I had a flash of brilliance this morning

A Bullet Journal Index Page

I had a flash of brilliance this morning.

I had an idea I felt was worth sharing, a little tid-bit – a nugget – that seemed worth fleshing out. I could write it up as a Facebook status, but felt that a blog post might be a better place. I wanted to get back into regular blogging anyhow. Then I promptly forgot it.

Two thoughts:

  1. I should have written it down. Thanks to Rocky‘s insistence over the years I do keep a Bullet Journal. There’s no reason I didn’t log it there. Silly mistake. But…
  2. It’s not the end of the world.

We all get flashes of brilliance, those insights that are so different than what we’ve had before. They are synthesizing moments, or breakthrough moments. Whatever they are, they’re fleeting and rare.

But it’s not the end of the world to forget one. It’s really not. I’ll have other flashes of brilliance, and so will you. We just have to remember to write them down next time.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Once, I had a flash of brilliance I didn’t forget to write down. It turned into a little book.

A first reaction to reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is not the first person to think the things he has written in this book. Nor is he the first person to write them down, let alone tell a child. I confess I am ignorant of the work of James Baldwin so I do not understand what Toni Morrison means when her book endorsement claims Coates’ is the one who can fill the “intellectual void” left by Baldwin’s death. I read every article he publishes, but I am not a scholar enough of good writing to even know if Coates is the best writer working today (as some have said).

But I do know this: After only a few dozen pages of Between the World and Me, I have been both convicted and given grace by Coates’ words. Not easy grace, simple grace, “cheap grace.” But a grace that cares enough to make these truths-hard, personal, terrible truths-known. This is a work of love not just for his son, but for the whole of our nation. For me.

I have been called to acknowledge that I (as Coates terms it) “believe myself to be white” and that belief is a damaging one. To “believe myself to be white” is to believe that, no matter my good intentions, I sit in a place of superiority about which I can do nothing but use my privilege to raise all boats. This is an accepting of a lie as the truth. It is a lie from which I have operated for so long, even when I was taught that I must operate as a “good white person,” a self-sacrificing white person. No. I am not white. I am a liar.

So, in these nascent moments of my interaction with Coates, I must publicly acknowledge this grace given unto me. And, like the grace of God, I must give thanks for it and resolve to live in gratitude because of it.

I may be a Midwestern man of Scotch-Irish decent, but I am not “White.” I do not deserve whatever special perch upon which I sit. So, I’d like to find a new perch-a stronger perch, a bigger perch-where we can all rest a bit from our labors. And one day I hope that I could sit on this perch with Ta-Nehisi Coates so I can thank him for what he has done for me.

But it’s my thesis

In what is arguably the most influential book of my religious development, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman offers that the “religion of Jesus” was for those with their “backs against the wall.” He implores us to read the Gospels as a “manual of resistance.”

It is a glorious piece of work that has inspired me and challenged me from the moment I read it more than a decade ago. It is a work that re-centers theology away from the experience of people like me: a young, straight, white male with an education. Indeed, part of Thurman’s genius is that he chooses to not privilege an experience like mine. He writes:

The crucial question, then, is this: Is there any help to be found in the religion of Jesus that can be of value here? It is utterly beside the point to examine here what the religion of Jesus suggests to those who would be helpful to the disinherited. That is ever in the nature of special pleading. No man wants to be the object of his fellow’s pity. Obviously, if the strong put forth a great redemptive effort to change the social, political, and economic arrangement in which they seem to find their basic security, the whole picture would be altered. But this is apart from my thesis. (pgs 46-47)

This paragraph has consumed me since I read it. I understand and wholeheartedly agree with him that examining what the religion of Jesus would suggest to me is utterly beside his point. I shudder to think that I would make another the object of my pity. But he is kind enough to offer me a glimpse by naming some “great redemptive effort.”

Those three words. “Great Redemptive Effort.” For me, they hold the same power as “Come, follow me.”

My hand has been to the plow for long enough. I want to know what it means to change the social, political, and economic arrangement. I want to know what the picture would look like if it were altered. This line of exploration may not be Thurman’s thesis, but I am ready for it to be mine.

In 2015, what does it mean to be White and Christian in America? If the religion of Jesus is for those with their backs against the wall, how am I supposed to be a disciple when I’ve never had my back against the wall?

A word of thanks to everyone who paid their taxes without complaining about it.

I have been heart sick these last few years as I watch my beloved home state of Kansas getting decimated by horrendous government action. The good people of the Sunflower State have become a laughing stock.

Lady and I just paid our taxes. For the first time in our marriage, we did not get a refund. But I’m not even thinking about complaining about it.

Throughout our married life the willingness of others to pay their taxes has meant that, among other things, we were able to provide our children with healthy food thanks to the WIC food assistance program. When we were foolhardy college kids, we did not have to be saddled with a lifetime’s worth of medical debt when our first son was born. We have been able to enjoy story time at the public library with our boys, and send them to quality public schools.

I know a lot of people complain that taxes are too high, but I’m not going to be one of them. Lady and I did not build our lives all by ourselves. We had a lot of help from a long list of women and men whose names we’ll never know, and we were helped even when we didn’t have the financial/material ability to make “good choices.” I am proud to join that long list because I know where I came from.

So, to everyone who has ever paid their taxes, I want to offer my most profound thanks. Thank you for making my family’s life possible.

New Music! My First Music Video!

At the risk of jeopardizing my current level of musical obscurity, I’d like to let you know I’ve released my first batch of new music in almost a decade. I’m pretty excited and pretty nervous about it.

I’m recording under the project name “Go to Sleep, John Darling,” and the new tunes are a bit of a departure for me. After a dozen years of staking out a patch of ground as a “sensitive male singer-songwriter” I found myself in a rut. I knew the way forward was to submit to my long held desire to do music with samples and loops, synths and drum machines. Over Christmas break I finally got up the nerve.

Before going on, here’s one of the tracks. It’s a spoken word piece called “The Question (Lift Every Voice and Sing).” I’m really proud of it.

Making that vid was so meaningful for me. My day job involves attending to church folk in Kansas and Missouri, which means Ferguson is within the bounds I’m responsible for. I’ve been there, met and prayed with people, and have been struggling to find words of my own about the effect white privilege has on our life together. I hope you find it meaningful as well.

This new direction was inspired by my recent immersion into “indietronica” music. Think LCD Soundsystem, Foster the People, Broods, Years & Years, Capital Cities, Morcheeba, and White Ladder-era David Gray.

I’ve got five tunes available for $4 on Bandcamp.

 

Or if your broke, and it’s between paying for tunes or buying some beer, don’t be stupid. Buy the beer. You can download them all for free on Soundcloud.

 

Thanks for listening! Thanks for sharing!

A boy, his bike, and baseball

I remember the moments clear as day. All throughout Jr. High I was petrified of gym class because, as I was often told, I was a scrawny non-athletic wimp.

I tried football in 6th grade and got the dickens knocked out of me. I had no sense of the flow of basketball, and only found small success in track. During summer baseball leagues there was a rule that every kid got to play at least two innings. I always only ever played two innings.

For most of my life I have defined myself as “not an athlete” and “not interested in sports.” I was an actor, a singer, a writer, and an artist. That has all now changed.

Three years ago, I fell in love with Sporting Kansas City, and am now a season ticket holder. But I didn’t realize it then.

Last Spring, I discovered rugby, and began faithfully downloading matches of the New South Wales Waratahs, the Australia Wallabies, and the Harlequins of the English Premiership and Ulster of the Pro12. But I didn’t realize it yet.

I have traveled to see both Sporting on the road and to watch USA Rugby play. But it never occurred to me.

Last year, I began cycling, and my speed and strength have been pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) for a new cyclist. I watched every stage of the Tour de France this year, and sat slack jawed as Jens Voigt broke the Hour Record. But the thought was not even in my frame of reference.

Then, on my birthday (a little over a month ago) I rode 56 miles on my trusty bike, Bullseye. I had ridden a Half Century, my first stated goal as a cyclist. That’s when it hit me.

Looking in the mirror, I said (out loud): “I just did that.” And I broke down in tears.

I was an athlete.

Last week I stood in the upper deck of Kauffman Stadium with three of my best friends and watched the Kansas City Royals advance to the World Series. I was dancing like a fool and hanging on every pitch. I was high-fiving strangers and anticipating the strategy of the game. I cried when George Brett took the mound to throw out the first pitch.

I loved baseball.

This past month has caused me to completely reevaluate my sense of self. The way I defined myself for most of my life was no longer true, if it ever was.

This is not hyperbole, nor is it actually important to anyone but me. But it is huge. I now carry myself differently, and the things I never thought I could do or love are now a part of me.

The Royals may get swept this week, but I don’t care. I had forgotten the name Darryl Motley, but I will never forget Lorenzo Cain.

I just needed to write it down.

Enough

Several years ago, I was at my grandfather’s house and bored. The internet was not widespread at the time (The Horror!), and I had no way of cruising websites for things to read and watch. I had to, instead, go to his bookshelf and read words printed on paper. I decided that I would choose the most ridiculous title I could find, hoping that I would be amused (at the least) or infuriated (at best). I chose How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

In the section titled “Six Ways To Make People Like You” I (ironically) found a nugget of wisdom that has stuck with me and that I practice to this day. Carnegie reminds us

Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Every time I go to a restaurant or other place of service, I make sure to ask the server’s name and I call them by their name for the entire time I’m there. I thank them for doing a good job, and I believe I tip each of them very well. Having been a server myself, I know what a chore it is to wait tables. I know, from my own life, that these good women and men are working their fingers to the bone because, in many cases, this is all they’ve got. This is how they make sure that their families have enough.

Enough. It’s a scary word. As income equality gets worse and worse, it is a word that is more and more on people’s minds.

“Will we have enough to pay the bills this month?”

“Will we have enough food for the baby?”

“Will I have enough time off to recoup, before going to my other job?”

“Will we have enough scholarship money to afford to send Nia to college?”

Will we have enough?

About 2 years ago, I sat down for BBQ (Kansas City style, of course) with Aric, Doug, and Nick (Two Friars and a Fool) and heard them tell me the plans for their new book Never Pray AgainThe book is framed around different prayers that Christians pray, which the guys suggest often prevent us from actually being the hands and feet of Christ. For instance, instead of praying lengthy prayers of intercession (Chapter 6: Intercede!), shouldn’t we just get off our duff and go do some actual, tangible interceding on other’s behalf? Made sense to me.

But then I got my copy and found the chapter “Thank!” They hadn’t told me of this chapter over that plate of brisket. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Giving thanks to God is about giving thanks for having enough.

Enough.

As they tease out the meanings of our sacrament of The Lord’s Supper, they remind us that the traditional name, “Eucharist,” means thanks-giving. This thing we do, which we often see as about us, just may not be.

God’s economy is different – it looks different, it feels different, and it calls us to different kinds of behavior. God’s economy doesn’t frighten with scarcity or promise unlimited growth, it rests on “enough.” Enough means that we have everything we need, and can make sure that everyone else has what they need, and the one who gives the most away wins the greater share of joy and goodwill. In a context of enough, having more than enough becomes questionable rather than laudable.

My favorite thing in a worship service is to show a congregation how much bread and wine is left over after we’ve all partaken of Communion. I like to show folks just how much we’ve been given, and remind them that there is always more Grace than we will ever know what to do with. The only sensible thing, then, is to give it away.

Aric, Doug, and Nick remind us that Christians have enough. “In God, there is enough for everyone.” When we receive, it is because someone gave. Ultimately, yes, it is God who gave, but (as they suggest in their book) I wonder what would happen if a group of Christians didn’t bow their heads in public places and loudly talk to God. I wonder what would happen if, instead, they loudly praised the server and kitchen staff.

Why don’t you try it sometime? Surely, you’ve already prayed enough.

 

#redactedSOTU

I like the United States. I like national politics. But I don’t like “American Execptionalism” so I decided to have a little fun with the 2014 State of the Union.

Here are my live tweets of the POTUS’s speech. Redacted, of course.

“…but the state of our union is [snarky and overreactive].” 

“Today in America, a teacher [spent her own money to buy supplies for kids]…” 

“And here are the results of our efforts [insert awesome here… and you still don’t like me]…” 

“If you work hard and take responsibility [some corporation will still stick it to you]” 

“As usual, our First Lady [is the subject of fashion bloggers]”

“When people come here to live their dreams, [we judge them cause most of them aren’t white.]” 

“It’s not just oil and natural gas that is booming. [Have you paid attention to Beyonce lately? She dropped that album on the fly, y’all.]”

“Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that [the American people must be crazy for continuing to send you jokers to Washington]”

Tonight I ask Congress to [actually vote on something, anything. Please?]”

“This son of a factory worker just found out that [he’s going to be in debt because] he’s going to college this fall.” 

“I do not expect to convince my Republican friends [that I was born in America].” 

“Kids, call your mom. [No, really. CALL YOUR MOTHER.]” 

“Tonight I’ve asked VP Biden [to please continue speaking without thinking because he makes me look REALLY good.]”

“While our relationship with Afghanistan will change [Rick Astley will still not give up on them].” 

“We are clear eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like [Bielebers].” 

“My fellow Americans, no other country does what we do. [We have TMZ and Perez Hilton].” 

“[And can I just give a shout out to the lady in the fur coat?]” 

“Join the rest of the country: [Make Boehner uncomfortable by talking about a living wage]”

“As a parent as well as a President [I am exhausted].”

“And may God Bless America [cause Lord knows we need it].” 

Landon Inadvertently Slights His Friend the McRib, and Brings an End to an Epic Fall Love Affair: A Voicemail Chronicle

McRib, Thursday, 12:43pm: “Hey, Landon. I know you left here for a meeting, but I just wanted to let you know what a great time I had over lunch. I can’t believe you’ve visited so many times! Listen, I’m about to leave in a few days. I know, I know, this was a short trip. But that’s the way it is every year. I hope I get to see you again before I go. K, dude – bye.”

Landon, Thursday, 3:14PM: “Mickey! Buddy! Tag – Your’e it! I guess now it’s you that’s in a meeting. Oh, well. Yeah, that was a great lunch. You were sassy as always, and I’m really glad you brought your french friend along. LOVED getting to know him. Yeah, make sure you let me know when you’re leaving. I’d love to see you again before that. Peace.”

McRib, Friday, 10:30am: “Dude. Ronald says it’s lunch time. You know you want to! [laughs]”

McRib, Friday, 11:27pm: “Bro, Why didn’t you come by? Listen, I’m about to leave here in a bit. I’d love to see you.”

McRib, Saturday, 12:36am: “Laaaaandooooon. It’s Sweet Tangy Time!”

McRib, Sunday, 11:08am: “Listen, I don’t want to be needy or anything, but I waited for you all day yesterday and the day before. I really thought you wanted to get together again. After all those selfies we took together, and you were like ‘Me and McRib. #11andcounting.’ What gives? I’m starting to think that you were just using me for a publicity stunt or something, like you didn’t even really like me but were telling all your real friends that you did because you thought it would be funny. Well, let me tell you: I feel like a pig’s ass right now. If that’s the way you treat your ‘real’ friends then I bet you don’t have any. You know what? don’t bother calling back. I’m done, and I may never come to Kansas City again after the way you’ve treated me. Just go and hang with Jimmy and John.”

Landon, Monday, 10:21am: “Micky, I am so sorry. I was out of town with family all weekend with no cell service. Obviously, there was no way I could make it, but I’m home now! If you haven’t left yet, why don’t we meet this morning? Lunch starts in…9 minutes. What do you say?”

Note: McRib has not yet returned Landon’s call.