Thursday, March 31, 2005

I Met Donald miller. Then Things Got Cooler.

ROAD TRIP! I jumped into the back seat of Greg Pirtle's Honda Accord yesterday and took off for Austin and the University of Texas. My friend Brad Voss was riding shotgun. We stopped at the Czech Stop Bakery in West (a must on any trip between DFW and Austin) for kolache's and coffee and enjoyed a nice morning drive. We talked about life and Blue Like Jazz and our shared addiction to the teachings of Rob Bell. We listened to U2 and the crazy musings of Peter Nevland (more about him later).

When we arrived on campus, we took the long way around to our final destination which was a gathering sponsored by all of the campus ministries at UT. It was a beautiful Spring day, sunny and in the 80's and I enjoyed our walking tour of the campus. The gathering place was just outside the old Gregory Gymnasium. It consisted of a small tent with some original art inside and a small stage with a few tables and barstools in front of it. The first thing we noticed however were these big panels that looked like they had graffiti on them out by the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, we discovered each panel had a question written on it and the "graffiti" was answers people had written to each question. The questions included: Why do you hate Christians? How has the church misrepresented Jesus? Jesus would be a Republican because... Jesus would be a Democrat because... How can we pray for you? The answers had been written by any passer by who felt like responding. They were interesting at least and many were quite insightful. Brad and I wondered what the response would be if we put panels like that up in our town square. Different, we guessed.

Up on stage, musicians and other performers were taking turns doing their thing. Someone who knew I was there to see Donald Miller pointed him out to me. I must say, I couldn't have picked him out of a line up in a million years. He is pudgy and extremely unassuming. He looked like he would be more comfortable on the outskirts of any gathering than in the middle of one. Preferably with a burrito in his hand.

A young woman was finishing up a dramatic interpretation of the crucifixion when I felt the energy around me change. Peter Nevland was introduced and rushed the stage. I will not try to explain what it is that Peter does because I would not do it justice. But believe me when I tell you that you want to see it. He is an artist, a writer, a poet, an actor, a storyteller. He is a goofy white guy with a masters degree in engineering who will make you laugh and cry and think and feel convicted. His act plays equally well at a club, a bar, a street corner, a school or a church. Again, I'm not sure what it is, but I know I like it.

Peter drew quite a crowd and most stuck around to hear Donald Miller read from his book Blue Like Jazz. He read from my favorite chapter. The one I tell people about when I'm describing his writings. It was fun to hear the words spoken by the man himself. He seemed surprised that anyone laughed whenever he read a funny part. He seemed astonished that anyone even read his books at all.

After the reading I spent a few minutes with him. I told him how Blue Like Jazz had taught me to stop defending my religion and start confessing my sin. How that one lesson had led to more meaningful conversations about Jesus in the last year than ever in my life. I told him about reading the opening chapter of Searching for God Knows What on an airplane and how I annoyed the other passengers because I was laughing hysterically and wanting to read parts out loud to my wife. He was humble and gracious. He listened to me and responded as if no one had ever said anything like that to him before even though I know he must hear it all the time. I wanted to go get a coffee and smoke pipes with him. I wanted to be more genuine.

Peter Nevland agreed to go get a sandwich with us. We had a lot of fun and I dreamed of ways to promote his art. Then we headed north on I-35. We discussed the events of the day. We asked each other interesting and sometimes difficult questions. I was sunburned and tired. I was happy and invigorated. I was inspired and frustrated.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Meet the In-Laws

My in-laws are visiting from Idaho for a few days. It's funny, Stephanie and I have been married for nearly 9 years, but her parents live so far away we are still getting to know each other. It is more comfortable every time we are together, but we come from different cultures (Texas, it's a whole other country) and different backgrounds.

They are small town, northwestern, Lutherans who will never leave Idaho and think that the church of Christ is full of holy rollers. For the love (to quote BST). I am a big city, southwestern, Jesus follower who trapped their daughter in Texas and thinks the church of Christ can be a bit stodgy. She's a little shy and he's a hunter. I'm...well, let's just say I've never been decribed as shy and I really like golf. Don't get me wrong, they are good people who love the Lord and raised a wonderful daughter. I really like them, it's just that we are still getting to know each other.

Besides our love for Stephanie, there are two things that bind us together: Jesus and Rainey. I'll assume you've heard of Jesus. In case you don't know, Rainey is our daughter. She is their first grandchild and has changed their lives. Steph's dad (Big Daddy) is playing Polly Pockets with her even as I write this. He's dressing dolls and speaking in funny voices. In moments like these, Stephanie and her brother Scott often ask what he's done with their father. It is pure joy to watch him play with her. Steph's mom (Gran) loves to read to her and quiz her to show off how smart she is.

The power a grandchild wields is amazing. She's changed everything for all of us. I'm thankful for my daughter and I'm thankful for my in-laws. We'll all just keep on getting to know each other.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Better Than Christmas

It's interesting to me how families handle different holidays and celebrations. I've mentioned before that birthdays were not a big deal in my family, but they were in Stephanie's. Some families (not mine) give gifts at Easter and Groundhog day and Flag Day. Others celebrate special days with special meals or other traditions.

Well, at the Bailey house my favorite holiday growing up was March Madness. Only recently did I learn that March Madness is not an official holiday. We would all fill out our brackets and watch the 63 games over three weeks. We would cheer for our favorite teams and when we didn't have a favorite playing we'd cheer for the underdog. There were certain traditions that still hold true today like my mom finding Kentucky on the bracket and filling them in all the way to the championship before even looking at the rest of the teams. Hey, she's been right a couple of times!

I remember The Golden Goose and Kentucky's championship in '78, Bird vs. Magic in '79 and the youthful Michael Jordan and North Carolina in '82. Who could forget THE Cinderella N.C. State Wolfpack in '83 beating Houston's Phi Slama Jama or Villanova taking down the mighty Georgetown Hoyas in '85?

I could go on (Keith Smart and Indiana, Michigan's Fab Five, Gonzaga going from a nobody to a perennial tournament team), but I think you get my point. I love basketball, I love theatre and I love the holidays. You could not write a better script. Yup, March Madness, it's better than Christmas.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Play Date With God

All of a sudden death is a big topic of discussion at my house. I blame Disney. So many of their movies involve orphans or single parent homes. Bambi loses his mother, The Rescuers rescue Penny the orphan and what happened to the Little Mermaids' mom anyway? Rainey has picked up on this to the point that every one of her dolls has lost at least one parent.

Last night we were playing with her Polly Pockets and she told me that their dad had died. I seized the moment to engage her in a philosophical conversation about death.

Dad: What happens when you die?

Rainey: You're dead.

Dad: But, what happens to you?

Rainey: You get killed.

Dad: Then what?

Rainey: You go to heaven.

Dad: What do you do in heaven?

Rainey: You play with God.

Dad: Wow, that sounds like fun. What does God like to play?

Rainey: He likes to play God the Father and God the Savior and God the ocean and God the tree and God the cave.

Dad: Yeah, He does.

Now I know heaven is going to be more wonderful than any of us can imagine, but it is fun to dream. For Shoeless Joe Jackson and others in the movie Field of Dreams it was a magical baseball field in Iowa. Right after Valentine's Day my wife took me to play golf and then we had a massage. That was pretty close to heaven I think. For Rainey, its all about a really fun play date. God never gets tired of playing and He never makes you stop to eat or take a nap or a bath or go potty.

We used to sing a song in the church where I grew up called "When I Wake Up To Sleep No More." Remember that one? Well, my sister Lee Ann loved to sleep. Heavenly rest was her dream. Never sleeping again sounded more like hell to her!

What would heaven be like for you?

Friday, March 04, 2005

3 Things

Three new things I learned from my 3 year old daughter Rainey yesterday:

1. Pork comes from porcupines.
2. Genuine mermaid magic crystals are not real.
3. Helen Keller was blind to death.

That was just yesterday. Parenthood is so educational.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Kicking My Coke Habit - Day 23

I have not shared this with a lot of people because it seems like such a small thing. However, for me it is somewhat monumental. Those who know me well know that I like Coke. The Real thing. Not New Coke, not Diet Coke, not some other tricked up Coke. Just good old Coca-Cola. The stuff that burns your throat on the way down and can clean the corrosion off your car battery. Sure I've settled for a Pepsi in a desperate moment, but I LOVE Coke.

In the past I've been a six pack a day man, but most recently I was down to one a day (okay, sometimes two). After seeing my doctor, I decided I needed to cut WAY back and since it was almost time for Lent I went cold turkey. I'm drinking more water and watching what I eat, but I must be honest, I miss it. Especially when I eat my favorite food - anything Mexican. The obvious solution in my opinion is to drink more Margarita's, but something deep within me doubts that is the healthiest way to go. I'm open to suggestions, but more importantly I need to be held accountable, especially after Easter when I don't have Lent and a promise to God to help me stay clean.

My name is Stephen and I'm addicted to Coke.