to move to the east side has been an issue of much contention since we began our ministry. Among all of the questions that we have mulled over, one has resounded above the rest; is it necessary? Is it necessary to uproot our family and move across town? Is it necessary to move out of a comfortable house in a comfortable neighborhood, and into a somewhat less comfortable neighborhood? Is it necessary to move into such close proximity to a people so different than us? The answer to that question, I have found, depends on just what it is we're trying to accomplish. If our mission is to serve the east side, to provide resources, and to give to the needy, then no it is not in any way necessary for us to relocate. But, if our mission is to establish solidarity with a community, then yes we have to move. And that is what God has called us to. Above and beyond my call to minister, God has called me to be a student. He has called me to that because there is much I need to learn. I need to learn humility. I need to learn submission. I need to learn to share. Much of what I have to learn can only be gleaned by sitting at the feet of a people who have lived a radically different existence than mine. Humility, patience, endurance, and forgiveness can best be taught by those who have been forced to the edges of society. In short, we have things to learn that only the east side can teach us. So, we're not just moving there so we can better meet their needs. We're moving there because we know that we need them as much as they need us. Now, all of this doesn't mean that we're going to pull the plug on all of our ministries. There's just a big difference between ministering to a community, and ministering in a community.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

highlights

I just realized that I haven't posted in nearly a month. Please forgive my sluggardliness. I thought I would take this opportunity to cover some of my favorite moments from what has been a very busy summer for us. Following is a list of the greatest things I witnessed in the preceding weeks........a group of kids from the east side making commitments at children's camp........a group of kids from more affluent backgrounds willing to endure repeated beatings so that my kids could enjoy a week of camp.......a grown black male, wearing a wife-beater, a pair of inordinately over sized pants, and the enduring scent of a Swisher Sweet playing kick-ball in the park.......people, young and old, black and white, coming together to paint the home of a saint named Vastine Franks.......a collection of old men waiting to have their prostates examined the old fashioned way

Those are just a few of the highlights from our summer. Oh yeah, and Anna Grace learned how to walk.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Our fathers who art in prison

The fathers are gone. Some are in prison. Some are on the corner. Even those who have never gone to prison have been profoundly effected by the many who have. Most are non-violent offenders. It's quick money, and quick is all they care about. They see no reason to hope for better. They see no reason to save for the future, or to begin the slow, grueling process of change. They wish it wasn't this way, and they want better for their children. But their children will never do better without their help. They can't help because they're not there. So many have gone to prison, so many hustle, so many have been lured away from their families that separation and distance have become second nature. The reality of absentee fatherhood has seeped into the subconscious of the community. They have accepted it. They have integrated it into their worldview. But the children will never accept it. They will never get used to not having a daddy. They will always find it deeply odd that they have a different last name than the woman who raises them. They will never stop wishing that daddy was home, and they will never forget the shame of seeing him on the corner. They will pretend to accept him the way he is, and they will tirelessly defend his honor . Yet the rage with which they defend him will be rooted in the harsh reality that their daddy was never who they needed him to be.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A time to slap

Violence is bad. Fighting is bad. Inflicting pain on others is bad. And war, whether it's necessary or not, is never good. Yet I could never be a pacifist. That's because I'm a daddy. Being a daddy has taught me that there is in fact an appropriate place for defense. This lesson was reinforced yesterday while I was hanging out at the Boys and Girls Club. Some of our young men at the club have a disturbing flare for fondling the most intimate parts of the female anatomy. They have not grasped the consequences of their actions, and therefore continue to grasp anything that jiggles and gyrates in their general vicinity. Like most incidents, yesterdays altercation began with a boys hand on a girls body. Yet unlike most incidents, it ended with a girls hand on a boys face. The young man has a history of trouble, and will likely find himself in the middle of future battles. But I can almost guarantee that he will never again lay his pre-adolescent hand on the person of this particular female. I later pulled the female in question aside and sternly instructed her that if he, or any other boy ever touched her in that manner again......hit him harder. If all of our girls in the east side community would follow her example, there would eventually be a lot less pain. When one sex is forced into subordination, both sexes bear the scars.

Sadly, there is another side of the argument. This side is best told by the expression on the freshly slapped face of our young fondler, whom we'll call Johnny. It wasn't so much an expression of shock on Johnny's face as it was an expression of betrayal. Everyday, girls his age and older crank up 102 Jams and proceed to give their innocence to whatever inanimate object they deem fit. So you can understand why Johnny looks like he just got bit by the friendliest looking dog in the neighborhood. What's the solution? I have no idea. But as long as the boys keep grabbing, I'm gonna tell the girls to keep slapping. That's what I would tell my daughter. But I would also tell her that when the hand that slaps is attached to the arm of a chaste young women who is above reproach, it produces a much louder echo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Next best thing

Has anybody here seen my ol' friend Bobby? Can you tell me where he's gone? Not me, but I did just see a well dressed, light skinned brother who bears a striking political resemblance. Ever since he was shot down on the way to the White House, the collective mind of America has wondered, "What if?" What if this deeply empathetic, righteously indignant son of royalty had made it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue? Any history book can tell you about the man Bobby Kennedy was becoming. How the cries of injustice from Vietnam to Brooklyn had somehow penetrated the insulation of his first class upbringing and awakened his political conscience. How he had transformed from a ruthless witch hunter into the relentless champion of the downtrodden, joining himself with the likes of impoverished drug addicts and oppressed migrant workers. Yet no history book can predict a future that never came to pass. History, however, may be getting a second chance.

As you can tell, I'm an RFK fan. I plead guilty to idealizing his legacy, and to looking at his career and character through rose colored glasses. Sue me. But whatever your opinion may be of the Kennedy's, or of the current candidates, you can't deny the obvious. Barack Obama is Bobby Kennedy after he fell asleep in the tanning bed while listening to "I have a dream" on his ipod. Not only do these two share a common rock star status, and an enduring message of optimism and hope, but they are even running on identical platforms. The goad that pushed Bobby into the race some forty years ago was his outrage over Vietnam. He couldn't understand why America was wasting so many lives and so much money perpetuating an unjust war, while millions at home were financially destitute. Are we not hearing the same rhetoric from Obama?

I understand why Obama scares some conservatives. He carries the mystique of a revolutionary, and promotes ideals that are almost socialistic. But in reality, Bobby was far more radical. His clean-cut image, and impeccable pedigree served as the perfect disguise. He had uprising in his veins, and possessed an inner compulsion to challenge the establishment. So, in honer of Bobby, but mostly in honor of my own curiosity, I plan on voting for Barack Obama. To those who would remind me of his liberal stance on issues such as abortion and the sanctity of marriage, I say two things. First, I would never let him be my pastor, but I will let him be my president. Second, it's impossible in a two party system for any candidate to meet the Christian standard. The key for us is to keep the ship as balanced as possible until Jesus comes back and makes it right.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Anna Grace- The Spring Shoot


rockin' the chucks




chillin' with uncle chad




whatchu talkin' bout Anna Grace?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

unbelief part 3

Could it be that the heart of a man is in his mind? Often,we hear people say things like, " I've known God in my head all my life, but now I finally know him in my heart as well." Could it be that what they are really saying is, " My cerebral cortex has long believed in God, but now my limbic system has finally gotten the message"? Every culture chooses a body part to anoint as the symbol of a persons essence. For the Hebrews it was the kidneys. For us it's the heart. But ultimately, we're all saying the same thing. Please understand that I am in no way attempting to rob the work of God, or the phenomenon of belief of its mystery. The ways of God will never be fully unraveled. He is God, and can therefore never be fully comprehended by mere mortals like us. At the same time, a basic understanding of how the brain works can help us in our quest for Christ likeness.

So, we've established that to influence a persons core beliefs, we must plunge to the depths of their identity. But don't forget, we're paralyzed, and therefore rendered incapable of saving ourselves or each other. We must pray. Only God can penetrate the many lies that have taken root in the soil of our self-understanding. We must pray fervently and with determination. Our prayer should be like that of the father in Mark 9; " I do believe, help my unbelief!" Could any prayer be more appropriate for our current predicament?

Second, we must reverently, and fearfully drive scripture into the heart of our existence. Be careful, the Word of God is alive and active. It is not applied science. Once it is implanted into your mind, it takes on a life of its own. There is no way to determine what kind of radical rearrangements it may make once it moves in. Again, it's not enough to know God's Word. What matters is whether or not we believe it. Think of God's command to Joshua. He did not tell Israel's new leader to read the Word. He told him to meditate on it. As unromantic as it may seem, there simply is no replacement for memorizing scripture and silently repeating it through the monotony of daily life. Earnest prayer and a humble, yet radical commitment to God's Word are the only means by which our crippled limbs can be rejuvenated.

So rise up Church! You have a message that brings injustice crashing to its knees. A message that breaks the chains of sin, and demolishes the walls that hold souls in isolation. The world is desperate for us to take a dose of our own medicine.

Friday, May 9, 2008

unbelief part 2

Well, it's been two weeks, and I've yet to hear an audible message from the Lord, so I thought I'd just shoot and hope for the best. Just to recap, we've established that the church has been immobilized by unbelief. Two questions remain. First, why do we believe other things more deeply than we believe the promises of God? And second, how can our paralytic predicament be rectified?

To answer our first question, we need look no further than our own childhood. Some of us in the Bible-belt may have heard the Good News at an early age. Yet we had, at that point, already come to believe other things. The world is full of direct and indirect messages about our worth, or lack there of. Since day one, we've been absorbing false messages that have convinced us to trust no one, and to be discontent with our true identities.

There is actually a science behind all of this. At the very base of the human brain, there's a tiny region known as the limbic system. This area has nothing to do with rational thought, but instead deals with emotion, motivation, and instinct. It only makes sense that those things that we've believed the longest are the things that would be buried the deepest in our brain. Essentially, our intellect can believe in God, while the deeper areas of our brain are sold on an entirely different set of ideas. Ultimately, it's those things that we believe down deep that steer us.

Those of us who were raised in Sunday School are well versed on the Word of God. We know the basic plot, and can fill-in much of the details. Unfortunately, what makes a good Bible Trivia player doesn't always make a good disciple. Again, our problem is not what we know. Our problem is what we believe. Put simply, we have ourselves a problem that bypasses our intellect, transcends our analytical capacities, and strikes at the very root of who we are . As common sense would tell us, a deep problem calls for an even deeper solution. We'll get to that next time.

Friday, April 25, 2008

unbelief part 1

One of my favorite preachers is a lady by the name of Beth Moore. You've probably heard of her. She is, in my estimation, an anointed messenger of God, and hard proof that God calls women to proclaim his Truth. I was listening to her recently when she said something peculiar. She stated that she had received an almost audible message from the Lord. I turned up the volume and inched closer to the speakers. I'm no seasoned veteran, but I've been around the block long enough to know that, as a preacher, you only get to play the "message from God" card once. I inexplicably used mine up to secure the last piece of chicken at a church potluck. But the message that Beth received was different. It went something like this......"My bride is paralyzed by unbelief."

I was stunned. The more I think about it, the more stunned I become. I had heard that the church was lazy, self-centered, irrelevant, and even ineffective. This message however, painted a much more perilous picture. You see, you can choose to be lazy, and you can choose to be self-centered, but you can't choose to be paralyzed. Lazy people don't move because they don't want to. Paralyzed people don't move because they can't. That means, that unless Mrs. Moore got her lines crossed, the church is in a predicament that she cannot remedy. Her disease runs too deep to answer to will-power.

And what is it that has robbed us of our freedom to act? Unbelief. The very thing that kept the Israelites out of the promised land, has us flat on our back on a gurney of works-righteousness. In the span of history, humans have had no greater problem than unbelief. In many ways, we have had no other problem. Every temptation that we have yielded to has been nothing more than the fruit of an unbelieving heart. Of course we believe in God on some level. We've read much of the Bible, and we can comprehend most of what we hear in sermons. The problem, is that we believe other things more deeply.

-Well that's enough ranting for now. I plan to have more on this subject next week. Hopefully I'll get a word from the Lord between now and then.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Inside-out

Poverty affords depravity no hiding place. No two-car garage to mask the depths of your discontent. No picket fence to fancy up your hatred. No garden to soften the edge of your existential anger. Poverty is stingy with her standards, and unflinching in her demands. She forces you to come clean about your dirt. She stirs you up to speak the truth without the trappings of political correctness. And so, poverty's people walk around inside-out, their broken souls on public display. Fallenness and corruption would never play hide-and-seek in the projects.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

new pics of AG


Valentine's Day



She's a climber!



Easter Sunday on the island.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

three rules

Have you ever heard the saying, "you gotta start somewhere"? Although I have heard this maxim many a time, I must confess that I am just now beginning to appreciate the inerrancy of such a sentiment. I recently agreed to work with a group of teens in east Asheboro, which is the location of our outreach ministry. So far we have been on two field trips with this group, each one preceded by a recitation of my three rules. The rules are as follows; no cussing, no fighting, and no making babies. Now to you, these rules may indicate my lack of faith in these young people, or an utter disregard for what most would consider good Christian behavior. But unfortunately, many of these kids have long been immersed in a violent society and have come to place a high value on the elocution of the less accepted members of the English vocabulary. Put simply, they drop the f-bomb like it was Pee Wees secret word. As far as the third rule is concerned, it's no secret that the black female has been reduced to nothing more than a sex object by our sin-sick society. What the white man started by raping his slave girls, the black man has perpetuated by forcing her to surrender her innocence to a video camera. The end result are young women with no sense of self-worth, and little willingness to say no. I say all that to say this.........I'm realizing that it's not my job as a minister to get everyone converted on day one. It's my job to nudge them closer to the Cross than they were when I found them. And for some of these bright, talented young people, keeping the three rules is a giant step toward the Cross. Some days, I'd say two outta three ain't bad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whitey McWhiterson

Last month, I had the unique opportunity of participating in a panel discussion as part of the Martin Luther King day festivities. I was the only white person sitting on the panel. I have never felt so white in all of my life. I wouldn't have felt any more white if I had been eating a mayonnaise sandwhich, while singing a duet with Barry Manilow.

All of that aside, it was a great opportunity to interact with the community. One of the questions that was posed to the panel was whether or not we as a society were any closer to the realization of Dr. King's dream. It wasn't until later that I thought of a really good answer to that question. Don't you hate when that happens? At first glance, the obvious answer to that question is yes. We've got more blacks in positions of power, and we've even got a brother in serious contention for the presidency. It's easier now for a black youth to get a college degree, and the days of seperate water fountains seem like ancient history. We seem to be closer to equality now than in days gone by. Yet in truth, King's dream wasn't about equality. It was about unity. When the people join together, equal rights is no longer an issue. Meanwhile history has consistently proven that seperate but equal is a myth. Unless both the population and the power is split 50/50, there will never be equality. And even if their was somehow equal power, the equality would be empty, because we would still be a people divided. King's dream wasn't about two parellel nations experiencing the same quality of life, it was about one nation sharing the same struggles and triumphs as a single, unbreakable entity. So, as long as there is a black side of town and a white side of town we are still an eternity away from realizing the beloved community that Dr. King envisioned. To say that we have arrived when we are clearly still separate is to make a mockery of his martyrdom.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

whose fault is it anyway?

Allow me to paint the scene for you......I'm driving through the east side this afternoon, the community where our outreach ministry is focused, and I come upon a nasty two car collision. There's glass and smoke everywhere, most of which is coming from the front end of a Honda which is now smashed beyond repair. As I pull over to check things out, I notice that the second car has already fled the scene, and that two young black males, passengers in the Honda, are doing likewise. By the time the cops arrived, all that was left was the driver of the Honda; an intelligent young woman, dazed, bleeding , and abandoned. Call me jaded, but that scene would not have taken place in the suburbs. But in the mostly black east side neighborhood, not being around when the cops show up is nonnegotiable.

In my efforts to lay the groundwork for future ministry within this community, I've had to come to grips with an uncomfortable truth: There is an epidemic in black America. I realize that this may seem like a politically incorrect assessment coming from a non black, but this is no time to start being polite. I see the proof of the epidemic most every afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club, where the kids can't understand how my wife and I have the same last name. And where anger and hostility are always percolating just beneath the surface. The question is not whether there's a problem, because there clearly is. The question is, " who's to blame?"

Who's to blame for the rampant poverty, drug use, violence, and broken homes? Who's to blame for the pervasive sense of frustration, disillusionment, and lack of ambition? The answer, as far as I can tell is this: People. Black people, white people, all people. As resentful, fearful, and angry as the situation may make us, we must resist the temptation to label this a totally black problem. The projects didn't make themselves. It may infuriate you to drive through the projects and see a twenty year-old mom with more kids than she can handle, and nary-a-one of them fully clothed. But save a little anger for the white collar suburbanites who decided that it would be a good idea to provide monetary rewards for moms who stay single and procreate at break-neck speed. The ideals of welfare, affirmative action, and racial profiling were not birthed in the ghetto. They were birthed out of a corrupt, corporate system that would rather pacify than mobilize. Centuries of irresponsibility on the part of white America has left deep scars on the psyche of black and white alike. When one human views another as inferior, they are both gravely wounded.

I realize that whites are not alone in this. The black population has its share of the blame as well, and they gain nothing from our guilt-ridden pity. But the next time you're driving through the side of town your mama told you to stay away from, remember, you're not looking at the disease, you're looking at the symptom. Instead of cursing the symptom, why not focus more on curing the disease?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Amazing Globetrotting Infant


From the car seat...


to Florida...


to dad's shoulders...


to Asbury...
and now we are back!


Enjoy!

video