It’s Saturday late morning, and iTunes is on shuffle as I write. The familiar music reminds me of the many places I’ve had the good fortune to visit in my life. And my mind is shuffling through the numerous faces of people I’ve known — some were close friends, some I influenced for the better, and others bring only embarrassment and shame when I am forced to admit the poor representation of Christ I was to them. Some memories are from high school, others from camp, still others from Tennessee… or China… or one of a dozen other places that are important to me for some reason or another. Something about Tracy Chapman reminds me of my past. If I were in a movie, a haze would fall over this scene of me sitting at a table set with computer and coffee under a thatch roof. And a dream sequence would arise from seemingly nowhere to show the tall and athletic form of Wesley… it was at least one in the morning at Camp Wiregrass when a group of us headed down to the pool for his baptism. It was the first time I baptized someone, and I was thrilled that God had chosen to use me. It was that summer that I first began to sense the weight of a calling on my life. It was a calling that I would answer, but that I would in many ways run from at times. Wesley was so eager to be in a relationship with God that he would not wait until daybreak to enter the waters — waters that represented the beginnings of new life to him… and to me. I do not know where he is or what he’s doing today, but I’ve prayed for him this morning.
I can’t help but think about the many times I wrote mission updates from China while listening to the sounds of David Gray. Those writings were less like work reports than short stories and ponderings that no doubt flowed from a mind given more time alone in those days than ever before. I am an extrovert by nature, you know, though I often find myself debating in my mind what parts of me were predestined (or predisposed at least) to this — and which parts were socialized. Whatever the case, China was a test. It was hard for me to live alone. I think writing stories to send home to friends made me feel a little like I was there with them — even now, as I write today, I can see the looks on some of your faces (especially yours, T…) and I almost feel like it would be possible for us to grill out tonight and play games or watch a movie together. Something about writing to people I am familiar with comforts me. And, T, your smile and laugh is always comforting.
China was a test for me in other ways as well, because so many of the teachings in the Bible first became real while I was there. I remember, en route to a degree in Bible, having studied the eating of meat sacrificed to gods other than the one true God. It was an academic exercise designed to show us how the writings of Paul, or any other inspired author, though not written directly to the situations in which we find ourselves, could still be practical to us today. One night in my apartment in Wuhan, we were studying through the first of the Corinthian letters, practicing our hermeneutics and exegesis of the text exactly the way I’d learned — when CiCi spoke up. You see, CiCi’s parents were practicing Buddhists that often served meals at home that were eaten to the glory of one of those other gods. It had never really occurred to me that I might find myself in a very Corinthian situation one day — and that I might not be able to satisfy my students with talk of not taking alcoholics to a bar for dinner — or that the gods they, as Christians, would be tempted to worship might be anything other than money or material possessions. CiCi’s question didn’t blow my mind, though, as much as did the blank, yet expectant, stares on the faces of five Chinese Christians. There were many good conversations in the living room of the cantaloupe and honeydew colored couches in the middle of a city of 8,000,000 people. I wonder who God is using these days to touch the lives of the millions of Chinese who are running after a life outside of the box they’ve had built around them. I pray for those Chinese and for those God is sending to them.
I remember a trip to Montana — a very indirect journey in which my primary companion was Daniel George (who also lived a year with me in China — and who is making plans to soon move to Tanzania). We listened to Rusted Root a lot on that trip, and somehow now I am unable to separate the earthy style of their music from the idea of mountain biking, something at which Daniel has always been better than me (the mountain biking, not the separating of it from music…). But Daniel is better at lots of things than I am. I think one of the many reasons God blessed me with him as a friend was to give me humility. I rarely beat him in anything, even those activities which are my idea and require his convincing. I could hardly breathe the day we rode our bikes on the smooth, red rock of Moab. He could leave me at will and wait for me any place he liked. And he’s been that for me in other ways, as well. Daniel is steady and strong in his walk with God, and I admire that in him — and always appreciate him waiting on me. Much of my life, spiritual and otherwise, seems to have been lived in bursts and spurts. But I am becoming more steady. And a lot of that I owe to God’s work through Daniel. I often pray for he and his wife — and for his yet-to-born little girl. It seems that our girls will be only a few weeks apart; and no doubt both of them will be mountain bikers.
I met Ben Harper once at Cooker in Green Hills, while I waited tables there. That was an excellent restaurant; it’s out of business now, though. I must say an “I’m sorry” to those of you who never had the opportunity to try it. I can say without a doubt that it was Ben Harper’s favorite restaurant, and that he wrote most of his songs while sitting there each afternoon. [I made that up… really he was just in town to play at a big festival that one weekend.] His music reminds me of Thailand, though I’m not exactly sure why. That’s where Christie and I would like to retire one day. I’m blessed to have her in my life. And I love her more every day. And I remember one particular dinner she cooked for me in China every time I hear a Norah Jones song. A lot of songs remind me of Christie. And it’s really exciting that even now, these days, we’re making new memories together, and listening to new music. And that one day years from now I’m sure I’ll be sitting at a different computer with a different cup of coffee, reminiscing different events, and Christie will be a part of most of those memories… as will be our daughter (and probably other children at that point). And no doubt some of my fondest memories will be of their baptisms… and of their first mountain bikes.