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Have you ever had “one of those days”? Yesterday was just such a day for me. More on that in a moment. First, some backstory is in order.

Thirty years back, my dad worked as a Christian school administrator, of the small K-12 variety. Accordingly, from Junior High through high school, I had the “opportunity” (aka, the privilege) of working summers and evenings in maintenance, custodial services, roofing, landscaping, and the like. I met several notable characters along the way, some larger than life.

Mr. Voightlander was just such a character, his large frame, firm handshake, and boisterous laughter firmly etched in my memory. So, too, are some of his stories. His name was Harry, or Henry, I’m not exactly sure. After all, it has been over thirty years. I was a Sophomore, and he was the school’s mechanic, responsible for keeping a fleet of a few buses and over a dozen vans up and running.

Mr. Voightlander didn’t even work at good old Shreve Christian for more than a year, but as a kid, a year in my life felt like forever. One day, while he was fixing a part of some type that I needed for my work in the school building, he took advantage of the opportunity to tell another story. We stood in the humid Summer Louisiana morning in a non-air-conditioned outdoor shop, a large 3 foot square homemade wooden box fan serving a dual role as his workbench.

The story he told that day was of his past work as a truck driver and mechanic. It seems that drivers in the older trucks experimented with their diesel engines, screwing the injectors deeper into the heads in order to increase the horsepower. If they kept them too far out, heavy smoke would come from the stacks. If they got them pushed too far in, fire would come from the pipes. But, according to Mr. V, if they got it just right there was “no smoke, no fire, they were just a gettin’ it”.

Back to yesterday. I got a tremendous amount of work accomplished at the office. Not too many days are quite like that. Ignore the fact that most co-workers and customers were off campus for the day. That is irrelevant, and I digress. Let’s just say that something happened as I tuned up for the day, and all cylinders were firing at maximum horsepower. Where the day started with a disheveled and covered up desktop, many old unaccomplished tasks it’s slave, I found the wood before day’s end. It felt really good. And, it reminded me of Mr. V.

One of the things I loved about him, besides his stories, was his work ethic. He always seemed to be working hard. And, he seemed to enjoy his work.

1 Chronicles 28:9-10

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

I really enjoy my job. It is hard, and there are some days that are better than others. Yesterday was just such a day for me: full horsepower, few interruptions, and a lot of output.

“…no smoke, no fire, just a gettin’ it…”.

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Indeed it does. But, what is “stores”, anyway? Is it a noun? Stores of value, let’s look in the stores, etc.. Is it a verb? My junk stores poorly in my garage.. Or, is it an adjective, adverb, preposition, or something altogether and completely different? The same question could be asked about the junk, itself. I’m not very good at diagraming sentences. I’m even worse at saying “no” to clutter.

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They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but I’m here to say you have to dig thru a lot of the former to find any of the later. And yet, being a self admitted “sentimental man”, there is value in finding that needle in a haystack memento. Sometimes, there is just a fun walk down memory lane in the looking. If I had a dollar for every time I said “I used to have one of those” and two dollars for every time I said “we have one of those in the attic”, it might be an embarrassingly tidy sum, indeed.

Matthew 6:19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. . If I were writing a paraphrase, I might add “…and where people dig thru your stuff after you are gone…”.

But, sometimes there is value in the Abyss that is the junk store circuit. You just have to get your hands dirty and find it. Then you have to be willing and able to put it to good use, lest you go home and simply find someplace else to “store”.

Yes, one man’s (or his or her estate’s) trash can be someone else’s treasure, especially when you can negotiate getting for your Little Frau at 75% off what they were asking. I am sentimental man, indeed…

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I get it, I think. Maybe I don’t get it. Am I talking about living the Life, or the movie Little Frau and I just watched? Yes.

Jazz doesn’t resolve. Or does it? Life doesn’t resolve, or does it? That is the point. That is the premise. Knowing that, and accepting it, creates confusion and discomfort, just like life.

I read the book many years ago that spawned the recent movie. “Essays on Christian Spirituality” was the subtitle, but these essays were nothing like I had ever experienced. The same could be said about the movie. It seemed random. It seemed pained. It seemed unresolved. Then, it all came together, and in a confessional booth, of all places. The last 10 minutes made it worthwhile, even if the first 90 minutes had also been OK.

Not everyone will get it. Maybe they will, truth be told, but not everyone will like it. Media reports already show that to be the case. “The Christian Movie Industry” is boycotting Blue Like Jazz. It makes them uncomfortable. It makes them angry. It offends them. It concerns them. I could say the same, maybe, but I could about life as well. I get it, I think.

I have been to Portland, Oregon, many times in fact. I’ve seen the people. I’ve overheard “lectures” in the hallowed halls of Powells Books, and have even run from such for cover, eldest daughters ears in tow. I’ve never set foot on the Reed campus, but I have seen enough to know the realm.

I have been to “church”, deep south/Bible Belt style, many times in fact. I’ve seen the people. I’ve overheard “lectures” in the hallowed halls and in some people’s books, and have even run from such for cover, saddened ears in tow. I’ve never set foot on the every church group campus, but I have seen enough to know the realm.

I have seen “Fireproof”. I have seen “Flywheel”, and “Courageous”, and other “Christian Industry” movies. Having grown up in the culture that often hides from the reality of sin and takes things for granted, I get the point, and I see the value. Cheesy though they may be, for those who understand the culture of “big church”, these movies can strike a chord and call one to live more intentionally.

The same can now be said of Blue Like Jazz. Is it offensive? It could be, but the same could be said of “Dirty Harry”, and “Midway”, and “Star Wars”, or “You’ve Got Mail”, and any number of other movies I watch and love. Does that negate the point, and eliminate the value?

A non Christian, or at least a non lifetime Bible Belter can watch “Courageous” and walk away shaking their head. A lifetime conservative Texan raised Christian (aka, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do) might watch BLJ and walk away confused, but the last scene rides in to save the day. It resolves. It clicks. And, it all starts with an epiphany, a realization, a confession, and an apology.

Why does life happen like it does? Why do good people die? Why did 9-11 happen? Why am I here? The questions could go on and on. I sat thru a program earlier this week with the American Airlines pilot who was “bumped” from his flight assignment that would have seen him slain at the hands of Mohammed Atta and had him on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. And yet, he lives. I shook his hand. I am reading his book. And, I am learning a little about the guilt of being a “some time saint” and the duties of living as a “Borrowed Time Believer”. More on those thoughts in a later post.

Jazz doesn’t resolve, or does it? How about life? I think maybe it does, if we can just open our ears, and open our eyes. It all starts with a confession.

I get it, I think…

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Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God
. Micah 6:7-9

Travel makes me think. That may sound odd, but time away from my own element, especially extended time spent with strangers, many of which do not even speak my native language, causes me to reflect and consider things in ways I normally might not under more routine circumstances.

The realm of material things has been a consistent theme recurring on this trip. It began a week or so back during a visit to our campus by international travel writer and PBS personality Rick Steves. His message prompted me to “pack light” and make the current trip with nothing more than I could carry with me comfortably. With the possible excuse of carrying something with me to deliver for a friend, one bag became two, and yet an item or two of clean/not worn extra clothing went back into the bag as I packed tonight for the return trip coming in a few hours. Oh well, more room for Shokolade and Butterkerks to make the trip home, yah? I digress.

As I prepared to board the connecting flight to leave The States on Saturday, people were clamoring to gather their “Duty Free” purchases. That word for taxation takes on a whole “double entendre” context when it comes to buying for ourselves.

Back to my original point. The joyful and loving house church gathering I was blessed to attend yesterday was studying from Ephesians 5:

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

As the discussion of these verses followed their reading, the conversation focused heavily, if not solely, on the concepts of greed and idolatry. At least, that’s what my sleep deprived ears gleaned from the one who was translating the dialogue into English for me.

Wait. What about the “heavy sins” that command so much of that text? These were my thoughts. We (my Euro based American missionary work friends and I) discussed this all over lunch, a very nice lunch, complete with extended time, sunshine, and ice caffee. “Europeans just don’t see the need for a bunch of stuff” was one of their insights. Touché. In exchange, most live on less, in turn buying less, in turn feeling better about their smaller spaces, in turn having more free time from cleaning, insuring, self storing, garage sale-ing, and so on, and so on, and visa-versa. And they don’t mind sitting, and sharing, for hours over coffee, and Communion, and prayer, and loving consideration, all before any of them worried about lunches not yet planned or eaten, and it already being after 1:30.

Covetousness, Idolatry. These were words they used. I even heard some of them switch to English for our benefit. Maybe these are “heavy sins” as well?. After all, they are included in Ephesians 5 right along with other “immoralities”.

If it takes you away (consumingly so) from time with God, it is an idol. These were their thoughts. If it takes us away from one another, equally so? These were my thoughts.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God
.

Duty free? Not hardly. Hauling home the shokolade and butterkerks may be more taxing than I first imagined…

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Writer’s block is an interesting thing. You like to write, you want to write, but the ideas and thoughts just don’t come. Then, something fires from within, usually (for me, always) sparked by a person’s words or actions, or some other event playing out before me.

Rush of Fools is the name of a group sometimes heard on Contemporary Christian music stations. One may suggest, today, that the rush of fools is the brain surge one gets when the writer’s block finally breaks. For me, that rush was yesterday morning at church. I went into the morning empty, and exited the morning with a list of 12 things: verses, statements from others, or semi original thoughts of my own that were begging me to sit down and hack out some thoughts to send into the blogosphere. And yet, time, responsibility, and fatigue tend to get in the way. So, here I sit this next morning with a crowded note card and a limited amount of minutes to spend.

So, here is a brief snippet of hopefully the things to come. And, may this be a reminder that the perceived rush of fools hopefully plays into a greater purpose, for me and hopefully someone who reads a thing or two that my brain wishes to say.

I Peter 4:7-11The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

One down, more to go….

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Yes, it is “Black Friday”, and I’ve been up since before 5:00, but only because a train rolled thru this town, horns blazing. Speaking of “Horns blazing”, a quick sayonara shout out to our friends at Texas A&M is in order, but I digress.

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The guest abode we occupy south of the border on Black Friday is indeed dark and quiet at this hour, so I find myself checking in on the world via iLight. A friend (thank you, Coach Steph) shared the above picture from a Wal Mart sometime on Thanksgiving night.

And therein lies some of the irony: Thanksgiving Day, and people are sitting inside shopping carts in Waly World getting ready to likely charge a bunch of stuff they really can’t afford.

We watched a lot of football yesterday, and accordingly a lot of TV commercials promoting BF deals and “savings”. One of my favorite lines is “more saving, more doing; that’s the power...”. It doesn’t get much more ironic than that.

There have been several social media comments about this topic in the past 24 hours, but more from people who are expressing why they are thankful. I wish to do the same, so here goes:

I’m thankful for family and good times.

I’m thankful for the wonders of the web that allowed us to Skype with a loved one on the far side of the planet(“AG”), and to share thoughts and memories throughout the day with Little Frau (aka Aussie Girl Mommy) as she recup’ed to our north.

I’m thankful for our Faith.

I’m thankful for football, a two interception limit by Tony Chokomo, and a kicker who can see straight with the clock running out.

I’m thankful for turkey, and cornbread dressing.

I’m thankful for the game of “Balderdash”, and a Thanksgiving family tradition of laughing till we cry. The china cabinet references were living large, for those of you who understand what that means.

I’m thankful for the green tinted picture of Ulysses S. Grant that Santa brought to us all a bit early, and for the great “pre-Black Friday” online only deal on these duck boots at Academy.com.

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Fraught with irony, indeed.

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If you’ve been paying even remote attention to college football this season, you’ve likely noticed that Oklahoma State has gone Oregon/Phil Knight/NikeU on us with their uniforms. New designs; new colors; multiple combinations (48 to be exact): the team will likely not look the same all season. 4 games into the season, and the team had yet to repeat a look this year. Reviews have been mixed, some good looks, some not so good, and the fans have yet to see the traditional home favorite colors of orange and white. Too much is not enough? At least they are winning. Suffice to say, I would not want to be their equipment manager/fashion consultant this season.

Which brings me to the equipment locker at Hacienda Bing. Little Frau and I did a bit of “Project Runway” work of our own this weekend by doing some closet organization and clean out. It always feels good to get some order to that space. In the frenzy of life, it becomes a bit of a dumping ground/toxic fashion ideas disposal yard. But, in doing the cleaning and once a year color/functional sorting exercise, I was a bit overwhelmed by the volume.

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White dress shirts? Check. Blue dress shirts? Check. Suits and Sport Coats? Check (and Glen Plaid, as well). Too many ties to list. And Polos? There is OC gear (multiple editions in red, white, black, and gray), OU in White, OSU in Orange, Thunder Blue (one of each: I have become all things to all corporate relationship bankers, that I might borrow some): check, and triple check. Back in the day, I had several pair of Levis denim. Today? Multiple pairs of khaki pants line the rack. 48 combinations would hardly touch the potential, and yet, much like the fan favorite Orange and White combo, I often find myself wearing the same things with greater frequency.

The point, oh weekend haberdasher, you may ask? Why all the fuss, I might add. Too much is not enough? The family fortune cookies opened after a recent Asian dining experience reminded me that frugality is a forgotten art. The more you have in your closet, the more you have to step over, organize, and ponder. And the less you have to share?

The same is true of projects on a list, stuff in the garage, accumulated regrets from the past, multiple account statements piling up on the desk and calling for attention, and so on and so on.

Pick the favorites from it all, and clean out the rest. You’ll look and feel marvelous, even if you find yourself wearing Orange.

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