Saturday, February 27, 2010

Post 20 (A Different Kind of Cheating)...

So for my final post, I am going to do a little cheating again. A couple of days ago I posted something I've already written. Today, I'm going against my word of writing more than a simple narration of my day(s). These thoughts will be bulleted...

-- The other day while at Barnes and Noble I noticed an old favorite, Salvation on Sand Mountain, Dennis Covington's look into Snake Handling Pentecostalism in Appalachia. There is currently a fifteenth anniversary edition of the book with a new Afterword. I highly recommend it for the humility with which he covers a subject that most would report on with mocking and derision.

-- In perusing the posts I have written for this little February project, one theme seems to be dominant. Church. No secret there. I could run from it, but it wouldn't matter. It would still catch up to me. This is in my blood, the companion I will probably always find myself running beside, wrestling with, and embracing.

Last night I had dinner with the people who are my current church. We sat in the living room, watching children dance and play. We ate and drank and shared the contents of our weeks past and those to come.

This morning I met for brunch with more of those who are my church, while others were across town playing kickball. The original reason for the brunch fell through, but who needs a reason to sit across the table from each other and share stories? We talked about the kickball tournament, rats chewing through car pipes, and Texas Country Reporter. In the middle of a conversation about the past week's snow and the building of snowmen, while Emily was in another room, her four year old son Hogan interrupted us all to let us know what we previously hadn't known-- His mommy has a baby in her belly.

Like I said, I could run from this. But why would I want to?

-- Yesterday morning at Cafe Cappuccino I sat at a table next to an older couple. The husband was complaining about the Democrats as the wife sipped her coffee, not uttering a word the entire breakfast. He kept yelling at an imaginary Obama sitting next to him and I was reminded of what one of my friends' (I can't remember who) has as his "political views" on Facebook: "Whatever will make you not yell at me."

I constructed a future story in my mind that included this wife killing her husband, stuffing his body in the freezer, and running off to a Mexican Island for peace and quiet.

Today I ate dinner at Uncle Dan's Bar-B-Cue and sat next to a couple about the same age. This time it was the wife doing the talking. She said she was going to church in the morning, and wondering if he was going to go as well. He said no, he wasn't. She responded that he needed to. He gave her the look that I would probably give someone telling me what I need to do.

I hope someday he can find people like those I have found. I also hope one day that the Obama-hater can find a peace of mind that doesn't include fear of an imaginary enemy.

-- Last thought for the day, and month. This morning the Waco Trib Reported that the Hippodrome Theater has closed its doors, maybe for good. I was reminded of all the things I have written in the past about the sacredness of place. I also thought back to a certain popular religious leader among college students who made a name for himself in that very building, and how great it would be for him and his organization to try and save that building. I'm not holding my breath, any more than I hold my breath for any other evangelical church to value something old and tangible. It is unfortunate that the things we can touch have lost all sense of holiness among contemporary leaders.


So, this has been fun. Thank you to everyone who has donated. I am excited about going to church tomorrow to see how much we have raised for the Bernards. After this, I will return to my old blog. I will probably rework it, and will not post daily. But I am going to try to give you at least one thing a week.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Never seen L.A.
The closest I've been to Hollywood
Is Dollywood
But when you get back to Beverly Hills
You can tell all your buddies
That you met one of the most famous people
In the country
-- From Brad Paisley's Famous

If I spend some time on it, and really concentrate hard, I can sign my name where you may be able to read it. When trying to figure out who signed a particular document, my friend James at Barnes and Noble would always ask "Is it legible, or is it Craig's signature?" I come from a family of lefties with less than adequate handwriting. Couple that with me being at the front end of a generation that really didn't have to write stuff by hand after high school, and you have the making of someone with the penmanship of a doctor, or serial killer, or both.

I do have a signature, however, that is deliberately hard to read. It is my autograph signature. This is the signature that I practiced as a child when I was pretty sure that my career path would lead me eventually to being the WCW World Wrestling Champion. Old dreams die hard, and somewhere along the way I realized that the signature I often use is the autograph signature.

I often wonder if this desire to be famous is universal. I doubt it is because I know people who would shun fame if it were offered to them. But since I probably wouldn't, I assume everyone else is as narcissistic as I.

Of course part of the desire to be famous also includes the desire to pretend not to believe you actually are. Wouldn't it be great to have tons of people run up to you in public to shake your hand, take your picture, and ask for your autograph and then be able to say "Me? I don't get it, why would you want my autograph? Oh well, ok."

I was speaking with a friend today about one of the strangest creatures of all, the "Christian Celebrity." He has had the opportunity to travel and do some speaking at churches around the country. He talked about how he knows what complete jerks some of "those guys" can be. They can also be seen as members of some upper echelon of Christian society. I remember years ago working at a large event for students. A popular Christian singer, Chris Rice, was performing. One of the students I was helping to check in asked if Rice had arrived yet. I told him yes, that I think he just walked by. The student responded, without a hint of sarcasm, that he assumed they would have had to helicopter him to the top of the hotel.

My friend noted that he didn't want to be seen in either of those ways. His self awareness is impressive. The fact that he is worried about it is a giant step in the right direction. I'm not sure if I would have that kind of maturity.

It is nice, though, to be known. If you work hard at something, and a body of people recognize you for it, I guess there is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you become so insulated and isolated from real life, from people who can tell you no, you can't do that. You can't talk to that person that way.

Hopefully we all have people like that. Those who can be honest, but still pretend to be impressed with our autograph. We did work hard on it, after all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Ok, I am about to cheat. Rather than writing something new, I wanted to share something old with you. I don't believe I ever put this on my normal blog.

Several years ago my good friends Tony and Melissa Herring started a church in downtown Tyler called Soma, which is Greek for "body." The Herrings are some of my absolute favorite people, top shelf. They are family to me and some of the most effective ministers I know. Through them and Marvin, Melissa's brother, I have had an opportunity here and there to get to know the church and their values and ethos. The limited amount of time I have had to spend with these people has been some of the most life-giving, laughter filled moments of my life. Like any young church, they have struggles, but are doing some amazing kingdom-type work in East Texas.

A couple of years ago they asked if I would write their mission statement. Honestly, it was one of the greatest honors I have ever been given, the opportunity to describe a local church and to help define, and refine, their mission. It was also a challenge, because I wasn't writing my church's mission statement, I was writing theirs. The end product ended up being one of the things I have been most proud of since I began writing. And here it is...

What We Believe
Soma is a body of believers gathered to worship God by singing, teaching, learning, creating, listening, and living our lives within a transformational community that shifts our lives, individual and corporate, from being centered on ourselves to being directed toward God.

Of all the texts written over history by people trying to understand the origin, present condition, and future of the world, we believe the Bible to be the most trustworthy. Though written by the pens of humans it was, in ways we don't claim to have fully grasped yet, instigated and inspired by God. The Bible tells our story, informs our decisions, and shapes our lives. It is authoritative. While we value, and actively seek, God's direction through prayer, listening to the still, small voice of God, and wise counsel-- we acknowledge the Bible as the final authority.

While recognizing that the mysterious nature of the Trinity is a concept that can seem beyond the reach of our finite minds, we believe God is one being, existing as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God, perfect in power and holiness, is the creator of all there is, from the majestic peaks of the Himalayas to the depths carved out of the Grand Canyon; from the tallest East Texas pine to the farthest star in the universe; and from the lowest microbe to God’s crowning creative achievement -- Humanity.

Man (both male and female) was created to be in fellowship with God. Yet because of the entrance of sin into the world by the decision of humanity to go their own way, this fellowship has been broken, only to be mended by the perfect life, cruel death, and literal bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Many roads have brought us to Soma. We consider our various backgrounds-- Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, etc., in addition to those backgrounds that did not include church-- to be a part of a rich tapestry of experiences that bind us together, rather than a divisive wedge that drives us apart. Our diverse history colors how we view the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We believe the Holy Spirit teaches healthy behavior, convicts us of sin, and leads us to worship. Because we are finite and God is infinite, we do not presume to dictate how the Holy Spirit works in our individual and corporate lives. Therefore, we believe that certain manifestations of the Spirit (tongues, miracles, signs and wonders) that appeared in Scripture can (and do) still occur today. Yet we also believe that the work of the Holy Spirit exists in the absence of fanfare as much as in the presence of signs, so those who have never experienced certain manifestations of the Spirit are no more or less likely to have had a meaningful encounter with God than those who have.

At Soma we value the opportunity to be a part of the Kingdom of God on this earth. We believe Christ came to redeem not only the souls of individuals, but those of cultures and societies as well. We believe God has empowered the church with a prophetic voice to speak truth (with grace and humility) to the power structures of politics, entertainment, the arts, business, and education.

We also believe God's work in this world extends to places that are not immediately evident or easily discernible. So while we practice a prophetic voice, we also act as detectives and treasure hunters, trying with all our might and the enthusiasm of a child to discover God's fingerprints in film, literature, relationships, and all other elements of human existence. And when we find them, we celebrate and revel in the joy that only God brings.

Soma is a worshipping people. We worship by singing. Yet we also worship by forgiving. We worship by reading Scripture and appropriating it to our lives, but we also worship by reaching out and giving bread and worth to the poor and neglected people on the margins of society. We were created for worship, for lives that seek to have its focus set solely on God. Our redemption by the work of Christ and the prompting of the Holy Spirit enables us to worship more fully. We believe that God, in his own time and way, will bring all human and cosmic history to a point of eternal worship.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Sitting on my front porch tonight, it is quiet. Cold. Breath can be seen, and it floats for several seconds after it leaves the lungs. And there is snow. Not much, but it is there. Small enough to portend the muddy mess tomorrow's sunshine will create, yet significant enough to be seen as a gift. An out of the ordinary gift for a people who could use it.

From the inside I hear the hum of the television. Olympics. Athletes who have devoted entire lives for these few moments. Moments that I am spending listening to the silence. Melting snow dripping from the rooftops into small puddles on the ground. Houses all around, full of people. Families. Friends. Relationships that are contentious, messy, and necessary.

We spend our lives waiting for this moment, and then it is gone, only to be replaced by new ones.

Today I was reminded of another gift, Ann Miller.

Those who graduated from Baylor knew Mrs. Miller as a revered professor of literature and humanities. She would often break out into poetry at random times and situations. On more than one occasion she was known to spot young students in love and embarrass them by quoting Yeats or one of the Brownings. One former student said about Ann Miller that she was "someone so in love with poetry, with what the written and spoken word can convey, that the language of books was constantly escaping the page-- and through her-- becoming again and again part of the lived language."

I did not graduate from Baylor. It was only in her later years that I knew Mrs. Miller as a customer at Barnes and Noble. What was apparently true of her on campus, was true off as well. It was not uncommon for her to come up to the information desk and ask for a book of poetry by giving the first line of the first poem in the collection, and then the title. Sure enough when I took her to the book, she would ask me to look in it and there it was,the first line exactly as she had recited it. She often bought two copies of a single book and on more than one occasion I would see her giving the book to someone she ran down in the parking lot... complete strangers. I only knew her in fleeting, but I am better for it.


The snow has stopped
And all is waiting
Hope suspended
But so is despair
In between, liminal
The soul waits
With baited breath...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Best of Waco...

I received my instructions to vote for Jordan Browning for the best Wedding Coordinator in Waco. I did, and you should too. Go HERE , fill out the information, and scroll down the thousand or so selections until you get there, and vote for Jordan Browning-Ever After.

Hopefully the readers of The Wacoan will get this one right, although they rarely do. So to help you navigate what is objectively the best of Waco, I give you my list...

1. Best Chicken Fried Steak: George's.

Several weeks ago I had a free Saturday and decided to drive around the little towns outside of Waco, assuming I would find a killer chicken fried steak. Surprisingly, no such place was found. The next week I met a friend at George's and decided to give their's a try, and it was phenomenal. Pat Green has good taste.

2. Best Little Old Lady: Dorothy Clark.

I have known Mrs. Clark for years now. She spent much of her adulthood as a missionary in Japan, until her husband passed away in his mid fifties. She tells me that she still gets so angry sometimes at him leaving her.

One of my first conversations ever with her was at Barnes and Noble, shortly after we had become friends. She was reading a book in the Christian section that teaches that people of all faiths will be in heaven. As I came up to greet her, she was startled, afraid someone else was seeing her reading the book. Fearing she was in enemy territory, she curled her finger for me to come closer so she could whisper what she had to tell me. She said that she agreed with what was in the book. She said that she had friends who were Buddhist and Hindu, and she didn't care what the preachers on television said, there was no way they weren't getting into heaven.

As we got to know each other more she began saying-- "You know what? The more I think about it, the more I think God may even let people like YOU in heaven, Craig." I replied "People like me? What do you mean people like me?" She answered "You know. Republicans."

3. Best Middle Aged Lady: Pat Farrell

There is no story like a Pat story, and they all require adult ears. I've heard all my life about people not caring what others think about them, but Pat is one of the few I've met for whom that is genuinely true. I've told this story before, but I'll tell it again.

During the early years of me working at Barnes and Noble, Pat and I had a conversation about John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, a book about the Fundamentalist Mormon sect. Pat noted that it was strange how the women were married to so many husbands and were worried about which one they would be married to in heaven. She said "Hell, If I get to heaven and find out there are husbands there, just send me to the other place!"

4. Best Mrs. Pac-Man: Laundrymat on the corner of Waco Drive and 25th.

For a while I was without a washer and dryer and would use this facility. I got so addicted to the Mrs. Pac-Man, that I would sometimes go in and play even when I didn't have laundry to do. It is one of the originals, not like the one at H-E-B that is slower than it should be.

5. Best Mexican Restaurant: Mi Tequila.

I like to think I have a little to do with the success of this restaurant. Located in a building on Valley Mills that has been a million different things, it is a rather nondescript building. I'm not quite sure how I discovered the place, but somehow I became a regular. Most of the waitstaff know what to bring me. (#33, Beef, Sweet Tea.) Once I was there and about a quarter of the people in there were people I told about the place. It warmed my heart.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Messy Ecclesiology Revisited...

This morning Terry Esau returned to speak at UBC. For reasons that are obvious to many, I have kept his books at arms length, and probably will continue to, although I believe what he has to say to all of us is vital. But that is neither here nor there. After church I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly. He asked how I think things have been at the church since Kyle's death, and I was honest. He seems like someone who understands the multivalent nature of church, so I felt free to share with him that the past four and a half years at UBC have been at times a fountain of life, and at times a drain on life... sometimes simultaneously. The tragedy of Octbober 2005 didn't cause the messiness of humanity that flows through our corporate blood, but in many ways it ripped off the facade that may have been hiding it. We realized the truth in our words... We are full of earth and dirt...

In the middle of some of that earth and dirt I poured my frustration into things such as THIS.

But like any good and healthy teenager, UBC is growing. Both as a body, and as individuals. Earth and dirt and an inordinate amount of narcissism is still lingering, as it has lingered in churches and people for years. But occasionally you can wipe the mess aside and see something underneath the grime that may have the potential to be shiny again someday. Tonight we met for a town hall meeting, full of exciting conversations. And I am glad. I'm glad that people from a disparate range of backgrounds and passions spoke up. I'm glad for church leadership on the stage and in the crowd for being intentional. I'm glad to be in such a place.

Elsewhere I have written about the little church building that I grew up in. Because of the hard work and dedication of many in that church, it has been preserved and now doubles as a fellowship hall (where the old sanctuary was) and bedrooms in the back for disaster situations (inspired by Katrina.) This weekend I came home for an anniversary party and stepped foot in that building for the first time in over fifteen years. Other than a few cosmetic changes and the removal of pews, the place still looks pretty much like it did.

I snuck away from the crowd and went roaming the building. It's a cliche, I know, but it seemed so much smaller than I had remembered. What seemed like a long cavernous back hallway when I was a child turned out to actually be a narrow walkway between rooms as an adult. I made my way back to the nursery. Although the rooms were converted into small living corners, they remained quite like I had remembered.

It was quiet. The murmur of the party in the distance made me know reality was still in full force. But in that hallway I heard myself growing up. I heard children playing and songs being sung. I heard teenagers being alternately rebellious and hopeful, glib and giddy.

I realized how small that hallway was and thought, all church hallways are small. Even the big ones. There's only so much space and you are going to have to bump into each other if you are going to navigate your way around. Sometimes the bumping can be uncomfortable, but you do it anyway. You do it because you have chosen this people called The Church. In this choosing you have been caught by them and will go forth with them.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stories you have likely heard...

Like all of us, I have stories. Mine are no more or less interesting than yours. And like some of your stories, some of my stories get more polished and expand with each telling. There are a handful of mine that are likely beginning to cause eyes to roll among my close friends when I begin them. Here are a couple...

-- There is a certain somewhat famous indie rock band that I have held a personal grudge against for almost a decade now. I will just call them Schmeisley.

I was in Dallas to see my old friend Josiah's band, Holland (now named the Lonely Hearts.) After stopping by the Gypsy Tea Room to say hi, me and a couple of other friends walked down the street in Deep Ellum to eat dinner at Cafe Brazil before the show began. While waiting to be served I overheard a conversation with the server and some girls at the next table. I heard the words from the table "We are from East Texas."

Number one rule about being from East Texas is that, when outside of East Texas, if you hear the words "East Texas," your ears perk up. (Actually, the number one rule is that you should always pour spreadable butter in your salsa at Mexican restaurants, but for the sake of the story, I have changed rule number one.)

My ears perked up, and I joined the conversation. "East Texas, I'm from East Texas! What town are y'all from?"

The girl rolled her eyes and responded, annoyed-- "Well, we lived in Eustace for a while, but now we live in Tyler."

I freaked out. "Eustace! I grew up around Chandler and Brownsboro!"

There are only around 800 people in Eustace. There are only about 879 people who have ever heard of Eustace. It's a small club, so I was excited to be part of it, if only by proximity.

More rolled eyes from the girl... "Ok," before she deliberately shifted her shoulders away from me in an effort to stop the conversation.

Rule number two about being from East Texas is that you get excited and talk folksy with fellow East Texans. Rule number 2.2 is to lose the pretense. You can run as fast and hard as you can away from Cedar Creek Lake and Kickapoo Creek, but their mud will always be on your heals.

I shook it off, finished eating, then went to the concert. About mid way through the show one of the guys from Lonely Hearts, in between songs, said "Oh look, our friends from Schmeisley just came in." I looked back, and you guessed it: Nose-in-the-air girl.

One of my proudest accomplishments is having made it for years around indie-rock kids without actually having heard one of their songs. It is really sickening how long I can hold a grudge, even on such a minor thing.

-- Ok, now the Point of Grace story from my previous post.

For those of you who don't know, Point of Grace is kind of like the ABBA of Contemporary Christian Music. Before they made it big (by Christian Music standards, anyway) they performed at a student Conference in San Antonio. It was the twilight years of my bass guitar career and somehow I ended up being in the "worship band." (For those who don't know what this means, it is like the house band... but without any chance of getting a free beer out of it.)

We did our stuff before the Point of Grace Concert. They did their concert, complete with accompaniment track, and then decided they wanted to end the concert with worship, so they invited the band up to help them out. So they sang two or three songs with me on the bass guitar.

Thus, I was once the bass player for Point of Grace.