Sunday, April 29, 2007

10 Paper Route Driver: Semi-Spiritual Journeys of a Not Very Religious Man

Spending time with people places a person at risk of being known. Being known is dangerous. When people know you, really know you, when they know your secrets, you are at risk.

Most of the time a person can monitor his words, but keeping a check on nonverbals is next to impossible. Unless you're perfect, having a public self is just an invitation to lie. Good liars are much more comfortable in public than bad ones.

Now, not all public is the same. Some public has a sort of expectation that you are spotless. Sadly, church is often one of the worst kinds of public. I wonder if there is a place more full of lies than in church (not all of them, just most of them).

My dad was a bad liar, so he didn't go to church.

In fact, he didn't go much of anywhere. The older he got, the worse his health got, the more weight he gained, the more scars he accumulated, the less he made his way outside his home.

People can be cruel when they know the truth, so when you can't hide the truth around people, you end up just hiding yourself.

Everyone, no matter who they are, is in a fight to be honest. Life is a bind - honesty is expected, but so it goodness. Since no one is completely good, no one can be honest. Something has to be done to reconcile the competing expectations of goodness and honesty.

Being a paper route driver was not only a job, it was a way to be honest. All on his own out on the rural roads of Lakeville, Minnesota he could be himself without penalty. It was about the only place on earth that he could be himself.

Heaven, if I know a thing about it, is a place of goodness and honesty. It's the best kind of public. Maybe we'll be perfect in Heaven, or maybe we'll be treated perfectly. I don't know, but I suspect there will be no shame - no need to hide.

On the dirt roads of Lakeville, Minnesota, the paper route drive found a little bit of Heaven.

My children are brilliant

Meal time at the Gonzalez home means kids prepare the table: clear off anything that is not meal related, place meal related items on the table. That's about it so far as the kids are concenred.

Well, today one of the non-meal items to be removed from the table was an empty Diet Dr. Pepper can. My daughter (age 9) insisted that I clean up my own mess. Well, there was a certain logic to the demand, but there was also this tone of self-risghtouesness that was inescapable. I refused and continued doing what I was doing.

My son, who will own a dog one day with his same loyal, loving, and peacemaking personality, in an effort to create peace and bring resolve, grabbed the can and headed for the recycle bin. He almost got out the door the garage when I caught him with my voice and told him to place that can right back on the table. His confusion was understood, but there was a larger battle going on here.

I told my daughter to please place the can in the recycle. She resisted. I resisted her resistance. She finally relented in her behavior, but not her attitude. She annouced that after she puts the can in the recycle bin that she was going down stairs to her room. It was an announcement packaged in restrained anger and brewing indignation.

My wise son (age 7), though he did not understand why there was this conflict emerging, politely and quietly agreed to the process knowing that silence was the best way not to be included in this battle.

After a couple of minutes my son brought peace and laughter to my daughter. He is incredibly silly and can make his sister laugh in almost any situation. He loves her so much that he wants her always to be smiling and laughing. He is a great gift to his sometimes brooding and melancholy sister.

I waited until the laughter downstairs grew and then waned some, then I made my move.

I went downstairs and excused my son from the room and told my daughter it was time to talk. My son left in peace while my daughter's laughter instantly changed to disinterested agreement. Her situational emotional control is perfect. She's becoming a teen. Only four more years and there she is.

After a few opening remarks and my own brand of silliness cracked a smile on her face (Yes, I still got it) I was able to ask why she was so upset with me. She used logic (clean up your own mess) and I used mine (I clean up your messes way more than you clean up mine, I bought our cars that you get to ride in etc). Obviously this got us no where.

Then she revealed the nugget of insight that began the change. She said that she is learning about personal responsbility in school and that she was upset that I was not personally responsible for my Diet Dr. Pepper can. I restrained myself from wondering who personally responsible for her popcorn mess last night (restraint - good move).

Intead, I moved on to different levels of responsibility. Yes, there is personal responsibility, but there is also family responsibility. We share duties to make the whole process easier.

Then she said that it's like purple.


She said that there is blue and there is red, but when they come together it is purple. Red and blue are primary colors, so they are individuals, but purple is made by the two other colors coming together, they are family.

I promptly told her that her thinking is deep and very intelligent, that I had never thought of it that way before, but now I will.

Then we got crazy thinking of all of the different levels of responsibility andwhat colors those levels might be.

"You're food's getting cold..." is what broke our fun and brought back into the family meal.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

One of these things is not like the other

I have been given what I consider to be the greatest compliment about my blog since its inception in June of 2004 (or I am the victim of a cruel joke).

The compliment is located here.

Seriously, look at who else made the list.

Now I need to identify my list of Thinking Bloggers. That list will be here soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The People Formerly Known As Congregation

Go here to read this.

You don't have to wait for your leaders or denomination to "emerge" into missional, emergent, relevant, or cutting christohoozits - be church.

Seriously the fact that you are still reading this means that you are not reading the much better that.

Go on now, click here.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

To Be A Researcher

Much of time spent in a PhD program is spent learning to conduct research. And, from what I can tell, learning to do research is something that half a decade in a research program cannot begin to touch if completion is the goal.

It is somewhat of a strange paradox. From one perspective, a graduate with a PhD is one of the most proficient and skilled researchers in the world. And yet, that same person with the very same training is merely a novice with so much to learn.

Not only are there more methods and statistical tools to learn than can be learned in five years of study, there are new methods being developed as we speak. In fact, there are people who make it their goal in life to develop research methods that take into account the complexities of real life.

To be a researcher, there are a few qualities that are necessary:

1. Persistence - few people just "get it" on the first go. Instead, learning to do research is something that requires going at it over and over again.

2. Courage - Research, by nature, is the intentional venture into places that few or no one has ever gone.

3. Commitment to learning - Research is learning on many levels. It is learning about the phenomena of interest, about the methods to get at the answers to the questions, about the works others have done in the same area...etc.

4. Humility - This one gets you coming and going. Initially, you must accept the reality that you do not know something in order to look for it. Secondly, when you do "know" something, you have to resist the temptation to equate that sense of knowlege with superiority. It is tempting to have pride in your work because of the effort placed in it. A sense of accomplishment may degrade into a sense of pride without detection.

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Good researchers are certainly skilled, but beyond that they not interested in boosting their egos. Instead, they have a love that drives their passion.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Forgotten Stories

Almost every story ever known was lived but once and forgotten forever. Most stories are never recorded, never retold. Most stories are not thought of for one single moment after they were lived.

Stories are the social memory of a family, a group, a nation. They are meant to be lived once, but told many times. Stories can be entertaining, but to degrade a story to entertainment is to miss hte meaning stories bring to our lives.

We are our stories. There is no meaning to our lives without a story to fill the flesh. If we forget our stories, we forget ourselves. When our story is forgotten, or worse, when a story is forced on us and we accept it, we have failed to fulfill the one goal in life we were meant to accomplish - to be human.

Without stories of healing, we will be sick. Without stories of redemption, we will be lost. Without stories of love, we will be meaningless. Without stories of forgiveness, we will be unreconciled. Without stories of faith, we will be hopeless. Without stories of courage, we will exist in fear.

We must nurture our stories and find a way to tell, write, paint, and dance their meaning so we do not forget whtever it was that was important enough to live in the first place.

We must story our greatest moments. We must story our greatest humiliations. We must story all that matters. We must gather this memory and pass it on to generations who have yet to remember anything. Our stories are our greatest gift to give. They are our truth.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Alberto Gonzales... not related to me.

Violence against college students ***UPDATE*** Race is the story.

Apparently race is the story in both stories. The VT killer was racially disciminated against when he was in high school, mocked for his Korean accent, among other things.

Oh, he's still responsible for his actions, but he is not responsible for the world around him that he was required to respond to.

Here is a little something from Langston Hughes:
A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-- l
ike a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Apparently there are times when it does explode.

The two main stories (unless you are mourning the downfall of Sanjaya) have to do with violence against college students.

The first story is the Imus story. The second is Virginia Tech. Both involve violence against college students.

I think it would appropriate to say that the phsyical violence at Virginia Tech is worse. I really think that few people would argue with that. However, setting the kinds of violence done in each situation into a hierarchy would tempt people to dismiss the importance of the Imus story.

At Tech, the killer is dead and will not kill again. No one debates what he did as being wrong. It's a terrible story with no advocates for the killer. People are united.

The problem with the Imus story is that the person who did the violence is still on the loose. People are not united against him. There are actually people going to bat for this guy. The extent to which he is seen as getting away with the kinds of things he says is the extent to which dehumanizing behavior is acceptable.

The difference between the violence Imus did against the Rutgers women's basketball team and the violence done against Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff is only in degree.

This might sound overly dramatic, but I am afraid the VT story will drown out the attention given to the the racism problem in America. I fear that we will start to believe that the main problem in America and college campuses is people gunning other people down. It's not.

Although the VT story is more intense, it is extremely isolated and rare. Imus kinds of stuff happens every single day.

We should mourn and grieve the deaths at VT and we should take our time doing it. But we should have some tears for the state of race and rhetoric in America as well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

***UPDATE*** Social Poverty

Just as I suspected.
Click here for related story.
There is a certain violence done to a person when loneliness isolates that person from real connection. That violence, once internalized, may explode.

Being marginalized, excluded, alienated, and sent to the edges is maddening. It makes body, mind, and spirit deteriorate into something less than human.

We have one task in life. Be human. And we cannot do it alone. Humans are not human in isolation. Isolation caused by social poverty drains the soul of its humanity, leaving flesh that functions, but does not live.

We must make friends. We must be friends. We must not settle for personal social wealth while others live - exist - in social poverty. We must invest time and meaning into people. We must allow some friendships to be costly in emotion and expensive in time. We must not merely be friends with people who can do something for us, we must also be friends with people who have nothing for us. In fact, if the only friends we have are people can do something for us, then there is a certain moral poverty that joins us in our social wealth.

We must befriend the unfriendable.

Cho Seung-Hui, of the Virginia Tech massacre, lived in abject social poverty. Had he some friends, he might still have had a mental disorder, but he might not have killed.

First Year Nearing an End

My first year of doctoral studies is nearing an end. 3 papers, one final, one research evaluation, one academic evaluation, one more committee member, and three weeks on the calendar and I will be done with my first year.

That's a lot to do in three weeks. I think I'll get to work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There are dumb questions

I expect more from NPR. I usually get something good from NPR. Not today's report.

OK, I was listening to a report of the Virginia Tech shooting. There was an expert on school violence and security being interviewed by Ms. I-can't-think-of-a-decent-question. She asked the following:

Statisitcs say that there are three times more shootings in college campuses than there are in elementary schools. Is there something that elementary schools know that college campuses have yet to catch up on?

I know that this is a big crisis and that reporting with the current news demands is not an easy job.

I gues it just irritated me that the question was so blaming, so assuming and frankly, so stupid. A tragedy of this magnitude deserves more respect than this kind of reporting.

Thankfully the person interviewed gracefully answered the question outlining how an elementary school is like a large house and a college campus is like a city.

This is a call for better reporting and interviewing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech...

...Our hearts, our prayers are with you.

How to Get From NY to London Google Style

1. go to

2. click on "maps"

3. click on "get directions"

4. type "New York" in the first box (the "from" box)

5. type "London" in the second box (the "to" box)

6. click on "get directions"

7. scroll down to step #23

Thursday, April 12, 2007


How much of the talk you involve yourself in is really conversation?

OK, narrow it down by eliminating the following:

1. All "noise talk" is not conversation. Chatter overheard at work, the restuarant, the mall etc.

2. Most preaching and teaching is not conversation.

3. Functional, utilitarian, and business talk exchanges are useful, but not conversational. Commernce talk is not conversation.

4. Competitive talk is not conversation.

5. Most conversations at work either fall into category #3 or #4 or involve such a power differential that must be maintained that they are not conversation.

6. Family talk is often full of directions, practicalities, functions etc. Much, but not all, is not conversation.

7. Entertainment is not conversation.

Factor out all of this talk and what ever is left might be conversation. How much of it do you get? How much less do people who are oppressed get?

I am wondering if people who are oppressed, poverty-stricken, or lonely want real conversation more than anything else.

Oh, I should define conversation.

Conversation - Talk between people who believe each other is of equal value about that which personally matters to both people.

It is likely that most people have very little conversation.

It is likely that the conversations people actually have are with people who are very much like themselves.

The amount of cross-class, cross-race conversations that actully occur is very low.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Religion and Spirituality

I got 2 things I want to ask you.

1. I went to a conference on spirituality and family today. As expected, there was the question of what to do with defining religion and spirituality. Here are three perspectives.

"Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there."

"Spirituality is who you are and religion is what you do."

"Religion gives form to spirituality."

2. OK, that was one thing. The next is measuring religion and spirituality. The measures in the scholarly literature on religion and spirituality are summed up by the following:

church attendance (frequency of attendance)
religious affiliation (Denomination)
prayer frequency
religious importance ("How important is religion to you?")

That's about it. Now, I think that we all know that the influence of religion and spirituality cannot possibly be summed up in the above 4 variables. So, why are family researchers only using these token variables?

What do you think that family researchers ought to be measuring?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Does guilt press you to do good?
Does fear keep you from being you?
Does feeding your self-esteem move you to achieve?
Does tradition keep you from thinking?
Does avoiding pain keep you from growing?

Does hope get you out of bed?
Does wisdom guide your choices?
Does courage make you go farther?
Does compassion make you cross limits?
Does faith lead you to unknown places?

What motivates you?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Loneliness Medicine

Loneliness is a ghost who lurks. It's not scary like a monster that can do violence. Rather, it is a Nothing that replaces Something. Anything it can replace, anything allowed to be released will be filled with this Nothing.

Loneliness can come without announcement and be present for long stretches of time undetected. Like an invisible leech, it can drain a person of the very thing that gives life. Loneliness is a parasite that kills slowly. It can be ignored by distraction into media and technology. It can be ignored by ritual, habit, and addiction.

I meet a lot of lonely people. You do too.

What can challenge loneliness? Meaning.

People must experience meaning in their lives. People cannot experience meaning in solitude. Friendship is the antidote to loneliness. Not aquaintances, not associates, not membership, not the number of people around - friendship.

Friendship is meaning.

I Could Have Danced All Night

Tonight at Solomon's Porch I got to taste the very best of what a community of artists does when it communicates the message of resurrection through their art.

The entire church building, which is already sort of an ever morphing art gallery, was transformed into a sort of labyrinth with "stations" (for lack of a better word) all over the place, each with a message of the resurrection of Christ, a message of hope. There must have been 2 dozen in all.

My favorite was the labyrinth in the basement. Let's see if I can recreate what I saw. I entered the basement, a large room with old "church tile" on the floor. The lights were off and the floor was covered in candles - 289 candles if my math is right. They were set in a perfect square, 17 by 17. The glow of 289 candles says something about light, about extravagance, about hope. I can't really take it all in but it moved me.

Between the candles, connecting one candle to the next were dots - stickers on the floor. Not all candles were connected by dots, only most of them. To follow the path of labyrinth, one walked without crossing any dots. There is only one path in a labyrinth and it leads to the center. The way this one was set up, you knew you were arriving at the center eventually, but it was impossible to know how you would arrive there.

It was a great symbol of the journey of faith, knowing the destination without knowing the way. Well, knowing the way, but only what little bit is before you at any given time.

You had to walk this labyrinth carefully because you might knock over a candle. Other people walked it as well, and everyone is on a different part of this faith walk. Some are at the center, some trying to get there, some walking back to the entrance/exit and some people waiting to take the faith walk, but are not quite ready to do so.

In the corner was a man playing harp behind a translucent veil with all sorts of colors of light shining from the inside out. A harp can by really mysterious sometimes. It was tonight.

Another of my favorite rooms was one that had duets of photos taken. Each duet of photos had one famous person from history who was considered a revolutionary (all killed for their beliefs I think) and the second of the duet was a child posed just like the famous person. Set under the photos were quotes from the famous person and a prayer by the child.

It was moving. Talk about creating an image of hope, of resurrection.

I could have stayed for hours on end looking at everything, thinking, feeling, changing...

but there are kids that need to get to bed. There is a paper with a deadline attached to it. There is duty that so inappropriately interferes with the kind of worship that is wonder.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Notes from the Porch

So, being a part of a church like Solomon's Porch is an experience different than anything I have ever been a part of. No, it's not just different, it's differenter.

1. Tonight we had a Passover meal. We spent three hours talking through the history of the Jewish people in slavery in Egypt being freed. We had the bitter herbs, the parsley, the whateverthatwas, and the notsurewhatthisis all set on tables before us. There was wine (with a grape juice option for people like me). We then feasted big. It was the best learning experience of the meaning of passover ever. It also lead right into the Lord's Supper, of course. Loved it.

Don't think stock "church" tables, but think huge living room filled with couches and coffee tables. It was cozy and comfy and felt like a family holiday, not a church meal.

2. A couple weeks ago, the "sermon" was given by a massage therapist (female) who was actually giving a massage while she spoke. She tied in the spirituality of touch as it related to the Lenten season.

3. There is a camera placed above an art table. At times, the camera feeds into a computer which is hooked up to a projector which projects the artist drawing or painting in real time.

4. I now own a prayer shawl.

5. There is art everywhere in the building we occupy for our gatherings. It's so cool to have various messages everywhere you go, speaking meaning and provoking thoughts and feelings.

6. The music is home grown. I am growing to love it more and more. In fact, there are a couple of songs I really look forward to hearing at our gatherings. A new CD comes out April 29th. You send me $10.00 plus shipping and I'll get one for you. The music is not hymnal music and it's not "praise and worship" stylistically. It's just some good music with meaning.

7. There is a sense that anything could happen on the one hand and that there is a sense of direction on the other.

8. The membership is artists, musicians, therapists, natural health coaches, former ministers and youth ministers, educators, and a whole lot of other people unlikely to be Republican, but I suspect there are a few conservatives hovering around. Thing is, no one cares. There is no sense that you have to be this or that. What is valued is that everyone contrbiutes to the conversation, not that everyone agrees with conversations people had centuries ago.

9. My children love, love, love it.

10. There is no sense that perfect, spit-polished, and right are even goals of this group. Rather, it seeks to be honest, experimental, and good.

I am on a crazy adventure in my spiritual walk. I love it and it is scary. All I know is that God's love for me is strong and my faith, though stretched like a rubber band in several directions, remains in tact.