Sunday, May 22, 2011

Let's just call that a "Sabbatical"

I'd be lying if I said that I missed this. I honestly forgot about blogging. Life happened, and it happened hard. I simply haven't had time, energy, or creative joy to write. Since I last posted, I got a job at an elementary school, doing things I had NO business doing, and have already quit in order for my family to move on to bigger and better things.
I was accepted to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm pursuing my M.Div. It's mostly for you, my readers. Now, when I post things, you can be reasonably assured that I (sorta) know what I'm talking about.
Well, not really.
When I started this blog all that time ago, I set out to make it my venue to share stories of my silly, messy life, and the comedy of living out my salvation "with fear and trembling." Thus it was titled, "A View from the Dirt." I hope to continue in this pathway. This will continue to be a blog of anecdotes and life lessons, with a dose of devotional meditation when I remember Scripture that relates to said anecdotes and life lessons. If I ever decide to write more scholarly articles, book reviews, or post naked pictures of myself, I'll start a new blog/blogs where necessary.

Since, at long last, I own a computer that hasn't fallen out of a window (yet), I am cautiously optimistic that I may be able to write something at least once a week. Here's to hoping.
Thanks for reading. And God bless.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Love for Christ, Mirror for Faith

I read today, the story of the sinful woman that Christ forgave in Luke chapter 7. In this story, a Pharisee (a person from a very pious and conservative religious sect of Judaism) has invited Jesus to be a guest at his dinner table. This was a sign of great respect for the wandering rabbi and supposed prophet. Jesus obliged, and came to the house of the Pharisee, who's name was Simon.
While they were eating, a sinful woman invited herself into Simon's house (I assume this, but it's entirely possible that Simon allowed her to enter). And while Jesus and Simon, and whoever else was invited to the meal, were conversing, the woman began to pour some of her own perfume onto the feet of our Lord, and beginning to cry, her tears fell onto his feet. She wiped them away with her hair and continued pouring oil onto His feet, thus giving them a good and thorough cleaning. All the while Simon is thinking to himself, "If this guy was really a prophet, he'd know who this woman is and what kind of things she's into."
Jesus turns this into a teaching moment, as He so often does, and compares this woman to a person deeply indebted to a lender (he also subtly compares Simon to a debtor to that lender, just with a smaller debt).
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
He then looks at the woman, and tells her that her faith has saved her, and dismisses her in peace. This is what made me start to wonder. Notice, Jesus doesn't say that it is her love for him that brought her forgiveness. The (former) debtor's love comes because of forgiveness. Also note that Jesus doesn't tell this woman that her sins are forgiven until after this whole teaching moment played out.
The questions I ask are, "Did Jesus meet with this woman before this dinner and forgive her?" "How did this woman know that her sins were going to be forgiven, if she even did?" "Could it have been some of the things He was saying at the dinner table that made her realize that God was forgiving even her sins?"

What was it about Jesus that brought even a sinful woman to tears, and gave her the kind of faith in Him, even before He told her that her sins were forgiven? Jesus hadn't yet suffered on the Cross for anyone at this point.
All I can do is assume that this woman believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, which meant that God was still with Israel. This woman, even in her sin, knew that it was Good News that God was still on the side of her people. And if God had anointed this man, Jesus, to be the One upon the Throne of David, then he was worthy of a good foot washing. And because of her faith, she was able to experience the grace of Almighty God, and came to love Him. This woman, for whatever reason, believed in Jesus without ever hearing the part of the gospel that says, "And if you put your faith in Him, he'll forgive your sins." I know that wasn't the case for me. The faith I put in Him was originally more like "I sure hope this works," rather than, "Oh, thank God, I'm saved!"
So what does this mean for us? I think this is a good time to look inward and ask yourself, "How much do I love Jesus, and what does that tell me about what I believe about Him?" What do you actually think Jesus has done for you? When you come to understand with what devotion, mercy, and love he has dealt with you, then do you begin to love Him.
He loved you first. In your dirt, in your stink, in your anger and cynicism, he still loved you. Maybe you're more like Simon. He still loved you first. In your public-piety (and private imperfections), your self-righteousness, your "better than that guy" attitude, he still loved you. If you believe in Jesus, it's not because you changed your mind about God, it's because you experienced and understood what he feels toward you, and it changed you. It changed you like it changed that sinful woman in the Pharisee's home. And that makes all the difference. The two people we meet in that home are the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The Pharisee meets with Jesus, and he sits with him, and speaks with him, and Jesus is overjoyed to do those things with him. The sinful woman meets with Jesus, and her love for him bursts forth in a tidal wave of tears, honor, and service.
What happened when you met with him? What happens when you meet with him now? What does your relationship with Jesus tell you about what you believe about Him?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Now that THAT'S over with...

Okay. So life has finally slowed down just enough for me to try to write a little again. I am unemployed, finished with my B.A., living in a new town, and married. That's pretty much all that has changed since I last blogged.
And so here I am, sitting in a Panera Bread cafe in Oak Ridge, TN, struggling to hear myself think over the dozens of business men and women schmoozing with their clients, and trying to plan out an appropriate course of action for the next week or so.
Well, I guess that's sort of true. What I'd really like to do is have something insightful (or at least entertaining) to write on here. I need an outlet to keep me somewhat sane. Sitting in that apartment all day is giving me cabin fever. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind being a "little Holly homemaker," at least for the time being, but there is only so much housework that needs to get done. And to tell the truth, I'm depressing myself just thinking about all of the shows I've watched via hulu in the last 3 days. I've pretty much caught myself up on House, M.D. and Family Guy. I'm awaiting a call from Applebee's, they claim to be "desperate for servers," but I haven't gotten a call back after a week. I've basically given up on that one.
Oak Ridge is a nice town, but the job market here stinks. The town is mostly residential, and most of the jobs are either government jobs, highly professional, or taken by high school students. It looks like I'm going to have to commute to Knoxville if I want to work.
Well, I'm tired of typing for now. Hopefully, there will be more to come. And I promise, once I get all of my "life updates" out here, I'll try really hard to start "edu-taining" my audience of 4 followers once again. Here's to hoping...

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's been a long year. It's been a long 5 years. Waiting is hard. I'm ready to figure out my direction, and to realize the call God put on my life. There have been a lot of failures and few opportunities over the last few years. I grew up in a church with poor leadership, and did internships with churches that had poor leadership at best. I feel very ill-prepared, "unmentored," and yet anxious to begin my ministry to the church and the world. I see a lot of promise in the church, and that God has begun the work I believe he wants me to take part in. But I also see that there are so many barriers. I have a feeling that I will run into a lot of resistance and rejection when I begin preaching. Christ was crucified by the religious elite, and I foresee the same fate for me.
The job I have makes me miserable. Not a day goes by that I don't contemplate walking out and never coming back. It's full of Christians who have embraced the "Christian sub-culture," and have forgotten that Christ didn't come to "Christianize" the world, but to redeem it. They are some of the least loving, least trustworthy, least willing to be taught people I have ever known. I see more Christ in some of the drunks and prostitutes that walk the streets of my neighborhood than in many church-going people. These are the people I want to lead (along with the outsiders), but they have little desire to embrace the Kingdom of God.
I have embraced simplicity and am coming closer and closer to embracing poverty, and my stuff just keeps falling apart. I have a lot of broken things I could pour money on but, I can't help but give my stuff away to people who need it. I want them to know the love of Jesus, and often, I simply just to help provide for their needs. And I find that the less stuff I have, the happier I feel. But the world keeps screaming that I need more stuff: more (and nicer) clothes, a better computer, a nice car, iPod, Blackberry, and at least $50 in my wallet. And it's getting to me.
I'm getting married in 4 months. I can't wait. Amy is the most supportive, understanding, godly woman I have ever known. We have been together for 16 months now. We've known we were going to be married for about 15 of them. Waiting is hard.
There are two things that characterize almost everything in my life right now: waiting, and uncertainty. The two things I need most are patience and faith. I have about a mustard seed worth of both, but after 5 years, they are beginning to wear thin.
I know God is good. I know he loves me. And I know that neither he, nor his kingdom will ever fail. But I feel like Moses after about 5 years in the desert: weary, uncertain, and still facing another 35 years of wandering. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The First Time I Made Jerky

When our family was stationed in Miami, FL, my Dad was just coming out of an intensive training school in Memphis, TN where we had lived for six months or so. But upon looking around the Opa Locka area where the base was, he and Mom had found the neighborhoods less than appealing for family rearing. So Mom, Angela, and I moved in with my mother's parents in Honoraville, Alabama, a small rural town about 30 minutes south of Montgomery. Granddaddy was a full-time farmer and a substitute mail carrier in the same town in which he was raised. Grandma was working at a hospital in the nearby city of Luverne, but her real forte was home-cooking and teaching life lessons. The two of them lived on some land that had been purchased from the bank after Granddaddy's cousin, Robert, had been foreclosed on.

My sister and I had, until this point, been raised in the city or the suburbs, and were delighted to be around so many animals. I look back on that 7 month period as one of my favorites of my childhood. One summer morning, Angela and I were playing in the yard when we heard the sound of Granddaddy's truck coming down the red-dirt road. He was coming back from checking on his 30000 chickens and doing some maintenance work on the chicken houses. My sister and I ran to greet him as he pulled into the driveway. I love my Granddaddy. There has never been a sunnier human being than Marlyn E. Teague. He isn't just cheerful, he's sunny. Even the way he opened the door was happy. "Hi there, boys and girls!" he always pluralized it even when it was just Angela and I.

His enthusiasm took over his entire body. He picked up his booted feet, walking with a sort of bounce that most men lose when the world has broken their spirit. His arms bent in an L-shape, fists clenched and shaking with the excitement of life, he chimed; "Oh, BOY! I got somethin' for you girls and boys in the back of my truck!" Granddaddy's sky blue eyes shined as his cheeks pushed his eyes into a squint from the size of his smile.
"Whaddaya think o' this?" he asked as he pulled a white plastic bucket out from the bed of his truck. Angela and I gathered around beside the jovial old farmer, as he lowered the bucket. We peeked inside to see a small round turtle poking his frightened little head out of his shell. Angela squealed with excitement, and I let out a joyous "Cooooooool."
"Now you two are going to have to take care of this little fella'."

We named him Michelangelo. It was perfect because I was a huge fan of the cult TV show, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Plus, I was able to convince my sister to go with it, because we were naming him after "both of us" (Michael + Angela = Michelangelo). We played with him for the better part of an hour or so. Mom, Grandma, and Granddaddy got out our yellow kiddie pool, and Angela and I were excited to "swim" with our new friend. We returned Michelangelo to his milk-crate ecosystem and left him on the picnic table under the Alabama Long Leaf Pine trees in the back yard. The summer nights in Southern Alabama were a perfect 70 degrees, so we were assured that our pet would be just fine out there.

The next day, Angela and I arose and rushed out to play with the turtle. He was doing just fine, but didn't look to excited to see us. We weren't too worried about it. Michelangelo accompanied us on our adventures that summer morning. Angela carried him around, as I concocted some story about me being some kind of explorer. Or a ninja. Or a ninja that explored things. But as the morning turned to afternoon, our tummies began to growl. The kiddie pool was still out in the yard, so I put about an inch of water in it so that Michelangelo would be able to swim around if he wanted to while we went inside for our turkey sandwiches and Cheetos. I set him in the water, and he immediately came out of his shell and kick happily through the water.

Lunch was good. We listened to Grandma and Granddaddy talking about people they had seen that day, and all the news about them and their families from the last year or to. It seemed like someone had always died recently. No one I knew, but I paid attention respectfully. After lunch, I decided to take my BB-gun out and shoot the Sun-Drop can I had emptied during lunch. At seven years old, I shot that gun so much and so often, that I rarely missed my target even from 35-50 ft away. Angela played inside, as I spent the afternoon walking with my gun down to the pond on the property. I took out a dozen or so dragonflies, pretending that they were enemy soldiers (just really far away). After saving our farm from the bad-guys, I decided to go in. I was drenched in sweat and the air was so thick, I had to chew it before inhaling. It was probably 4pm or so, and about 88 degrees outside, and humid. The trek back to the house took about 15 minutes or so, and I managed to shoot holes in 3 or 4 more anthills before I reached the yard. I could see the little yellow pool in the back yard from the cow pasture. I wondered how Michelangelo's afternoon had been. I approached the pool excited to at the chance to play with the little guy without my sister wanting a chance to hold him. I looked in the pool, and realized that there was no water in it. The scorching summer heat had evaporated the inch of water I had left in there only 3 hours before. And there in the middle was Michelangelo, limp and unresponsive.

Michelangelo was dead; completely dehydrated and burnt crispy. I turned my turtle into a banana chip. I screamed as I ran into the house calling for my Mom and Grandparents. I cried as I explained to them what had happened. Granddaddy tried not to laugh as he listened to my tale. Mom had the idea for us to give Michelangelo a proper funeral. Granddaddy got out his post hole digger, and took us out to the corner of the yard. I was the pallbearer, carrying the dearly departed to his final resting place. Granddaddy sang "Amazing Grace" as he plunged the post diggers into the ground. I placed my desiccated friend into the ground and we covered him up. I asked Granddaddy to say a few words (since he had known him the longest). I love that Granddaddy was able to somehow be the support I needed him to be, while simultaneously finding this whole situation hilarious. I look back on this experience and laugh now too.

I'm just glad that Angela and I got a whole day to spend with Michelangelo. The time we had was special, and made a lasting impression, I think, on both of us. We are all better for having known Michelangelo, even though his blood is, technically, on my hands. And that's how I learned how to make Turtle Jerky.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I probably should have put more thought into this

After eight years of living in hot, muggy, South Florida, I had grown tired of having my hair "buzzed off" every three weeks. I was an awkward, gawky teenager, and my long, skinny neck was even more pronounced by the lack of hair on my head. It was like a golf ball on a tee sticking out of my shoulders. When Dad retired from the Coast Guard, he went on a search for a civilian job. This search landed us in Charlotte, North Carolina, where, they actually have 4 seasons every year. I decided that it was time for a change. I told my friends in Florida that I was going to do it all differently in my new neighborhood. First, I would begin growing my hair out. I wanted to look like those rockers I so admired. To continue developing my new "rocker" image, I boasted that I was going to beat the crap out of the first guy to mess with me. I wanted to be a tough-guy that everyone respected. The final stage of my plan was to ask out the prettiest girl in school whether she had a boyfriend or not. The new, bold, rugged Mike Vaughan was going to be a ladies man as well as a "Cowboy from Hell."

Well, long story short, I managed to start growing out my hair, and that was about it. No fights until a year or so later (maybe another blog-worthy story), and I had this "jello-knee syndrome" which prevented me from even having a normal conversation with the girls I liked. At least I stuck with the new hair plan. One out of three isn't too bad, right? The thing is, after shaving my head for 8 years, I didn't have much of a part, and I found that, as my hair began to get a little length to it, that I have a mixture of wavy and curly hair, which doesn't translate into a very good look. The "Ricky Martin/duck-butt" hair-do was in at the time, and mine looked more like an afro and a mullet got together at a drunken party and had an illegitimate, red-headed stepchild.

But I had a plan. Oh, yes.

I couldn't put all of my hair back into a ponytail, but I could make a few mini-pigtails that, for some reason, I thought screamed, "I'm tough; I'm cool; I'm METAL!" In actuality, they screamed, "I'm an idiot; I'm an attention-whore; I'm going to be a virgin for a long, LONG time." Every morning on the school bus (because neither of my parents would have allowed me to go out like this) I took the rubber bands out of my back pack, bunched up as much hair as I could from the top-back of my head, and made a little samurai pigtail to show my coolness. Next, for the purpose of looking like a real metal-head (which I was), I put the hair that was in my face into two miniature pigtails that had kind of an "antennae" look to them. Yup, red hair, samurai knot, antennae. I looked like Pebbles Flintstone on acid.

For three months, I walked around school with kids pointing and giggling, and calling me "Haircutt" to my face. I think people talked to me mostly because they felt sorry for this clueless, wannabe-kid trying to make a statement.
"Oh, if only my friends in Florida could see me now."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mr. Fix-it

When I was six, my Dad gave me my first pocket knife. It was stainless steel, with a hook to connect it to a key chain. It had a bottle opener, a file (which I have never quite understood), an icepick, and, of course, a large knife. It wasn't until I found this knife many years later that I understood why anyone would give a six-year-old a knife to play with. It had been dulled down to near butter-knife sharpness, the tip filed off and smoothed. It was so hard to open it, that my parents had probably figured I would loose interest after a while, and go back to playing with my "little boy" toys. They figured wrong. This determined little boy not only played with that thing, but it became the instrument with which I almost destroyed our home.

Dad was an electrician in the Coast Guard, which meant that not only was he a professional in high-tech helicopter radars and batteries, but he also regularly tended to the electrical work that was necessary in our house. I used to watched dad install ceiling fans, rewiring things, and working with his meter and other tools on a fairly regular basis. As I've written before, my father has always been my hero. I used to imitate him all the time. When he was studying for the tests that the Coast Guard gives in order to gain rank, I would quietly come into the kitchen, sit down next to him with his notebooks and highlighter, and open my big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and stare at the pages, concentrating as hard as he was. We sat there in silence for as long as 15 minutes with our foreheads resting on our open palms.
Another example of this that comes to mind is this: Dad was a smoker until I was about fifteen. When I would ride in the truck with him as a little kid, I always carried a cut-off, plastic straw in my pocket. When he would light up and roll down his window, I would reach down and take it our while rolling down my window too. We would go down the interstate, with our elbows hanging out the window taking occasional drags off of our cigs. I don't remember Dad making much eye contact with me when I did that. I think that seeing his eight year old kid pretending to smoke a neon green plastic straw to be like his daddy made him feel bad about smoking.
*Side note: Parents, your kids are watching. That whole "do as I say, not as I do" thing doesn't work. By 18, I had retired my straw and moved on to the real thing--a guilty pleasure I still struggle to control. (Though I don't think it's my parents fault I tried cigarettes, I think they had some influence.)

Anyhow, the instinct to "fix" things was bred into me by my dad. And one day, as my three-year-old sister played in my room with me, I took it upon myself to "fix" the light switch on my wall. I took out my stainless steel pocket-butter-knife, and slid the blade behind the fixture. It fit so perfectly, no resistance at all. I had pushed it about an inch deep, when I heard a loud POP, and about a dozen little sparks shot out from the wall and floated gently down to the carpet. I jumped back, somehow avoiding any painful electric shock. I knew I had done something real bad, especially when I saw Angela's eyes double in size. I reached up and grabbed the knife as it hung from the fixture. Again, how I didn't get electrocuted is beyond me, and probably one of those times when God goes out of his way to protect us from our own stupidity. Angela shot out of the room, down the stairs, and into the garage where Mom and Dad were talking. I followed, a little slower than she.

I remember thinking to myself, "Well, everything's fine. The sparks didn't catch anything on fire. I'm not dead. Do I really have to tell them that I had done something to create an indoor fireworks show?" Too late. Angela chimed in with her amazingly cute little speech impediment (it's a good thing she was cute, because I could have killed her), "Mommy, fy-yoo" (that's "fire," in English).
Needless to say, I didn't see my knife for years after that. I think I was 11 or 12 before I got another one, which, of course, I used to destroy or defame countless other things around the house: furniture, carpet, the wood on the porch, a tree or two. But no electrical equipment. My ambitions of becoming an electrician like Dad had been thoroughly quieted.