Tuesday, May 30, 2006

great weekend

What a weekend. First, it was Anna's birthday. Anna is our little six-year-old niece. We had her for the day, taking her to the Rainforest Cafe and then on some outings. On the way to the cafe, downtown, we just so happened to pass by the Houston Street Festival, a monthly street fair, where we saw some friends and had a sunny good time.

On our way home, we suggested that instead of just taking we should do some giving, in the form of picking up some trash at Trinity University. You'll never believe this, but, as Anna was picking up trash, she found a scrap of paper that looked like a treasure map! It was a treasure map, which led to various other clues around the Trinity University campus. We couldn't believe that [a] pirates had been here two hundred years ago, and [b] they had left clues that had somehow remained undiscovered. We figured that maybe the recent construction had unearthed them.

Sure enough, they led to treasure! Right by a tree there was a beautiful bag that had two ornately embroidered purses, one of which had antique coins in them, no doubt highly valuable. They looked like they might have come from Thailand. Again, we marveled at our good fortune, and the serendipitous treasure-find was a highlight of the day. After that, dinner, some official birthday presents, a movie, and a very very very late night.

Sunday after church, Catherine and I went to Austin to visit with Jeff and Marina and Annabelle, my college roommate and his wife and delectable months-old daughter. As it happens, we were privy to their discovery that a seller had taken their offer, and that they are now the owners, minus some autographing ceremonies, of a new house.

The next day, Jeff awoke early and headed off to downtown Austin to compete in his second triathlon. We awoke a bit later to go down and wish him well. Unfortunately, Catherine is in such bad shape that watching a triathlon was apparently too much for her, and we decamped to Jason and Erin's (fellow-composer and pianist, respectively) so she could lie down a bit. They invited us to stay for their Memorial Day burger-and-awesome-cookie feast, which we did before going back downtown to hook up with Marina and her freshly-showered and triumphant husband, whose time was under two hours.

Spontaneous, fun-loving family and friends: what a weekend.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Here's what I said yesterday to a roomful of teenagers:

Christ is the anti-Midas. Everything he touches becomes worthless, and alive. Bring him your golden popularity: he'll make it worthless, to you and everyone — then it will come alive, and your skill with people and enjoyment of them can become organic matter. Bring him your dead, golden faith: he will devalue it, and make it green and flowering.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

not to worry

Last night, I was saddled by an enormous blow-up plastic thing. My niece, Hannah, was saddled by another one. We squared off and attacked each other viciously, in a small space that included lots of expensive sound and video equipment.

Outside, minister Debbie Potter exclaimed to mom-at-large Charlotte Mitchell her concern that something might happen, that things might get out of control, that things or people might wind up getting severely damaged. Charlotte's response was, "Oh, don't worry: it's Barry."

And that, my friends, is a sign of the end times.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I'm writing this at about nine in the morning. I'm told it was right about this time precisely thirty-nine years ago that I popped out into the bright dry world.

Today's my birthday. I won't be doing anything special on this very day, but Catherine and my family and I have a couple of things planned for when everyone isn't busy. Hopefully that will be before my next birthday.

In the meanwhile, one of my favorite lyricists, Paul Buchanan, recently said something in an interview with the Glasgow Herald (an interview that augurs good things), that strikes me as a good word for this day:

"Wasn't it great being alive? Just opening our eyes once — wasn't that unbelievable?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

love and quarreling

Last night, there were two meetings at my church at the same time: one was the main Wednesday night meeting, the other was the youth thing in the chapel. I had duties at the youth one, while the grown-ups upstairs dealt with Charlie's resignation. I realized how happy I was to be in the meeting where there was praise and worship and a pretty good talk about Islam, and teenagers I love to be with. They're why I'm here. I'm not here for the incredible satisfaction of being a deacon, or being on all the committees. I'm here because I've got a job to do with them.

I've had a few people respond with alarm about Sunday's post. I'll clarify: I've said goodbye, as I should have a long time ago, to the Trinity I grew up in. It's not the same church, and I'm not the same person, and this isn't the same world. That allows me to be here in the present, and allows me to say that I'm not loyal to Charlie or Trinity, or even myself. I have a higher loyalty, and I'll serve it wherever it takes me.

I tend to think that if you don't have a lover's quarrel with your church every now and then, you might not be as much of a lover as you could. I've revised that thought in the face of Catherine's church, which seems miraculously free of the kind of maneuvering and frustration that other churches have. But it's a freedom that comes at an expense, too: I don't think I'd be satisfied with being involved only in her church family. At this point, I still enjoy what a traditional church provides.

Expensive, yes. But I'm trying to cut down on the emotional expenditures and stick with doing what I love to do, and what I feel God has gifted me to do for right now. For whatever reason, teenagers are as drawn to me as I am to them. I truly love exploring the rich rich tapestry that is the Scripture, and finding out how truly shocking and challenging it is. I love communicating that shock and challenge to people. I plan to do so as long as I'm needed.

And I'll enjoy it, too.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

farewell to trinity

I remember the sights and sounds and smells of my baptism. For a Baptist, it's a big moment. I remember the rich chocolate voice of Buckner Fanning, the watery smell of the water in the baptistry, with the majestic stained-glass window behind me and the choir loft below, leading down to the pews whose aisles I always saw as connected to the four rivers of life proceeding from the figure of Christ on that window. It was in the evening, and I remember peering out straight across to the three windows above the balcony, at the back of the church, squinting a bit in their evening light.

Today, I went up to that place again — full of water this very day — and stood in front of it. I looked out again over that church that has changed so little and so much in all the right and wrong ways. I peered at the stained-glass windows, now the only ones that actually admit sunlight, looked all over the rivers of pews and of people angry and sad and helpless and in need, and I said, "Farewell."

Saturday, our pastor, Charlie Johnson, called my mom, whom he has always come to as a mentor, and told her that, in the face of threats and personal attacks, he couldn't continue. Today, he announced his resignation.

So. Maybe he was lying, or mistaken. Or, maybe, today the Pottery Barn Principle, as a good friend puts it, goes into effect: You Break It, You Own It. It's a lovely building. It needs God.

Not vice versa.

What constitutes faithfulness? Do I stay and do what I can? Do I stay and plow one-handed, shield in the other, or finally, at last, go to a place where I don't have to fight to simply serve? Several people have said that the kids at church need me. Catherine pointed out, a year ago, that kids in lots of churches need a good Sunday school teacher. Pretty convincing a year ago; very convincing today.

Pray for Charlie, not that he won't be just fine. Think! Tomorrow he'll wake up without a headache. Pray for Catherine and me; we will serve in the undamageable Kingdom, wherever we are led to, even at Trinity. If you feel like it, pray for "Trinity," whatever that is. And thank God that the meadow stays beautiful, not because God resuscitates flowers or keeps them from dying, but because he dresses the meadow in splendor with Ah! new flowers.