Tuesday, January 31, 2006

in memoriam

RIP, CSK. You and your husband will live on forever in the hearts of all who pursue a world of justice, equality, peace, and love.

Monday, January 30, 2006


"it was only a moment but that moment i keep, even if it means that i lose some sleep" -leslie kastrop, whose music i discovered today

so many moments from this weekend...driving to harper, tx with s.b. for a day at a friend's ranch...listening to s.d.'s hilarious stories of her father's antics (including an unfortunate incident in which the invincible mighty mouse is killed by a mouse trap)...licking vanilla/peach ice cream out a cone (it is 75 degrees here you know)...staying up til 1AM talking in the dark...petting horses...lunch at the Roadkill Cafe...offering my smile and kind eyes to homeless people at the SAMM Shelter as they wearily hand me their bags and are given a claim ticket for the morning (what else can i give?)...lifting my voice in a prayer for mercy among brothers and sisters sunday morning...discussing the spirituality of justice (consensus: it's more than equity--it's about love)...reclining outside in the january sun...consuming a.d.'s homemade salsa (delicioso!)...reflecting on Jesus as the Good Shepherd...a head-clearing bike ride (in which pain inducing uphill climbs were rewarded with an equal number of exhilarating downhill adventures)...and some brief entertainment brought to me by NBC.

Friday, January 27, 2006

musicians build, music binds

Shades of gray in a barren sky
An arch of gloom covers the land
Where we’re all still asking why
And wondering when the recovery will end

Piles of people’s lives lie on the dampened ground
Rubble yet to be replaced by a firm foundation
In the crescent’s hearts, hope for a new sound
To ease their pain and frustration

Into the dreary day drifts a different hue
Notes of a familiar melody cut through thick despair
In the form of trumpet, sax, and keys
Woven together by Harry and company

Every measure a kaleidoscope of sound
expressing the grief and grit of a million souls
just waiting for this nightmare to end
and a new dream to be born

for a moment, jazz and hope are alive in the 9th Ward.
-pjn 1/27/06

Find out more about the Musicians Village.

dinner conversation

"Who would be the leader of the free world if the United States no longer had that role?"

"Great Britain, probably."

"Hmmm. They're such a small country."

"They have a lot of history though. And money."

"That's true. I suppose that's more important than land...do you ever wonder what would have happened if the Germans had successfully bombed London and won the war?"

"I don't think people would have put up with Hitler for very long. Japan probably would have started another war."

"Yeah. You know, war always seems like the best solution at the time, but I wonder if it really is. It seems like every war just creates more war."

"Like in 1991 when we went into the Gulf the first time. I think the fact that we had been there before made it easier for us to decide to go back in this time."

"Could be. You know, I think I may be a pacifist. I know the Bible is a little ambiguous about war and there sure are a lot of wars in the Bible, but I don't think war actually permanently resolves anything. Every conflict seems to make the next one easier to start."


"If we seek our security and peace at the expense of someone else's, it can only fuel the cycle of retribution. By investing our security in more weapons to protect ourselves, we merely further the cycle of retribution and generate endless arms races, knowing our adversary will do the same. And then our security will be further threatened." -Jim Wallis, The Soul of Politics (1994)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Deus Caritas Est

"Love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her (the church) as ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. ... For the church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being."

-from Pope Benedict's first Encyclical released today

doubt not, o me of little faith

Anytime I have an inkling of doubt about what I am about to embark on by leaving the country for 3 years, something happens to convince me that doubt is totally unwarranted. The latest example occurred yesterday, when my boss informed me that my leave request for 3 weeks in March will be granted with no portion unpaid, AND I get to keep my job until the end of April when I fly to Managua. The rationale for this decision? Apparently I have been a great employee and they feel it is "the least they can do" to honor the work I have done for them over the last 2 years. This assessment, despite my own feeling that I have done very little to advance things in my area of responsibility since I arrived.

Anyway, this is an amazing and very positive development for me financially, as it means I will definitely be able to contribute a significant amount to my own outbound expenses over the next 3 months. All I can say is, God is amazing.

And on that note...I was reading in this book last night about how God is so much bigger than anything we can imagine, and when we think we can box him into some set of theological principles, we are missing the whole point of the mystery of faith and the ongoing ways God is speaking today through the Bible, other people, circumstances, and all of creation. We can get so caught up in "reading the Bible" that we fail to "let it read us", and hear what is meant to speak afresh into our hearts and lives.

Today I think of the disciple Thomas, who needed to touch the risen Christ to believe, and I am struck by my own doubt, and how God has met me in it and yet again proven Himself worthy of trust and confidence.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

music never dies

"I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news/but she just smiled and turned away/I went down to the sacred store where I'd heard the music years before/but the man there said the music wouldn't play and in the streets the children screamed, the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed" -Don McLean

Musicians in New Orleans are trying to bring the vibrancy of life and community back to the 9th Ward.

Monday, January 23, 2006

monday musings

1. Everything at Beto's is good. I should eat there more often--not just Friday night.

2. That new NBC show "The Book of Daniel" has some flaws (especially in its characterization of Jesus), but the most interesting thing about it is the man Daniel himself. His theology may not match my own, but he's a very likeable guy, and I find myself routing for him to resolve the (overly dramatic and) complicated situations in his life favorably.

3. I made a difference to at least 4 students Saturday by leading a workshop on Group Stages and Dynamics as part of a student leadership conference. Whee.

4. Sadly, the West Wing will wrap up its 7th and final season while I am in the Dominican Republic for my FH training. Mental note: get someone to tape the finale for me.

5. My new favorite recipe is for Italian Sausage/Tortellini soup. I made a heaping pot of it for dinner with the girls in the college bible study I lead, and had the leftovers for lunch today. Yum.

Friday, January 20, 2006

adventures in missing one's turn and discovering new places to listen to good music

So went my evening last night, as I attempted to navigate my way from my office to The Cove, a hole in the wall joint where you can eat, drink, wash your car, do your laundry, bring your kids, and oh, yeah, listen to live music almost every night.

For dinner I had the infamous fish tacos (spicier than I expected--not quite as good as Beto's) and spinach salad with mustard based dressing (better than I expected). I also snacked on someone else's fried mushrooms, and I definitely recommend that culinary delight. The place is a tad pricey, but it's owned by locals, so I really can't complain. While chowing down, I read a great article in the Current about my former neighborhood.

Then, at 8pm, my good friend Judson's band, West Kings Highway, started playing. The band consists of keyboard, guitar, and bass guitar--and a drum line that magically emits from a laptop where it has been prerecorded. It might sound a little weird, but the effect was almost as good as the real thing. The trio has a good combination of mellow and uptempo songs made interesting by vocal harmonies and keyboard creativity.

And a good time was had by all.


God is so good. In the last 24 hours He has brought 2 amazing gifts into my life--the first, a new friend and soon to be colleague in ministry in Nicaragua (Andrea) who will also be my roommate there; and second, an incredibly generous gift from a wonderful woman named Helen, who has provided the frequent flyer miles for my plane ticket to Managua. I now have a real departure date--Tuesday, May 2nd! Incredible. Just incredible.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

the story of glory

"The Messiah was the only one who didn't have a messiah complex." This was one of the many pithy statements Steve Hawthorne from Waymakers made last night at Week 2 of the Perspectives course I am taking on Wednesday nights this spring. Another was, "Do what you're given, not what you're driven." His point being, even Jesus left needs unmet while on earth. So none of us should feel like we are responsible for responding to every need around us. Not only is that impossible (and a recipe for disaster if we try), but Jesus never commanded or modeled that kind of behavior. Jesus knew what His work on earth consisted of, and he never drifted--every interaction, every miracle, every word was purposeful and intended to accomplish one thing: reveal God's glory.

As Steve pointed out last night, glory is a very "churchy" word. When was the last time you heard anyone use it outside the walls of a house of worship? More often in every day language people use words like "beautiful" or "amazing" when describing something "glorious". But I came to appreciate this word in a whole new way last night while listening to Steve speak. He made me consider that glory is the thing we all take notice of wherever it is found in the world (in creation, art, music, people). Glory is part of who we are as humans made in God's image--and we are therefore meant to increasingly reflect God's glory to others in the world, that we might be a blessing to them and bring honor to Him.

One of the most stunning expressions of this truth is found in this verse: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."(2 Corinthians 3:18)


books galore

As if I don't have enough reading material between books on Nicaragua and literary Christmas gifts, I recently ordered this and this from Amazon. After 5 pages of Gilead, I'm hooked. It's going to be hard to pace myself and allow this fictional work to be my reward for progress on the Food for the Hungry homework I'm supposed to be doing (I've got about 200 pages of reading and assignments in a binder in my room which I have to get through in the next 6 weeks. Yikes.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

another good sports movie

One of the original players on the historic NCAA championship team from Texas Western--now UTEP--works in my department (Nevil Shed, in case you're wondering), so of course I felt compelled to go see Glory Road on opening weekend...and I was not disappointed. This films rates right up there with Rudy and Remember the Titans. It's that good. Even with the artistic liberties and compression of 4 years into 2 hours. Even with the addition of racial tension that was culturally prominent in the 60s but not a direct experience of the players involved.

Our local sports columnist here, Buck Harvey, said in a column this week that all the spoiled multi-millionaire players in the NBA should watch this movie, to remember that the road to glory was paved with hard work, sweat, tears, and the sacrifices of many black athletes who never got the recognition they deserved.

I wholeheartedly agree. And, if you go, stay through the credits to see the real people talk about their experiences.

of seeds and spears

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."-John 12:24

So concludes a biography on Jim Elliot, a missionary to the Auca people of Ecuador back in the 1960s, who was killed along with 4 other men in their initial attempts to befriend the tribe. By a series of miraculous events, the leadership of this violent tribe which had for centuries relied on the spear to protect themselves and avenge wrongs has been radically transformed by the love of God demonstrated to them through the widows and children of the men who were killed.

A new movie chronicling this amazing sequence of events opens Friday, called The End of the Spear.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

rain, rain, don't go away...

oh, we need you this dry and dusty day... (selected lyric from caedmon's call song, "april showers")

we got a brief reprieve from the daily dryness and sunshine yesterday (not that i am complaining about sunshine), which was beyond wonderful for the parched south texas earth (and will hopefully reduce the ongoing risk of fire we've been facing for over a month now), but today the sky is blue again and the north wind has blown in, dropping the temperature to a balmy 45 degrees.

it's like they say--if you don't like the weather in texas, wait 5 minutes.

eight weeks and counting...

After wrestling with the logistics of attending a 3-week training (March 15-April 7th) required of all new Food for the Hungry staff for quite some time, I finally feel at peace with the decision. Originally I was concerned about going before I had finished support-raising, but I am getting close (relatively speaking--I still have about $5K left to go) and feel like this is the faithful decision to my calling (especially considering that the next training is not until August).

I still haven't worked out whether I will have to quit my job before attending this training, but if I do, I'm comfortable with the idea of temping or doing whatever I need to in the time between returning from the training and being able to leave for Nicaragua. I am hopeful and prayerful that I will be able to board a plane for Managua before the end of April.

It is hard to imagine that March 15th is 8 short weeks away. Lord, help me seize every moment in the meantime and make every day spent with loved ones meaningful and memorable...

Friday, January 13, 2006

star light, star bright

The January air is unusually warm tonight. We linger outside in the darkness, prolonging the memories we’ll recount years from now. Our eyes drift upward toward the pitiful array of stars that have somehow managed to outshine the city lights. You tell me where the constellations are, the ones that hide in the northern sky, beyond the clouds that have gathered high above. Stars were easier to see in that small town where you grew up than here, now.

Gazing at your face, a precious kind of light radiates from your twinkling eyes. Enveloped in that light are shades of kindness and gentleness, patience and peace, overflowing from your soul. Light like yours pierces clouds and brings joy to my heart.

A few parting words, a carefree hug and the evening is over. And I wonder, I wonder…

This flame that flickers in my soul? Does it mean anything to a brilliant star like you?

anatomy of a conversation

In no particular order, some of the elements of an evening with a good friend who took me to a Spurs game last night as a birthday/Christmas/going away present (we lost to the Pistons, but it was still a blast).

Coffee shops, contracts, spirituality, roommates, Pat Robertson, reality, NPR, workspace, Israel, weddings, LaserTag, traffic, Nicaragua, spectacles, Spurs, soda, politics, peace, Supreme Court, radio, Calvin and Hobbes, constellations, sports, presents…

Your friendship is the greatest gift, BPF. Thank you.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

cat and dog theology

There’s an old joke about cats and dogs that I heard retold last night in the context of a presentation by Lincoln Murdoch, a speaker who came to our church as part of a course being offered called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”. As the story goes, the inner monologue of most dogs about their owners goes something like this: “You feed me, you play with me, you pet me, you clean me…you must be God!” Meanwhile, the inner monologue of cats about their owners is more likely the following: “You feed me, you play with me, you pet me, you clean me…I must be God!”

Now, I’m equally ambivalent about both kinds of animal, but Murdoch’s story was intriguing to me because he used it as his jumping off point in illustrating the different ways people think about the relationship between God and humanity. Specifically, does God exist for us or do we exist for God? While our knee-jerk reaction (for those who profess faith in God) is to say, “we exist for God, of course,” I wonder how much of our every day lives bears witness to the exact opposite perspective. Whatever view we truly hold cannot help but reveal itself in the way we think about obedience to God, blessing, suffering, eternity, not to mention in the practical areas of career, family, finances, and relationships. Is it all about God, or all about me?

This was my food for thought last night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

i've heard enough

After watching 20 minutes of the Senate hearings for Judge Alito (first Sen. Schumer's questions, then Sen. Cornyn's) this afternoon, I had enough. All Sen. Schumer wanted to do was completely discredit the potential justice based on his apparently superficial membership of this Concerned Alumni of Princeton group and his refusal to come down definitively on the abortion issue. And all Senator Cornyn did with his time was feed Alito softballs, like "tell us how you are different from Justice Scalia and Bork" and make comments about how Alito is obviously talented and qualified and the opposition is desperate to find fault with him. Give me a break people. Meanwhile, Alito seemed cool under pressure but a little tired. Understandably, given this is the end of day 2 of questioning.

I hope at some point the committee will get beyond their bickering and just send the nomination to the full Senate for a vote. There's nothing that I have heard that makes me think his views are much different than any of the other justices (nominated by Republicans) who survived their confirmation hearings. So let's stop grandstanding and move on, folks.

(That concludes my political commentary for the week.)

morning musings

For the first time in two years, I have a 20 minute commute to work (previously it was 5 minutes, as my apartment was a hop, skip, and jump from my office). This in itself is not odd. What is odd is how I have adjusted to this reality in 3 short days.

For the greater part of 2004 and 2005, I awoke at the last split second I could (typically between 7:30-7:45am), completed my whirlwind morning routine (which consisted of the absolute bare minimum--shower, face wash, toothbrush, clothing, and hairbrush), and dashed out the door at 8:20am (sometimes later), arriving at my office between 8:29-8:45am). Usually I would be right on time, but lately I was getting in the (usually unnoticed but mildly guilt-inducing) habit of showing up 10 minutes late every morning.

This week, I have gotten up between 6:30-7am (depending on morning meetings and which campus I had to be at), done all the basic things normal people do, and in addition, finished a full cup of coffee, skimmed the local paper, applied makeup, and washed the morning dishes. All this by 8am, when I calmly walk out the doorand start my car, which predictably gets me from my new home to my office by 8:20am.

Does anyone else find it odd that I suddenly have no problem waking up 30 minutes earlier than the past 2 years and I’m able to get out of the house even earlier than necessary?

The mysteries of the universe never cease.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

a tale of two trees

Two hackberry trees grew up together in a wood near a small creek. In the moist, rich soil, their roots grew deep and intertwined with one another as they reached deeper and deeper into the earth. At the same time, the grove around them protected their soft bark from the harsher elements of Mother Nature. The space around them enabled their branches to expand out in many directions and so they did, exploring the wide world around them and swaying in the gentle breezes that passed through their lives.

The hackberry trees admired one another greatly, for they had many similar interests and qualities, and spent many hours laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and discussing what might become of them and the forest in which they lived. Each grew strong and tall with the passing years as they took on their mature triangular features. Fruit began to grace their grayish-brown branches, a lovely royal purple berry with goldenrod flesh.

One day the tenderhearted female tree remarked, “I believe that someday soon I will leave this forest, for some greater purpose is in store for me.”

The loyal male tree replied, “No doubt your purpose is very noble, my lady. I hope my own is equally so.”

Not long after this conversation, a group of men sauntered into the hackberry pair’s grove. As they approached the area where the two trees stood, the lady’s soul fluttered. “I believe she is perfect for my daughter’s bedroom,” one man thought to himself, and he quickly took his ax and cleanly chopped her trunk and the group carried her out of the forest. The lady whispered quietly in her branches, “Surely the place where I am going is quite special.”

After a short journey in the back of a large truck, the men removed the lady’s fruit and leafy green branches and began to artfully transform her into a shapely hope chest. When the chest was complete, the man called his daughter into the backyard to see the gift he had promised her.

“Oh, daddy, it’s beautiful!” she cried as she hugged him tight. The man smiled and tried to record each detail of the child’s bright blue eyes and joyous expression in his mind. His eight year old daughter did not have long to live, the doctors had told him, and her only wish was to have a hope chest just like momma’s where she could put her favorite dolls and the letters and pictures her mother had given her before going to be with Jesus last year. The lady hackberry, now an elegant treasure chest, proudly held the memories of the precious child for six months before the cancer took the little girl away.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, the gentleman hackberry wondered if he would ever see his friend again. His branches rustled as he yearned to talk with her and see how time had changed her, and what great purpose she had fulfilled. He wondered too, about what his own purpose might yet be.

About seven months later, a familiar teary-eyed man returned to the forest, to the very spot where the lady hackberry had stood. He carried no ax this time, just a small picture of his fair-headed little girl sitting atop a magnificent rich brown wooden box. The hackberry knew immediately that this was his long-lost lady friend beneath the child in the picture. The father sat down among the decomposing leaves, leaned against the hackberry, and wept.

The hackberry sighed as he felt the weight of the father’s sorrow pressing through his bark. As he wondered what comfort he could offer, he sensed the man’s sadness slowly lifting. The tree’s gentle trunk and sweet-smelling fruit were lifting the cloud of grief as the man remembered his daughter’s love of the forest and the many walks among the trees that the three of them had taken so many years ago before the illness came.

Suddenly refreshed, the man arose and quickly departed. When he returned, he was carrying his ax and had several friends with him. The father, with new light in his eyes, chopped down the hackberry tree that had shared his burdens and drove it home. With great skill he sawed and nailed the beautiful wood together until he had created a new bench for his backyard. Weary but satisfied, the man sat down on the bench. In the distance, the sun was setting over a grove of hackberry trees just beyond his backyard fence.

The man smiled. “You hackberry trees brought us great joy,” he whispered softly. “Now the beauty of your gifts to my family will be appreciated by every generation.”

-pjn 1/10/06

Monday, January 09, 2006

it's official.

With a twinge of sadness and great anticipation, I've said goodbye to my yellow castle with the roomy porch in the heart of downtown SA and have taken up residence with my good friend Lesley who has a spare room in her lovely house in Terrell Hills. I'll be living there until I leave for Nicaragua, which will hopefully be in April (following a 3-week training for new staff), but may be later depending on what happens with my financial situation in the meantime.

Stay tuned.

memorable moments in 2005

In chronological order:

Traveling to Houston on January 1st to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. (My friend Karen and I got up at 7am to make the drive after staying up til 1am the night before celebrating the new year. I don't know how we did it--oh wait. There was some Starbucks involved.)

Traveling to Phoenix in March to finalize my commitment to serving overseas with Food for the Hungry. I spent a week there and even got in a short hike with my fellow cohort members. Phoenix is beautiful! If I were ever to live somewhere else in the southwest, I would want to live there.

Weekend trip to Mexico in April. We framed and roofed an addition to a sister church in Piedras Negras.

Weeklong mission trip to La Meseta in the Dominican Republic in July. It was my third trip to that beautiful country and another amazing opportunity to serve and learn from the generous and loving people of that impoverished land.

Attending Emergent Cohort discussions beginning during the summer and making some wonderful new friends in the process, including Paul, Amy, Cliff, Susan, Casey, Mark, Mike, and Ginger.

Assisting with Hurricane Katrina evacuees in shelters around town in early September. What a devastating time for the Gulf Coast region--the effects of which I am sure we will be feeling for years to come.

My first trip to the hospital since birth when I was mysteriously bitten by a spider (or something) and could not walk for a week in mid-September! I had to drink the most disgusting stuff ever so they could do a CAT scan on me to see how far the poison spread internally. Thankfully, I had some great friends who took care of me during that time and I fully recovered.

Weekend trip to Houston to see an old college friend, Carolyn, in October. It was a great two days visiting with her. But, I decided after enduring the traffic chaos there for two days that I will NEVER move there.

My five-year college reunion. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

BIG BEND! Quite possibly the most beautiful place in Texas. For more on that exciting weekend, check out my posts from November.

Dinner with Brian McLaren, one of the leaders in the "Emergent Conversation" and author of numerous books, including A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy.

Symphony outings with Byron, Amy, and Cara and Judson throughout the year--I think this year I set a record for symphony attendance with 5! Every time was magical and memorable. Music is an inspirational gift--what would the world be without it?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

letting go

I awoke this morning to the sound of my doorbell ringing shortly before 8am. Groggily, I approached the door and greeted two men from the Salvation Army. They were here to take away a dresser, two barstools, my desk since 9th grade, and my beloved hand-me-down, blue, beat-up couch. (Yesterday I gave away my two bookcases to the new high school ministry director at my church.) All things I had freely received from others, and decided to freely give to someone else who could hopefully make better use of them than I.

The combination of being sick the past few days, packing and cleaning (in preparation for moving day tomorrow), staying up late two nights in a row to watch Penn State outlast FSU and then (with great incredulity) witnessing the Longhorns win the Rose Bowl (followed by staying up even later trying to finish The Da Vinci Code—it was no use; I’ve still got 100 pages to go) has taken its toll on me.

Nevertheless, despite (or perhaps because of?) my worn-down state, I had no time to mourn the loss of the menagerie of furniture that has made all my past abodes “home”. Instead, I watched with a vacant stare as each item was carried out of my small apartment. When it was all over, I picked up the things that had gathered in the space hidden by the couch. Not much of note—some newspaper, tissues, envelopes, and my VCR remote. I stared at the typed receipt the men had left on the counter. The only tangible reminder of the things I used to call my own. After a minute, I put it down, walked into my bedroom and dressed for work.

(In case you are wondering if I have anything left…a tv/stand, mattress, boxspring, and bedside table still remain in my rapidly-becoming-unfurnished apartment.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Shamanic prophecy and certainty
About life, the universe, and everything
Words of divine truth proceed from your lips
But it’s hard to come to grips
With epiphanies you claim come from the Source
When you glaze over the Truth I embrace and call it
an empty force

a peck here, a peck there, and everything is fine
obligatory displays of affection to soothe your restless mind
but deep inside a chasm remains
between your heart and mine
kisses like Ezekiel’s bones
and embraces like rusty bolts

what little connects us now
but some blood and a lineage
much thinner than the water that
ties me to another family tree
united by Love and eternity

where then shall I lay my head
not in the lap of one who nursed me at birth
but in the arms of One who gave me
Bread to sustain and Balm to regain
all hope.

-pjn 1/3/05