Monday, October 29, 2007

Cowboy Church and heaven

The other night I decided to attend a church service at a Cowboy Church. If you've never heard of them...the name is self-explanatory and they are pretty common around here. I just wanted to go somewhere where people didn't know me. I figured a church was better than I bar, so I went. These churches tend to be pretty fundamental and traditional as far as Bible Belt theology goes. I grew up with good 'ole Southern Baptist fundamentalism, but it's not where I am anymore. I believe growing up in that enviroment laid a beautiful foundation for my life. But simply put, I've moved on. So I knew what to expect and boy they didn't disappoint! The best part was the band. They were a toe-tappin' group with a fiddle and steel guitar. About 20 minutes into the (instrumental) music, the pastor walked in and the whole audience stood the President was walking in or something. He led the singing, although most of what he sang were songs he wrote. He had a southern drawl as thick as molassas and his sermon was more about the devil than God. My favorite illustration was something about "gettin' yur britches tore on the barbed-wire fence of life." Pretty damn funny. After I had been there awhile, I really began to question myself as to why I wanted to spend my evening in this place. Guess I chalk it up to one of those unexplainable lapses of common sense. But it was a beautiful evening here in the Hill least that much I enjoyed.

I did come away with a reminder of one of the crown jewels of Christianity...Heaven. I wrestled with this a lot when my father was dying..."what is it really?" I was taught growing up that it was the "place you go when you die," and " the place where God lives." It was about "eternal life." It's about getting through this life in such a way (being saved) as to receive our "eternal reward." In short, I don't really believe that anymore. At this church, there were a lot of songs about Heaven. They cheered when the pastor spoke of "going to be with Jesus." As I looked around the audience my thought was, "What is it about this life that makes us want to focus so much on "the next life? " Is it that we see this life, or rather experience this life, with only pain and suffering? I have never really understood this part of Christian theology. It doesn't make sense that Jesus came to teach people to love only for the purpose of getting into heaven. Where did we get this "saved" stuff anyway? Go read your Bible, people. It's NOT there. Jesus said "I came to give life abundantly." I know life can be hard. My life is a fucking tornado right now. Ugh. But I also believe that God is with me right now. I don't have to wait to get to heaven to experience that total presence. And I dont' believe that I just have to suffer through this life until I die.

If you like Christian music close you ears...I'm about to slam one of Christian music's prized jewels. I like the band Mercyme; they've got some good tunes. But their big hit, "I Can Only Imagine" is a bit problematic for me. Here's a few lyrics:

I can only imagine
what it will be like
when I walk by your side

I can only imagine
what my eyes will see
when your face is before me

Surrounded by your glory
what will my heart feel?
Will I dance before your Jesus, or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall.........

I can only imagine
when all I will do
is forever, forever worship you.

Perhaps Mercyme wasn't writing about Heaven. But at least that seems to be the way people hear this song. It's like Christians (in general) seem to live with the belief of "It's going to be so great when we all get to heaven and worship God; see God; be in awe, etc." Ugh...hello? Do it now. What are you waiting for? God doesn't reside in a galaxy far, far away. He, she, here now. With us when we cook our family meals, listen to a hurting friend, watch mindless TV, go to church, or go to work. God is present always, everywhere, now. I've read that the Quaker tradition regarded everything about their lives as being sacred. God was in everything: plowing the fields, sewing or praying. That's how I want to live my life. Aware of the presence of God all the time. It's idealistic. But it's my heart's desire. I just don't think we have to just endure this life before we get the really good stuff.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


First things first…Georgetown beat Cedar Park last week 28-6! This was a HUGE win. G’town has never beaten CP. And our resident star running back scored, yet again, 3 touchdowns! We’re having so much fun right now it’s ridiculous! The district we’re in is one of the toughest in the state. Starting district play with a win was BIG, BIG , BIG!! This week we play Pflugerville on their turf. It will be a barn-burner. I’ll let you know what happens!

Next, October 1 was my birthday. I share the same birthday with Julie Andrews….

I think this is very cool. Please send me, or Julie, your celebratory greetings.

Now… onto bigger life stuff…

I love teenagers. Since my freshman year at Baylor, I’ve been involved in the Youth Ministry of whatever church I’ve attended. I’m not really sure where this affinity for adolescents came from; maybe it’s from my own experience as a teenager. My parents divorced when I was in the 8th grade. After spending a few really long months with my mother, I went to live with my dad. Dad did a great job, though he had much help. There were many good people at my church who took me under their wing and helped raise me, along side my dad and grandparents. I’ve always been immensely grateful for all those people: Theresa, Kim, Don, Mark, Vicki and so, so many more. Perhaps I’ve always felt like investing in teenagers is my way of honoring those people and God for being there for me. Whatever the reason, I think teenagers are fun and cool and I like hanging out with them. Over the years, I’ve spent many hours talking to, mostly girls, about the stuff going on in their lives: the boys they like, the boys they did like, parents, not fitting in…you know, the typical teenage stuff. I mostly listen. I’m better at that than giving any kind of counsel or advice. Recently, I’ve encountered a not so typical situation with a couple of students I know. To cut to the chase: they are 18, still in high school, dating and she’s pregnant. I know this happens all the time, but after more than 20 years of hanging with teenagers it’s the 1st time for kids I know and love. Even now, 2 weeks after hearing the news, I’m still reeling. They are obviously devasted and don’t know what is the right thing to do. Duh. Both of them are talking to different colleges, pursing scholarships, applying for grants…all the things you normally do as a Senior. I know one of these young people better than the other and I’m being asked, “What should I do?” “Oh, shit. Please don’t ask me,” is what’s going through my head. Abortion is a consideration for them. They just don’t see how they can keep the baby and still live out the next 4-5 years like they’ve been planning. And yet, it’s a baby; a little human. What would you tell your kid in this situation??? I hate this issue because I’m not really sure what I believe. Well, that’s not really true…I believe in life. And I believe this decision is one for individuals and not for the government. So, I’m pro-life and pro-choice. It’s not a black and white issue for me. My long-time good friend, pastor and youth minister for zillions of years says the question is (on the issue of abortion), “How is life, all of life, honored and revered?” For these kids, keeping the baby certainly gives reverence and honor to the life of the baby. But does it give revereance and honor to the lives of these 2 students? They tried to practice safe sex and something went wrong. Does one accident justify giving up their dreams for college? Does keeping the baby honor all the hard work they’ve been doing for years to even have the opportunity to go to college? At least one of these kids is doing something no one in her family has ever done. No one in her family has even graduated from high school, much less go to college. She was hell-on-wheels when she was younger: constantly in trouble, failing school…she’s making her way out of all that; she’s breaking a cycle. Does it honor life to give all of that up? Yes, they could both go to work for a few years and go back to school later. Maybe this is God’s plan for their life, as some of my theologically conservative friends would say. Well, for all the questions and struggles these young people will not get to make the decision for themselves. The decision has been made for them by one set of parents. The abortion happened yesterday and both young people are immensely sad. I’m not sure that either one of them would say this isn’t the route they would have taken if given the choice, but they are still sad. And so am I. The young man is pretty open and wanting to talk. She isn’t talking so much right now. I’m really concerned for her; I just can’t imagine being in her shoes. She left school early yesterday afternoon to go to the doctor and she went right back to school this morning. Their lives go on. One of the things I’ve told them is that there is loss of life to be grieved…and it must be grieved. If they had kept he baby, they would have needed to grieve the life they have been planning and dreaming for. Instead they must grieve the loss of human life.

For the traditional church system I grew up in, my beliefs about abortion don’t really follow party lines. But maybe they are right. Maybe abortion for any reason is just wrong, after all you are killing a life. Ugh…it just seems so much more complex than that. And I’ve seen that complexity in the eyes of these amazing young adults. I wonder, though, that making a decision whether to keep the baby or not is actually the easiest part of this whole deal. Dealing with grief is hard, hard work.

It’s difficult to be concise with my thoughts and condense hours of conversations. And perhaps this isn't even an appropriate forum. But here I am. I’ve had several conversations with these kids and few trusted friends of mine. Hopefully, something I’ve said to the teenagers will somehow be helpful. The conversations with my friends have been good to get all the thoughts out of my head, though I’m not sure it really makes any of this any easier or clearer. And now, I’m telling all of you. I’m interested to hear what you think. Bottom line…this whole thing just really sucks.