Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BGCT musings

For the first time, Texas Baptists will be led by a woman.

I don't know why I don't feel more like celebrating. Maybe because, for the first time in a long time, another camp ran a viable candidate primarily so that they wouldn't have to vote for a woman. Maybe because the vote was one of the closest in history even though Joy Fenner easily and clearly represents the best of Texas Baptists and even her opposition said they could find no fault with her service to missions over the years. Maybe because there was not a single woman (or minority or young person, for that matter) to stand behind the podium the whole time I was at the meeting. In all fairness, I wasn't there today, but there was none on the program. Maybe because Southern Baptists are behind every viable denomination except the Church of Christ on this issue and we're losing our best and brightest to the Methodists and the Episcopalians.

There was much to celebrate. OK, maybe not much, but some. Everyone said that both candidates conducted themselves with graciousness and kindness and God was glorified by that. And change is in the air, which is a good thing. And the addresses by the president of Baptist World Alliance and by Rick Warren called us to a truly global perspective and challenged us to rethink our assumptions about the world and the gospel. And in spite of the heaviness and negativity surrounding the meeting, there are many, many good people who remain passionately committed to caring for children, feeding the hungry, and seeking the lost in Texas.

One more thing: They showed a video to celebrate the outgoing Executive Director of the BGCT, Charles Wade (you know the kind--starts with baby pictures, ends with nice things being said by his friends and kids). As it ended, I looked around the arena to see several grown adults sitting with their arms folded, scowling, refusing to applaud with the rest of the crowd. They looked like five-year-olds. I am sure there is plenty of room for disagreement with Wade's policies and maybe even reason to dislike him personally (although I've never heard of any reason for the latter--but he is only human, after all). But to refuse to politely acknowledge the decades of contributions by a brother in Christ on behalf of us all . . . for crying out loud, grow up!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

I'm headed to Amarillo this time for the annual meeting of BGCT. They're experiencing quite a bit of chaos right now so it should be interesting from a systems point of view. The keynote speaker is Rick Warren (think: The Purpose Driven Life) and I'm looking forward to what he has to say about missions. I'm really hoping he'll talk about Africa.

I'll be doing a workshop on The Leader's Relationships for ministers who are already in their leadership training program. I'm also hoping to network, network, network--with BGCT people and with Austin people. I'll be home on Tuesday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Latest Reading

We had a little family outing to BookPeople a couple of weeks ago and C picked up The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I, of course, promptly stole it and just finished it on my trip to Chicago. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. A. J. Jacobs, a lapsed New York Jew, takes on the challenge described in the subtitle for one year and describes both his efforts and his thoughts and feelings. He separates the fibers of his clothing, stones adulterers, goes to great lengths to avoid contamination on the NY subways, and covers up all the "graven images" in his apartment with masking tape.

It was fascinating to follow his efforts to follow the law rigorously and even more interesting to follow his corresponding spiritual search. It added to my understanding of what the Pharisees were up against and maybe why they were so grumpy and it (unintentionally) made wonderfully clear the gift of grace in salvation through Christ. It's terrific to run across a book that is interesting, funny, and meaningful. I guess I'll give it back now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

So glad it's over!

Chicago was fine. Don't let the fact that I can't stop obsessing about it fool you.

It didn't take long at all for me to figure out that I was going to be a disappointment to the organizers of the event. Two things: one, I tend to be a little "too much" for intellectual, introverted men (and these were Mennonite Bowen theorists. Nuff said.) Two, I had underestimated the knowledge base and sophistication of the participants.

But, my presentation seemed to be really well received, especially by the women. [A quick aside: One thing I've noticed at these events is that the men seem to be pretty well distributed across the spectrum of competence and self-awareness but that the women (probably because they have to do ministry backward and in high heels) tend to be remarkable and delightful. This time was no exception. The saddest part of the experience was having to leave without getting to know them better.]

So, anyway, I lacked the sophistication and depth that the participants were expecting and deserved. But on the other hand, the presentation was interactive, entertaining, and not boring. So, like I said, Chicago was fine.

The story of my life

So I'm in Chicago in a cab going from O'Hare to some suburban destination (I never really did know where I was). The driver, from Uzbekistan (a first for me), is chatty and asks me what I do for a living. When I tell him, he says, "I don't know what that is. What do you DO?" I answer, "I help people with their problems." Big explosive sigh . . . "Oh, boy, I have problems . . ."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not a sight I'll soon forget!

So this last weekend I was back in Houston to help with the Center for Counseling fundraiser and had some extra time on Saturday. I decided to go by and see the elderly lady that I visit with and look in on from time to time. When I called her, she was absolutely thrilled that I was coming by and I told her I'd be there "in a little while." When I knocked on her door, she answered it--wearing only her house slippers and latex gloves!

After I helped her get into a housedress, we had a very nice visit. She was high on enthusiasm and low on delusions, so that helped. Her delusions have remained very stable in the 8 or so years I've known her and I have wondered if maybe they are not age-related. Fortunately, most of them don't cause her distress and they are pretty entertaining for the rest of us. She believes that she is a Romanoff descendant and will receive a large inheritance any day now, that her head is shrinking (she'll squeal, "Look at me! My head is the size of a walnut!" but it doesn't seem to bother her any), that her neighbors come in and cook on her stove (again, doesn't seem to be a problem), etc. She "knows" everything about all her neighbors and tells long stories about the lives of strangers--it's very entertaining. And I love her laugh--she is the only old lady I know who cackles!

What's amazing, though, is how sharp she is. She remembers everything she learns on PBS and on the news and can hold forth at length about just about any topic. She remembers things about my family and about her own past. She was a holocaust survivor (documented at the Holocaust Museum where you can see her name on the wall) from Lithuania as well as a Ph.D. in botany. She worked for years at the medical center before retiring when she went blind in her late 50s.

Unfortunately, due to her disabilities, she lives in literally filthy conditions and there's not much anyone can do about it since she is unable to get along with caregivers for long and the agencies end up "firing" her. I used to take her food but can't now, of course. This is where her resilience and resourcefulness kick in, thankfully, since she has the ability to get almost anyone to do almost anything she needs. She remembers phone numbers (since she's blind, she can't look them up) of almost everyone she's ever talked to on the telephone, including government agencies, lawyers, and the media.

On the one hand, it is truly sad what life is like for the elderly who literally have no family or real friends. On the other hand, it has been delightful to know such a remarkable person.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Does anyone know anyone who can do a very basic (and I do mean basic) and affordable website for me? What I want is so simple that it can be done with a template, I'm sure, and I don't want to spend a ton of money. If you know someone that would be a good fit, please email me and let me know. Thanks!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting my life back

I have an office! C and I went to look at it on Friday and liked it very much. It has all the advantages--location, price, waiting room, nice landlord, handicap accessible, new paint and carpet, amenities like access to a group therapy room and a break room and a rest room in the suite. Only one disadvantage--it is TINY! Even a little smaller than my Houston office, if you can imagine.

As we were leaving the office on Friday, C asked me, "Do you feel like you're getting your life back?" The answer is "YES!"

So today I went in and paid the security deposit and got a copy of the lease, to be signed tomorrow or the next day. Now that I have an actual address, I can start working on business cards and other promotional materials and go out and talk to pastors. I'm very excited!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Power failure
By what anti-miracle
have we lamed the man
who leaped for joy,
lost ninety-nine sheep,
clutched the lunch fish
until they rot in our hands,
turned wine back to water
and bread to stone?
--Luci Shaw

Monday, October 8, 2007

Angry and sad

I've always wondered about cruelty--fascinated by it because it seems to foreign to my life. And the question that always forms for me is "Why?" Why do so many people choose to add to the cruelty in the world? Why don't they feel an inner longing to bring healing to the world rather than to participate in its destruction? But psychology, religion, and literature all remind me over and over that we are just not wired that way.

Mowgli gave me A Thousand Splendid Suns (a story about women in Afghanistan) for my birthday and, shame on me, I'm just now getting to it. I'm three-quarters of the way through and I'm afraid to keep reading because I can tell it is just going to be too, too sad for me to bear.

This is one of those books that brings to mind all the trite book-review phrases--"haunting," "compelling," "heartbreaking,"--but it is never trite itself. The genius of this book is that it brings into focus the great cruelty that we humans are capable of alongside glimpses of hope and redemption. (but never confuse hope and redemption with happy endings.) There are few evil people in this story, only complicated ones. The loving father betrays his daughter. The contemptible husband beats his family and also feeds them when starvation sets in. The mother abandons her daughter only after she has sacrificed everything to raise her.

Early in the story, a mother reminds her daughter that a woman's only option in life is to endure. The book reminds me of how many women on this planet have no real choices, only the path of endurance or not, and how much courage it takes just to be a woman in some places. I've been angry lately about the sexism in my life--and particularly in the lives of women I've come to care for.

The other thing that struck me was how quickly things can change--how a country can go from normalcy to utter chaos in an instant. Women were doctors, politicians, teachers one day and the next, they were hidden at home and in burqas. It's happened so often--in Iran, in Rwanda, in Nazi Germany--from order to chaos, from normalcy to insanity in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Political rant update

I was reading an article in Smithsonian magazine this morning about a website where individuals can make microloans to establish small businesses in developing countries. Turns out that Americans especially like to make loans to . . . Iraqis. Maybe some of us do care a bit after all.

Conversation with my grandfather

Grandaddy: Did you get a book about animals in the mail last week?
Me: No, not recently.
Grandaddy: Do you want one?
Me: Well, I don't think so . . . the kids are kind of old for that but thanks anyway.
Grandaddy: Great! Well, I think it's a good deal, so I'll order it right now and send it to you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Mowgli sent off his first college application yesterday, to the University of Chicago. His goal is to get out the application to University of North Carolina today. Then there is a common application for Vanderbilt, William and Mary, and Guilford. The countdown has begun . . .

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My first political rant

As I ate my cereal this morning, the Austin American Statesman informed me that a private security firm in Iraq has been involved in the shootings of more than 200 Iraqis, most from the front seat of a vehicle while driving away. While some were surely self-defense, at least a handful were cold-blooded murder, including the death of a bodyguard of the Iraqi vice-president by a drunk Blackwater employee who was then spirited out of the country by--get this--the State Department and never prosecuted. In other questionable and not-so-questionable cases, the families of the dead were paid off to keep them from complaining. The circumstances of the shootings were not routinely investigated until the media brought attention to them.

I'm tired of feeling outraged and powerless about what is being done in my name. I knew at the beginning of this that innocent men and women, both American and Iraqi, would tragically die in this war and I was willing to concede that it might be necessary. I know that the circumstances of our action there are far more complex and tragically complicated than we even imagine, that the lines between "innocent" and "insurgent" can be impossible to see. I believe that the daily sacrifices of many of our military and civilian representatives serving there are heroic and meaningful.

But . . .

But I wanted to believe that we would care--that we would care about the tragedy of Iraqi dead at least enough to officially count them, that we would care about the humanitarian crisis that we have helped to create enough to increase, not dramatically decrease, the number we allowed to emigrate to our own country, and especially that we would care enough to refrain from trying to buy their silence when we kill them.

Mowgli has wondered aloud why American evangelicals who defend the sanctity of human life believe that God values American lives more than Iraqi lives, why we think we matter more to Him than they do.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Well, when you put it like THAT . . .

All of you are so good at helping me know what I think . . . right now, I'm really grateful to several of you who took time with me over the past few days to think through my next move.

As you know, I'm still trying to answer the question that was posed to me by a local city-reaching minister--"So, why did God bring you to Austin?" And, as you also know, the answer hasn't been at the end of a straight line, like I thought it would be.

So, step one was getting very clear in my own mind what I feel called to and what I enjoy. Step two was meeting everyone in Austin that would talk to me. Step three was supposed to be stepping into an already existing position or group and picking up, basically, where I left off in Houston. As you know, that didn't work. But at least I now know what I want to do and who I don't want to do it with. : )

So, in a conversation with a dear friend and mentor, I put it this way: "I think I had three options . . . one, find really sharp, quality people who are doing what I want to do and join them, two, find people who will let me do what I want to do, or three, just go do what I want to do." We agreed that option one seems to be off the table. Then I heard myself say, "I guess I can settle or risk."

Something significant changed when I heard those words coming out of my mouth. As all of you know, I don't like to risk. I don't have whatever it is that makes people want to jump out of airplanes or ride roller coasters or wear really high heels. But I remembered a night at LeadersEdge several years ago when several of the key people in my life spontaneously prayed for me that I might have courage and I have truly tried to live more courageously since then. I guess this is the next logical step.

Another precious friend was listening to me whine about being afraid and asked me what I was afraid of. I told her that I wasn't really sure but that it seemed related to failure. She astutely pointed out that there wasn't really a way to fail at this . . . and she's right.

So this week is devoted to pressing ahead, making arrangements, having different conversations with more people--please continue to pray that I will have courage.