monday: august 13

I needed a couple cool-off weeks after an exhausting summer. But as soon as I migrated home to the old Asheville manor a week ago, my mind migrated back to the kids. I spent almost every day of the summer with inner-city kids in Chattanooga. I can't get em out of my head.

(written, recorded, and performed by my boys)

the future of america:

They have names like: Amilcar, Tristian, Asia, Marlaysia, Elmonte, and the one and only, Precious Loveberry.

They wear shirts that say things like: "Jesus is my homeboy" and "Jesus Christ: that's WASSUP!"

They ask me questions like: "Who created God?" and "Why did God put the forbidden tree in the garden if he didn't want Adam and Eve to eat its fruit?" (These are 10 year olds.)

When I ask them what they did over the weekend, they might say: "I rode my bike."

They steal each other's tater tots.

They don't like jumping jacks at eight in the morning.

Some had never seen a lake before this summer.

They run from thunder.

They all want a champion. They elect unspoken leaders of the cool and uncool. They need heroes. Once playing kickball I hit a grand slam and was swarmed by forty little buzz-headed munchkins like we'd just won the World Series.

And the truth behind their lives is that they are all from broken families. They live in low-income housing. They live with their grandparents if they're lucky. They switch from school to school. They have no firm ground on which to stand. They don't know their fathers. Their mothers struggle with addictions, with unemployment, with new boyfriends.

One speaker this summer looked my boys in the eyes and told them squarely: "If the numbers hold true, 90% of you will have been in jail by the time you are 19." The world expects them to
be gangsters and potheads. What more can we expect? Look at their environment! Look at their background! It's inescapable!

Yet these kids are the future of America. They are talented and clever, and the seeds of faith have been planted in their hearts this summer. They heard the gospel, clearly, over and over again. It's with a surge of hope that I look out over the hundreds of them and think how they could change the world:

"A short period of the short life of one man is, when well and wisely directed, sufficient to remedy the misery of millions for ages."*

If one of these kids is on fire for Jesus in five years, my work this summer will be fulfilled. For now, the seeds of the future have been sown.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." -Isaiah 55:10-11

*from an autobiography on William Wilberforce...
sunday: july 15.
"I am not interested in fighting, only in victory."

The War is on. Find forty minutes to listen to this, from Pastor Nabors at New City Fellowship:
friday: july 13

Such Great Heights!

This is the stuff of my mind as I sat tingling in the spine through the latest and greatest-- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

~Dumbledore is the Platonic ideal grandfather. Every great story needs one. Shivers every time he showed up.
~Rowling's story ripens like a good peach at this stage in the series.
~I am proud to have grown up
with the boy who lived.
~I will meet Hermione Granger before I die. Fact.
~Bellatrix Lestrange=Helena Bonham Carter. Brilliant.
~If my life is less thrilling than this film, I'll be pissed.
~This story is really one great reflection of the great story in which we live. Shivers, shivers.
~Hogwarts is more like Covenant than I thought.
~You know where I'll be midnight, July 21.

11 July 2007

thought."O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." -Augustine

word. blarney

Flattery, or misleading talk.

[After the Blarney stone, a stone in Blarney Castle in Blarney village,
near Cork, Ireland which, according to legend, gives the gift of the gab
to anyone who kisses it.]

deed. write a real letter: a world of mailboxes is waiting. do it. do it now.

only the epic here
So, the Northernness got me. I yielded to elf horns.

Independence Day I spent with my whole family (a rare, golden experience) on the Mall in Washington. The party was raucous, preempted by four hours of wiffleball.

Then I got on a plane to Maine (in the rain.) My boys Will Kendall and Dave Barr are summering there as coast pirates. They pretty much board treasure ships and tote blunderbusses and daggers in their teeth and stuff.

In the spirit of this, we set off the very evening I arrived to conquer KATAHDIN, the grand finale of the Appalachian We were introduced to the mountain at five the next morning. It's brisk air and northern breezes and walls of mist, sheer cliffs and rocky cairns all the way up to where a green heather cloaks the top. It's the Alfeim of Maine, or the land of sorns if you recall your Perelandrian mythology.

THE splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying. -Tennyson

Monday: May 21.

an entry
en route to Nairobi

A red sun sets over Sudan to the west. An hour ago it was an orange squeezed over the horizon; suddenly the orange burst into flame at the sky's edge, scattering flames that flickered, then turned to blood.

And to think of all the blood shed in the Sudan--the thousands, the millions who fell under the shadow of Cush and Meroë, the dark and cursed empire whose wars will not end. I just finished Emma's War, a reporter's memoirs from Sudan and the story of the southern Sudanese oppression, rebellion, division, famine, and genocide. At least two million have died in the warfare that has torn the country in two since the late eighties. It has been a war of religions, tribes, factions, ideologies, and oil. But all of this is shrouded in the confusion of death.

To think that a year before I was born into a loving home in North Carolina, thousands upon thousands died in the Kinka massacres at Ed-Daien. Thousands more lost their families to the cruel slave trade, left home with no money and few possessions, and wandered the drying plains of Darfur. In the year of my birth, a great famine swept through this land again, drying skin off the bones of the orphan boys who returned to the haunt of Ed-Daien to find their families. Others caught malaria, tuberculosis, meningitis, diarrhea. Again, thousands died, terribly, stranded, alone.

Constellations bloom out the window of this two-prop 20-seater from Lokichoggio. We spent four days in the northern corner of Kenya at the compound of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship. Six months ago, MERF sent a plane into southern Sudan to pick up church leaders who wanted to be trained in the Scripture. Some villages sent the local pastor on the plane. Others grabbed whatever twenty-something, daring kid that wanted to go. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, for many.

Nearly all 45 men fought in the civil war. They all have stories. One guy lifted up his shirt for us and began to show us his 27
gun wounds. More importantly, though, they all have hope. They're at the end of six months of training; they are eager to
get home. After half a year of intense study in the Bible, they have a wisdom and unity about them now that could rally the confused southern churches. This is early church stuff.

Sudan has peace now. It was signed in 2004, but a referendum in 2010 will likely lead to conflict again, say the men here. The south plans to split from the north to create the "New Sudan." Their current leader is Salva Kiir, a Dinka tribesman, like his predecessor John Garang. Salva is strong, the people say; but he's not John Garang

Now is the time that Sudan needs strong leaders. Now, perhaps, more than ever. Now is a chance to end the cycle of oppression, revolution, and blood that has gone on for hundreds of years. The south can escape, if they will find their leaders.And so, the church has deemed it wise to train up 45 men--elders, pastors, and evangelists--in the knowledge of the Bible. In a strange turn from the warlords of the past, we look to them for strong leadership. Only in the church will the South find peace.

thursday: may 17.

Elizabeth. Francis. Collins. Masee. Joseph. Fiona.

These are the children of Kibera. We like to say we "love" them, and we do, but Pastor Imbumi and his wife Martha really love them. They've spent over twenty years caring for the children of Kibera, and if that's not testimony enough, they've adopted 22 of them. The kids live at the Shunam shelter, a compound outside downtown Nairobi, where they live in a rare community of faith. The pastor leads them in Saturday prayer for the Sunday service; there is abundant food on their table; they live harmoniously. It's beautiful to watch. Their family is big enough to play a full game of soccer at the field behind the compound, where monkeys cheer from the sideline trees.

The pastor and his wife plan to buy 53 acres of land to relocate the Shunam shelter. They hope to build a school and establish their work of redeeming kids from the slum. They pray for money (an immense sum; think of starting a large school), and for growth. Imbumi believes the money will come in one year's time. "Now," he says with a twinkle in his eye, "it is like the fist of the thunderstorm that Elijah's messenger saw on the horizon; soon, it will rain." (I can think of no one else in the world to whom I would more gladly give money, if I had it...)

The thing is that these people get this place. They live in the working cogs of Kibera. Martha had been working with World Vision for eight years when Imbumi asked for her hand. Three months later, they both got married, quit their jobs, and have been working in the slums ever since. In his first two years, says Imbumi, he buried over 70 people.

We've learned loads from these people in our short time here. Here's the sum of some thoughts floating through our group:

>The testimony of believers is essential to worship. Talk about what the Lord is doing in your life! Fo real! Confess your sins publicly. Let it go. Speak of your redemption every day.

>Teaching and preaching the Word of God--alone--brings hope and joy. Stick to the book; don't be afraid to talk about it because "it may not be relevant." Screw "relevance" as we know it. The Bible is the living word.

>Travel gives light to the eyes. Seeing the weird and paradoxical nature of the slums--the joy and misery, the sin and worship, the clean scrubbed babes and dirty sewage--sheds light on our own culture. Where do we disconnect? Where is our sewage? Here in Kibera, it flows in the streets. We sweep ours under the rug.

>God's saints at work are like a million pinpricks of light around the globe.

>The women of Kibera are powerful warriors of the Word. They don't dwell on emotions, as the Western world has been taught to do; they read their Bibles.

At the core of all these thoughts is a central one. We are with saints who trust in God for every speck of strength. They love and worship him passionately—earnestly—like they knew the time was short. They fall into worship at staff meetings, in the kitchen, before class: everywhere. It is their source of life. And shouldn't it be?

"The sights a man has seen he cannot give away like coins, and in the wallet of my heart I finger this one still." -Godric, Frederick Buechner

word. scrutator (skroo-TAY-tuhr) noun: One who investigates.

[From Latin scrutator (searcher),
from scrutari (to examine),
from scruta (trash).]

deed. compose a poem standing up outside.

tuesday: may 15.

thought. (a quote worth your thoughts) "Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long." -Luther

word. (from the wordsmith)
tatterdemalion (tat-uhr-di-MAYL-yuhn, -MALEE-uhn) noun

A person in ragged clothes.

[From Middle English tater, from Old Norse toturr (rag).
The origin of demalion is uncertain.]

deed. (give it a shot) find a pond. find a boat. read first john. slowly.

slum stories

"The people of Kibera are tired of being looked upon as objects." That's what Pastor Imbumi Makuku told us today after we took our lunch of rice and green beans in chick pea soup. We've been in Nairobi a week now. We spend our days in Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa; a million people live in a square mile of sewage and tin roofs. Bill and Melissa Gates have visited the slum, along with Kofi Anan, Bill Clinton, American Idol, and others.

Who could tell? What has changed? Except for the slum tours, which have now popped up all over Kibera to feed tourists' need to feel e
mpathy, except that the white people continue to flock here to see "how the other half lives," it's hard to say. It's hard to see anything worth calling transformation.

Except in this concrete slab church, Kibera Presbyterian. The people here
are being transformed. Pastor Imbumi, his wife Martha, and the leaders of the school here are working change that will last when the others have gone. They are training hundreds of children in the way they should go. They are teaching mothers the Scripture. They are teaching them to pray. Though the profligate fathers are notably absent, a generation of sons is growing up in the Word.

Every Tuesday, an HIV positive group meets at the church. Martha's sister Mary leads the group, and today she announces--for the first time--that she too is HIV positive. Then she says, "Whether we have HIV or not, we all know that our goal is heaven." She begins her medicine today, which to the Africans is public admission and a bow to the stigma of "looseness" attached to the virus. A woman steps forward. "I am Rose." (They speak their kind English for us mzunghos) "I am HIV positive. And I live well." She tells us she wanted to commit suicide when she found herself HIV positive. But she was in the national hospital, and couldn't escape to do the thing. Instead, the church came to her there and prayed with her. She accepted Jesus. She had a baby in the hospital. The church gave her formula milk. The baby took two suspenseful tests. She feared the worst. Both tests came back negative. She holds the baby in her arms today: they are both alive and praising God. They live with Job's words in mind: "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Such are the testimonies of the women of Kibera. And here in this church, the women have AIDS medicine and formula milk, but more importantly, they trust in God. More than anyone I have ever seen. And the formula milk means there will be no viral transfer. What redemption! Without it, the tomb is sealed for both you and your children. With it, these women can live to see another day, to see a future for their kids.

thursday: may 3.

a quote worth your thoughts) "Death in this music dwells, for in it I disappear in attentive, taut passivity." -an epithet from Cunningham

word. (from the wordsmith)
selenography (sel-uh-NOG-ruh-fee) noun

The branch of astronomy dealing with the physical features of the moon.

[From Greek seleno-, from Selene
(goddess of the moon in Greek mythology) + -graphy (writing).]

deed. (give it a shot) take a hot bath. turn on cold water at the very end. immerse yoself. then come up through the cold cloak.

meet win butler

Never before have the sweaty violin girls looked so good. Never before have the horn-boys executed their lines so religiously. Never has Win pierced me so with his voice. Never has Régine wielded the hurdy-gurdy so lusciously.

Heaven will be like this.

Arcade Fire played to an earnest Asheville crowd last night. We were sitting obediently in our reserved seats when Win told the crowd to get on their feet and come up front. The panicking security guards stood by helplessly as the throng advanced.

I say that Heaven will be like that show; I don’t say it lightly either. It was a sacred sound. The sounds that filled our temple last night shook, thrilled, captured, broke me. Won’t the sounds of Heaven do this much and more? The seraph’s voices in Isaiah shake the threshold of the temple. The voice of the Lamb will be “like the roar of many waters.”

I can’t wait.

Meanwhile go to an Arcade show. Meet Win Butler if you can. He’s eagle-eyed and speaks from the heart. Last night he gave his word to come to a bonfire at my house next time the band is in Asheville. I told him we’d be waiting.