January 9, 2007

Earliest Memory

Posted in reflection, stories at 6:01 am by jimazing

What better way to start telling my story than to tell you my earliest memory.  My family lived in Charleston, SC very close to where the I-526 Mark Clark Expressway is now.  My mom and dad had purchased a little house that had a screened porch on the back, a fenced in backyard and a huge oak tree that I liked to play around.

There were several children on the street that played together.  We probably did this a lot, but one day we were in the front yard of my home running and playing ring-around-a-rosie and I wondered if I would remember that.  I must have overheard some adults talking about their early memories and I wondered if I would be old enough to remember that.  I decided that I was old enough and that this would be my first memory.  That probably says a lot about the way I think.

What was your earliest memory?

January 7, 2007


Posted in community, reflection, stories at 7:15 am by jimazing

Recently, I asked myself the question that guys my age ask themselves so often. What am I here for? What is my calling? What bothers me so much that I could give the rest of my life to making it better? And you know what? I had an answer. It was so clear. It wasn’t a new idea, which made it feel even more real. But it was the first time that this was the answer that came to me when I asked the question:


Hearing peoples stories, Helping people tell their stories, telling my story.

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April 23, 2006

The tract-rack

Posted in church, spirituality, stories at 7:31 pm by jimazing

I am a follower of Christ. I have been a follower for most of my life and serious about it. I detest hypocrisy… especially when I see it in myself. In my younger years I was in people’s face about following Christ. I was the bible thumper you wanted to avoid. How many people did I turn off completely? When I was growing up, I can remember getting to the point where I wanted to grow in my faith. Just doing the Sunday morning and Wednesday night thing wasn’t enough for me. I was serious about following God.

Tract RackHere's how I found my answer… The church I went to had a rack of tracts… a tract-rack, I guess. It had row after row of little compartments and they were filled with little spiritual tracts. Being as shy and reticent about asking questions as I was, I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself, so I took my desire to the tract-rack. The tract-rack taught me that people who are serous about their faith know how to defend their faith against the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mormons. They know the Four Spiritual Laws and why true baptism is by immersion. The tract-rack taught me that negros were the cursed sons of Ham in the Old Testament. I learned that Christians know that the Bible is God’s perfectly complete, holy and inerrant Word. The tract-rack taught me that speaking in tongues is of the devil and that when the Bible was completed, God stopped communicating in any other way. In other words, God shut up. Oh yeah and when Christians die, they can know they are going to heaven.

Tract RackThe tract-rack didn’t tell me Jack about how to develop a walk with Jesus. It didn’t teach me anything about the two greatest commandments; love God and love your neighbor. It told me that if I read my Bible and prayed every day, I would be doing all God requires. The tract-rack presented itself as complete and full of answers. What it gave me was not life, but death. It offered a life of following a set of rules and regulations that sucked the life out of me.

I am pretty sharp mentally and I have a fairly high emotional intelligence. I know how to get by and most people like me. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean it to. (I invite my friends and family to challenge anything I write here that isn’t true). The reason I write those words is not to brag, but because my ability to rely on myself sometimes keeps me from the truth. The truth is, my value comes from God. It does not come from my abilities. Sometimes I think that would have been easier for me to learn if I had been a bit more obtuse about life.

I followed the rules and when I broke them, I hid it. I pretended that I had it all together. Again, the origins of that way of thinking goes way back to the tract-rack church I grew up in. In this church, I was taught that my good behavior was of paramount importance. I was the only Jesus many people would ever see. So, I needed to watch my behavior so I would not give Jesus a bad name. I took this message to heart. I pretended to have it all together and I defended the faith. The leaders of the church would have been proud. I was so spiritual. The people around me thought I was something else (they were right). The problem was I was living a lie. My intentions were good, but I was not the perfect person I pretended to be. In the absence of a guide to model how to truly follow God, I followed the tract-rack, and the tract-rack was a hard task master.

I learned that Good Christians were supposed to witness to people. In my mind, witnessing meant accosting people and saying in a real-fast-bible-thumping voice, “If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven? Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you will go to hell.” No way I could do that. I was way too shy. My way of meeting the qualifications without having to use my voice was to leave tracts. So I raided the tract-rack and left tracts wherever I went. Who knew how many people might be saved by reading one of the tracts I left in a restaurant or gas station. I thought of myself as the next Billy Graham leading hundreds and thousands of souls to Jesus through my tract ministry. Jimmy-tract-rack! Truly, I cannot limit God. He may well have used one that someone picked up at just the right time, but I don’t believe they are all that effective. In any case, you can search me right now… I don't have any tracts on me.

One time, my family was on vacation and we stopped for gas. I made a trip to the bathroom to take care of some business. While in there, I thought I’d leave a tract or two or three or ten. So when I was done with my business, I pulled out a few feet of toilet paper from the roll. I then carefully rolled it back up and stuffed tracts in the roll as I did. (I am laughing out loud as I remember this). I was proud of that little idea thinking, “Let’s see them ignore that!” I went back to the car and got settled in. A few minutes later, my dad came back to the car and let me know what he thought of my little stunt with the tracts. I honestly cannot remember what he said, but I don’t think I reached my target audience.

As I grew in my knowledge of the world and of God, my faith morphed from Jimmy-tract-rack to Jimmy-know-it-all. I had all the answers and was ready to give them to anyone who wanted to listen. I thought my job was to know God’s Word and to be able to answer all questions. I believed in the Bible and everything depended on my interpretation being the correct one. I must have been pretty obnoxious. I don’t think I would like Jimmy-know-it-all now.

So where am I today? My heart is still all about following God, but I realize that I cannot do it. I am going to mess up… but that is the point. If I could do it, I wouldn’t need God. I am learning that following God is not a solo act. I need mentors in my life and I need to be a mentor to others. The game is not learning all about God by sitting in a room reading the Bible. Reading the Bible and learning about the God we serve is important, but it isn’t everything. The part I missed was the “we”. I cannot do it alone. I need friends to help me. I need friends who can show me where I need to improve, friends to encourage me when I am down, friends to laugh with me, friends to put their arm around me and cry with me, friends who will be Jesus. And I need to be that sort of friend too.

Thanks be to God that He has led me out of the wilderness of the tract-rack and the know-it-all life. He has put friends in my life that help me see more of God and what it means to follow Him and serve Him.

January 6, 2006

Believing my own lies

Posted in stories at 8:14 pm by jimazing

Did you ever almost remember a dream? I mean, you can’t quite remember what happened in the dream, but you remember the feelings you felt in the dream. I had that sort of thing happen just the other day…

I was driving home from work on I-77 in Charlotte. My carpool buddy, Mark and I were joking about the silly way they routed the intersection of I-77 and I-85. I jokingly suggested that maybe there were old munitions dumps that they had to avoid and that there might be live bomb shells there to this day. Ok, it wasn’t all that funny, but we were in a silly mood.

What is striking is that, when I said that, I immediately had a feeling that there were people buried beneath the road bed where we were driving. Feelings frequently do not make sense and these feelings really didn't make sense! As bizarre as I knew it was, I couldn’t shake the feeling. It was that same feeling that I get when I almost remember a dream, but not quite. What was the dream about? When did I dream it? I couldn't remember. It must not have been a dream after all.

The feeling was so strong that, as silly as the idea of dead people under the road bed was, I had to talk about it. So I started to describe the feelings to Mark (who was probably ready to tell me to pull over and let him out). As I was explaining that I didn’t know if it was a dream or not, the whole thing became clear…

I love to tell stories to my family. We frequently go to the Cracker Barrel restaurants where they have old advertisements and family photos on the walls. Many times while we are waiting for our food to come, someone will ask me to tell them about one of the pictures. I will invent names and whole lives for these images… sometimes I create relationships between folks in different pictures. So an old lady in one photo is the aunt of a little girl in a biscuit advertisement. I frequently get so caught up in the story myself that I’m sorry when the food comes. I want to know what happens too. It can be loads of fun!

Just a few weeks earlier, late on a Sunday night my lovely and I were driving home from our daughter’s home on I-77. (In fact it was the same stretch of highway that Mark and I were driving a few paragraphs ago). Suddenly, we were forced us to the far right lane by orange cones that road crews had put out closing three of the four lanes of the highway. Of course this bottleneck caused a bit of a traffic jam. It wasn’t much more than a minor nuisance.

Annoyed, My Lovely asked (rhetorically), “Why do they have to do this now? What are they doing, anyway?”

Unable to resist a great setup for a story, I told her that many years ago, before there were any super-highways through this region, there were other roads and highways. In fact there was another road that followed this very same route. Road construction can be extremely dangerous work, but back in those days, it was perilous. Many construction workers gave their lives to build that road. Unfortunately, they were dealing with business pressures to meet deadlines for getting the road and they couldn’t take the time to appropriately deal with the bodies of these workers. That meant they just buried them right there in the road bed and paved over their graves!

Recently someone had discovered that these graves were still under the road bed! Even though they had replaced that highway with the current I-77, no one knew about the graves at that time, so no one did anything about the bodies. Of course the government officials didn’t want the bad publicity that would come from such a revelation, so they decided that they should quietly exhume the bodies and move them to a cemetery for a proper burial. “Quietly” meant that they had to do it at a time when there wouldn’t be much traffic and also at night so people wouldn’t see what they are doing… and so no one would get the blame.

So that’s what they were up to on that Sunday night… or so I told My Lovely.

When I remembered the story, I could hardly tell Mark for laughing at myself. So that’s where those feelings were coming from! As outlandish as the story was I must have believed it, on some level of my unconscious! Maybe that is what makes old grandpa stories so engaging. They start believing them themselves. I guess I’m just getting ready to be a grandpa.

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