Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Verbal reality or how to punch people in the face with your words.

Verbal reality or how to punch people in the face with your words.

For my parents 25th wedding anniversary I gave them an empty photo album. Inside the plastic sleeves I had little pieces of paper that said things like, “Mom and Dad in front of the Eiffel Tower,” or “Mom and Dad in Venice.” The idea was that I was going to give them a trip to Europe in honor of their special anniversary. Aren’t I a great oldest son?

The only problem was that I never did.

I wanted to. I had every intention. When I gave that gift to them in front of dozens of their friends I was certain that I was going to give them that trip. But the truth is, it was never going to happen. I was never going to be able save up that kind of money. I was never going to fulfill that promise. I was just living in a verbal reality.

I don’t know who came up with that concept, but I wish it was me. Here’s how it works: A verbal reality is the belief that by simply saying something out loud, you’ve ensured that it is going to come true. Regardless of your past track record or logic or anything else, your words guarantee that something is going to happen or did happen. It’s kind of a subtle form of lying.

When I told my parents that I was sending them to Europe, I really meant it. But my commitment to making that happen started and finished with those words. Have you ever done that? Or worse, had that done to you? It’s frustrating and my friends do the same thing too. My friend that is prone to sleeping with strangers he meets online is going to do better next time because, “he’s going to make better decisions.” Has he put any plans in place or safeguards to ensure he’ll stay out of danger? No, but he said the words, so it’s bound to happen.

I once spent 4 weeks in Costa Rica studying Spanish during college. For about ten years I would tell people about that experience by saying, “I lived in Costa Rica.” One time my wife finally said to me, “You didn’t live in Costa Rica. You visited it for a few weeks. You didn’t really live there.” In my desire to impress, I had stretched the truth of four weeks into living in Costa Rica.

Maybe you don’t struggle with creating verbal realities. Maybe my background in advertising makes it more tempting for me to spin things in my favor. Or maybe right now, you’re stuck in the middle of a reality you know really isn’t true. Regardless of where you are, I hope today you’ll take a minute to think about what your words say about your reality.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The worst part about drinking poison.

The worst part about drinking poison.

I used to think God was like a magic wand or some sort of silver bullet. I could wave him at all my problems and poof, they’d disappear in a thin cloud of smoke never to be seen again. That’s a nice thought, and maybe there are times in life when God does that. When he lifts you up on the wings of an eagle and carries you out of the desert with a swiftness that breaks the sound barrier he is traveling so fast. But what about those times when your exit from misery is more of a donkey ride out of the desert? A slow, rambling journey during which your troubles continue to throw rocks at you while you try to escape? What are those times like?

That’s what a good deal of my journey has felt like which is why I’ll probably sell 14 books in total. Slow donkey rides make for fairly melancholy books or that’s the thought anyway. But to be honest with you, knowing the things I am about to write has made me happier than any book with a guy with really nice white teeth has, so here it is:

The worst thing about drinking poison is when you stop.

Some people like to argue that the worst thing is when you start. They’re wrong. Starting is fun. Temptation is usually enjoyable. If there wasn’t at least some bit of delight in temptation, no matter how thin the veneer, chances are you wouldn’t do it. If you didn’t get high a little you wouldn’t ever drink poison. No, starting is the easy part.

But when you stop drinking poison, it starts to go to work. Then and only then do you really start to feel the effects of that toxin, whatever yours is, going through your veins. You see, as long as you’re continually drinking it, you’re numb to the impact. When I was in my darkest days, I didn’t notice the pain I was causing to my family and anyone else that was in my atmosphere. As I took my mouth away from the poison hose though I could see just how much damage I was doing and that’s when my entire life became crippled by shame and regret.

The problem is though that on some level I thought when I came home to Christ, when I made that prodigal walk, everything would feel great. I’d have a party, we’d hug, the end. And that is where the prodigal son story ends in Luke. But I am becoming ever curious about the day after the party. More than that, I’m starting to think the day after might have been miserable.

What if the day after the welcome home party the prodigal son had to face his older brother? Or countless other people on the farm that he had wounded? What if someone he owed money to came to collect on the debt? What if he couldn’t instantly shake the memories of the people he’d damaged or the things he’d done while he was off pursuing wild living? What if the consequences crept up around his ankles like so many vines even though his feet were planted firmly with the father?

When each of those things happened to me when I came to the Lord, I thought I had failed. I was terrified by the realization that freedom, did not in fact feel free. I thought I had made a mistake. I thought that since life was not happy and the initial high of the party had worn off, God was upset with me. My fear that there was something I needed to fix before coming home was confirmed.

I was wrong. I was wrong to think that coming home meant magically escaping every mistake I’d ever made. I was wrong to think the arrival of regret or consequence was an indication of failure. I was wrong to think that if I drank poison for 19 years God was going to extract it from my body overnight or at worst during a three day Labor Day retreat.

It’s been a slow process. Despite repeatedly kicking this donkey I’m on, it’s been a tedious journey out of the desert. There have been times when I’ve admittedly thought, “It hurts and I’m already covered with sand, why don’t I just stay in the desert?” I have not been perfect.

But I have been real. And if there’s one real thing I can tell you it’s this: “The arrival of pain is not the exit of God’s love.” In fact, it may be the exit of poison.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Would Jesus build a gym?

Would Jesus build a gym?

How does God feel about aerobics? Would Jesus serve you a caramel macchiato? Would the Holy Spirit teach you algebra? I don’t know, but for a few churches near me, the answer is apparently, “Yes!”

They’ve built gyms and coffee shops and schools on their church property. Maybe those are good things. Maybe at the planning meeting they decided they needed a way to reach more members of the community. Or there just weren’t any gyms in the area and members of the church actually wanted a workout facility. But I’m not sure.

Sometimes, I think that in our desire to expand our churches, we constrict the actual time we spend in the world. If you get your coffee at church in the morning, drop your kid off at the church school and then do your spin class at the church gym, at what point are you interacting with people that don’t know God? Are the 30 steps between the building and your car really the optimum time to hope that someone asks you a question about an undying love from the Alpha and Omega?

I don’t know, but I could see how building a gym might initially be a way to get people to visit your church. But if you’re not a member, would you ever really go work out at a church you don’t attend? Joining a new gym can be a harrowing experience as it is, so would you add a religious vibe to that hesitation? I don’t think so. Coffee maybe, but the gym and the school, doubtful.

If I ever start a church, and I’m not going to, I don’t think we’ll have a gym. Maybe some old tires you could push around or logs you could carry on your back like Rocky, but not a nice gym.

This is what $3 gets you.

This is what $3 gets you.

I worked roughly 60 hours a week when I was writing advertising for The Home Depot. Couple that with a two hour commute each day and 70 hours a week I was somewhere decidedly not home. After a burnout that contributed to a severely damaged marriage, I determined to never let work steal more of my time than it deserved. The trick I realized is to establish your hours the first day you start at a company. If you come in as the 7-4 guy then that’s what everyone knows you as. It’s much harder to be a 7-7 guy for a few months and then decide you want a better quality of life and try to become 7-4.

I told my friend D this and he decided to try it out at his next job. He’s an accountant, and although the lines of 7-4 got a little blurred during tax season he held strong to keeping his true time commitment at home instead of at work. The result was fairly expensive.

In his first annual review, the manager told him that they were happy with his performance except for one thing, his time management. While everyone else at the company had spent 60+ hours of work at the office during the busy season, D had spent about 50.

The cost of that time difference was going to be reflected in his annual bonus. The bonus had been reduced by $2,000 to reflect D’s decision to work less.

I got a call a few minutes after that conversation. D seemed pretty content with everything. He would have liked the money. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to the woos of the world, but he wasn’t swaying. He was still going to leave at 4:00 that day. And the next day after that. The reduction in bonus hadn’t changed that.

The cost
Every act of obedience has a cost associated with it, we just usually don’t look at it the right way. We focus on what we’ll be forced to give up. What we’ll miss as a result of our decision to side with the father instead of the flesh. For D that meant losing $2,000. For my youngest brother it meant ending a four year relationship. For me, it meant leaving Home Depot. But rarely do we take the time or the insight to dig into what we gain by obedience.

When D did, when he took off his filter of “more money equals more happiness” he was able to laugh at the loss of money. The reality is that after taxes, $2,000 only translates to about $1,500. And if he had only worked 10 more hours a week for an entire year he would have received that money. So the equation is simple, his company offered him $1,500 for 500 hours of his time. But Dwayne decided that hanging out with his wife and child was worth $3 an hour. He decided that if someone offered him 10 more hours a week with his family for only $30 he would take it.

So he didn’t lose $2,000. He paid $3 an hour to get to know his kids during a period of their lives that is fleeting and fast. Would you make the same decision? Probably. I know some horrible dads but I’m not sure if any of them would say that time with their kids wasn’t worth $3.

As you go through your day, you’ll be faced with your own unique obedience decisions. They might make $2,000 seem small and pale in comparison. But look beyond the obvious. Please take the time to think about what you’ll be gaining. It always outweighs the cost.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Glow sticks, reflective clothing and the after party.

Glow sticks, reflective clothing and the after party.

During my senior year of college, on most weekend nights, you could find me shirtless in some dark corner with glow sticks and pupils the size of dinner plates. I’d never smoked pot in high school, wasn’t drunk until I was a junior in college and never intended to do any sort of designer drugs like ecstasy, but there it is. I was a little lonely and a lot stupid and small pills seemed to be a cure to both of those issues. At least temporarily.

My girlfriend at the time was heavy into the rave scene and I was heavy into her so I basically went along for the ride. It was fun for a time, getting lost inside the sonic blanket that techno music tends to create. I felt like all the ugly parts of me were worn off by the continuous beat, the shadows infused with patterned lights, the sweat of eight hours of dancing. But regardless of where I went or how many pills I swallowed, one thing always happened. The sun came up.

Sunrise was such a depressing thing. I can still taste that first breath of fresh air when we’d push open a door and land back on the planet. The sun would be high in the sky, the rest of the world awake and alive, clean and happy and in motion. I’d stand there, my skin pale and thin, my eyes blistering at the brightness, my heart feeling like a piece had been left inside the dark warehouse. Then I’d go home and tell myself never again. Never again.

Regardless of your views on God, that feeling is universal. Maybe it wasn’t the sunup/comedown of drugs. Maybe yours was how it feels to finally drive away from your parents at Thanksgiving with so many things unresolved or even worse, reopened. Maybe it’s Friday in traffic when you realize you’ve given a job you don’t like 40 hours you’ll never have back. Maybe it’s sleeping with someone you didn’t mean to or hurting someone you didn’t want to. I don’t know, it can be a thousand things. But we never get after parties.

I can’t once remember a time when I failed, when I threw it all away, only to be greeted with a celebration. When I got suspended from college there was no party. Shoplifting, no party. Near death skateboard accident, no party. But, and if you can see where I am going I guess that’s a good thing, God is the king of the after party.

That blows my mind, because I used to think God was the keeper of the consequences. I thought that if I could run from him, the results of my jackassery (an actual word) would never catch up to me. I’d never have to face the music if I just got far enough away from God.

But that’s not true is it? Our actions give birth to consequences, not God. When I hurt my wife, the hurt exists, the wound blossoms whether God ever comes into the picture. In the Bible it says, the wages of sin is death. The price of sin, the cost of sin is death. That’s not God’s price for this life. That’s sin’s price.

Where does that leave God? Where is he in that moment when the door is thrown open and the light of a new sun or eyes of a spouse or work performance review reveal a mistake? Waiting to throw a party.

That’s so ridiculous, but that’s how I think of God now. He’s the God of After Parties. He’s the one just waiting to hang a welcome home banner when we take but a step closer to him. He’s the one that greets scars with band-aids and balloons. I feel like I’ve written that a million times, but it doesn’t get old.

When we mess up, God wants to love us. When we fail, God wants to love us. When we have ruined our lives, God wants to love us. I am reminded of my friend R. He is a bulimic, drug addict with HIV. He once told me, “Why me? Why is God blessing me so much and loving on me? Why me of all the people in the city? Why do I get such good things?” That is an insane statement, but it’s the kind of thing people at After Parties say. R was expecting death and punishment and penance. Instead he got a party, a party so big and lavish, that even with HIV coursing through his veins, he can barely contain his joy.

Maybe you’re still inside that nightclub of regret trying to dance until the sun doesn’t come up again. Maybe you’re hiding in a relationship, content to wear a veneer instead of be who you really are. Maybe you’re dowsing that creative fire inside with a job you can’t stand. Wherever you are and what ever you’re doing doesn’t really matter to God. He wants to throw you an after party. That’s it. The only question. Forget the rules and the regulations and all the trappings of Christianity that are hard to swallow. The one thing, the simplest thing you need to think about is “do I want an after party?”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Johnny Depp, Andy Stanley and the door shut in my face repeatedly.

Johnny Depp, Andy Stanley and the door shut in my face repeatedly.

In this month’s issue of GQ there is an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather. Coppola tells a story of how he originally cast Johnny Depp in Dracula but the studio refused to work with him. He had to sit down with Depp and then girlfriend Winona Ryder and essentially fire him. Depp’s response, which Coppola has never forgotten, was simple, “We thought you were God.”

Wow, what an honest statement of anguish. Under the care of Coppola, Depp felt untouchable. He was working with one of the greatest directors of the last 100 years. Everything was going to be alright. Nothing could harm him. And then one afternoon he got fired.

Have you ever felt like that? Thought you understood how the day was going to go? Thought the pieces were in place. Thought you were in the right place and the right time only to have everything turned upside down? I have.

A while ago, Andy Stanley gave a sermon on praying big prayers. I decided that one of mine would be to work full time at Stanley’s mega, mega, mega, really quite large church North Point. In the very depths of my heart I thought this was where God wanted me. Every Sunday I felt like he was calling me there. This was the right place and the right time. Boy was I wrong.

The first sign that maybe North Point wasn’t the place for me was when I had a creative brainstorming with some of their idea folks. I had been invited to help them work on the Christmas Eve service. Before the meeting started I told the leader of the group (one of perhaps the most talented people I’ve ever met), that I was waiting to see if God called me to a church.

This was such a shameful plug for me to work there that it’s embarrassing. But instead of hiring me on the spot, this is what the woman said, “Oh no, you should never work for a church. You’re an idea guy. You need to be working at lots of different churches. We never hire people like you.”

I swear I had been in the building 11 minutes and was already being told that they would in fact never hire me. Awesome. She was incredibly compassionate with those words and I’d later see she was right, but that didn’t stop me from trying with North Point. For the next few months I kept trying to get in good at North Point. I worked with three other departments, writing scripts, working on branding, whatever they needed. And the result was always the same. I’d come in for a meeting, get a check in the mail and then never hear back from anyone. At one point I even had a meeting with Andy Stanley himself, but again nothing long term materialized.

At first this felt like God was slamming the door shut in my face. There are four people in my 12 person small group that work for North Point. They do what I thought God wanted me to do. And still, I can’t for the life of me get a job there. Over Mexican the other night Joel, arguably one of the most important people I know in ministry, said, “Yeah I don’t think you’d do well at North Point.” Awesome number two.

What’s the point of all this? Is God still God? Or is he like Coppola? Bigger than me and powerful to a degree but at the end of the day still with his own limitations? I’m not sure, but I read something in Daniel the other day that felt like an answer.

After refusing to bow down to a statue of King Nebuchadnezzer, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are told they will be thrown into a furnace. Here is their reply:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

The part of that response that struck me was “But even if he does not.” I don’t know if that idea is even in my vocabulary, if that concept has ever even lighted upon my tiny little brain. Basically, they knew God was able to save them but even if he didn’t they were still going to be faithful.

Maybe that’s what North Point is about. Maybe instead of saying, “I thought you were God” I need to say, “But even if he does not get me a job at North Point I will not worship something else.” The scarier exploration of that concept is of course the book I am writing. I hold that one much closer to my heart. What if I never get to publish it or grow an author’s beard and get patches on the elbows of my sports coat? What if telling people like Ben in Atlanta and Kris in Boston that God’s love is bigger and cooler than they could ever imagine is the furthest my words ever travel? Can I say, “But even if he does not” to that?

I think so and there’s tremendous freedom in that.

Joel Osteen and Mac & Cheese

Joel Osteen and Mac & Cheese

When I was unemployed, or living what I call the “Summer of Jon,” I put on about 15 pounds because I was eating macaroni and cheese for breakfast. I loved it. It felt like a very adult moment. Instead of waiting until dinner or even lunch, I’d just heat up a couple packets of easy mac and eat the day away. Good times, good times.

But something I read recently about Kraft made me lose faith in one of my all time favorite foods. It seems that Kraft has found sales dwindling as a result of specialty cheeses and Wal-mart brands. On the high end of the scale, consumers are trading up for fancy imports that offer a more distinct taste. On the low end of the scale, consumers are buying cheap cheese from Wal-mart. Kraft is stuck in the middle.

Instead of addressing these problems by experimenting with specialty cheeses or lowering their price, Kraft is doing something called “Value Engineering.” Basically they are raising profits by lowering the manufacturing costs of macaroni and cheese. What does that mean? For one thing, it means that Kraft no longer puts cheese into macaroni and cheese. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Years ago, there was real cheese in there but now it’s just whey and cheese culture. The crazy thing is that Kraft still calls the product, “The Cheesiest.” Their website is “” and they love pretending there’s tons of cheese in the box.

The Wal-mart brand on the other hand has real cheese in it. They know Kraft doesn’t so they celebrate that fact in large letters on every side of their box, “made with real cheddar cheese.” And the irony of it all is that Kraft costs more. You pay 27 cents more for a product with lower quality ingredients.

So what does that have to do with Joel Osteen, the smiling mega pastor from Texas? Maybe not what you think, because I’m not going to make an easy comparison to how cheesy he is. What I think though is that Osteen, much like Kraft, has done a bit of Value Engineering with the concept of God.

I think that in some ways, he’s played a little with the ingredients of God. Maybe not on purpose, maybe not even in a desire to deceive, but somewhere along the way Osteen has created a product that is easier to sell to people. It feels like the difficult parts of Christianity have been removed. The suffering, the persecution, the trouble and pain that come along with Christianity are no longer present. Gone is any sense of brokenness. Gone is the idea of being refined by fire. No longer is there a sense that sometimes being a Christian is about living in the deserts of life. In its place we are called to have vision and lean upon our rights and privileges to victory. We are encouraged to look to a God that wants us to be wealthy and healthy.

In describing his church, Osteen touches on this a little: “It’s not a churchy feel,” Osteen, 40, said. “We don’t have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming.”

Joyce Meyer also presents a similar case with her thought on how we present God: “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” (It’s weird that she mentions being ugly, as if being a Christian makes you hotter.)

Maybe they’re both right and the ingredients they’re putting into their message are perfect. Maybe suffering and the desert and pain are concepts best left out of the Christian message. But one of my favorite chapters of the Bible makes it hard for me to believe that God is all sunny and rainbowy all the time.

In Isaiah 30 it says:
“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” and “the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.” Wow, that’s a hard message to make sexy. Would you want to worship a God that bruised you and wounded you and fed you the bread of adversity? Probably not, but at the end of the day, that’s the God I know. One that loves me enough to discipline me. One that cares enough about me to put affliction in my path to strengthen me and grow me. One with enough compassion to teach me through adversity and prosperity.

God is the God of untold blessing. I believe he wants great things for us. I believe Osteen’s message of prosperity is probably small in comparison to how much God wants to give us. But that’s not the whole story of God. That’s not every ingredient, because I think that God is also the God that according to Voddie Baucham loves you enough to “take you out behind the woodshed.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Girls in underwear, killing deer and somehow God.

Girls in underwear, killing deer and somehow God.

A few weeks ago, I found a young woman in underwear in my living room. I had just walked in the front door after work and there she was. She screamed. I stepped back out of the house and shut the front door. After waiting for a few seconds I walked back in to find her laughing with my wife.

Apparently a mutual friend had given my wife a bunch of clothes she no longer wanted. So they were trying them on, seeing what fit best. Since there were three children under the age of four running around, they decided to just put the clothes on right there in the living room.

Now although that was a moment of comedy, not temptation, I think that’s how I like to pretend temptation works. When I fall and look back on the steps that got me there, I like to imagine that I was casually going about my day when some young, attractive woman in underwear fell from the sky. Out of nowhere, an unexpected moment took me by surprise and caught me off guard. It was beyond my control. Who knew I was headed down this path.

But I don’t think temptation works that way. The more I learn about me and the things that continue to wound me, the more I realize that temptation is a lot like an article I recently read in Field & Stream magazine. In the April 2007 issue, which I know you have as well, there’s a special section on how to build a “food plot.” A food plot is a small piece of land that a hunter cultivates to attract deer. It’s essentially a kill zone that is delicately and deliberately grown to provide the most trophy bucks possible.

That’s how I think temptation works. More specifically, using the Field & Stream instructions on how to build a food plot, this is what I think temptation does to us:

1. Pick a Spot
We all have spots, don’t we? Places in our hearts where we are weakest, and usually temptation knows exactly where they are. It’s crazy how consistent they are. I would say that since I was about 12, I’ve had the same spot and temptation rarely needs to pick a new one. The spot is rarely new and when we don’t identify them, temptation can hit them again and again and again.

2. Clear the Plot
Temptation works best in isolation. When you’re in community with other people, when you’re accountable and not keeping secrets, it’s much harder for temptation to grab hold of you. So one of the first things temptation does is clear your life of close relationships.

3. Kill and Till
With people out of the way, it’s now time to get rid of any good influences you have. Reading, journaling, silent time in general gets suffocated out of your life as temptation tries to eradicate any port you could sail to in the storm that is on its the way.

4. Prep the Soil
I’ve said a billion times that no one wakes up on a Tuesday and decides to have an affair or embezzle money. It’s a slow process that takes time, a death of a thousand cuts if you will. At this point, temptation is getting you ready, making you receptive to difficult decisions. Your support network is gone, the good things in your life have been removed and now, you’re suddenly faced with a small crossroads.

5. Plant the Seed
For me, at this point, I’m so far gone that it’s difficult to turn back. That’s something we often forget about temptation, it has tremendous momentum. What might have been stoppable at step 1 or even 2 is a freight train of emotions and frustration heading for a crash. And the seeds within my heart are growing.

6. Hunt the Plot
This is the part of the story where I get a small bullet hole right behind my ear as I casually go about my day. The part where something from the shadows crushes me and leaves me dead one more time. Field & Stream suggests, “Don’t make the mistake of creating a great plot and then sticking a big tower stand along an open edge. Deer will learn to avoid the plot after only a few hunts.” That’s so true. If temptation was obvious, if it carried a neon sign that said “I will wreck your marriage,” I would probably avoid it. But it never does, so I walk back into the food plot again and again.

Temptation is never a girl that falls from the sky, a big trash bag full of money that lands on your doorstep or a pot plant that suddenly grows in your backyard. It’s a hunter with a laser scope and a kill zone and all the time in the world. And if we’re not careful, if we don’t stay in community and keep our ground covered with good things and avoid the smallest seeds of temptation in our hearts, we’ll all end up with our heads mounted on a wall.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paris Hilton and the odds stacked.

Paris Hilton and the odds stacked.

I read an article on today about Paris Hilton. In it, she described some new charity efforts she is pursuing now that she’s out of prison. Looking back on her life, she states:

“There are a lot of bad people in L.A. Before, my life was about having fun, going to parties — it was a fantasy. But when I had time to reflect, I felt empty inside. I want to leave a mark on the world.”

Will she? Maybe, this could be the start of a new life for Hilton. Maybe she’ll become some sort of blonde Angelina Jolie, adopting kids, working for the UN and changing people in the ways she can. Maybe her recent involvement with Kid Rock will turn out to be a good thing, a positive influence.

But regardless, I couldn’t help but think of the Israelites when I saw Hilton in the article. I think God loves people like Paris Hilton. He loves everyone, true enough, but I think he’s a big fan of people or circumstances that allow him to show his true might. That’s what he did with Pharaoh and the Israelites. He kept stacking the odds against his people. Hardening Pharaoh’s heart again and again until he got to unleash a wave of miracles that resounded the world over.

He could have softened Pharaoh’s heart and walked his people out slowly and casually. Instead he built an army of resistance that gave him the chance to reveal his power in the force of an ocean that parted. Same thing with David and Goliath. Could the odds have been stacked greater there? A boy against a giant? A stone against a sword? Even in the moment, David picked up on what God was doing. In 1 Samuel 17:46 he says, “Today the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” Would the whole world have known if a really strong guy had defeated another really strong guy? Doubtful.

The chances of Paris giving her life to Christ are probably pretty slim, but how stacked are those odds? Can’t you just see God saying, “The girl in the sex tape? The girl with the DUIs and the jail time and complete disregard for anything not bathed in money? That girl, that’s the one I love. That’s the one I’m going to change with my love. Paris Hilton is who I sent my son to redeem.”

I used to be fearful when I found myself with stacked odds. When I learned that there were 2.8 million non fiction book proposals submitted every year with 97% rejected I got a little sweaty. But maybe that’s exactly how God wants it. Maybe he’s just stacking the odds so that I, much like Paris, can leave a mark on this world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The dating site and God.

The dating site and God.

One of my neighbors is selling his home for around $200,000. Once I’ve made my Christian author millions, that won’t seem like a lot of money, but for now it’s the equivalent of one billion dollars. In preparation for selling his house he created his own for sale sign.

Instead of going with an agent and getting something large and noticeable he went with the kind of black and orange sign usually placed on ten speed bikes that are for sale. He attached it to a piece of scrap wood and jammed it into his front yard. Overall, the sign leads you to believe his house is worth roughly $17.

Since the market is tough though, he decided to add some flair to his sign. How you ask? By attaching his little sign to a much larger sign for They’re all over some busy intersections near our neighborhood so stealing one was probably easy. Then he just duck taped his sign to the new one and voila, give him $200,000.

That guy isn’t the smartest person in my neighborhood, because the quality of his sign clearly represents the quality of his house. Can’t you see him “fixing” the toilet problem inside with some duck tape and a coffee liner? If he’s going to cut corners with the sign, who’s to say he hasn’t cut corners with every other part of his home? Trying with such a lack of effort is particularly stupid considering that 300 feet from his house they’re putting up new homes. That developer is constantly creating big, bold signs that make you desperate to live in the new community. Yesterday I saw a sign about the pool they’re putting in and it had one of those mushroom type waterfall umbrellas that kids can play under. I cried a little at how inadequate our community pool suddenly felt.

That’s perhaps my greatest fear with the book I am writing. I’m a bit terrified that I’ll create the book equivalent of a for sale message taped to a dating sign. That I’ll creatively under represent how big and amazing and loving God is to me. That people that don’t know God will see the book and think, “See, I knew God sucked, look how sucktacular this book is.”

But then, that’s the temptation we each face every day in the way we live our lives, isn’t it? My friend Kris practices Daoism. I’m pretty sure he’d be a Christian except he once spent a lot of time around some Christians. They were mean to him and hated him for his long hair and outside the lines taste in music. They had a really poor sign out on the front lawn of their lives and after he saw it, he decided that he’d explore Daoism instead. He’s got a full sleeve tattoo from a poem about Daoism. He’s a believer, the sign on his lawn is pretty cool, but it’s not what it could be because he ran into some people that didn’t put much thought into what their lives said about the Lord.

What’s on your lawn today? Got a picture of a pool and a rolling field that makes people curious about what’s going on in your community? Or is the duck tape fading on a sign that says God is worth about $17?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I ride horses! Everyone, I ride horses!

I ride horses! Everyone, I ride horses!

Last night my wife and I went to a hip restaurant called “Pure” in Alpharetta. As my wife aptly noted, it was full of teenagers that happened to be in their 40s. People with a hunger for attention that actually eclipsed mine, which is saying something.

In the midst of trophy wives and a parade of fake boobs, one guy in particular stood out. I saw him walking down the street a few blocks away from the restaurant and was instantly hypnotized.

He was wearing horse riding gear. Black shiny boots up to his knees with tight riding pants that seemed to be suffocating his legs. There’s a horse park a few blocks from the restaurant and obviously he had just finished riding. The thing that struck me is that he didn’t take 37 seconds and change his outfit. He didn’t keep a pair of jeans in the car and make a quick switch.

I thought that was awesome. Like someone wearing ski boots into a restaurant, he was clip clopping around in those heavy boots in the hopes everyone there would know that he rides horses. What did he want me or more importantly the ladies at the restaurant to think about him? Clearly, that he has money, because poor people don’t ride horses. In fact, I think most horses can smell poverty and will buck a poor person right off their back. “Go ride a donkey” is what they’d say if horses could annunciate.

It made me wonder, what do I project when I get dressed every morning. What are the deficits I hope my clothes will cover up? What do my pants say about me? Why do they need to say anything?

I think confident people don’t ask their clothes to broadcast who they are. I think whole people know that when the inside shines, the outside doesn’t need to. The most handsome person I’ve ever met taught me this accidentally. Heath was a model I knew in college. I was his assistant coach for the girl’s flag football program he coached. Like one of those remora fish that hangs on the bottom of sharks, my plan that semester was to just stay close enough to Heath in the hopes that pretty girls he rejected would think I was cool.

The thing that used to kill me about Heath was that when we would go out, he would never get dressed up. He always wear plain white men’s undershirts. I’m talking about the kind of thing you’re grandfather rocked when it was his day off and he was just lounging around the house. But it didn’t matter. Anywhere we went, girls flocked to him. He could have been clothed in burlap and the ladies would have been cool with that. Heath knew who he was and was comfortable in the idea that he didn’t need his clothes to validate that.

If the spectrum of self confidence runs from horse guy to Heath, I have to question where I am. Am I wearing tight horse pants in the hopes that strangers will think I’m rich or am I rocking the plain white t knowing my treasure is untouchable?

When Christians attack or how to mess up something free.

When Christians attack or how to mess up something free.

Yesterday, a close friend told me I was violating the third commandment. That’s the one about not taking the Lord’s name in vain. He used me as an example of someone that is not living right by the Lord in an “email lesson” he was writing for the group of men in his Bible Study.


My initial reaction was not surprise, because we’ve talked about the issue about a dozen times. I know his feelings. He knows mine and we usually do a pretty job moving passed this relational distraction. But for some reason he felt the issue was worth using as an example for the guys in his group.

Here is what he wrote:Consider the words of a close friend of mine: “I’m not going to tell my parents or my wife’s parents about my testimony unless God lays it on my heart to do so.” I have been pressing my friend, a friend who I love and who loves me, on this issue for almost two years now. I believe it had been about a year since I last prompted the discussion. Both a year ago, and just recently, I got this same line about no confession to parents unless God tells him he should.

Here’s the thing: to me, that is a direct violation of the third Commandment. The Bible ALREADY TELLS US to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16). Plus, I could rattle off other verses to support the position that he should tell his family. Yet, he says God hasn’t told him to. This, to me, is not good and violates this commandment.

Now before I say anything else, please let me say that this person (who I will call Alphonso) loves me. There is compassion mixed into his message and at the end of the day he is passionately trying to express something he passionately believes in. We’re friends. We’re rooming together this weekend at a men’s retreat. That email did not change our relationship.

The background to those paragraphs is that a few years ago my wife and I went through some substantial marital issues, created by my actions. In the last two years we’ve worked through them and have spoken with our parents about the progress and the renewed joy we’ve found.

Alphonso’s issue is that I have not told my parents the details or specifics of the marital issues. He believes that I should tell them exactly what happened. And here are a few reasons I have a problem with that.

1. Alphonso is putting conditions on forgiveness and healing.
In his mind, I will not completely receive either until I tell my parents and my in-laws exactly what I did. But what are the real conditions? How much do I have to tell my parents? What about relatives? What about Christians I work with? Where does Alphonso draw the line? How do I meet his conditions? Any time someone tells you, after you’ve received God’s grace, that there is something additional you must do before God forgives you, be careful. God’s gift of grace is just that, a gift. It is freely given.

2. Alphonso disregards the concept of safe people.
One of the things that most counselors will tell you is that there are safe people and unsafe people in this world. That is, there are people you should open up to and receive counsel from and people you should be guarded around. By Alphonso’s interpretation that theory doesn’t apply to my family. They’re all considered safe automatically. The personality, faith, maturity of my parents and in-laws is not considered against the hard black and white logic of “you must tell your parents.”

3. The Bible doesn’t support Alphonso’s logic.
The verse in James 5 that Alphonso references says this: “16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” What’s interesting about that verse is that there is no description of detail. It doesn’t, as Alphonso would have me believe, say “Confess your sins in graphic detail.” Nor does it say, “Prayer is only powerful and effective when it is detailed and specific.” Why, if I have told my parents that my actions led to marital problems, does that not satisfy the verse? Why do I need to add detail?

4. Where’s the second half of John 3:16?
I can only assume that Alphonso’s concern is that because I have not fulfilled his requirements I will not receive healing. But if that is the case, is the ever popular John 3:16 an incomplete thought? Here is what it says: 16″For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Shouldn’t that say, “Whoever believes in him and confesses his sins to his parents shall not perish?”

5. I’ve followed God’s plan.
In Matthew 18, we’re given a pretty clear path on how to deal with sins against each other. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…” According to Alphonso, even if the offender listens, that person should then go to their parents and confess. I don’t think that’s true. I confessed to my wife. I listened to her hurt and as the verse says, “I was won over.”

6. Would the Pharisees do this?
It’s always good to ask yourself if the religious cartel known as the Pharisees would be for or against your idea. In this case, would the Pharisees support the idea of adding conditions and “if/then” clauses to God’s free gift of healing? Without a doubt.
The biggest issue I have with all of this is that it perfectly captures the problem so many people have with grace. Look at this situation through the lens of the prodigal son story.
When the son returns home in Luke 15, he tells his father, 21″I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The father then responds, “That’s a good start, but I’m going to need more detail. And we have to tell your mother and your brother too or my forgiveness will not be given.”

That’s not what he says at all.

He throws a party, no questions asked. The mother isn’t gathered or even mentioned. The brother isn’t told of the return.

But Alphonso is denying me the party even though I’ve confessed to my parents that I sinned in my marriage. Worse than that, he is denying the men he counsels in his Bible Study that very same party. I think God hates that. I think God mourns when we add conditions to something he is trying to give us because essentially we’re invalidating his son’s death on the cross. We’re saying, “the cross was good but to really get forgiveness we must confess our sins in great detail to our parents.”

This is such a painful misinterpretation of God’s gift that I can’t even come up with a good analogy for it. It’s like if someone was giving away free Ferrari’s and you refused to accept it unless you were promised roadside assistance and oil changes. It’s a free Ferrari, accept it without conditions. Or if you needed a liver transplant and after years of waiting one became available and you had a list of questions you needed answered before accepting it. You’re dying. You need a liver. Accept it.

I am reminded of the women who in desperation reached out and touched Jesus robe. She was healed and Christ said it was her faith that did it. He didn’t tell her to go confess her sins. He didn’t give her a list of conditions like Alphonso is giving me. He healed her.

I will not get forgiveness and healing “right.” I will fail again and again and again. But that’s OK, because I only need to open my hands and believe that the gift is freely given to receive it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The second most important thing I've ever written.

The second most important thing I’ve ever written.

The other day, my friend Kenyan Sam told me that sometimes he doesn’t believe God exists. Most of the time those moments of doubt correspond with something he’s watched on the History Channel about people discovering Jesus’ grave or a documentary on why Moses didn’t really cross the Red Sea. But when that happens, Kenyan Sam feels heavy with guilt, overwhelmed with the sensation that a real Christian shouldn’t ever doubt God.

That, is nonsense.

I’ve always listed the church’s horrendous job at creatively representing God as its greatest sin on mankind. Every time I drive in downtown Atlanta and see a billboard that says, “Got Destiny” or “Got Jesus” I want to throw up a little in my armrest. God created the Cayman Islands and the platypus and about a million other weird and wonderful things. Is ripping off an advertising campaign from the Milk Council really the best we can do to reflect how ridiculously creative he is?

I digress.

But maybe the poor image we’ve created isn’t the biggest way we and I include myself in that, have blown it. Maybe the biggest lie we’ve allowed to be told is that to be a Christian means you don’t ever doubt. That to be a Christian means you’re done with disbelief, that you get some sort of answer key to life and move out permanently from the land of confusion.

I don’t know the origin of this lie, but I think that it grows under the stairwells of our hearts when we try to confess it and are met with resistance. For instance, when you tell someone you’re doubting the very existence of God and their first response is, “You need to pray more and read the Bible more” a line has been drawn. On one side are the good Christians that don’t doubt and are faithful to their quiet times. On the other side is you, full of questions and sin. I confess that I used to think this way. I saw doubt as inherently sinful and reflective of the utmost failure. Until I read Jeremiah.

The book of Jeremiah is basically the words of a prophet warning God’s people that punishment and annihilation is on its way. Jeremiah was intimately connected to God, essentially having personal conversations with him in which God would impart words and actions in a very one to one way. To put it mildly, Jeremiah was a super Christian. What’s interesting though is the picture of extreme doubt Jeremiah offers to us.

Here is what Jeremiah says about God in 20:13
13 Sing to the LORD!Give praise to the LORD!He rescues the life of the needyfrom the hands of the wicked.

Isn’t that nice and sweet? Yay God! He rescues us and is worthy of praise. Hooray.

Here, in the very next verse is what Jeremiah says:
14 Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!

Are you kidding me? That is amazing. In the span of a single verse he transforms from singing praises to the Lord to cursing his mother’s womb. I’ve definitely had my moments of doubt but never have I cursed my mother’s womb. He goes on to complain that someone should have killed him in the womb. Good times, good times.

Those verses are awesome for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Jeremiah is honest. I think lots of people feel like Kenyan Sam but just don’t admit it. Second, Jeremiah wasn’t saying those words because he was disconnected from God. He was speaking with God daily, for years. His doubt was not the product of lack of effort. It was heartfelt and soul driven. And third, it makes my doubt feel manageable.

The concept of God is big and mysterious. We worship the unseen, praise the unknown, live for the creator of the universe and the previously mentioned platypus. It’s a bizarre arrangement. I think Rampage Jackson, one of the champions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, said it best “Being saved is the weirdest thing that can ever happen to you.”

He’s made a living traveling internationally to break people’s faces with his hands and feet, but that’s not the weirdest thing he’s done. God is and he’s right. It is weird. And when we’re not honest about it we make other people feel weird and worst then that, we make them feel like failures. Like people on the outside looking in.

What’s the second most important thing I’ve written? Doubting God doesn’t invalidate your faith.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mrs. Winner's chicken, filthy but true.

Mrs. Winner’s chicken, filthy but true.

My brother Will recently sent me a photo of a sign he saw in front of the Mrs. Winner’s Chicken restaurant near his house in Nashville. Here is what it said:

“Trans Fat Chicken is Here.”

I love that, honestly, that’s like marketing poetry. Kentucky Fried Chicken recently launched this massive campaign about how their food is now trans fat free. And in response, Mrs. Winner’s who is like the skanky cousin of KFC, started their own campaign.

We’ve got trans fat chicken. We’re all about trans fat chicken. In fact, you can order extra trans fat if you want. (I made up that last one.)

The thing I like about that sign is that it’s honest. In addition to being incredibly in touch with their target audience, Mrs. Winner’s cut right to the chase. If you eat our chicken, you’re going to eat some trans fat. The end. It’s a short, greasy story.

And it got me thinking, what if all of life’s temptations were that clear? What if every ill decision we faced screamed that loudly? When you pick up a date, her t-shirt said “my dad never loved me enough so I’m really needy and clingy.” When you shopped for a car the windshield said “I was involved in a horrible accident so the dealer is not going to let you test drive me on the highway because I’ll fall apart.” At a job interview, your potential boss had a sign on his door that read, “Belittling people is kind of my favorite thing to do. I can’t wait to make you feel smaller.”

That would be wonderful. I mean without even bringing God into the conversation, you have to admit, you would make better decisions if life’s woes broadcast themselves like that. You’d never get a tattoo of the Tasmanian Devil in a tuxedo with a yellow rose in its mouth because the tattoo artist would tell you how much you’d hate it about 15 minutes after it was done. Life would be beautiful.

But what if that was possible? What if whenever you stood at a crossroads in life, the decisions were that simple? The steps that obvious? The risk that neon? I think they can be and this is the part where I bring God back into the conversation.

There’s a scene I love in 1 Samuel 23 that I continue to write about. Basically David has just saved the city of Keilah from the Philistines and gets word that Saul is on his way to kill him. Here’s what happened:

David: “Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard?The Lord: “He will.”David: “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”The LORD said, “They will.”

With that, David grabbed his 600 men and took off. The thing I love about that story is that David only got four words. He moved 600 men off the truth of four simple words. There was no flowery promise from God. No long drawn out monologue with lightning and smoke and a white beard that kind of floats in the wind. Just four words. “Trans Fat Chicken is Here” is a longer statement than David got, but that’s all he needed.

I think sometimes God communicates in fortune cookie length messages but we’re so focused on getting long messages that we discount them. We think the short statements don’t count. We think the warning sign can’t be as simple as the one outside Mrs. Winner’s.

But maybe they are. Maybe it’s easier than we’ve made it. Maybe God has a handful of words for you today. And it will be as short and as powerful as “Trans Fat Chicken is Here.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Let's be irrelevant.

Let’s be irrelevant.

The Desert Fathers were a group of fourth and fifth century Christians that pursued solitude and prayer in the Egyptian desert. In describing them, Thomas Merton writes in the introduction to his book The Wisdom of the Desert:

“Society … was regarded [by the Desert Fathers] as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life … These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.”

Upon reading that, I immediately scribbled in the margin of the book, “But what about being culturally relevant?” Understanding modern culture and being able to use certain elements of it to reach people is a very popular subject. The church down the street from me puts the Starbucks Logo on the front of their direct mail cards. By dedicating this amount of visual real estate to Starbucks, they are clearly saying one of the most important things a potential visitor needs to know is “Our Church proudly serves complimentary Starbucks Coffee and donuts every Sunday morning for your enjoyment.”

So what then, Desert Fathers, are we to do about cultural relevance?

Henri J. M. Nouwen answers in his book, The Way of the Heart, as he reflects on what Merton wrote about the Desert Fathers.

“Here indeed is ministry in its purest form, a compassionate ministry born of solitude. Anthony and his followers, who escaped the compulsions of the world, did so not out of disdain for people but in order to be able to save them.”

Merton, who described these monks as people who swam for their lives in order not to drown in the sinking ship of their society, adds to the Nouwen’s idea by remarking:

“They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. They had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.”

The question I ask is this, “have we as Christians, having lost our ability to embrace solitude, confused being culturally relevant with what is actually floundering about in the wreckage?”

Have we spent more time studying the way Apple communicates through their marketing and the ways Starbucks builds a sense of community and far too little time in solitude? Have we ever gotten a foothold on solid ground?

My personal answer is no. I, as an individual, did not swim away from the wreckage before I tried to pull others to safety. I simply tried to look at the wreckage from a Christian worldview. But I most certainly did not spend any time in solitude, what Nouwen calls “the furnace of transformation.”

The other question that this all raises is, “Is being culturally relevant enough?” Does our relevance give us an angle with which to reach people? Is our understanding of culture the rope that connects us from the solid ground to the drowning victim?

Popular culture may have changed dramatically, but I don’t think the culture of emotion has changed that much. The expression of it certainly has, as emails and cell phones and a thousand other progressions have evolved the way we communicate and interact. But the core issues that we all struggle with and rejoice in, are the same throughout the centuries. Joy. Loneliness. Anger. Fear. Peace. These are the some of things that the Israelites wrestled with in the desert and some of the same things the soccer mom wrestles with at Target. They are not new. In the recent marketing book “Waiting for your Cat to Bark” Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg express that same idea by writing, “Technology may evolve at a pace that leaves us breathless, but the essential qualities of human behavior aren’t nearly that transitory. The road may have changed, but those traveling on the road haven’t.”

What if instead of trying to stay on top of trends and culture, an exhausting activity, I learned how to be spiritually relevant? Would my ability to connect with someone’s pain or happiness be a stronger, thicker rope from the shore to the sea? What if the yearnings of the human condition became so relevant to me that the trappings of culture became irrelevant? What if instead of having an understanding of culture as our final destination we aimed toward shaping it and actually creating it?

When I take those questions and hold them up against the prodigal son story, the topic of my book, an interesting idea emerges. The particular part of the story that raises the greatest question is the party itself. Throwing a party in response to the son’s return was not a very culturally relevant thing to do. If anything, it was wildly irrelevant. When told this story, a group of Muslim young men asked my friend why the father didn’t kill the prodigal son. That response, murder, would have been the culturally relevant thing to do.

But instead they had a party.

When the older brother returns from the field he is taken back by the irrelevance of the whole situation. He asks what the meaning of the dancing and the celebrating is. At this point the father comes out the back door and pleads with him to attend the party. Maybe that’s how we’re supposed to approach the question of relevance and irrelevance?

Maybe we’re supposed to be intentionally irrelevant? Maybe my response to situations is supposed to be so different from what is expected, what is relevant, that people in my world can’t help but ask questions? Maybe what the church needs now, more than ever before, is not greater relevance to what’s happening in culture, but more irrelevance?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The colors rich people don't want you to know exist.

The colors rich people don’t want you to know exist.

The other day in Williams Sonoma I smelled poor. It wasn’t that I smelled bad, I just didn’t smell like that store and that store smelled rich. Have you ever felt that way? I swear, walking through those warm open doors in the mall I instantly knew that nothing about the rest of my weekend was going to smell so pumpkiny delicious. There were colors associated with that fragrance, oranges and reds and yellows that danced just out of my poor vision.

As I teenager, I remember being surprised to learn how many colors rich people had access to. This is probably something best told to one of the four counselors in my not so distant past, but there it is. When my friend showed me the J.Crew catalog I was like a tribal warrior from Africa puzzled by a remote control. Seriously, did you know that “heather acorn” was a color option? How about “antique?” Do own anything in “academy purple?” What does that even mean? I didn’t know, but I felt like I was missing out on something. That I had the ghetto version of the rainbow while other people with nicer sounding last names had better versions of everything.

The idea that you’re a second class citizen in any form or fashion is such a deceptively perfect lie. Because, in the rare chance that something good does come your way, you reject it. You don’t feel good enough for it, don’t feel you deserve it, are more comfortable with silver medals. And so you don’t ever really enjoy it.

But what if the best things in life were meant for me and you? What if the precondition to open the gift was our ability to enjoy it?

I’m probably the last person that should write that though because I’m horrible at accepting good things. Counselor #4 told me that addicts medicate most in two situations. The first is when they are feeling low and want to numb the pain. The second is when they are feeling good and don’t feel at home with that feeling so they medicate their lives back down to that low spot they’re most familiar with. That’s me, constantly sinking my own boat when things get too good. Drilling holes in my happiness bucket until it all spills out.

Things are good right now. Will I light them on fire like I’ve done hundreds of times in the past? Or will I eat a pumpkin muffin while wearing a citron colored sweater? We’ll just have to see how the fall goes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Yanni and five other things I wish you didn't know about me.

Yanni and five other things I wish you didn’t know about me.

Paste magazine is what I imagine Rolling Stone was in the mid-70s. Smart, intelligent, deeply connected to what matters most in music, film and culture. Their record reviews contain words I’ve never even seen and are usually about bands I’ve never heard of, Asobi Seksu, Amandine, Ambulance Ltd. Etc. Needless to say, I think it’s an incredibly cool publication, which is part of the reason I was so horrified by my recent conversation with one of the co-founders.

He was a nice enough guy and after talking for a few minutes at a hip lunch meeting we were having, he asked the question I imagine he asks everyone – “What music do you like?”

In that moment, I was really counting on my mouth to bail me out, to pull out some obscure rap/folk/acoustic/ambient trio from one of the Dakotas that he had never heard. Instead, I heard myself say, “Counting Crows.”

I wanted to pull it back in, yank those two words right out of the air and swallow them like a kid caught with gum, but instead I started rambling about the Counting Crows as if they were some small band most people were not familiar with. I could see the disappointment in his face, see him thinking, “Wait, the guy that dated all the girls from the show Friends? The white guy with dreads? The guy that was animated as a rabbit, with dreads, in the video they did for Shrek 3?”

It was brutal. I rambled for a few minutes and then avoided him the rest of the lunch. God, I wanted to look cool in front of him. I wanted him to think I belonged at that lunch despite my lack of a goatee or any really cool tattoos. But I just couldn’t.

I can laugh about that now, but I think it shows that deep down, I still expect other people to define me on some level. Upon meeting someone that I perceive to be cool, I hand them the definition of who I am and ask them to rearrange the pieces as they see fit. You want me to like obscure music? Cool, I can do that. You want me to watch art films where an old orange rolling on the floor is supposed to symbolize the deterioration of a love lost? Can do. And so forth.

It’s all pretty ridiculous and more than that, it’s kind of a big middle finger to God. It basically says to him, “This, this person you made me is not enough. It’s a good start, but this girl, this guy, holds some missing pieces. I’m going to get them to finish the job.”

That sucks, but it’s going to happen again. Maybe not as often though if I can identify some of the things I’m secretly ashamed of. That said, here are 6 things I wish you didn’t know:

1. I listen to Yanni.
I listen to Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis when I write. Screw that, I love Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis. I would go see Yanni in concert. I might grow a mustache, that’s how much I dig that album.

2. I read books with unicorns on the cover.
I’ve told my wife a billion times it’s a white horse not a unicorn but that’s not the point. I read Robert Jordan fantasy books. They’re so cheesy. If I’m on a plane, I open them from the back so people sitting next to me don’t see the front cover.

3. If it were sociably acceptable for suburban dads to breakdance I would.
My favorite show on television is “So you think you can dance.” I can’t get enough pop and lock. If 31 year old white dudes could breakdance, I would in a heartbeat. I have two dances Tivo’d and watch them at least once a day.

4. I wish I was taller.
I’m 5’7” and that just doesn’t feel tall enough. I mean I can reach most things in most cabinets, but it’s not a great height. And when I daydream about being a famous author, I always pretend that I went through something I made up called “Latent Puberty” and grew 6 inches in my early 30s. It could happen.

5. I heart Taco Bell
I wish I appreciated fancy food and cheese that had lots of syllables and vowels and maybe even knew the difference between North Cambodian food and South Cambodian food. But I don’t. I love Taco Bell and food items that have their weight right there in the name, like “1/2 cheesy been and rice burrito.”

6. I carry an African club when my wife goes out of town.
I am apparently the biggest wuss in all of Georgia. When my wife goes out of town I carry around a Masai warrior club my brother got in Africa around the house at night. I’m not sure what I’ll be able to accomplish with this deadly stick, but I’m so afraid of the bumps and creaks the house makes that it makes me feel better. Although, back in the day I used to slide my dresser in front of my door to prevent someone from getting in while I was sleeping, so I guess I’ve improved somewhat.

I’m not cool. I like Yanni and the Counting Crows and if I ever see you at a book tour and you think I’m shorter than you initially imagined I guess that’s OK.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Retarded logic in my retarded world.

Retarded logic in my retarded world.

When you live in a retarded world, retarded logic makes sense.

That’s really not that deep of a thought and might even be a smidge offensive, but I think it’s true. When you’re head is off kilter, you tend to think bad decisions are good. It’s a simple idea, but guys have come out of the woodwork to tell me how applicable it is to their lives. For instance, at dinner one night, a guy told me that he had started an affair with a woman he knew had herpes. Of all the women, in all the cities in all the states in this country, he began an affair with one that essentially guaranteed to give him an incurable disease. Why would he ever think that’s a good idea? Retarded logic.

And me? Where does my own retarded logic rear it’s head? I once spelled out Bose in empty coke bottles and hung the dripping, mess of trash from the roof at work as part of a cube decorating contest. More recently I entered into a business agreement and essentially lit a few thousand dollars on fire. Anyone with even an inkling of intelligence would have seen how badly things were going to go, but in my retarded world, it all made sense. So I boldly rushed ahead. That’s the other thing about retarded logic, it’s never half done. When you make a retarded decision you always seem to rush into it as fast and as furious as possible. For instance, I didn’t casually explore starting a church focused ad agency. I convinced a church to give me $30,000 to redo their website.

The funny thing is that people have been retarded since the dawn of time. My favorite example of this is Hezekiah in Isaiah 39. Hezekiah in a moment of unadulterated retarded logic gives some Babylonians a tour of his entire palace and kingdom. Isaiah, shaking his head at the situation, asks Hezekiah what just happened:

4 The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”

“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

Again, when you go retarded, you don’t just dip your toe in. You dive head first, regardless of whether there’s any pool in the water. He showed them everything, nothing remained hidden.

5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD Almighty: 6 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. 7 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

I love this. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that the Babylonians are going to loot and pillage his entire kingdom. Everything will be taken, nothing will be left. Even more than that, his kids are going to become eunuchs. A eunuch by the way is a man that is castrated and bound to service. So Isaiah has just dropped the hammer on Hezekiah. And what’s his response?

8 “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

Awesome. Can you imagine if you had a son and someone said, “Hey, I think Iran is going to come kidnap your son and castrate him and make him a servant.” How retarded would you be if your response was, “What you just said sounds good.”

Just phenomenal, but I swear, it’s so easy to do the retarded. And I know this week I’ll have the chance to be extra retarded. I’m attending the Catalyst Conference on Thursday and Friday, which will be a huge temptation to try to pitch my book. I know I could just be a massive retard, pimping my book idea to anyone that makes momentary eye contact with me.

And I guess that’s my question to you today, when you look at your retarded radar what do you see ahead of you? What neon light is blinking retard, retard, retard? What decisions do you have that you could just completely bomb if you’re not careful? And most importantly, what can you do to prevent going down that path?