Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Adkison boys' weekend

Okay, so there's a rule: what happens at B&A Ranch stays at B&A Ranch. And I'm not about to break that rule. But I do want to share something non-specific about a group of men.

The B is for Bryan, my cousin, and the A is for his wife Allison. At least that's what I've always assumed. Bryan has a ranch near Duster, Texas, which is near DeLeon, which is not too far from Stephenville. It's off the beaten path, to be sure.

Twice each year for the past probably 4 years now, many of the men and boys in the Adkison clan have gotten together at B&A Ranch, once in the spring and once in the fall. Generally speaking, we sit around a fire, we shoot guns, we eat food that men are supposed to eat. And we tell stories. Mostly I like to listen to the stories.

There are usually 3 of the men there from my dad's generation: my dad, and his twin younger brothers Harrel & Darrel. [Spare it, I'm sure they've heard every joke over the years.] These two uncles taught me at a very early age what the purpose of an uncle is: torment your nephews incessantly (Darrel, if you're reading this, that means over and over). It's still a part of their normal behavior. I took my friend Mike with me out there last year, and he accidentally threw one of his "kiddie" camp chairs in the truck instead of a larger one. My uncles got after him about his "big boy chair" that whole weekend.

They will be glad to know that I try to carry on that legacy with my own 3 nephews.

There's also usually several of my cousins. There's Bruce Lee (yep) whose dad, Robert E. Lee (yep) would have loved these weekends, but now Uncle R.E. is with the Lord. (Side note, Bruce tells a great story about trying to make a collect call from college back home). Bruce is one of those cousins that when I was a kid seemed a lot older than me, but now that I'm 45, we seem to be closer to the same age. Bruce's sons and son in law are usually there (I missed Nick this trip, who is usually in Alaska in the military). Of course there's Bryan, and sometimes his brother Micah (also in the military), and once my cousin Steven drove from New Mexico (he's border patrol). Bruce's brother Bobby also comes--he looks like G. Gordon Liddy, and he's a nurse. I'd hate to wake up in a hospital and have to see that face. (Just kidding, Bobby!)

My own two sons love going out there. They love getting pestered by these men. And since I missed this last one, I've been trying to figure out why. Why do I, so long tormented, have a broken spirit about missing the weekend? Why do my boys love to go and be harangued? (Darrel, that means bothered.) Why does my friend Mike want to go back even after all the big boy chair talk?

Yes, we have fun. Yes, we eat greasy food cooked over a fire. Yes, there's something great about shooting a gun. But there's more than that. I wish I knew the exact answer, but 2 words come to mind.

Wisdom. Every trip, we talk a little politics, we talk a little theology, we talk a lot of family. But these men, with all their experience, drip with wisdom. I think my dad may be the wisest person I've ever known. It's not about knowledge, although I'm sure there's plenty of that. But wisdom, experiential know-how. Street smart (although since they're all kinda country folk, maybe "trail-smart" is a better phrase). They have lived life. They have learned. And they share, usually (maybe mostly) when they're not trying to.

Love. For all their shenanigans (Darrel, that means doing stuff that bothers other people), there is genuine familial, brotherly love, the kind that you don't seem to see in public as much anymore. There's laughter. Sometimes tears. But there's the feeling that these men would do anything for each other.

And for me. Or my own boys.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends, Jesus said.

I have no doubt that any of my uncles, cousins, dad, brother, or any of those friends who have been to B&A Ranch, no doubt that they would sacrifice for each other. They miss each other when the weekends are over, always lingering to leave.

I miss them.

I am proud to be an Adkison. And while the Adkison Boys' Weekend might not be the place for everybody, it's a great place for me.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Book Review: "The Sacred Journey" by Charles Foster

I come from a church tradition that doesn't typically see pilgrimage as an organized discipline to pursue. But while I've never been to the Holy Land, I've been on many pilgrimages--and on one Pilgrimage--during my life. Life is most obviously a journey, a hike, and as a backpacker and camper I enjoyed the book. Foster's writing style is wonderful, intermixing his own personal journeys with biblical texts.

I have to admit, when I first started reading this book it biased me against itself early on in the reading. In "The Sacred Journey" Foster lays out that our God is a wandering God, a god of nomads, and in so doing he seems at times to disdain the city. As a country boy, cities were places that I have had to adjust to, but I've come to love the city to a certain degree. I hope to someday live in a totally urban context (although my wife thinks I romanticize the idea somewhat).

But as I read Foster more, I grew to like him. He's irreverant--a trait we share and which I admire. But at the same time he's open to ideas and thoughts and keenly aware of his own prejudices and shortcomings--again a trait that draws me in. In talking about his trip to Rome and seeing pilgrims climbing the Scala Sancta, he later read Spurgeon's rant against such Roman "fetish worship." Foster asks

"Fetish worship"? Because they climb a staircase of dubious historicity? Hardly. We all worship our own synthetic images of God. Growing Christian maturity simply means that the images become incrementally less inadequate. "[God] is the great iconoclast," C. S. Lewis truly wrote. He is constantly smashing up the images we have of him. And anyway, no one is in any danger of confusing God with a staircase or a saint's mummified head. There's a real and malignant danger of confusing God with the things that Scripture says about him.

I could go on, but this will suffice. While there is much in this book that will make evangelical toes curl up (a phrase Foster uses in the book) it is well worth the read, and then worth the figuring out how to practice. I give it 4 out of 5 bellybuttons.

The Danger of Cynicism

I used to call myself a cynic. Some might still call me that. But a few years ago I did some study on the original Greek philosophers called the Cynics, and decided that Diogenes was probably not a good role model for me. I'll let you look that up on your own.

This morning I read an article in the newest edition of Newsweek about the rampant cynicism affecting next year's presidential race. The truth is many of us have become jaded and cynical about anything "organized", and politics is near the top of that list. We no longer trust career politicians, we no longer believe the systems in DC or Austin (or whatever your state capitol is) are working for the people, but instead become self-perpetuating machines focused not on effective governance but on the next reelection campaign. A great case in point is President Obama's recent reelection announcement (ostensibly in order to start raising funds now) and this week's Republican presidential debate (really, 18 months before the election? and before all the candidates are even in the race?).

But cynicism does not necessarily breed good change, and I think that was--at least in part--the point of the article. Specifically the article was about Donald Trump running for president. If the 2008 elections show us anything, they show us that a cynical public will gravitate to the momentum of the perceived outsider, and fame, which should lead to more cynicism, ends up guiding us into choosing the very thing we were cynical about. The pigs get into the farmer's house in DC and begin to walk on their hind legs like the farmer. And somewhere around 2014, no matter who wins the election, we're going to be fighting with cynicism again.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book Review: "This is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended" by Keith Giles

I struggle with the organized church.

I'm not sure where it all began, but somewhere after pastoring a traditional church myself, then being involved in a so-called parachurch ministry, I began to get quite a bit jaded about the organized systematic religious church in the US.

My friend Keith went through some similar experiences, I think. Today I read his new book "This is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended." And I highly recommend it, not just because he's my long-time friend, but because the book raises some great questions about the religious Christendom that I struggle with so much.

And I think we're not alone.

Keith too has been a senior pastor of a traditional church. In fact, our pastorates were just minutes from each other in El Paso. One time there was even talk of merging our two churches together (postponing the inevitable death of two churches struggling to maintain their very "southern anglo" culture in the midst of a nearly 100% Hispanic part of El Paso, but that's another story for another time). Keith takes you through the Old Testament processes of worship, then shows well how there are both similarities and distinct differences in the New Testament church. Most importantly, Keith hits the nail on the head about Jesus being the fulfillment of the OT shadows, and how that affects the methods of organization of Jesus' new "body", the fellowship of believers.

Keith digs into some of the core doctrines of New Testament faith. Probably my favorite discussion is on the priesthood of individual believers, something that shatters the current focus on the professional clergy of our modern churches. And his call for churches that spend millions and cumulatively billions on salaries and buildings and many other unnecessary accoutrements of "worship" instead of caring for the poor, the widows, the orphans, etc of the world, is a call that needs to be heard indeed.

Ultimately, every believer has to make the call--can I find real community, can I be the NT body of Christ with other believers, within the organized church of the US. Not that long ago I was ready to give up trying. But the truth is Jesus died for the church, in all it's goofiness. Keith challenges us well to consider how the church needs to be in our culture, and I for one hope that many hear the Voice of the One who is speaking through Keith, and follows not into an organization, but into the very body of the One who made the universe. Great read on not throwing away the church just because it's been warped in our culture.