Tag Archives: spiritual inventory

Ah, but don’t you believe them


Standing in line marking time, waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by as he catches the poor ladies’ eyes
Just for fun he says “get a job”

chorus
That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

They say hey little boy you can’t go where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do
Said hey old man how can you stand to think that way
Did you really think about it before you made the rules
He said, Son

chorus
That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

solo

Well they passed a law in ’64 to give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change another’s mind when all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar

chorus

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

– Bruce Hornsby, “That’s Just the Way It Is”

These are my kids, Meg and Trent, with their very best friends in the whole world, literally.

They don’t believe “them.”

God, I don’t believe either, help my belief.

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remembering

I finished reading a book yesterday, the day I also restarted it. It’s Blood Done Sign My Name, by Tim Tyson, MK’s cousin. I am dialoging through it with MK and Leigh, my reading/writing comrades. It’s my favorite kind of book: historical, I learned something that I did not know on nearly every page; revelational, Tim again and again brought new insight and understanding to the ways and wiles of man; funny – its tender anecdotal quality is without compare. I loved this book. I pray that one day I can be a part of producing this kind of work.

I’m trying presently to summarize my experience. Well, I feel like someone just corrected the glasses I’ve been watching life through all my years.  I saw and perceived and felt so many of the same things that Tim did as a child. I too, struggled to make sense of my world, the south in the late sixties, and the early seventies. I was young, but I had eyes and ears. And I paid attention, even then.

Mr. Campbell was my school bus driver all the years I went to Barnett Shoals Elementary School. He was tall and thin, older than my Daddy, and he wore a government green or brown pressed uniform everyday. He was the type of man who wore his belt perfectly aligned and whose shoes or boots were freshly shined. When it was cool he wore a cap that sort of matched his shirt. He didn’t talk much; it helped that he towered over even the fifth graders. Our route was particularly long, especially since most of us lived close enough to walk or ride our bikes to school. But for some reason, I never knew why or cared to ask, our route ran all the way out to the very edge of the county where a couple of stray students lived, then wound back around to my house. It was fine with me; I loved the ride.

We left the school and headed due west toward the near corner of Morgan county. We drove a quiet highway that basically paralleled the Oconee River and the few neighborhoods along it. An occasional 100- 150 year old homestead  that somehow lived on brought me smiles and an imagined life under its huge trees. Further out the homes were younger and less inviting, but we didn’t cater to those neighborhoods. At the end of Barnet Shoals Road, just north of its namesake, we let out our first passengers, a brother and a sister who lived in this mobile home, settled down in this little draw right alongside the road. That was the end of our county, Clarke.

We turned around in their driveway. We headed back north through beautiful cropland…no longer seriously planted. About the only farmers left in Clarke County were university professors and their graduate assistants. Then we turned east on Whit Davis Road, the address of my family’s lake and cabin…my other home anytime weather permitted and Nana or Dada, Mama or Daddy would take me. I loved seeing the huge nondescript gate with its wired on “LOCK THE GATE” sign and knowing the secrets beyond that no one else could even fathom. We rolled across some feed cropland and by another glorious old lady with monstrous columns and then turned left at a beautiful highly detailed Georgian Greek Revival that someone was always sinking a small fortune into, trying to restore it to its glory. Then we continued back north and toward civilization on Lexington Road. We traveled down a long hill, over an inviting creek and its breathtaking little valley where rust brown and white cattle collected awaiting their dinner. As we climbed again, houses and neighborhoods, every paint hue and door style forever fixed in my memory, faithfully ticked by. A little farther and we came to my neighborhood, Green Acres. Another hundred yards past my neighborhood, in opposite direction lay Barnett Shoals Road.  Down it a half mile was our genesis. The ride took about 50 blissful minutes.

I can only remember one time that we did not keep our appointed rounds. After turning around at the county line, Mr. Campbell turned on his blinker before Whit Davis Road. I was sitting in my seat of choice, right behind Mr. Campbell. He began to turn down this red road, it needed gravel badly, there were big ruts which he tried to navigate carefully…Most of the kids were oblivious. A few looked around confused and then went back to giggling with a friend. My eyes were wide, my ears strained for some clue. We drew closer and I recognized exactly where we were. I knew from what I saw through the windshield and what I saw on Mr. Campbell’s face. We were at his house. He quickly descended the bus, ducked inside his house for a moment and then jogged back to the bus and cranked the engine. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments. My eleven years hadn’t  prepared me. In that millisecond of eternity my eyes tried to tell him: I respect you, Mr. Campbell. I think that you are decent and good and everything I would want in a Daddy. I trust you and count on you and think no less of you because your house, as tidy as you, is out here, down this not good road, near these not all good folks…We…you and me…we are still the same.

I couldn’t tell him that I knew the place well. My Mama and I used to carry Aida, our maid who took care of me when I was little, home right down from his house to a little ramshackle dwelling…and its occupants. Aida was never in a rush to go home. She always kept finding ironing or something to do for me. Now I could better understand why she preferred our cool in the summer, warm in the winter small house in Green Acres and just eating a bite of dinner with Mama and me and my baby sister.

We finished the route, on time…pulled up to my stop…435 Brookwood Drive, like always. Mr. Campbell nodded goodbye to the gang of kids who exited before me. I followed them down the steps and out into the sunshine. I turned back and looked up to Mr. Campbell, “Have a good day, Mr. Campbell!” I called. “You too, Honey,” he answered. “Yes, sir,” I smiled in relief. We were the same.

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spectrum shift

Sometimes God moves you to new places and faces and gives you new assignments. It can make for some awkwardness and unsteadiness and anxiety. I feel all of those. My universe seems to have dipped a little. What I have been, awhile now, is shifting somewhere, somehow, to something else, that I don’t yet know.

I feel as if I am in one of those stupid fun houses at the low rent fairgrounds or that one at Six Flags that makes me so sick ( of course, all of Six Flags – especially the mingled smell of sweating flesh and sweating asphalt – makes me sick.)

Some things that seemed so sovereignly mine to do are fading in their sounding to my ears. Some things, once nearly my identity, seem strangers now. Everything seems up in the air or in some great sea where my feet are far from even  sand’s steadying. It’s a strange surreal place…and usually, I  love the surreal… the blurring greens and blues, the watery, fluid feel of life lived apart from structure. I am a floater. I am a flyer. I walk where I do not know where I may end up. I follow streams and Big Fish.

But, this fun house is painted bright orange and red, with yellow letters and violet floors. You warned me God, I’ve seen the flash of those colors nearly nine weeks now. You showed me their coming after the blue greens and skies and seas. You showed me sunset and flame and warm, bright flares.

These stop signs all fly up at me. And so I am taking my foot off of the gas, as my Daddy taught me when approaching a stop sign, though the sign is fairly far off, yet…too far for me to read the street name where it stands guard. But I see the red and reflex to slow as that octagonal shape begins to loom large. I’ll let those eights remind me of dreams beyond, shared and yet encapsulated, and stop still upon this path and seek out the new.

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Strainers and Sieves

I was reading a friend’s post this morning and thinking about how poorly we see ourselves, at least  until God opens our eyes to what is often so obvious to others. I guess selective sight is just as epidemic as selective hearing.

I thought about my friend who has recently seen herself  better and obeyed the nag to come clean on some of where she really is, by choice and not so.  There was nothing that she shared that I wasn’t in the same boat as her. Some of the selfishness and stubbornness which my friend and I both exhibit has already been brought  to my attention, many times before. In lots of ways. I am thinking about the mechanisms God has used to bring things to light.  There were systems and people and the occasional and necessary switchin‘. In the south, a peach or other switch growing variety of tree was often ceremonially planted in the yard. We southerners know more about deterrence than any cold war leaders could have ever dreamed to have understood.

One of my mentors helped his students to develop systems of thought and evaluation, questions to ask ourselves and phrases to avoid  to help us continually lean into growth. I love how he taught us to take slippery, slimy words from our vocabulary, because they inhibited the growth of integrity: our ability to keep our word. We were taught that when communicating to others, we should avoid phrases like “about 10:00 o’clock” or “near lunchtime,” or “I’ll get most of it.” We were encouraged to be specific in our promises. Such made us more accountable to what we said we would do. Slipperiness, hedging, misrepresenting and lying are all trust destroyers and therefore, relationship destroyers. Under his leadership, we students worked hard to drive those types of assurances from our lips and from our thinking. Our mentor well explained: a person’s time is their most valuable commodity, to waste or abuse it is unthinkable if trust is the goal of your relationship.

Another system my mother has well-drilled into me, and I am drilling into my children, is valuing another’s efforts toward or with you. It is the simple act of expressing thanks, always. I have long been encouraged to make sure people know that I notice and appreciate their presence and actions. This mantra of Mama, “Did you say thank you?” rings in my head after nearly every exchange. And yes, she does still ask me if I did so.

Another good sieve to pass our lives through is people: people who love us enough to tell us the truth when we need it. Just like I would rarely be wise to go on stage without a quick check over by a colleague, I should not dare to go through life unobserved and unstudied and unassisted. I use to be a personal assistant, I’ve actually had one – I had no salary when I worked with our restaurants, but I did have an assistant. It was the best thing ever. She kept me informed and where I was supposed to be and looking how I should and she thought ahead for me so I could better be where I was. It was a great gift and luxury. And if I ever sell a book, forget a new car or clothes, I’m getting an assistant again.

My assistants were never suck ups. I needed them to be honest with me, about what I was communicating to our staff, with the realities of what those who worked with us seemed to believe or even resent. I needed truth, as best she saw it. I needed a mirror that truly represented what others saw of me. I paid those assistants, who were real friends to me in what they did, well. I likewise receive with utter delight faithful friends who are willing to wound me with truth, out of love. The truth is very expensive, a friend that will speak it, as best they understand it, is a priceless thing. A friend will hold your gaze when you try to squirm. A friend will ask a tough question. That friend can be an invaluable sieve to pass our life through.

And then there is that occasional, but highly effective means of God to highlight and then remove the lesser things in our lives. When our kids were little, spankings were always framed as events to help one remember the right way to do something. God has brought some events or hard knocks my way at times to get my attention and arrest my action, then and there. It was not fun, but again, the message was clear and quickly rendered, “This is not acceptable action or conversation or attitude. This right here, will not continue.”  It worked with our kids and it works with me. Sometimes, it takes a swat to get my attention. It is love, it is for my good. It does help me remember in the next opportunity to not do the same, to reconsider what hurt might come around the corner in the wake of the things that I am considering doing, being, believing.

My friend who got me thinking on all of this has very good strainers and sieves in her life. I have adopted several of hers in hopes of gaining the same integrity and insight into myself and the same health and trust in my relationships. People who are highly trusted and in vibrant growing relationships have these kinds of systems and people and an appreciation for a good swift kick, well-timed, when it comes their way.

What kind of systems and regular relational conversations do you have to keep growing and gaining  your person? Growing up, did you have a peach tree or something akin?

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Picking up the pieces

Today, the kids and I picked up the last of the pieces of the old tree that we took down just before the ice storm. You might not have any idea how many pieces there are of a huge tree when it hits the ground as hard as this one did. It was no small number.

Rob and his friend cut it down and then my boys: Trent and his best friend  Sawyer, think Tom and Huck, cut it up with chain saws in the ice and mess, post storm.

This week as the weather has cleared and warmed a bit, we girls have helped out with the remainder of the breakdown. It has been a long and tedious process, though not unbearable, as one can truly see the progress as one works. Once cut to size for the fireplace, the debris, the seeming trash is transformed.

Rubbish becomes fuel.

I had lots of minutes to think on this as I helped with the fine motor work this afternoon, picking up the tiniest of twigs that would dull and clog the lawnmower. I thought of the things that tree represented: the known, the near, the good. And I thought of the other things it became symbol of as well for me: threat, fear, disaster. It’s funny how the same living thing, infected and infused with death can spread fear to all in its shadow.

In a way, its shade had come to cast its own sweltering hell. It had to come down.

It’s still filling a space, all of its parts stacked where its shadow once stretched out at sundown, headfirst down my bank.

But it is now pared and partialed, joints cut asunder and marrow cracked wide…soon sweet fire will judge what thoughts and intentions surged about its veins, too.

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unpacking

When I get home from a trip, I like to unpack all my stuff right away. It drives me crazy to even think about all that stuff sitting in the suitcase. (It doesn’t bother me in my always overflowing laundry hamper though.)  My practice of quickly unpacking what ever I bring home works fine. However, what works for clothes and traveling gear, does not work so well for experiences with God.

I have so very much encounter to unpack from this past weekend. My thumbnail descriptions on Dec. 5th, should give you an idea.

And how exactly do you, should you, unpack such?

My cohort, in my adventure, MK, (if you are not reading MK’s blog you are majorly missing out) and I have been asking ourselves and each other that question.

So, how do you unpack God experiences? Do you catalog or diagram? Do you try to re-imagine or relive the experience in your mind’s eye? Do you throw it all into the air and let the heaviest things settle back? I have done all these and many other exercises to try to gain fully what I could from encounter.

But, sometimes it may be best to just let that (holy) stuff sit in that suitcase and stare at you – with its rumpled, lived-in look. Sometimes, separating and situating all the pieces and portions of a journey render it less.

So, I think I’m going to honor what it was…and not now, maybe ever, unpack. I’m just going to leave those things – soiled of God’s presence, still and sentinel. Like a stack of stones – an Ebenezer of sorts. And, sacrifice what things they could be and do now – to preserve the memory of momentary Mystery.

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Deconstruction Zone

For the last few weeks I have been able to write multiple times a day and feel like I was gaining something: skill, voice or just reminding myself of emotions long squelched. But in the last few days – such a shift. Yes, I will do my homework Pastor Jeremy, but the compulsion to get things down has left. I find myself reading – really challenging holy things. I feel like somebody came with a big spoon and stirred everything within my mind and soul up, sort of folded my thoughts upon themselves like egg whites.

I am so very encouraged by so much that I am reading – I have found a new set of mentors- men and women from so many diverse places in the Body – speaking like things – things which are rumbling in my heart as well. I find myself just reading and reading – trying to take it all in – letting my mind stretch and stretch.

And I am asking…in response to a restlessness within…in response to a solicitation from many teachers…What it is time for me to serve? What can I bring in joy for us all to share?

In Matthew’s thirteenth chapter Jesus makes clear to those who were or would be teaching:

52He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.”

That’s where I am again. One of my mentors used this analogy of God’s ways with us over and over. God comes and knocks everything off of our shelves from time to time, to bring a new paradigm, a new orientation of thought and assimilation.  Maybe we have organized our knowledge, experience by category for years, but God comes and asks us to arranged it all alphabetically. It is not an exercise in frustration, it is not some punitive task. It is to show us new association, new revelation. But it does require work: the hardest kind.

I so hated inventory any time I had to participate in it. It was tedious and pedantic. This is something far beyond. This is deconstruction of the long known, the comfortable, the safe if you will. It is the hardest kind of learning: unlearning. But unlearning: correction, adjustment, broadening, deepening and stretching is how we gain.

I feel my shelves starting to topple …the floor is fast filling with “my” things. Our God is the Table Turner, the Cup Tipper. (Jeremiah 48:11)

LOrd, help me stand clear and let Your  shaking do its work, less I grow small and satisfied.

Please let it be so.

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