life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

holy moments...

It was a particularly vulnerable moment in my life. My Grandma Rubye (actually step-grandmother, but she was just like the real thing and a very precious soul who deserves her own blog post) had just died. My mom and dad planned to drive back to Texas nearly straight through in order to get there in time for the funeral. I decided to help them drive. And I thought that since there was bad blood between my mother’s family and Rubye’s sister, who had been charged with her care in later years, I had better go in order to run interference. It’s amazing how much tension one can find at funerals. Some of the best and worst of human behavior sneaks out of the closet at times like that.

So there was the long drive back to Texas, the stress of the funeral, the eggshells one walks on when around family one hasn’t been around for awhile. Oh, and one more thing. My cousin and her friend from Austin were recruited to drive me from Hillsboro right after the funeral meal to the airport so I could catch my flight back to Bakersfield that evening. I had to be in Sacramento the next day for meetings. That was a very wild ride down I-35.

I got to the airport and checked in (I think it was the spring just before 9/11 but there was still security, of course). Had some time. Ate some barbeque and waited at the gate for my flight. When I checked in, something about the tiredness in my eyes, or maybe it was just a God thing, they slated me to sit in the window seat of the mid-plane exit row. This was a flight where the seat in front of me was removed for safety reasons. Oh, was I happy! Thank you, Jesus! If there is one thing that is difficult for me when flying, it’s the lack of room to stretch out my legs. My knees ache for days after long flights because I can’t flex them.

Anyway, I boarded the flight home, settled myself in the chosen seat, shoved my perpetually present briefcase up under the seat two rows in front of me and sat staring out the window with a book in my hands as the plane began to fill.

A few minutes later, this tall guy with a long black pony tail set a backpack in the middle seat between me and my aisle neighbor and headed to the back of the plane. And he didn’t come back for awhile. The lady sitting on the aisle and I began to exchange glances, looking from the backpack to each other and back again. I was about to call an attendant when the young man returned.

His name was Sasha. He was a student doing graduate work at UCLA, Jewish in ethnicity, he was trying to find his religious roots in Judaism on that Westwood campus. Growing up as a secular Jew, Sasha had a lot to discover and sort through. To make matters worse, he had just graduated not long before from a conservative Baptist school in Texas where he had met a wonderful Baptist girl. Please don’t stone me. I don’t have anything against the Baptists, but Sasha was confused. He didn’t get this “Christian” thing, even after four years at a fundamentalist school.

Now, remember, I was tired. Bone tired by this point. I could see where this conversation was leading. I’m one that questions the effectiveness of airplane conversations about religion. I just wanted a moment to rest and recover from all the stress that had come before. But, as I said, I could see where this was heading. I spoke a silent, somewhat reluctant prayer to God at that moment. “Lord, if this is something you want to happen, you are going to have to do it because I am totally spent.” Or something along that line.

The conversation lasted from take-off at Austin until we landed in Phoenix. I listened, I counseled, I challenged his assumptions, I left plenty of room for him to keep on his journey of discovery. We talked about mikvot and how one who follows Christ can be a mikvot keeper as well, about how Paul was a practicing Jew as well, about the fact that Jesus was Jewish, too. About the nature of God, how he defies all boxes that we attempt to put him in. Whatever comfortable thought we have of him, he is what he is despite what we think.

And that he loves us.

It was a long and intense conversation, too long and too detailed to go into here. And that’s not the point of what I’m trying to say anyway.

Up in front of me, to the left since there was no seat directly in front of me, was a young couple. As happens with such conversations, I was concerned that we might be disturbing those around us. I noticed her glancing back toward the carpet at my feet several times and tried to quiet my voice. Understand, I wasn’t shouting or anything. I was just wanting not to disturb anyone.

Sasha got off the plane at Phoenix and headed for the restroom after I wished him well. I left him with my email address. He has never emailed me. Anyway, I was even more wiped out and looking for my gate to Bakersfield, when I noticed the young lady who had been sitting in the seat in front of Sasha. She established eye contact with me, walked up and said...

“I want you to know that I heard everything you said to him. You said everything he needed to hear. And I want you to know that my husband and I were praying for you the entire time you were talking.”

Then she walked away.

I was stunned!

It was a holy moment. Even now I get chills thinking about it, about God’s faithfulness to my silent prayer, about his tap on my shoulder through this young woman’s words, about his use of empty and cracked vessels. About how we are not alone. Even when it feels like it.

You might see coincidence in this event. If so, it is a fault of my telling of the story. I cannot communicate it adequately enough. God was there in a way I couldn’t comprehend and I didn’t even realize it.

He is there for you, too. May God open you up to holy moments.

All glory to him!

Grace and peace!


blogging frequency...

Hey, everyone...

Just so expectations are lowered, plan on my posting on the web during the summer once each week. I think I'll make the posting sometime on the weekend, either Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

News regarding my health... actually no news. So far the tests don't show anything. I had a stress test (treadmill) yesterday that just about killed me (not literally) because I pushed it too hard. Story of my life. Refusing to act my age, I told the doctor to leave it at 4.5 mph at a 14% incline for the whole 3 minutes when he offered halfway through it to slow it down. My heart did fine, but I nearly fainted after I was done. He said my blood pressure dropped really low. Affected my vision. Thought I was going to pass out. "You are a tough man," he told me. Thankfully he left off the "and stupid" part.

Anyway, expect posts about once a week now.

Part of it is my health. And part of it is that Rebecca and Steven are home for the summer.

My expectation is to begin blogging two to four times a week beginning in Sept. But for now, once a week.

Thanks for visiting. This week's post will be up shortly.

Grace and peace!


Saturday, June 11, 2005

café dolce (four): community...

Well, I'm back to blogging again. Thank you so much for your patience. We still haven't figured out what I have but we started the exploration process on Thursday afternoon. Today I can actually think. I'm not so thick-headed as I have been for the past couple of weeks. Well... I guess you can decide whether or not I am after you've read the post below. Here's the latest, with hopefully at least two more café dolce posts to come....

café dolce (four): community...

Tones just gave me back the copy he borrowed of Brian McLaren’s latest book in the A New Kind of Christian trilogy. It is called The Last Word and the Word After That. Besides the head-spinning deconstruction of hell that he does (at least my head is still spinning – whoa! not as in The Exorcist though; does that date me?), there is one section of the book that is incredibly attractive to me. Found in chapters 21-25, it portrays Neo’s invitation to a deeper church community experience of a group of somewhat likeminded people once a year. McClaren calls it deep ecclesiology.

Neo, it turns out, has been attending this conclave with a small number of other mentors for many years. It is a time of questioning and discussion and worship (not in the traditional sense) and true fellowship. It is the group that Neo “knows with,” a fascinating way of looking at things. (McLaren believes that knowing is a social event… from October’s lectures at Zoe: “You can’t kiss alone, you can’t reproduce alone, you can’t know alone. It’s hidden in the etymology of the word conscious – to ‘know with.’”)

Most of all, it allows the group to ask and hear in depth honest answers from each other in regards to five important questions; he calls them “the five queries”:

-- How is your soul?
-- How have you seen God at work in and through your life since we last met?
-- What are you struggling with?
-- What are you grateful for?
-- What God-given dream are you nurturing?

I have to tell you that of all that he says in this book, this is the single most attractive piece of what he says. When I gave the book to Tones I told him that there was one thing in the book that would really resonate with him. I didn’t tell him what. That’s the piece he first commented on.

When I think of Café Dolce, I think of it as a gathering place, a watering hole, where people can come to know, not simply in theory or syllogism, but in experience as well. I dream of community where one doesn’t drift in and drift out, where there is some open, honest sharing, where the emphasis and direction is actually geared toward becoming a spiritual apprentice of Jesus Christ, rather than a Bible know-it-all. I dream of it being a place where true kingdom living can break out so that all people in the world could be blessed, no matter what their religion or nationality.

By the way, kudos to the G8 nations in canceling that $55 billion in debt for the poorest nations. That’s a good first step. Now, let’s figure out some next steps and get this thing going.

Grace and peace!


Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Hey, everyone.

Sorry for the infrequent posts. I actually have several in process (including two more on Cafe Dolce), but I have been experiencing an unusual amount of fatigue lately. I've planned a trip to the doctor later this week to check out what's going on. I think I may have something called Valley Fever, a spore-borne fungal illness somewhat unique to the San Joaquin Valley. It causes fatigue and lack of energy, among other symptoms. I was particularly sick back in February with something that could have been Valley Fever onset. We'll see once the doctor checks it out.

Anyway, there will be future posts, God-willing and if I am able to get enough rest. But I thought you should know why things have dropped off of late.

Thanks for visiting!


Thursday, June 02, 2005

café dolce (three): homogeneity...

About ten years ago, after I left pulpit work for fulltime education employment, my wife and I began to search for a church to attend. We tried to stay where I had been preaching, but honestly it wasn’t a very good fit even when they were paying me to say what I said. Rather than cause confusion or division if I said anything (or total implosion if I didn’t), we decided to look elsewhere. Our intent was not to stay in our denomination for several reasons.

You need to know at this point that I grew up in Los Angeles. My best church friend in junior high and high school was Mexican-American. My next best friend at school was 100 percent Winnebago Indian. In later high school years, I developed a close friendship with the quarterback from Duarte High School in Compton. He was African-American. One of the deacons at our church was African-American. I grew up where the barrio met the ghetto and traveled the city bus from 1970-1972 to Florence and Vermont, about a mile or so from where the Rodney King riot started.

So I have always been attracted to diverse churches and communities.

I remember visiting a large Baptist church in Bakersfield when we were on the church hunt. It is an up and coming place and some of the pillars of our community attend there. I remember looking around the large sanctuary filled with people, then leaning over to my wife and whispering, “It looks awfully white in here to me.” Since I’m Caucasian, that might sound like an odd statement. But I truly felt out of place. I do need to tell you that we have friends who have since moved to that church who are of color. They hired her on staff. Go figure! I’m not criticizing that church at all. We have other friends as well who go there, and we know some of the people on staff. But when we visited, it just wasn’t right for us. It felt to us a bit exclusive.

Well, God didn’t want us to leave our denomination anyway, something I’m still not happy with him about at times. And I didn’t have the time, energy or emotional strength (not to mention the call of God) at that time to plant the church that I’ve always wanted to plant. So he put us at Central Church.

Central Church is diverse and that diversity is expressed in our racial, socio-economic and even religious makeup. The choir director at the high school my kids went to visited our church several years ago. Recently he remarked to my wife (who is his accompanist) that ours was one of the most diverse churches he has ever attended. He’s from the Bay Area, is quite progressive and loves teaching multi-ethnic students when it comes to education. He thrives in that environment with kids on the margins. So I guess that’s a high compliment.

The reason I bring this up is that several weeks ago my daughter, Becca, who is interning in children’s ministry at a medium-sized church in north Fresno reflected on the makeup of the church she is serving. She has been there long enough now to realize that for that church (which is a fine church with a fine staff doing some fine ministry, by the way), some people fit there and some people don’t. She has looked around, so to speak, and found things quite homogenous. And she is not comfortable with that. I told her that she was raised in a church with a great gift of diversity and that not all churches are like we are in that way. Even we struggle with our homogeneity in worship style and don’t take best advantage of all of our gifts.

But I wonder at this sometimes. What is it with our homogeneity? To say that it’s natural is probably so obvious it doesn’t need to be said. Human beings have a tendency to group and exclude, sometimes to the point of genocide as seen in Rwanda. That is part of the nature of human beings. But what of the supernatural? Does that call us to something without question more difficult, but higher and better as well?

All of this ought to call us to be very cautious and hesitant to draw lines. I’m not just talking race here. I’m talking any kind of lines. Culture and heritage are equally divisive. Or language. Or socio-economic status. Or, how about this? How many times have we divided over religion or denominational flavor, hermeneutic, theory of inspiration, atonement, control, etc. Maybe our homogeneity is inevitable. But I don’t think it is good. It calls us to associate on the basis of commonalities that may be rooted in something other than God rather than on the basis of our universal humanity called into one by the Spirit of the indwelling Christ.

Perhaps it is a perpetual problem against which we must strive. If the kingdom as described by Jesus was topsy-turvy from what the world, and especially the religious leaders of the day, thought in Jesus’ time, perhaps it is the same today. Paul certainly had the same problem with the churches he planted back in the first century. Jews and Gentiles. Romans and non-Romans. Men and women. Slaves and free. Oy! What a mixture!

What problems! What headaches!

What potential!

Diversity brings great opportunities for the in-breaking Kingdom of God. In my opinion, the church is the poorer for ignoring it in all its varieties.

Grace and peace!


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

the fish is here...

Okay, so I’ve been writing about the suture zone and everything serious. This is off-topic. I know if I worked at it I could turn this into a metaphor too, but frankly I’m too tired to do that. I told you earlier on this blog that a time was coming (and now is) when you might have to extend me some grace if you think fishing is horrible and cruel and other worse adjectives. If that’s you, you might not want to read this post. (Sorry if you’ve already seen the picture. Not much I can do about that.)

I love to fish. It’s my grandfather’s fault (the one who didn’t think we would make it to the moon). He started me off fishing when I was about four years old, maybe even earlier. I became his fishing buddy. Other family members would get bored when there was no action. My grandfather would start up the old green 10-horsepower Johnson outboard and guide the 14-foot aluminum boat back into shore. He would drop everyone else off. I would stay in the boat and go back out and fish with him as long as he wanted to fish.

Those memories are hazy now, just a few snatches here and there. But he instilled in me a love of fishing that I have yet to recover from.

The past two summers I have taken my dream fishing vacation to Alaska, first with my son Steven, and then last year with my father. We fished for halibut, silver salmon (coho), King salmon, and last year we did a little bit of flipping for reds (the flavor jewels of the salmon world—oh, has Alaska spoiled me on wild salmon, especially reds!). Truly the best part of the trips involved spending time with these two very important people in my life.

King salmon is a very frustrating sport. Even with a guide, it can take upwards of 19 hours of fishing – on average – for someone to hook one of these giants. Two years ago my son and I had between us maybe one or two strikes for three days of fishing for them. We were fishing right at the end of the season and there had been 21 straight days of emergency orders for the commercial netters in Cook Inlet. That effectively choked off the rivers. In fact, no kings that were caught came out of the rivers without net marks on them.

There were some trade-offs of course. One of the days we floated down the Kasiloff River in a fishing dory and I played all kinds of praise and worship songs on our guide, Leif Jacobsen’s, old beater guitar. This is a pristine river, no motor boats, and surrounded by some incredibly beautiful scenery, including bald eagles and many other creatures. But, alas!, no king salmon. Oh, yes! I remember now that I actually caught, netted and released a small female (maybe 18 lbs.) about 9 a.m. the first day. I regret not keeping her now. From then on we were skunked on kings. (Steven was really bummed! No bites whatsoever!!!)

Last summer, we had another three days of King salmon fishing lined up, this time with my dad. I was pretty sure that if I didn’t catch one this time I would probably swear off fishing for the giants anymore. Even told my dad such. First day on the Kenai River? Not a thing. We even came off the river early. Again, emergency orders had effectively shut down the river’s fishery. Even our guide was exasperated.

The next day of salmon fishing was on the Kasiloff again with an 18 year-old guide named Mark from Santa Barbara, California. He and his family had bought a cabin on the river and had been coming up since Mark was a youngster. Leif spent the summer before teaching him to fish the river and Mark was guiding solo, I think, for the first time this past summer. Very bright and talented young man.

About a third of the way down the river, I hooked a fish. Mark made me wait a long time to set the hook, but finally he gave the go-ahead and I jerked hard on the line. The fish started peeling line off as the drag sang out. Mark had the reels loaded with 80 lb. test monofilament line. This fish just took off downriver with it. When the run stopped, the fish started heading back up the river. I actually pumped him in toward the boat a bit. Then he took off again. I pumped him back again. I’ve forgotten exactly how many times he did this, maybe only twice, maybe more. All I really remember is that Mark had rowed us out of the fast water and into some slack water below the point of an island just above the place the guides call Hog Troughs. The fish kept coming our way but wouldn’t get out of the fast water. He was almost parallel by this point to the side of the boat. If he kept going he would spool the reel and I would lose this fish. I strained and strained to turn his head into the slack water. Finally he came in. It was quite a battle.

Mark netted the fish and asked me if I wanted to keep him. In a split second I had to decide. The fish had a lot of color to him. He had been in the river already a day and a half, so the quality of the meat wasn’t going to be great. Still, we could tell it was a very big fish for that river. Do I leave him in the river for the sake of the gene pool or do I keep him for the meat? I love salmon! I said, “Yes,” and Mark tried to lift him into the boat. No going. Mark asked me to help him. It took two of us to get him over the gunwale.

The fish was just over 48 inches in length, 35 inches in girth at the widest point. He weighed 51 pounds on the nose after being bled, drug around in the boat box for several hours, carted around in the back of a pickup for an hour, and had his picture taken in two locations. For his length and girth, the charts suggested he was about 57 lbs. when he came into the river and probably closer to 53 or 54 when I actually caught him. For the Kasiloff River, Alaska Fish & Game says any fish over 50 lbs. is considered a trophy-sized fish for the state. They were closed by the time I got him into Soldotna, so I never turned him in for the trophy certificate. But he was big enough to qualify.

My son told me before I ever left for Alaska with my dad that he would shoot me if I caught a big one and didn’t have him mounted. So, I did something I never thought I would do. And he’s here now. His mounted picture is below. Maybe sometime I’ll include a picture of him not long after he was caught, but for now, this is what is going on our family room wall. If you are wondering, I was able to keep and freeze the meat from this fish and we have been eating it since last summer.

Sorry if this grosses you out. But it reminds me of some very special time I spent with my father last summer. It was probably the last time that he could possibly have gone with me since my mother needs his almost constant attention for some medical issues. It’s going up right across from my chair so I can look up there and remember.

Oh yeah, I imagine I could come up with a meaning for this metaphor. I’ll let you suggest them, though, if you would like to.

Grace and peace (and a prayer for forgiveness. if needed)…


Owen's King Salmon Posted by Hello