Space Invaders

Space Invaders

Down here betwixt the Golfo de México and the Atlantic Ocean we’re smack dab in the throes of C.F.M.S. (Central Florida Monsoon Season)—and have been for a couple weeks or so (probably more like “or so”). Plus, with Tio Alberto doing a drive-by and adding his own brand of joie de vivre in the mix, the rain has refused to let up for any extended period of time and everything is starting to mildew. The mouseke-tourists have even been trying to use their Fastpasses to go to the head of the line to buy ponchos. (On the upside, a few pasty Yankees will probably be spared the threat of skin cancer.)

Don’t get me wrong—we need the rain. A few weeks ago, everything in my yard was brown. And not a pretty brown, like a Hershey Bar or a roast beef sandwich, but a given-up-the-ghost brown, kind of like old guacamole. The only greenness to be had in my yard was due to a big, lush patch of invasive flora—a/k/a weeds. From a distance, though, it still looked green, thanks to the weeds. I’m sure passersby were thinking, “That man has a nice green yard. I wonder what his secret is?”

Laziness. Laziness is my secret. Makes me think of a verse from Proverbs…

I went past the field of a sluggard…the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. Proverbs 24:31-32 NIV

(I don’t have a stone wall, but my driveway has a few cracks…

And now for the rest of the story…

She had maroon hair

She Had Maroon Hair

She had maroon hair.

That’s not a judgment call or anything—just a fact. It fit her, actually. None of the other breakfast crowd in the restaurant seemed to notice or care. (Which, in a small town in Central Florida where the median age is about 137, heavily right-leaning, I found progressive.)

She was efficient and pleasant in a strictly-business kind of way. She had that carefully-rehearsed, sing-songy spiel with just the right inflection, kind of like one of those Disney World ride operators: “Please gather ALL your PERSONAL beLONGings and take small CHILDren by the HAND. And enjoy YOUR day at the MAGIC Kingdom!”

“What can I get you to DRI-nk?”

“Coffee.”

In her wake I heard, “I’ll be right BACK with THAT,” as she sped away to fetch me a cuppa. (Actually, my own private potta.)

I didn’t catch her name, although my credit card receipt says it was “April.” April took my order, delivered it, and deposited my check plate-side after confirming I didn’t want any pie. (Pie for breakfast? Apparently it’s a thing.)

She also checked on me mid-meal, mouth full of eggs, feta cheese, and cremini mushrooms. I just smiled, mouth closed, and nodded my approval.

She never really made eye contact. (I’m not dinging her for that, as she had a restaurant full of 137-year-olds wanting more decaf and syrup.) I always let the server set the tone for how involved or not our interaction will be, and April was working the crowd from an attentive—but a tad impersonal—position.

Basically, she wasn’t interested in chatting anybody up.

How do you break through that? As Christians—specifically, old, white, male Christians—how do we connect with the Aprils of the world? How do we share some semblance of the gospel in a situation that absolutely does NOT lend itself to doing so? How do we—between bites of omelet—do what Jesus would have done?

I gave her a big tip—I like to do that and can afford to do so, but that’s not enough. My natural inclination is typically to throw money at the situation—send Bibles, send people on mission trips, send somebody else’s kids to church camp. All good things to do, but what about April, she of the maroon hair? Unless she’s an undercover cop pretending to be a server to try and bust a pancake smuggling ring, I’m sure she appreciated a few extra dollars, but what good will that do when she passes from this life to the next? You can’t tip the guy to get in. It’s all about who you know.

I know delightful, Godly, caring brethren and sisteren who have been witnessing to people all their lives—successfully—always armed with little cards to give out and million dollar bills with Bible verses on the back and red dots to put on their watch or glasses…gimmicky things. And I know the Holy Spirit is the one who rises above our tawdry gimmicks and softens hearts and opens people to the gospel message.

And, no doubt, I’m cynical, but it just reminds me of the people who stand out on the street corners with their portable microphone and speaker and yell until they’re hoarse or wave signs getting people to honk for Jesus. I don’t for one minute doubt their hearts and their passion for the Lord, but does anyone listen? Are hearts truly transformed?

Or is there a better way?

Jesus was deliberate in everything He did, but he didn’t stand on the corner and yell at people, hoping some of it would stick. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t a spectacle. In fact, if the crowds got too big he would say weird things that would scare a bunch of them off, things like the fact that they would have to eat His flesh and drink his blood. (“That’s it—I’m outta here.”) Only those who truly wanted what He had to offer would stay.

Jesus would have connected with April; He would have figured it out.

He would have made eye contact and offered her living water. (Or maybe living coffee…) He would have invited himself to her salon to watch her get her hair colored. He would have timed it just right to NOT have a mouth full of food when she stopped by, whereupon He would have told her how much he enjoyed the omelet and let her know without any doubt that He loved her, all in one fell swoop.

But that’s Jesus. His life wasn’t, like, you know…an example…or, you know, anything like that…

Ummm…actually, it was.

And He didn’t leave us any outs. To paraphrase Acts 1:8 He said: “You will be my witnesses… EVERYWHERE!” not “…everywhere EXCEPT at restaurants when your waitress has maroon hair and looks busy.” So that’s where I’m stumped. WWJD? How do you NOT scare a millennial off with your tracts and your “Jesus Loves You” and still make a connection between them and the risen Savior?

Jesus met people where they were. He sat down by a well and asked for a drink and an entire village was transformed.

I can’t give April living water—only one person can do that. But I have to find a way to point her to the SOURCE of living water…

• • •

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We got power

We got power

We had a hurricane down here recently. Maybe you heard.

Even as I write this, many Floridians are still reeling from the loss. (If you haven’t yet taken that much-anticipated vacation to Key West, you may have missed your chance.) Depending on what part of the state you’re from, Irma’s impact ranged from devastating to merely annoying. For the most part, up here in the middle it was mostly just annoying; with that annoyment mostly due to power outages; with those power outages mostly due to tree limbs being ripped off and hurled into power lines by 100 mph winds.

I’m sure there is a perfectly logical reason (or not) why so many humongous, spreading, live oak trees—of which Florida is rife—tend to grow intertwined with power lines. Did we not think this through? Often you’ll see where the power company has come and cut the middle out of a tall oak tree so that it looks like a big ol’ “Y” with a power line running through it. In addition to looking like something out of Dr. Seuss’s Whoville, it’s just a power outage waiting for a brisk breeze.

And now for the rest of the story…

Bold

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Bold 1

…the righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1 NIV

“Can I try this one in a size 10?”

“Yes, sir—let me get that for you.”

The Thom McAnn Shoes clerk disappeared through the curtain to the stock room to retrieve a pair of black wingtips for my daddy, while we—my daddy, my mother, and I—sat at the back of the store and waited.

It was 1972, the heyday of the Gateway Shopping Center in Decatur, Alabama, just before the shopping mall explosion. Besides the shoe store, there was a Woolworths, complete with a snack counter that served huge banana splits; a Quick Chek grocery store where they let my granny buy cigarettes with food stamps; a Sears and Roebuck, also in its heyday; and a movie theater with two screens. (A few years later, I saw the original Star Wars there 11 times.)

Decatur was a small town back then and people were, for the most part, respectful.

For the most part…

And now for the rest of the story…

Turn, turn, turn

turn turn turn
Being born and raised in Alabama and a long-time resident of Florida, I’ve heard all the redneck and hurricane jokes. Some of the rest of y’all got some good some good local jokes, too, though. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You know you’re a Californian if the fastest part of your commute is down your driveway.
  • Top sign you’re a New Yorker #4: You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multi-lingual.
  • Q: What do a divorce in Arkansas, a tornado in Kansas, and a hurricane in Texas have in common? A: Somebody’s fixin’ to lose them a trailer.

In the years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve come to appreciate all of ours, especially the ones that have to do with the climate. Por ejemplo:

You’re a true Floridian if…

…you judge a good parking place, not based on distance from the store, but on its proximity to shade.
…you consider anything under 70 as “chilly” and anything under 95 as “just a little warm.”
…you’re on a first name basis with the Hurricane list. They aren’t Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, etc., but Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
…you’ve worn shorts and used the A/C on Christmas.

I can especially attest to the last two. I actually washed my car wearing my swimsuit one New Year’s Day. (I was wearing the swimsuit, not the car…)

And now for the rest of the story…

Jazz Hands for Jesus

Singers 2 edited

“Now, guys… You’re going to go down on your right knee on the word ‘me.’ Ladies, you’ll spin in on two-three-four, sit on your guy’s left knee on five, and both of you will pop your outside hand up on seven. Got it? Let’s take it from ‘tell you what you mean.’ Ready? Five, six, seven, eight…”

Show choir choreography rehearsals used to be my favorite thing in all the world (‘cause you can sing anywhere, anytime—if you don’t mind weird looks—but you can’t pop your outside hand up just anywhere without risking bodily harm or, perhaps, incarceration).

But that was (quite) a few years ago when I was singing and dancing with the Auburn University Singers, by far one of the finest show choirs in existence. (That’s not a biased opinion—I must say that to avoid bearing false witness.) Now, however, the only time I pop my outside hand up is if I’m in the contemporary worship service at church, swatting a mosquito or, as I occasioned to be recently, at the weekend-long 45th reunion of those same Auburn University Singers, where I spent a couple hours on Saturday rehearsing the above choreography to “The Alphabet Song” along with all the reunion attendees who had been in the group during my era.

And now for the rest of the story…

Messy

messy-w_text

“…And this bedroom belongs to—” My friend stopped dead in her tracks. “Seriously?”

She quickly closed the door, but not before I got a shot of pretty-in-pink, teenage-girl chaos. Clothes festooned every surface; shoes were strewn about, with not a single one in near proximity to its mate; “delicates” littered the floor…indelicately…

“I’m so sorry you had to see that. I told them I’m not cleaning up after them.”

I just laughed. “If you think THAT’S bad, then you can NEVER come to my house!”

(I write this while sitting in my office that includes an elliptical machine, weights and a weight bench, a pair of crocs and socks to wear while ellipting, an unassembled bed leaning up against the wall, three dining room chairs, an unused scanner, a storage box full of shoes, various lengths of 4×4 pressure-treated lumber providing a make-shift corral for an exercise ball on top of the storage box full of shoes, and a zippered vinyl portfolio with Liberace’s logo on it holding a collection of Liberace piano books for the beginning pianist. She can NEVER come to my house.)

And now for the rest of the story…

New Year, New You

my-hope

Christmas seemed especially joyful this year, at least to me. I think after the past year or so of nasty politics—and I’m going to blame both sides for that… and no fair saying “they” started it (if you think that, you weren’t on the same Facebook I was on)—all the joy was kind of sucked out of our country.

All the biased news stories, both sides waiting and wishing for the other candidate to implode—and that looked like a distinct possibility for either one of them—hateful responses on social media from supporters of both parties…

…I don’t know about you, but I really needed a little Christmas, as the song goes—and I got it:

  • The Christmas music seemed a little more joyful (I’m digging on the new Pentatonix Christmas album)
  • The glitter seemed a little more sparkly (and if past experience holds true, that same glitter will still be making an appearance in and around the house next July)
  • The lights seemed a little brighter this year, even in Florida where they DO NOT know how to tastefully put up Christmas lights outside (sorry Florida peeps—all those blinking, chasing, half-colored, half-white Christmas light displays with a bunch of inflatable “Despicable Me” minions in Santa hats in the front yard… To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say ‘no’”…)
  • Even the Hallmark Channel movies seemed a little more fun. (Although I still don’t know what happened to the princess who ran away from her hotel room in New York City and took up with the contractor guy whose girlfriend dumped him. If you saw that one, leave a comment—I need to know how it ended.)

And now for the rest of the story…

You gotta have heart

cliffside

…your old men will dream dreams… Joel 2:28

I sat there staring at the sky, trying to wrap my head around it. It was definitely blue, brilliant and stunning, but a blue unlike any I had ever seen before.

And the water—well, that was a whole other story. From my vantage point atop the cliff it could have been a sheet of glass stretching to the horizon; crystal clear, a little deeper blue than the sky. Sort of. Or maybe it was just reflecting the sky.

The people who name paint colors would have had a field day with what I was seeing.

Whatever the hue, it took my breath away. When I finally breathed in again, I caught the faintest scent of… something beautiful… like…

I chuckled. “I give up,” I muttered to myself. What I was seeing was vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t prepared for how intense it was. It wasn’t disconcerting—nothing had ever felt so concerting.

So I sat there—peaceful, content, oblivious to time—waiting for Him. He would come; He was why I was there. That much I knew.

And now for the rest of the story…

Band of Brothers

bob

Random guitar riffs, bass runs, and drum licks echo throughout the large room in a cacophony of band noise. Occasionally John will kick off a pattern on the drums, Luke will pick it up on his bass, and they’ll run with it for a few bars, but for the most part it’s all random bits left-over from everyone’s former band days, none of it in the same key or rhythm. (Since I’m the odd man out as far as having no former band days, I’ll occasionally throw a little Beethoven piano sonata into the mix, just to add to the joyful noise.)

Six of us—Kenny, Kurtis, Mark, Luke, John (all we need is a Matthew) and I, the “Band of Brothers”—rehearse every Tuesday night in the same room where we’ll be leading in worship the following night for the Wingman men’s Bible study. Once sound levels are finally set and everyone settles down to practice, we do the most important thing we can do to ensure a good rehearsal…

“Let’s pray it up.”

And now for the rest of the story…