a piece

God
you are a poem
metaphor to mountains
and star-studded skies

white     space     and
line
breaks 
and

rhyme 
but most of the 
time
an impossible task
to ask
what it is you mean

your mean is the
average of all of
these words
so I dust off the Bible
and add them all up
and divide by the total
each word with a value
and as I decide 
what is one and what's five
I arrive at the
door of the thought
caught
between opening
-- I supposed -- 
or keeping it closed

I open of course
and the door starts to
crumble
I curse as the knob turns to
sand in my hand
and I crumple
the floor finds my face

the door explodes 
into fragments
and colors
it's shining
it's blinding
and gone
and it's gone 
and each piece
is dissolving to dust
as the dust floats to floor
with watery eyes I
look 

I look
but it's impossible to
see
I want you to
be
on the other side of that door
but before
I said you are
poem
and though I'm
mere mortal
I think I can see
that a poem
means leaving the mean
and not meaning to know
but leaning
and learning
and loving
and so

I look up at mountains
and star-studded skies
white     space      and
line 
breaks
and slowly realize
that the space
and the breaks
and the words
and the marks

all combine to show
a small piece of divine
and I pick up my piece
in my hand say a prayer Please
help me find peace
in my place
in this place
you have made
and this piece
may it be something
special to me so
I feel you and see you in

white     space     and
line
breaks
and star-studded skies.

stories

All of this is Yuck
you said
but Yuck to me is
biting into a bad peach
fuzzy orange skin belying
gray stinking flesh
teeth sink in and

something
is
wrong
It had been sitting on the counter for too long

So that's what you think of me
I looked like a Christian
at first
Did the Right Things
Said the Right Things
but that was the surface
that was my skin when
I had questions when
I had doubts
you were Repulsed
Rot
you thought I was Rot that
I had gone Bad

But even though
the peach had gone bad
its stone pit
its stone heart
was cold and hard
And then I think of 
you

something
is 
wrong
you had been sitting on the counter for too long

stored in a Bible-shaped
Tupperware box
orange lid cracked
but still so hard to breathe
you shouted from inside
the Bible-shaped box
that I was
Maddening
that I was
a waste of emotional energy
(and I can understand that when the simple act of breathing is a chore)
but your voice was muffled 
and I didn't understand your words
I didn't understand that

something was wrong
you had been sitting on the counter for too long

the Bible-shaped Tupperware box didn't move
and neither did you
face up in the box
staring at the underside of the
opaque orange lid
it was simply
all you saw of the Bible-shaped box

something  was
wrong you  had
been sitting  on
the counter  for
too long stored.
a  Bible-shaped
box    with     an
orange          lid.

But this is all just a 
story, of course
Gone in 24 hours
your powers like magic
but really just clicks
erase

me

I'm gone

I've gone

bad.

episode 4

The grocery list taunts me
with dish soap and milk
But this white page draws me
Black ink spills into words onto white

Because I think I could use some
black and white
in my life right now

So I take what I can get
and sit
and think
and write

You told me I didn’t have
faith in the God of the Bible
That you stopped listening
No good for your blood pressure

Things would be different
if there was a cup of coffee
between us
but the only thing
between us
is a continent

(And as I write black words
on white paper as outside
skies are gray
I think
gray is nice and would suffice
for this cobwebbed mind that is prone to
wander

And as I wander I can’t help but wonder
why God
chose the gray for the day we lowered my mom
into wet earth

That gray is part of my history
It mingles in my veins
and it’s there
and it’s always been there
)

But you stopped listening

Things would be different
if there was a cup of coffee
between us
but the only thing
between us
is a continent

So I tread on
heavily
clumsily
as I wrestle with sacred topics

Maybe on your continent the skies
aren’t gray as you listen to
The Bible
on
audio
repeat
sipping
Steaming
Lattes

you said you love me
and support me
and pray for me
you tell me that
I can know Who God Really Is
because You Do

But the truth is that your black words
on the white screen
end there.

And anyway you stopped listening
A long time ago you stopped listening

May I never stop listening



Becoming Red Weather Christians

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. . . . My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.

Jimmy Carter

If you’ve been following along with my life, you’ll know that Steve and I started a podcast called “Red Weather Christians.” It’s a big deal for us. And it’s nerve-racking.

Because it’s about our journey growing up in the Christian faith . . .

And then growing out of the Christian faith.

(Spoiler alert: We are still Christians.)

So we wrestle with how to reconcile still being Christians with lots of questions and doubts. With questions and doubts are we even Christians? Are we Christian enough? Steve and I think we are.

But we do wonder what other people — other Christians — might think.

Listen, there’s a problem in the Christian community: If we ask the hard questions or express doubt, we’re often met with dismissal, eyebrow raises, and defensiveness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Steve and I are two simple people who would like to change the narrative. We’d like to normalize questions and doubts and embrace an incomplete understanding of our own faith (which, if you’re a Christian, I’d challenge you to think about that: can you say you have a complete understanding of your own faith?).

After all, we have only this one life. With one chance to make it count for something. So we’re going to do whatever we can, wherever we are, whenever we can, for as long as we can with whatever we have to try to make a difference.

And we’d like for you to come along with us, asking questions, expressing doubt, and opening yourself up to healthy dialogue. You might have questions for us. You might express doubt towards us. We welcome that.

So I encourage you to join us as we chronicle our disillusionment and analyze our commitment to the complicated faith called Christianity.

We are Red Weather Christians.

Episode 1: If Those Idiots Call Themselves Christians, What Are We?

Episode 2: Sometimes God Moves You. Literally.

Episode 3: Navigating the Missionary Position

That’s what we have so far. Stick around, and the sound quality gets better, I promise. Thanks for giving us grace on that. This is all completely new to us, and we’re learning a lot along the way.

Peace be with you.

Your Dreams Are Not Your Own

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” — Hebrews 11:1 —

My husband and I have done a thing. A big thing. It’s exciting and scary, and I (still) have lots of questions about it. But the thing has been decided, we’re doing it, and our entire world is about to change. This week, I’m sharing a post that my incredibly talented and intelligent and philosophical husband wrote. So with my intro as a teaser, please enjoy my husband’s words as he reveals what we’re up to.

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How many dreams have you had? How many can you remember? The answers are probably not zero, and are likely numerous. Whether they were dreams while you were asleep, day dreams, or the figurative dreams of future achievements or adventures, they exist.

My wife planned a wonderful night for us to go out to eat with friends and then to a Drew and Ellie Holcomb concert. It is rarely my idea to spend money on such luxuries, but it was like a dream. Was it my dream or her dream?

As my training in philosophical writing* would have me do, let me briefly acknowledge many definitions of dreams, my delineations of them, and narrow the focus of the topic.

A dream of completing some banal goal is finite and cannot be undone. This is basically anything done in your past that you had dreamt of doing at some point in your life. If it is to run a marathon, once you’ve done that thing, your dream has been accomplished and cannot be undone.

Conversely (or should I say contrapositively — look that up if you don’t know the difference), if a dream can be undone, then it would qualify as not finite (or infinite). You might dream of having a house or a family. Both of those things can be taken from you in varying degrees of tragedy or negligence. To keep that dream a reality is a never-ending effort.

There is also a difference between material dreams, personal dreams, and interpersonal dreams.

No surprise, a material dream deals with some inanimate object that you desire. I have a bicycle. I dream of a better bicycle. One that shifts so smoothly it barely makes a sound. One where the brakes never screech and always work well. One that is lightweight for my wife to move easily on her own but can also have all the desirable baskets, bottle cage, bell, lights, computer and other accoutrements. I can acquire the materials to make that happen, thus dream complete…for now.

A personal dream is something you can, essentially, do on your own. (I realize I needed a mom and dad and food and shelter and whatever else to bring me to adulthood. It takes a village, blah blah, don’t get uppity.) If I dream of running a 6 minute mile, that’s on me. No one else can train or run for me.

As expected, an interpersonal dream involves other people, which can make it much more complex. I dreamt of dating my now wife, but before she was my wife or girlfriend, she had no intention of agreeing to my dream. So this includes all sorts of celebrity encounters, potential friendships, or joint ventures with other beings. (For the sake of argument, if I had a dream to wrestle a bear, that bear would also need to be a relatively willing participant.)

Complex dreams involve lots of the aforementioned categories. We have a house. I dream of making it better. I also dream about who could move into the house for sale down the street (or who of my current friends I could persuade to move there which would make living in my house better). That’s some material, interpersonal, and possibly both finite and infinite dreaming.

Other dreams are fanciful (or were) like playing in the FIFA World Cup. So much time and effort on top of God-given talent would have had to go into that personal dream much earlier in my life for that to become a reality. Plus, given its dependence on coaches or teammates along the way, this is hugely interpersonal.

Or a dream could be downright ridiculous. I dream of being a knight in King Arthur’s court but with modern amenities and the ability to fly in a rocket ship to Mars while eating dark chocolate peanut butter cups. 

And yet dreams for some people — graduating from college — are expectations for others. (I do not plan on unpacking that issue in this post.)

The problem with dreams for me is not if I have them or if I can remember them or how to define them, but can I stop them? People may not dream of moving to a suburb of Jacksonville like Orange Park. I get that. Once you’re there, however, you might develop dreams for your future there. I did.

If I am stuck** somewhere for any length of time (more than five minutes will usually do), I will dream of how it could be better. Imagine a waiting room, for anything. Hopefully I brought a book, but is the seating optimal and efficiently arranged? Sitting and writing at a cluttered desk — can I build shelves? Will that just invite more room for more clutter? Living in my house — what if we knocked down a wall, built an indoor laundry room, added a half bath…?

Some of the dreaming is not location dependent. My kids dream of going to a playground, but not usually one in particular. My wife may dream about a relatively close and not crowded beach, sitting in the warm sun, and reading a good book. I might dream about real estate investments locally or somewhere else which could also be done in that waiting room if I don’t have a book to read.

People, whether they be friends, family, or co-workers, may have dreams for your life. Parents may have dreams (or expectations) of their children to go to and graduate from college. I have dreams for my kids to be happy and healthy but also to be intelligent and kind (and successful, however you define that).

Since this may be more like an unkempt lawn growing wild, let me give it a fresh cut. (Note: I may still get caught on a section here and there just like my real-life mower does for various reasons.) So let’s focus on infinite, interpersonal dreams that are not location dependent and stay in the relatively rational realm. Mine will specifically address my family.

Twenty years ago, the expectation was to go to college, but my dream was to have fun and find a wife. Not incongruous, so all was well. Then, it turned into graduating, actually getting married, having a home together, and maybe more. Hold up. We needed jobs (let’s avoid all topics of dream jobs, it’s ridiculous). 

Twelve years ago, we needed new jobs (again, not dream jobs, just paid employment to thrive). Once settled with better jobs, a big house, and stability, the dream became filling the house with children (and stuff, kind of). With children, the dream quickly turned into wanting more time. Time for everything, the kids, each other, our jobs — life. 

Side note: what did we do with all of our free time before kids?

Six years ago, I stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache and had a new dream — retire early. That’s when we would have time for everything. So I ran the numbers and figured it would take ten years to get to a point of walking away from obligatory work.

Three years ago, well before we could actually retire, I stopped working to partially fulfill the dream of more time with my kids. I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling dad. I loved it. I also still loved my wife. (It’s an infinite dream, one that needs never-ending effort.) If her job was making her unhappy, I needed to at least provide a potential solution. Note: I had already told her to resign or quit or just leave, but that was not good enough.

About one month ago, I applied to teach again. Part of the reason was to provide her a way out without her deliberate resignation. This would serve the purpose of love and protection, too, which I vowed to do. Part of the reason was to possibly live out a dream I had — to live internationally, and potentially raise bilingual children. Recently, my dreams were coming true all over again. I was my wife’s knight in shining armor (see ridiculous dream above, double bonus). I was offered a job teaching math in Ecuador.

Dreams change and yet remain remarkably consistent.

My dreams are not my own, not entirely. And think about the dreams while you’re asleep. They are nothing but weird images and storylines unless you share them. Dreams are not meant to exist in isolation.

Odd note: I have been reading through the Old Testament. So many revelations came through dreams. While I am a skeptic as to the veracity of those claims, dreams can have that power.

Second tangent: I had a dream (while awake) to buy the property across the street from me so I could rent it to a friend before my parents moved down to Florida (my dream for them) to be close to their grandkids (and another dream for them). That dream came true, but is being undone as we are likely liquidating everything for our international move to Ecuador in less than six months. Oh well, dreams can be superseded by other dreams, I guess. 

And we’re back. Back to the Drew and Ellie Holcomb concert, almost. Drew Holcomb has a TEDx Memphis talk of similar nature to this post so I resonated not just with the beautiful music but also the message of a fellow dreamer. (John Lennon was also probably on to something.)

Because my wife shared her dream of a great night out with friends and a concert, we both got to live the dream. What happens when you stop dreaming? I’m not sure. As I mentioned, I can not seem to stop that part of my brain. But what happens when you stop sharing those dreams?

I applied to the school in Ecuador because my wife had a rough week at school and had gone to bed really early on a Friday night with no morning obligations. Normally, we might have just stayed up doing nothing together and loving it. The kids were asleep, too. So I was left awake and alone. Dangerous? I searched for my dream of living and teaching internationally. While I could have remained quiet about my pursuit, I told my wife the next day. My dream was not my own. I couldn’t dream without my family.

I can also tell you my wife dreams of me writing. She turned on her faucet of words months ago. Being so moved at the concert — a dream which was not my own — I felt the need to share her dream of writing. Is it also a Valentine’s Day gift? Bah…who cares; it’s too late anyway.

The dreams that really matter are not just about me. They are the dreams that never end, and I hope they never will.

-Steve

*I have limited the repetitive nature of philosophical writing in this post in hopes for a more readable blog, but if challenged to further develop my thoughts in an unassailable way, I may be inclined to expound on these ideas. For example, some may wonder what the differences between a dream and a goal are. I do not address goals directly in this post.

**Rarely would I consider myself stuck somewhere. It is mostly a choice to remain in that place for some end result or sheer inertia.

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