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Friday, June 30, 2006


Hey, Wanna See My Cathedral?

Over at his blog, my friend Dan is saying some powerfully challenging stuff about integrating faith and work.

Dan writes, "Scott is a senior vice president in a large corporation. The demands of his job often require him to work late, travel, and carry the weight of decisions that may affect thousands of lives. . . .

"Sometimes, when Scott attends church, all he hears is that the church wants more. It wants more of his money, more of his time, more of whatever he has. But the church does little to help Scott serve God in his daily struggles, and Scott is becoming bitter."

I was thinking about how to respond to Dan when I found this picture.
How do you build a cathedral?
You plant an oak grove
and in a hundred years
you have enough wood
to build your cathedral.
But for a hundred years
people are saying
that your grove
is not really a cathedral.
And that's ok.
I decided that's where people like Scott are. Out in the workplace planting trees and sowing seeds that don't look much like a house for God.

As for the poem, I could do without the last line. It seems like false reassurance to me. I mean, if everyone around me doubts the value of my work, man, that is not okay. That stinks. I'll get me some new people to hand around who can see my cathedral.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Christ Has Guts or Why My Subtitle Doesn't Include "Christian"

Funny. It says, "Husband, Father, Writer, Editor, Teacher, Reader." But not Christian. I have to admit my hypocrisy on this one. It isn't that I didn't include Christian as one of my identities (I'll explain that later). My hypocrisy is that I didn't even notice the missing "Christian" until I viewed my blog with my uncles in mind.

I'm not talking about my atheist uncle from the last post. He's actually my wife's uncle.

I'm talking about the Goodyear uncles. My dad's brothers and sisters. You see, our Goodyear Reunion has entered the 21st century and gotten its own blog. I posted a comment there with a link back here. Then I worried how my blog might look to a preacher. My uncles are all strong Christians; two of them, Uncle Dan and Uncle John, are preachers. Specifically, I worried about my amateur theological posts like my series on Bultmann. Or my poems like Passion Play and Jesus in the Shower. Or my stories like Ruth and Boaz.

I provide those links because I feel strongly about bringing our faith back into the real world. Christianity isn't a set of rules. It isn't some kind of neo-platonic separation of spiritual and physical things. I write jarring stories and poems because I want to remind people that Jesus is radical.

Christ has guts. Christianity takes guts.

I was surprised yesterday to learn that the word "guts" is offensive to older generations.

But here's the thing. Christianity is offensive.

Why don't I list Christian in my subtitle? For the same reason I don't list my family name. I am a Goodyear all the time. It isn't one of my hats.

Similarly, Christianity isn't just another hat that I put on before I go to church or before I get on my knees to pray. (Actually, I hardly ever pray on my knees.)

I am a Christian all the time—or else I am a hypocrite.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Saturday, June 24, 2006


Sunday Morning at Donut Palace

Here's a new poem. I haven't posted one in awhile. But four of my poems were accepted recently for publication in real magazines: Communique and Geez. So I took to writing poetry with a little more intention.

This one is for one of my uncles, an atheist. I love him to d e a t h, and he likes to have coffee and donuts early in the morning.

Amy described it this morning as pretty stark. Enough blabbing. Here's the poem:

Sunday Morning at Donut Palace

The old men believe in nothing
but humanity and an empire
of experience. They love the teens
selling donuts in summer, and coffee,
frying pastries earlier than English
ever was, finding cheap freedom
in time at the register
turning to cash. Honest to God,
they learn the truth of green linen
from patriarchs long d e a d, framed and stained
by sweaty hands from hundreds who
handed them out, passed them over,
sounded the old bell, Ka-Ching! Enjoy
your coffee, sir. Have a nice day.
What’s not to love? Kids work hard
and make bread too sweet to be holy
sacraments or exodus memories.
God floods the world, and he doesn’t
like sprinkles or chocolate or maple,
even plain glaze is too glazed to be plain.
On the floor you can eat bland manna,
back where the manager forgot to sweep,
miracle crumbs and dust by our feet.
The old men laugh and don’t believe it,
not for one second. Life is good,
but life ends, and nothing waits
in the dirt but more earth.

UPDATE: I gave this to Uncle Bill when we visited he and his wife in Galveston this past July. He was nearly blind with cataracts, but he can see with limited tunnel vision. I printed it in font 24 or something, then read it aloud while he followed along.

He like it.

A few weeks later, his optimastrist finished some procedure that miraculously restored Uncle Bill's sight. He can now see (and read!) again. It was the best news I can remember hearing in a long long time.

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Friday, June 23, 2006


Redeeming Technology!

I just found Mark Batterson's very fun blog, Evotional. In a recent post, he says that Christian blogs can help redeem technology. Everyone who uses the net knows it needs help. (Occasionally, I'll get stuff in my inbox that looks a little bit like Greek Aphrodisiac Cult Worship!)

So I was thinking about redeeming technology, and my thoughts took the form of this logical syllogism:
    1) Christ came to redeem the world.
    2) The church is the body of Christ.
    3) The church should work to redeem the world.

It's a scary conclusion because the church so often fails to redeem the world. Perhaps this is a better:
    1) Christ came to redeem the world.
    2) The church is the body of Christ.
    3) When the church acts like the body of Christ, it also works to redeem the world.

I think I like that better. But it still begs the question.
What does it mean to redeem the world?

HillCountryWriter Category: Blogging Church stuff
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Does God call garbage men?

Shep asked another good question. Good to hear from you again, Shep. Thanks for reading. I've done my best to answer it here, but I've also included links to other answers I have found helpful on the site I work with.

God cares about our work. Period. God calls all of us to serve him in what we do every day.

My daily work is pretty humble. All I do is tweak other people's sentences. I often write about (and for) businessmen, so forgive me for glorifying their callings a little bit in my last post.

We do tend to put our leaders on pedestals, though, not our garbage men or our grocery store workers or our car mechanics or our retirement consultants or our butchers or our elevator operators.

When I wrote that last post I was thinking of some pastors who have come to think of their churches as a business. That means in some ways they think of themselves as the CEO.

It's a model that gets a lot of criticism, but we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss it. The business model challenges churches to a high standard of excellence, and that is a good thing! Of course, it can also lead to an unhealthy emphasis on the bottom line numbers of attendance and giving.

Shep's question is a good reminder. We shouldn't think more highly of others than we ought to think. We shouldn't think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.

Before this degrades too far into abstract discussion of other people, there is a more important issue here.

Are these examples too fancy? These are just some of the people I know going about their every day work. It is good to remember that God cares about what they do.

But your daily work is the issue here. Can you accept the place God has given you? Can you accept the task he has entrusted to you? Have you buried your talent? Are you grumbling about your work? Are you full of discontent and jealousy and envy and covetousness? Have you learned the secret of being content in all circumstances? (If you haven't, read Philippians 4!)

Do you believe that God cares about your daily work?

Just as important, do you care about your daily work?

My work should be a source of joy. We've all seen the people who love their work. I love teaching. I love editing. I love what I do each day. (And I have a somewhat melancholy personality, so this isn't just absurd optimism.)

God cares about what I do, but he also gives me freedom to choose how I will serve him. Several years ago, I realized that I needed a break from public education. I felt backed into a corner. I struggled some weeks to find the joy in my lessons. I grew bored, restless, angry, suspicious, impatient.

I prayed for a change, but I also sought out change. I trained to teach different subjects. I sent out resumes. I applied to other schools, other school districts, other professions. And one day God called me on the phone. He sounded like my friend Karen, and he asked if I was interested in working for the H. E. Butt Foundation.

And here I am.

God calls all of us on the phone sometimes. Be sure to answer. Be sure to listen. Be sure to consider his offer. He wants you to find joy in your work.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Friday, June 16, 2006


Hearing the Call

What is more holy . . .
A strategic planning meaning for your business or a bible study?

Who is more holy . . .
The CEO of a large business or the pastor of a large church?

Both can be holy, of course. Any job can be a holy offering to God. Any job can be a calling. Which doesn't mean every job is my calling--but it does mean that my calling isn't necessarily yours.

This isn't relativistic morality. It's the same logic Paul uses when he talks about the different parts of the body.

Sometimes I hear my church talk about when a young person "hears the call." It's a strange thing because "The Call" always refers to the moment someone decides to become a professional pastor, a salaried preacher, an uber-shepherd.

Whatever you want to call it.

A pastor's calling is special. But so is mine. So is yours.
They are called to be priests everyday, but so am I. So are you.
They are a public reflection of Christ everyday, but guess what?
So am I. So are you.

Putting our pastors on a pedastal isn't good for them. (Most of the pastors I know don't want to be on a pedastal anyway!) And it isn't good for us either. So let's quick worshipping church work, so we call all worship God through our daily work.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Thursday, June 15, 2006


The End of the World is Coming

O.K. not really. I mean, eventually it has to happen I suppose. But I doubt it will be next week or next month or next year.

The more I think about Alan Jacobs' CT article, the more I see it just plain old-fashioned doom and gloom. Like those end of the world guys.

The world is going to hell in a blog basket. Kids these days. Blogging fools. Wasting time writing words to each other. Why can't they just watch some reruns of "I Love Lucy"?

Compare that to Mark Roberts' recent article in Worship Leader.
Come, Now is the Time for Blogging.

See, the headline is an allusion to the contemporary hymn "Come, Now is the Time for Worship." Blogging as worship! What a concept.

HillCountryWriter Categories: Blogging Church stuff
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Heavenly Light from a Stack of English Papers

I had taught regular and honors English in Texas Public schools for several years. My regular English students were smart kids, but my honors English students were motivated. Most of the honors students really worked hard in my class.

Many of my regular English students worked hard too. But not in my class.

In retrospect, I can't really blame them.

Consider the time I made them write an essay listing the ten most important virtues in their life. As inspiration, we read a drab excerpt from Benjamin Franklin's biography. One student was so inspired, he listed Coca-Cola as the top virtue in his life.

Click here to read the rest of this essay about my higher calling as a teacher in Texas Public Schools.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts Teaching
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Interesting article about blogging

Christianity Today has published another good article Goodbye, Blog - Books & Culture
This one's about blogging specifically, written by Alan Jacobs, the author of The Narnian. Jacobs argues that blogs can't have good conversation because they are too quick to move onto another topic.

Hogwash. A good blog is like any magazine. The host of a good blog, like the editor of a good magazine, brings focus to the comments and posts. While each individual post may not be explored long, all posts are on a similar topic.

On the other hand, bloggers have the freedom to limit their audience as much as they want. The fact that everyone can now see extreme views doesn't necessarily make them more prominent or prevalent. Before they were down at the feed store or hanging out in the coffee shop near the university. They still existed. People were still close-minded and quick to jump to conclusions.

Blogs won't change that.

HillCountryWriter Category: Blogging
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Friday, June 09, 2006


Prairie Home Poetry

Prairie Home Companion opens today. I've had this idea of writing responses to movie clips that interest me. I saw this good clip online, and it got me thinking. So here's my first movie response.

I made a quick transcript to highlight some of the lines.

Yolanda Johnson (Meryl Streep): You gotta be grateful for everything that happens to you because that's what got you here. . . Disappointment doesn't get you anywhere. . . Everything is a step along the way, and it all leads to something else.

Rhonda Johnson (Lily Tomlin): Pardon me if I don't get down on my knees.

Lola Johnson (Lindsey Lohan):
"Soliloquy for a Blue Guitar"
Death is easy like jumping
into the big blue air and waving
hello to God. God is love
but He doesn't necessarily drop everything
to catch you does he? . . . [my line breaks]

Yolanda Johnson (Meryl Streep): Hey, what was the name of that song?

Rhonda Johnson (Lily Tomlin): I won't be loaning my car to you any time soon.

Now, in my mind Meryl Streep's "philosophy" is positive thinking, circular reasoning of the worst kind. She consoles Lindsey Lohan with this thought, "Everything is a step along the way, and it all leads to something else." Well, duh. The problem is sometimes our choices lead us to real pain. Sometimes we find ourselves in real pain through no fault of our own.

Streep's advice is simply not honest. She doesn't want to listen to Lohan. She doesn't care about Lohan's problems. She only offers advice in hopes that by solving Lohan's problems, Lohan will stop bothering her.

Lily Tomlin's response to Streep is puzzling, too. She hears the ridiculous philosophy and presumably links it to Christianity with her comment: "Pardon me if I don't get down on my knees." Now, I'm not about to suggest the movie is condemning all Christian doctrine as positive thinking, circular reasoning.

But I do wonder how many non-Christians view our religion like this? They think we are fatalists. They think our gratitude to God is a way of blaming Him, pinning the responsibility of the universe on him. We just wash our hands of any psychological problems or consequences.

Lohan is the only character here with any real integrity. Her poetry is honest. So honest that she doesn't even want to share it. But when she does, her question gets ignored by both women. Streep just changes the topic. Tomlin judges her as suicidal (although her judgment has some dry wit to it).

But Lohan won't let it go. "Did you like it?" she asks. Her imagined suicide, like her poem, is just an attempt to wave hello to the world.

I suppose this blog is my attempt to wave hello.
Hello, God.
Hello, family.
Hello, friends.
Hello, anonymous.
(Did you like it?)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Higher Calling

I've been learning some weird things about the internet. For example, one of the sites I edit, The High Calling of Our Daily Work, experiences a little bit of brand confusion.

People can't seem to remember that we are the high calling. They always want it to be the higher calling.

For some reason they want to find links like this: The Higher Calling or Higher Calling

But those links and titles miss the point. We really want to teach people--Christians especially--that their daily work is already a high calling. There is no mystical higher calling. There is no bait and switch about our work.

When I was a teacher, my job wasn't to secretly convert my students to Christianity or tell them about Jesus. It was to be a good teacher. Part of teaching them was developing a real relationship with my students, so I talked about my personal life a little bit. They knew about my kids and my faith, but I hope they never felt like I was trying to convert them.

If I had the secret "higher" agenda of converting my students, I would have actually been betraying my employer. Northside ISD hired me to teach English. Not to preach.

Yet, people don't understand that there is no other higher calling than what they do every day. There is no secret agenda. We don't go to work because it is a platform for evangelism or politics or anything else. We go to work to do our jobs. And that alone is a high calling.

Enough of this ranting. Go look at the new picture of me and my kids that I posted as my thumbnail. They are cute.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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