All posts by jimazing

Workin’ for the Man – Part 4

Brass Musical Instrument Technician (Apprentice)

jimshands.JPGWhen I was a teenager and thinking about what I wanted to do for a career, I knew that I had three loves (other than Jeanie, of course): Jesus, music and working with my hands. I can remember agonizing about what I was going to do for a living the rest of my life. I had just decided that music education was not for me, but what was for me? That was the question. The rest of one’s life at 18 years old seems like an awfully long time. My love for Jesus and my love for music seemed to add up to “minister of music”, but the thought of going down that path was not at all appealing. Even then, I was driven by a sense that being a serious follower of Christ should be able to fit into whatever career path one took. I knew that I could follow Jesus with my whole heart without having to work in a church for a living. Please hear my heart on this, I’m not putting down anyone who works in a church. I am saying that I was not interested in a professional ministry. That’s about me… as is the rest of my blog. My other choice seemed to be to combine my love of music with my desire to work with my hands. I put those two together and decided that more than anything, I wanted to fix musical instruments. That choice was not clear out of the blue however. In high-school, when the repairman from Fox Music, Mr. Maxwell, came to my school to do maintenance and repairs, I watched him as long and as often as I could. I also hung out with Roddy, who was a repairman of sorts at Leonards Music Store. They were both great encouragements to me… although Mr. Maxwell’s most heartfelt advice was to run from this career. He kept telling me that I would never get rich from it. What he really meant to say was that I could very well get poor doing it. He was right.

In 1978, I left Newberry College, married my highschool sweetheart and we headed to App State (ASU) in Boone, NC so I could complete a degree in Music Technology (instrument repair). When I arrived and enrolled, I learned that the program was already being discontinued. I was determined, however, and I approached the leader of the now defunct Music Technology program, known affectionately as “Happy Jack”. Happy Jack had his own music store/repair shop in Boone. So I asked him (actually begged and pleaded with him) for a job in his repair shop. He tried to disuade me too, but I finally convinced him that I was serious about wanting to learn to do instrument repair, so he “hired” me to apprentice with his brass technician, John Dameron. I put “hired” in quotation marks because he paid me $50 a week for which I was expected to put in 40 hours as if I were a regular employee. I considered $50 paid to me to be more favorable than my paying tuition to ASU and I happily accepted the proposition. At that time, Jeanie was a nurse and we could survive comfortably on her income.

trumpet-bell.jpg John taught me everything there was to know about repairing brass instruments. He was quite a teacher. To say that he cared greatly about attention to detail would be a gross understatement. Let’s just say that he literally would not accept anything less than perfection. I learned everything from basic repair to dent removal to complete refinishing. It was sometimes meticulous, always demanding, frequently dirty work and I loved it! When we refinished horns, we would buff them to a mirror finish. In the final buffing step, we used a compound called red rouge. This was so fine that even wearing a tee-shirt, workshirt and an apron, my skin would be completely red on buffing days. Doing this kind of work, I felt like an old world craftsman. Even though we used modern tools where we could, so much of the work was manual and intricate. We often referred to ourselves as “elves”.

After being there for a year or so, I approached Happy Jack about really getting paid for what I was doing. He was not willing to increase my salary to something reasonable, so I resigned. In years to come, I would return to the world of instrument repair, but I didn’t know that at the time. As much as I wanted to be an “old world craftsman”, I was beginning to feel the tug of responsibility. It was time for me to find a way to earn a living so we could start thinking about a family. Many of the guys in our church worked on a tree planting crew and were making “big bucks”. More about the tree crew next time…


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 3

jim-trombone-1977.jpg Music Librarian

At Newberry College as a music major, I worked in the music library for a short time. I have no strong memories of the music library. It was a job that gave me a little spending money. I was a student at Newberry for two years majoring in Music Education. The funny thing is, I didn’t want to be a music teacher. Does that make sense? It didn’t make sense to me either so I dropped out much to the chagrin of my parents.

I was quiet and kept to myself a lot, but I loved to perform… still do. I wish I had talked out my feelings about school and career and sought the wisdom of others. I don’t wish that because of regret for my choices. I wish it now because it would have been healthier for me emotionally then. I was pretty headstrong and sure of myself. On the inside I was scared of the future and unsure that I was really making wise decisions. In a way, I think I was full of questions and afraid to ask them.

I have a lot of fond memories of Newberry College. We had an excellent jazz ensemble and I got to play trombone a lot. (If you click that goofy picture, you can see the rest of the Jazz Ensemble). I had some pretty good chops back then… not as good as I thought I had, but pretty good 🙂 Each year, the jazz program brought in a world class professional jazz musician to do a clinic and play a concert with our band as the backup. They featured some really big names too. Each year, they rotated through the different sections of the band. My first year was trumpet year and they brought in Marvin Stamm. I remember Marvin as being a “health nut”, which meant that he was a runner and ate yogurt. One of the trumpet players in our band, Steve Wentzky, in imitation of Marvin, began eating yogurt like there was no tomorrow. Sadly, instead of making him a better trumpeter it led to kidney stones. The doctors had to open up his back to get them out, which meant no trumpet for several months. I felt so bad for him. He was a really good trumpet player. In fact, he played for Jeanie’s and my wedding.

My second (and last) year was trombone year, the year that they featured a pro trombonist. This was extra special for me because I was the only music major whose main instrument was trombone. Much to my delight, they decided to feature Bill Watrous , who was the number one trombonist around. I was beside myself. It felt like they had brought him in for me alone even though their choice was merely because it was trombone year.

I know this post was more about school than work, but it’s my blog and I can write what I want to. Tongue out

Next time, the beginning of my musical instrument repair career.


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 2

This is part two of a series about my work career…

Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper

elbow.jpg Much like my first job, this was working for one of my dad’s sub-contractors. In the 1970’s we didn’t have flexible duct work like I see in houses today. Air Conditioning ducts were either sheet metal boxes that we had to custom make or hard sheet metal pipe. All the sheet metal and pipe was stored at the shop where we met at the beginning of each day. We, helpers would be assigned to work with a crew each day. Sometimes it was mildly interesting. Mostly it was hot, hard and miserable work. Even though we were working on AC, we didn’t get to enjoy AC for ourselves. I was paid minimum wage (about $3/hr) and with overtime, I could bring home over $100 in a week! That made it all worth while.

The owner of the company and I had a few unpleasant episodes. He was not a happy man. angry-boss.jpgOnce in the middle of the day, he was away and there were two or three crews at the shop making ductwork for our jobs… only we weren’t actually doing much of that. We were all sitting around or lying on the tables shooting the breeze. The owner drove up into the parking lot and everyone jumped up and started looking busy. Everyone but me, I should say. I wondered why the others thought we needed to pretend that we were busy when we weren’t. I guess I felt that we should be the same whether he’s around or not. Deep down, I can see that I had a good desire to be transparent. Had it been a perfect world, the incident might have turned out differently. As it was, I got an ass chewing that I won’t soon forget (it has been over 30 years). Although this probably wasn’t the message he wanted me to take away, I learned the importance of “not drawing attention to one’s self” and “always looking busy when the boss is around.” That lesson has haunted me ever since and has kept me from being as productive as I could be. I wish I could unlearn it easier.

One day I was assigned to a sheet metal mechanic from Vietnam. I have two memories of that day. First thing was that he was late for work, so on the way to the job site, we swung by his house to pickup breakfast that his wife had made. She had made some sort of egg roll looking dish, which he shared with me. I don’t know what was in it, but it stays in my memory as one of the best things I ever ate. Later that day, I asked him a rather insensitive question, but I wanted to know. I asked, “Why do your people always have names like, ‘Hong’ or ‘Wong’ or ‘Fong’?” His answer was perfect. He looked me in the eye and replied, “Why your people always have names like, ‘Jimmy’?” I didn’t ask him anything else.

One day, we had more helpers than we needed and I was designated to stay behind and clean the shop. Cleaning the shop consisted of sweeping the floors and straightening out the bins. The bins were wire cages in a storage room where the different sizes and shapes of pipe were separated. That room was a complete wreck! I started picking up pieces of pipe and throwing them in the right bin, but quickly realized that I wasn’t really making it any better because the pipe that was already in the bin wasn’t the size that belonged there. I realized that the only way to straighten the bins was to empty them completely then put everything back in its place, so I did it. It took all day to finish, but when I was done it looked great! Everything was in its place and the whole place was neat. When the crews came back at the end of the day, they were amazed. They had never seen that room so neat. Someone must have told the owner because he took a look and even he complimented me on what a good job I had done! Takeaway lesson of that day, “I like organizing things and I’m good at it.” In fact I still like to organize things. I think that’s why I enjoy working with databases so much.

Next time, My exciting and short career as a music librarian. Stay tuned.


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 1

manhole.gif My cousin, Fernando asked me recently what other kind of work I had done before I turned geek, and why I am not doing that anymore. I kinda put it on the back burner for a while. However, since this blog is all about letting my family know who I am, I thought I’d tell a few work stories. These are the many types of jobs I have held over the years. Please forgive me if I mess up the chronology of it all.

  • Electrician’s Helper
  • Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper
  • Music Librarian
  • Apprentice to a Brass Musical Instrument Technician
  • Manufacturing Woodstove mats
  • Tree Planter/Tree Killer
  • Forest Firefighter
  • Painter
  • Iron Worker
  • Cook / Restaurant Manager
  • Musical Instrument Repair Technician
  • Business Owner
  • Computer Programmer
  • Other IT stuff

I will chop it into a few separate entries and then in the end, I may join them together in their own page.

Electrician’s Helper

When I was finishing my 8th grade year of school, my dad (a homebuilding contractor) arranged for me to work for his electricical subcontractor, Heyward. I was legally too young to work, but Heyward paid my $25 a week (a princely sum for me) out of his pocket. The work was hard and hot and I am sure that I wasn’t a good worker. Once while digging a ditch for an electrical wire, I was so tired and uninspired that I stopped to rest. I started working again when the boss arrived. I don’t remember him being angry, but he didn’t let me off the hook completely either. He told me that the way to do it is to work when the boss isn’t around so when he arrives, you can stop and shoot the breeze with him. Good advice. I learned to install plugs and switches in houses. The hard part (at least for a youngster) is installing the cover plates on the wall after they have painted without getting the wall dirty. Although I am sure I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was a great experience for me. Thanks Dad.

Next time, I’ll tell a story or two about being a Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper…


Workin’ for the Man Series

Photoreading

reader.png I did something different tonight. I photo-read The World Café, a book about creating environments where we can encourage and explore conversations that matter. My friend, John recommended it. When John tells me he thinks I’ll like a book, he’s usually right on target.

I like the idea of creating “café” environments where we invite a diverse mix of people, ask important questions, encourage everyone to share freely, “cross polinate” ideas, observe and look for the emerging ideas in-between the spoken thoughts. It reminds me of another book I read about a year ago, The Wisdom of Crowds , in which the underlying message is that all of us are smarter than any one of us. It is an idea that intrigues me and stirs me.

I find that most of the conversations I am a part of are about unimportant things and I do not feel compelled to jump in with my ideas. Sometimes I have the courage to inject some of my thoughts and try to steer the conversation into a dialog about things that matter. That opens the door to ridicule, bewilderment or silence. Every once in a while, it leads to a bigger conversation. One statement stirs another person to say something that stirs someone else and before you know it, we are talking about things that matter.

I started this entry with the intention of talking about photoreading, not the World Café. Disclaimer: I am not recommending any “PhotoReading” course. I have never taken any course or studied it formally to make such a recommendation. I just want to tell you about what I did tonight 🙂

I first ran across the idea of PhotoReading on another blog where a course was being offered at a substantial discount. I have read enough articles on this blog to have some respect for his integrity. While I do not always agree with the author, I feel sure that if he says he uses the system and likes it, he does. It was enough to pique my curiosity, which lead me to search the web about it. Of course the comments I found ranged from its being a waste of money to a life saver. I learned enough to decide that I didn’t need to spend $100 to find out more. I learned enough to try it all by myself. Here’s what I did:

  1. Sat up straight at the kitchen table with good light
  2. Looked over the book to see how it felt, type size and style, length of chapters etc.
  3. Looked closely over the table of contents to see how the book was laid out and what it covered
  4. Closed my eyes and breathed deeply for about a minute to help clear my mind
  5. Read the book by scanning each page. Took about 2-3 seconds per page, not worrying about getting all of the content
  6. Three or four times, I stopped for a break to stretch or go to the… well to take a break.
  7. After about two hours, I had read the book completely!

Thoughts about the experience:

  • The layout of the pages changed between 2 or 3 styles. Some pages were printed all the way across, while others were a narrower column with a wide margin. Some pages had lots of graphics and a few were laid out completely differently to put a lot of organized info on a page. The differences slowed me down.
  • I found that on the wider pages, my eyes were following a figure eight motion on each paragraph. On the narrower pages, I could simply scan them in a single, linear motion.
  • A few times, I read a page or two and realized that my mind had completely wandered to something else and I went back to re-read them. While this was mostly frustrating, more than once, my wandering mind was imagining applications for the information. That was neat.
  • Normally, this book would have taken me about a month to read. I wonder if I got as much out of the book reading it in one sitting as I would have reading it “normally”. My guess is that I got more out of it this way. When I read slowly getting every word, I don’t remember everything I read. I don’t remember every word now either, but I don’t think that is that the point.
  • The thoughts I shared at the beginning of this blog entry were from memory.  I don’t know how well I captured the whole book, but I do remember some of it 🙂
  • I could not have done this if there had been any distractions.
  • I really wanted to read this book, so that was a big motivator.

I said this was something new. It is actually my second photoreading session. I recently photoread, The Papa Prayer and then immediately re-read it “normally”. The second time through, I got more of the details. I wasn’t sure if it would feel like a second reading. It did.

Will I do it again? Definitely! Will I read every book like this? Probably not. I can’t imagine reading a novel this way.

What do you think? Have you ever tried anything like this? Would you? If you do, let me know what it was like for you. If you buy the program, I’d be interested in hearing about that too.

Team of Rivals

teamofrivals.gifI just got through listening to a recorded book, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I started this tome early in August when I drove to St. Louis to visit Melody in Medical School at SLU and just finished it tonight. What a great story! The book chronicles the lives of Abraham Lincoln and the men who eventually became his presidential cabinet. The common characteristic of each of these men in his cabinet is that they were his rivals for the presidency in 1860!  They each brought a different perspective to Lincoln.  While their bickering and in fighting must have been a distraction, Lincoln’s steady temperament held them together.  I highly recommend this book.

I never liked the subject of History, when I was a young man, but it is becoming more interesting to me now. I think that change is the result of a combination of at least three elements:

  1. I am older and I understand better how I am affected by history; both my own history and the history of those who came before me. I cannot separate myself from it. The lives that we have led and the decisions that we (and so many others) have made have brought us to where we are today. This is where we are and we must create our future from here. We cannot pick a different starting place.
  2. I think a new breed of historians are using their creative talents to find more compelling ways to communicate history. For instance, Ken Burns’ documentary, The War that is playing on PBS right now has my attention completely. The way he tells the stories makes me feel like a part of it myself.
  3. I am learning that the talents and leanings that God placed in me are largely centered around connecting with people, hearing their stories, encouraging them. When I read the biography of Benjamin Franklin a couple of years ago, I realized that the history around the man was more enjoyable to me.  As I asked myself why that might be, I realized that I was “seeing history through the life of the man” rather than “history by the events”. The history courses that I remember were centered on historical events first and people second; as if the people who were part of the events were less important than the events themselves. For me, connecting with historically significant people makes the history come alive as a secondary result of knowing the person.

My next recorded book is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I will let you know what I learn about me from that book too. 🙂

Growing From the Edges

broken-jim.jpgIn my last post, The San Francisco Trip , I wrote…

We had a great time and a few adventures ; some planned and some not so planned. I am learning that the unplanned adventures are where growth occurs… or not. These are the places where it is possible to get un-stuck.

This is about the unplanned adventure…

The Adventure

The night of the Alcatraz tour, Jeanie and I drove into San Francisco in the car while Justin and Erin came from Berkely on the BART (subway). We parked in a garage and they walked from the BART to Pier 33 where the Alcatraz tour meets. The tour was awesome and afterwards, we had dinner. We offered to drive Erin and Justin to the station because it would save them a mile long walk and also because it was getting close to the last BART run for the night. When we arrived at our garage, the doors were locked and the garage was closed for the night! We couldn’t believe it. In a big city like San Francisco, the garages close? We were without a car.

My feelings were running strong right then. I felt very tired; I was ready to stop walking and go to bed. I felt foolish for having parked in a garage that closed while we were out. I felt confused because I was tired and forced to make a decision that I had never been faced with before. I didn’t know what to do. We quickly discussed what to do next and came to the decision that we were all going on the BART to Berkeley for the night. We quickly realized that we no longer had the luxery of a drive to the BART, we had to walk… FAST to get there AND buy tickets for Jeanie and me before the last train.

We walked and walked and walked some more. Finally arrived at the station and there was a line to get tickets! ARGH! While I waited in line, Erin tried to buy them on the other side of the gates, but that didn’t work. I finally got to the ticket machine and called Justin over to me. I said, “Tell me what to do.” I didn’t have the luxury of time to figure out what to buy or how to tell the machine. He told me which buttons to push and everything was going just fine until the machine rejected my ATM card. I froze momentarily then decided to use the credit card. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t using the card I thought I was. I thought I was using my debit card, but it was a credit card. I said, “Oh, I used the wrong card,” as I put the right one in and typed my PIN. While I was doing that, Jeanie asked me, “Which card did you use?” I’m afraid, my response was not what I wished it had been. In the moment I snapped at her, I don’t remember the words, but the message I sent very strongly was, “It doesn’t matter which card I used, just leave me alone and let me do this!”

I got the tickets and we hurried down the escalator. Just as we stepped off the escalator, the train came to a stop in front of us. It was literally that close of a call. Had we missed the train, I am not sure what we would have done next. I am grateful that we didn’t have to make that decision. After we settled in for the ride, I apologized for snapping at her, but it was clearly not the right time to resolve the issue. We were both just too tired to think clearly. It was a very quiet ride to Berkeley.

When we got to their apartment, Erin was so wonderful. She got on the computer and printed out the instructions for us to ride the BART back the next morning and what bus to catch to avoid the long walk on the other side too. It was just what we needed and I was too sleepy to understand it the night before. We got back, got the car, complained to the garage attendent (who was sorry for us, but charged us the overnight fee regardless). We drove back to the hotel and begged for a little extra time to check out, which they were very gracious to allow us. (Thank you, Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City). Lastly, we checked out of the hotel and drove back to Berkeley to really visit with the newlyweds.

What I Learned

I was not happy with my behavior that night. I was feeling emotions very strongly for good reason and I couldn’t seem to control myself. The next day I was better able to articulate what I learned. On the way to the hotel, I asked Jeanie if I could tell her what I learned about myself. She listened as I shared my heart. I shared with her how I have a tendency (maybe even a need) to focus on a single thing at a time. When I am concentrating on a task, nothing else matters. If someone interrupts me when I am focused, I feel irritable because the thing I am focused on is all that matters to me. That ability to focus is a strength, but if I am not careful, I can run roughshod over people I care about all for the sake of a task. I feel like I want to be left alone and yet, I recognize my need for community.

Mostly what I took away from this experience is a feeling that I am in a bubble with a very thick skin. I try to keep my heart and emotions well within this skin where I have control over them. I imagine others living in similar bubbles. When we move close together, our skins rub agains one another and wear thin. It feels like the emotion escapes as I begin to lose control. It is in the connections, the places where the bubbles touch and rub agains one another that we have the ability to understand ourselves better and to grow. When I feel, and I know I am feeling, I can examine the emotion and ask what belief or desire is causing me to feel that emotion. In this way, I learn what my heart of hearts truly believes and what I really desire from my core being. Let me try to explain…

My friend, Curt used to say, “We say what we think, but we live what we believe.” I think that is true. The heart-belief I am talking about is from the core of our being rather than an intellectual belief that we talk about. It is the belief that is so much a part of us that it controls our behavior. shakerchair.jpgIt is the difference between saying, “I believe that chair will hold me up,” (intellectual belief) and sitting in the chair (heart belief).

What will happen on an emotional level if I sit in the chair and it works just like I expected it to? Nothing. What happens if the chair breaks beneath me as I sit on it? I will feel strongly. I may feel angry or embarrassed. Whatever the emotion, it is easy at that point to blame the chair, but the feelings don’t come from the chair. They come from my core belief that chairs are supposed to hold people when they sit on them.

My friend, John has taught me that if I can stop myself (while I am feeling strongly) and ask, “What am I feeling?” Then I can follow it with the next question, “What do I believe or desire that causes that feeling?” The belief may be true or not. The desire is probably good on some level although it may be expressed in an unhealthy way.

The cool thing is what I can learn from my emotions. When I feel, I can learn what my own desires and beliefs are! I can know myself better and as I know better who I am, I know better who God made me to be.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. –Psalm 139:23-24

The night of the adventure this is what I learned that I believed and desired…

  • I felt irritated because I believed I was the cause of our stressful situation — A false belief. I didn’t cause the situation.
  • I had a desire to fix the ticket problem and get to the train — A good desire.
  • I felt frustrated because I believed I should be able to answer Jeanie’s question and finish buying the ticket too — A good desire, but based on a false belief. I was unable to do that. I need to know my limitations.
  • I felt frustrated and pressured because of a fear that we were going to miss the train — A very likely possibility that fortunately did not come to pass.

I am thankful that I have a sweetheart who loves me in spite of myself and who is willing to listen to me and truly hear my heart. I am also thankful for a God who pursues me as if He really loves me. What a concept!

The San Francisco Trip

cimg1233-small.JPGJeanie and I just returned from a trip to San Francisco and Berkeley, the new home of our daughter, Erin and her hubby, Justin. We had a great time and a few adventures; some planned and some not so planned. I am learning that the unplanned adventures are where growth occurs… or not. These are the places where it is possible to get un-stuck. What follows is a highly summarized photo tour of our trip. From over 500 photos down to 16, I would say I did pretty good. Click here for a slide show of photos.

Click here for a quick photo tour… Continue reading The San Francisco Trip

The First Step

jimbo-first-steps.jpgWhen I started posting about my “crisis of faith”, I realized that I was taking some people into deep water. Some of my readers are experiencing similarities in their journey of faith. In fact they have let me to other bloggers who are asking similar questions…

While I want to avoid simply searching out reading material merely to validate my experiences, I do sense that in general, there is a movement of Christ followers who are pushing back against the structures of church that have been built for many many years. I have lots of thoughts on that subject that I hope to blog about at another time. But not tonight. Tonight, I want to focus on some questions that Beckster raised in her comments on my last post. Beckster and I go way back and I am impressed with her honesty and the depth of her questions.

…how does one go about living outside of the box in faithfulness and in truth? What are the first steps? It is very scary to step out on faith and trust the Holy Spirit to guide me, but I would be willing to do it if I just knew what it was that I should do. What is it that God really wants?

I would like to hear from you, my readers… Both of you. Do these questions stir you? What are your thoughts? How do we get started truly stepping out in faith? Trusting the Holy Spirit?

Before I turn you loose, I want to ask a question. Isn’t that a cute little feller walking with his mama? Ok, it’s your turn now. Ready… Set… Go!

Red Pill? Blue Pill?

…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:11)

The battle is real. The stakes are our lives and the lives of the ones we love. The good guys are not always the good guys and the bad guys are not always the bad guys. The tools we use to fight are not the ones we are used to… they are not the ones we have been given by the good guys either. It is time for us to wake up and see the reality that is around us.

red-pill-blue-pill.pngIn The Matrix, when Neo takes the red pill, it destroys the fantasy that he had been living all of his life. He finds out that the world is not at all what it appeared to be. All the pleasures that he had experienced were there simply to mollify him into complacency. The powers in control wanted him to be happy and not ask questions. All the while the “machine world” was literally sucking the life out of him. Here’s how I see it playing out in the present…

For some time, I have been going through a “crisis” in my faith. I have begun to question many of the beliefs that I always took for granted. I was raised in the church and the church was good for me. I have a foundation of understanding of the Bible that I could never have gotten if I had not found a relationship with God until I was an adult. There is something about the things we learn as children that make them stick. They become the foundation that our life is built on. That’s is not always a good thing, but I’m talking about good things. As an adult, I realize that the people who taught me those thing were flawed just like me. When I was a child, I thought the adults knew it all. I saw life in two stages, childhood and adulthood. Childhood is the learning stage where you are working your way into adulthood. Then it is over. As an adult, you have it all together. I was wrong! The ones who were adults when I was a child did not have all the answers. I thought they did, but now I know that they were full of questions and doubts just like me… Many of them, unlike me, didn’t ask the questions, or let their doubts see the light of day. Most of them, if offered, took the blue pill.

The Matrix

This story is about the Church. Just the word, “church” evokes emotion in me and probably anyone who knows the meaning of the word. When I hear the word, “church”, I think of buildings with steeples, store-front buildings, homes that people gather in, meetings on Sunday, meetings on Wednesday, meetings on Saturday night. I think of preachers giving messages, songs sung, acapella or with pianos, organs, drums, guitars, keyboards and let’s not forget the horns and violins. We talk about “going to church”, which (to people like me) means attending an event of some sort on Sunday morning. I have great memories of church and not so great memories of church. I cannot cover every thought I have about church, so what I want to focus on, in this blog entry is the Sunday morning event and how it is of such paramount importance. It was expected that “good christian people” go to church every Sunday. It was (and is) a duty that must be fulfilled.

The Red Pill

The struggles that I have been going through lately are very real and hard. I find that many of my friends from years past and present are going through similar struggles. Some of them have met me here on this blog in their comments. Others are blogging and sharing their struggles. Some have been at it for a while and others are only just beginning to allow themselves to ask the hard questions. While I want to encourage the examination of our hearts, I also want to add a word of caution. It may seem that those who constructed the churches are the enemy. They are not! They are us and we are them. More about that at the end…

The feelings we have are our own. Our feelings come from our values. When I find myself irritated “in church”, I ask myself why. Here’s what that conversation looks like… Not too long ago, I thought this was the most happening place around. What changed? It wasn’t them, it was me. So I ask myself why I am feeling irritated. If it is not about them, then what? What am I believing? What do I desire? Then ask myself if those beliefs are true and if the desires are good desires. I have learned that my irritation comes from a desire for the church to be about the people and not the event on Sunday morning. These are my feelings based on my beliefs and my desires. I own them.

The Church in the Bible is also known as the Body of Christ. It is the group of people who identify themselves with Christ. [Disclaimer: I am no expert in church history, I welcome corrections.] The early church in the book of Acts was a movement of people who were meeting together in their homes and having meals together. I get the feeling that they were friends. They lived in the same neighborhoods, their kids played ball together, they all shopped at the same Harris Teeter. I imagine their time together was talking about what they were experiencing in this new found faith as naturally as we talk about the latest movie with our friends. What I don’t see is an emphasis on meeting every Sunday morning to sing a few songs and listen to a preacher. I see an emphasis on the relationships between the people.

What I am not saying is that meeting for Church on Sunday morning is wrong. Please! Hear me. I am saying that meeting together in a building to worship together is frequently a good thing. Many people would say that the meeting itself is church. I disagree. The Church is not an event. I wish we had another name for the event. I think it would help separate the defensiveness that this topic frequently brings.

country-church.png In the book, The Present Future , by Reggie McNeal, the author tells of meeting with church leaders on Sunday morning at 11:00 in a restaurant. He asks them to look around at the people in the restaurant. While they are taking it all in, he asks, “Do these people look like they struggled with deciding to go to church this morning?” Of course they don’t. Most people today consider going to church to be an irrelevant waste of time. What reasons have we in the church given them to think otherwise?

The Blue Pill

We are missing the boat when we make Church all about a building and an event. I think of it as creating a box for us to fit in. The box is made up of our corporate beliefs and expectations of one another. When we are in the box, we feel safe because there are so many others just like us. Even worse we have also turned the Great Commission of Jesus to reach the world into “getting others into the box with us.” This irritates me because it seems to me to be so not what Jesus would do (read pharisaical). Who creates the box? Who maintains the box? We do, when we love the safety of our common belief systems more than we love God. That is hard, I know and it leads me to questions about myself that I am uncomfortable with. When do I create boxes? What boxes am I living inside today (very comfortably I might add)?

I belive that well meaning leaders throughout church history have created many boxes in order to give people a place of refuge, a sense of belonging and a common faith in God. These are noble motives and great, positive desires. Many if not most of the original leaders of these movements were sincere and hearing from God in their calling. But their followers over the next generations followed the leaders rather than the Lord. Over time, it became about defending their faith (the box) rather than seeking God.

There are many reasons for the boxes that we have created, but I want to stand up and shout. The boxes are not the point! Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another. To me that means breaking down the walls that divide us including denominational walls. Not that there are no differences, but because our love (Christ’s love) transends the differences. We love one another and honor our differences. What a concept!

Concerns

In closing, I want to share some of my sincere concerns for myself and for my brothers and sisters who are seeking God and seeking to understand their hearts.

  • I want to avoid passing judgement on others who do not believe as I do, or deliberately using my “liberty” in such a way that it causes someone who is not ready to hear it to stumble.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Romans 14:13)

  • Creating division as in “us and them”. My desire is for unity, but not at the cost of being the person God created me to be. If the cost of unity in the body is everyone-being-an-eye, then I am not interested. Like my buddy, Curt says, Christ is calling us to unity in our diversity. I won’t say what body part I am, but I will say that it is necessary.
  • Beliving in nothing. I am becoming more and more aware of how easy it is to criticize what exists. It is easy to tear down. It is much harder to build up. I find myself disenchanted with the church as it exists today in 21st century North America. However, I want to be about helping to define what it should be rather than pointing out what it shouldn’t be. I love Jesus, but I do not identify with much of what is done in the name of Jesus today. I want to be known as one who is helping to reshape the church and redefine what it means to be a Christ follower or a Christian today.