Monday, September 29, 2014

To the bridge and back
From the 1977 Petit Jean

Picture day

Not official picture day where we dress up a little bit and the photographer calls us in and says, “Well, hello there, now who was that little blonde girl I saw you with?” which makes us smile for the picture even though he uses the exact same joke every single year

No, this is yearbook picture day

Much less formal where we wear our everyday school clothes and march out to the playground to stand in front of the slide or monkey bars or some other apparatus and get our picture taken in 5 minutes or less

But this year, this 5th grade year, something is different

Mrs. Helston, our teacher, leads us out to the playground and then we turn left and head out the big gate on the north-side, the gate that allows trucks to pull in and out of the printing plant that’s attached to the end of our school building

And then we turn east and walk down to the 4-way stop where the safety patrol keeps very busy in the mornings and afternoons helping kids to cross the street, except that right now is the middle of the day and there are no patrol members available

So Mrs. Helston acts as our safety patrol, standing in the middle of the street until everyone is safely across

Where are we going?  This certainly is not a normal picture day!

And we continue on down the sidewalk with the park off to the right and houses on the left

Mrs. Helston points to her house for anyone who doesn’t know where she lives, but we all already know where she lives, except for maybe one or two of us

And we know, even without her telling us, that she can walk to school in the mornings in 5 minutes or less

And we stroll along with our arms over the shoulders of our best friends or second-best friends and we jump from shady patches of sidewalk to sunny patches with towering and slightly bent trees all around us that are just starting to show their autumn colors

And we walk for a quarter of a mile, or maybe a little bit more, to a bridge which is not really much of a bridge, that passes over a creek at the end of the park

And we stop to form up along the railing, wondering whose idea this was anyway to walk so far from class just for a picture

And some of the boys get to sit on the railing, because girls, of course, would never ever want to sit on the railing

At least that’s what we think

And the girls line up together and the boys, well we keep our distance because we’re not supposed to like girls just yet, even though most of us really do already like them

And the photographer, a college student or a high school student, because sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference says, “1, 2, 3” and takes a couple pictures just in case 1 of them doesn’t turn out good, because we wouldn’t want to have to do this all over again

Even though we probably would want to do it again 

And after the picture is taken, we sit there for a few minutes longer as Mrs. Helston lets us just enjoy ourselves for a while

She’s never in a hurry, this teacher, the one who’s teaching us to love C.S. Lewis and a land called Narnia, the same teacher who taught us how to have a quiet time with God during Outdoor Education

And then it’s time to head back to the classroom by the same route we came

Traveling a quarter of a mile, or maybe a little bit more, with friends and a teacher we love

The whole thing taking a lot longer than any of us thought it would

But no one seems to mind.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Filling the void
Flickr photo by nevil zaveri.

Jesus tells this story …

An unclean spirit leaves a person and then walks through dry places, seeking rest.
Finding none, it says, “I’ll return to the place where I was before.”
So it goes back and sees that its previous home has been swept clean, making room for seven other wicked spirits to live there as well.
And the last state of that person is worse than the first.

I’ll admit—growing up—this was a hard story for me to grasp.  Wasn’t a clean-swept life (heart) a good thing?  I believe I understand the concept a little better now—we work on pushing out the bad stuff and replacing it with good.

So a few years ago, I was discussing this principle with a wise man I know.  We got to the part of the conversation where I could tell he was about to share his perspective on filling-the-void.  I got quiet.  I was all ears.

He said, “You might want to listen to a little Christian music.”

Really?  Christian music?  That’s the best you’ve got?

Now I’m no aficionado, but I do like me some music.  I tune in pretty much whenever I can: at work, in the car, at home, on walks, in the bathroom.  TMI?

But I have always had some issues with what we used to call Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).  For one, some of it seems to be—I hate to say it—a little bit corny.

But, thankfully, there have been a good number of singers and/or songs where both Cheryl and I have felt something more deeply:  Chris Tomlin (of course—who doesn’t like Chris Tomlin?), some Hillsong United, and let’s throw in a little old-school Amy Grant.  We also especially like music that incorporates some of the hymns we used to sing, like “Blessed Be the Tie” (Sara Groves) and “Jesus Paid It All” (Fernando Ortega).

So in the past few years, I’ve found that the wise man was right.  Some of these Christian tunes do serve as bits and pieces of good that can help keep the bad spirits away.

With this in mind, there’s one more guy I’d like to mention … if you’re looking for a little something to fill the void.  He comes to our church—all the way from Nashville, mind you—to lead worship from time to time.  His name is Christopher Williams, and when Cheryl and I see him walk out on stage, we immediately fist-bump.  He’s that good.

Christopher has a new album that’s just come out called The City Makes the Man.  It’s filled with light.  I’d heartily recommend it.  Just slip on some headphones, close your eyes and listen to “Nothing Can Separate” … and feel the good stuff seep into your heart.
Available at and iTunes