one week

Greg Laswell – The One I Love…

They show up at the parking lot freshly washed, outrageously over-packed, and equipped with fully charged everything.  They come with the unique mixture of eager anticipation and nervous hesitation that precedes every camp.  And when it comes to camps, there is nothing quite like the week-long variety spent in Colorado over Spring Break.

The next several days are all that one might expect at camp.  The daylight hours are are filled with loads of fun.  Hours spent playing on the mountain, at the game room, in the pool, or in the lodge.  Large quantities of food are eaten.  Laughter abounds as new inside jokes are formed.

At night, students gather for a meeting that is both fun and challenging.  The odd juxtaposition of silly games, sillier skits, heartfelt worship, and compelling teaching somehow simultaneously disarms a student while confronting them with truth.  They meet in small groups with an adult that cares enough to engage them in the difficult conversations.  They are given time to reflect on where they are in life and where they are headed.

Upon their return home, they are as depleted as their dead iPod batteries.  Pieces of what had been so neatly packed into very large suitcases can now be found back at camp, in vans, at gas stations, and even a little makes it back into their bags.  They have consumed toxic levels of junk food as evidenced by the van floor turned trash receptacle.

They return with new souvenirs, new photos, new friends, and new memories.

But mostly, they return changed.

Somewhere between drop-off and pick-up, they have had an encounter. And that encounter leaves them forever marked.  Often students have (re)embraced a genuine love for the One who loved them first.  They possess a new desire to live a life that matters and isn’t consumed with the trivial pursuits that seem to pre-occupy most of their peers.  Their commitment is sincere, and therefore touching.  And whether they choose to hold firm to their newly found faith or find it waning as the months and years pass, they will always remember the feelings evoked in that timeless week away known simply as camp.

back on track


Just returned from a week-long spring retreat in Colorado where efforts to post daily were stymied on all fronts. So as a way of explaining my lack of posting, I’ll enumerate the obstacles I faced.

1) No wi-fi at the camp. Now, I shouldn’t have been thwarted by this due to the iPhone’s capability to get ‘online’ wherever there is cell coverage. However…
2) Marginal cell coverage at camp. If I went outside and stood in the center of camp with my arm raised high, sometimes I would get a bar. Standing in the middle of camp with my arms in the air tapping out a post would have been both tiring and embarrassing.
3) Every waking moment consumed entirely with “camp”. I shouldn’t be such a whiner. My only two official roles at camp were camp speaker and small group leader. There are certainly times when I’ve also been the camp director, cook, skit guy, etc… Nonetheless, there were never any stretches of time where I was sitting around saying, “ahh… a whole half hour to do nothing but reflect and type.”
4) All creative energy poured into preparing to speak. Going into camp, I had fairly solid ideas about what I was going to speak about, but all the material needed massaging and refining. To say that my thoughts were a little preoccupied with what I was going to share would be something of an understatement.

However, the good news is that the week-long adventure certainly provided a wealth of blog worthy material. So join me this week as I recount the fun, the anecdotes, the laughter, the tears, the transformation, all the things that make camp what it is… THE BEST WEEK EVER!

p.s. I lied about obstacle number 1. There was wi-fi. But I didn’t discover it until the last day. I’m thinking that was probably for the best. The last thing I needed to be doing was spending a precious hour of “camp-time” trying to come up with something to say.


About two and a half hours ago, we loaded up over sixty people and started the long trek across the country to Colorado. And nearly an hour ago, just outside of Clarksville, the BMV was sitting broke down on the side of the road. The brakes appear to have locked up. Smells real bad. It wouldn’t be so frustrating had I not JUST has them worked on less than a week ago. You can bet I’ll be having a talk with my brake man. Good times!!!

Thank goodness for friends in Fort Smith who own vans! And this isn’t the first time they gave bailed me out either. Yeah, that’s right I break down often enough to have friends come to my rescue on a semi-regular basis.

for your listening enjoyment

This is all a bit out of the ordinary, but there are things to be appreciated about each.

St. Vincent – The Strangers

Animal Collective – My Girls (Swine Forkbread Remix)

Tor/Sufjan Stevens Mash-up – John Wayne Gacy Jr. / specialize (feat. Pete Rock & CL Smooth)

who knew

Ok, I need to warn both of you reading my blog that the next three or four posts are going to be unbelievably lame.  As my beloved has revealed, we are heading on a week long trip with almost ninety of our closest friends to spend Spring Break in God’s country – otherwise known as Colorado.  So, for the next forty-eight hours, I will know nothing but to-do lists, phone calls, packing and repacking, and things I have already forgotten that I’m suppose to do.  Then I will be driving a bazillion miles on nearly zero hours of sleep, arrive at camp, and get our week of Love, Sex, and Dating underway.  I’m not saying that I’m not going to post.  I’ve made a commitment and I plan on sticking to it.  I AM saying that the quality of the posts, which is already pretty marginal, is going to be particularly suspect.

To make matter worse, once I get out there, I’m fairly certain that internet access is going to be close to non-existent.  However, through the magic of iPhone and the wonderful WordPress app, you will be getting little glimpses into our week.

Now, on to “who knew.” 

press play…

Today was historic.  I did something today that I have never done in my entire life.  The sense of shame that I feel over not having done this in the thirty plus years I’ve taken up space on the earth is palpable, and if it weren’t for my over-riding feelings of self-congratulatory pride this day would have gone by un-noticed.

Around 1pm (CST), I changed the oil on the BMV.

After you have recovered from reading the last sentence, you should know that I found the entire process relatively easy.  I’ve known for some time that changing the oil on a car isn’t brain surgery, but after paying $40 earlier in the morning to have the same procedure done on the family truckster, I was determined to never get fleeced again.

Now while the changing was straight forward enough, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t mishaps.  The old oil started draining into the pan thing (that’s the technical name for the receptacle that catches the old oil), but after the stream of oil subsided, I hadn’t quite positioned the pan thing properly and some oil spilled out onto the ground.  It wasn’t the Exxon Valdez, but I felt guilty nonetheless.

Then there was the issue of the oil filter.  I’m fairly sure that the Incredible Hulk must have screwed it on, because despite my brawniness, it wouldn’t budge.  Nor had I demonstrated enough foresight to have purchased an oil filter wrench, and the only vehicle I had at my disposal had been emptied of its oil moments earlier.  So no running to my neighborhood Advance Auto Parts to make it all better.  Thank goodness for Google and the discovery of the screwdriver trick.  If you are in the dark about the screwdriver trick (and you probably are), then you can Google it yourself or ask me about it face-to-face.  I think it is the car mechanic’s equivalent of the secret handshake.

Ten minutes after the screwdriver maneuver, the parts were all back where they needed to be and the the engine was awash in brand new oil and ready to head out west.  While the process was relatively painless, I won’t be hanging my car mechanic shingle out anytime soon.


Harm & Boon…

A new voice has recently joined the blogosphere, and his name is Taylor Hall.  I’ve known Taylor a number of years, but I had the distinct privilege of being his small group leader for his last two years of high school.  I could say quite a bit more about Taylor, but I’ll let his blog speak for himself.  However, I knew I needed to share about his blog today when he posted about a fairly obscure band that I really like…  Balmorhea.  Our similar taste in music is only one of the many things that we are both into.  He likes Jesus, I like Jesus.  He likes Colorado, I like Colorado.  He likes coffee.  And so on.

Anyway, you should check him out.

And while you are at it, you should check out Balmorhea too.


Other Lives – Black Tables…

Today was book-ended with rituals for me. Each Wednesday, our staff gathers in the morning to spend some time connecting with each other and with God through a variety of creative means, but most typically through prayer. I could tell that this morning’s gathering was going to be different by how it began. One of the pastors read a brief passage of Scripture, and did so slowly and deliberately. Then he proceeded to lead us in a reverse communion of sorts. Instead of receiving elements like one might in a typical observance of the Lord’s Table, we were asked instead to give something to God. And not only give it in a metaphorical sense, but to actually take something we had on our persons and lay it on the table to symbolically represent what we were giving Him.  For example, I had a Bible, a phone, a usb memory stick, and some to do lists, so I put them all on the table and offered them up in prayer.  I’ll leave you to speculate on what any of those things may have symbolized in my life.

I understand a ritual to be any religious practice that somehow helps one to draw nearer to God, and this was certainly that.  One by one, people came to the table and laid the things they hold precious on the table. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but as they placed their stuff on the table, they did just that, put their stuff on the table.  Their hopes, fears, relationships, and brokenness – all laid out before the Lord…  and us.

At the risk of violating the sacredness of the moment, I’ll share what one person said who seemed to have slipped into the meeting without a single possession on her.  After everyone else had gone, she concluded our time by simply saying…  “Lord, I have nothing to give you, because that’s the truth…  I have nothing to give you.”  Perfect.

The middle part of the day was filled with the other various activities and tasks that are more or less typical to any of my days, but the people of God reconvened this evening around the dinner hour.  This time, the group had grown from the dozen or so staff to a couple hundred from the church family.  We ate.  We visited.  We made sure children were fed.  And then we transitioned into a worship service.

There are a number of things I love about this monthly gathering, but I’ll limit myself here to two.  One difference in this service from our regular Sunday morning services is that our children are with us.  On Sundays, with a few exceptions, no children younger than high school are in the main service.  They have their own corners of the church to go to and connect with God in a way that is tailored to speak to their six year old or maybe twelve year old hearts.  But at New Community (that’s what we call the service – I love that too), we’re all in the room.  And to see children genuinely and earnestly praising their Maker is more than a little heart-warming.

But what I noticed tonight – especially tonight – was how un-hurried the service was.  It seemed that our only agenda was to come before God with praise and adoration.  There was no lengthy teaching.  There wasn’t a drama or video or announcements.  However, there was the ritual, and tonight it would take front and center.  As we were led through receiving the elements of the Lord’s Table, we were given the opportunity for the second time that day to lay our frail selves (this time without leaving my seat) before the one who loved us enough become frail himself, so that we might know resurrection power in our lives.

Of course, none of us need to be in a church building in order to recognize our need for God and his redeeming work in our lives.  But today, my being in that building, using physical objects that pointed to spiritual realities, seated next to people expecting to see God work in their lives was a day in which the door to transformation was cracked open a little wider through these simple acts of devotion.

dumb banks

music to chill to…

I know that the title makes it look like I’m going to go back on my Lenten promise to not complain anymore, but I am going to attempt to share a frustration without sounding like a whiner.

First, one of the things that bothers me is that the word “crisis” has been so freely used to describe our country’s current financial situation. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that companies are going belly up by the truck load, which means that there are lots of people out of a job right now, and that both those with jobs and those without are facing leaner times financially. But I don’t think having to tighten the belt some is necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, we (and I certainly include myself in “we”) have been long overdue for sorting out what indulgences are versus needs. Two Starbucks beverages per day is not a need. Eating out for lunch everyday, also not a need. Diet Coke… well, you get the idea. And certainly, seven (or so) jackets to meet every possible fashion and weather need is not only not a need, it’s a sickness. And so, if the perception of our economy being in “crisis” helps people to curb frivolous spending, I see that as a good thing.

I think what is more disturbing is our government’s response to this situation. I’m not one of those conspiracy theory guys or anything, but as news headlines pour in about so-and-so bank receiving 60 BILLION(!!!) dollars one begins to wonder. When news of the AIG debacle came through, I wish I could say that I was surprised. “What? People who are filthy rich took advantage of government aid to benefit themselves? Shocking! I thought only foreign oppressive government regimes did things like that. Not our good friends who control the vast majority of wealth in America, and therefore the world!” Needless to say, I am somewhat cynical about where all this is heading. I shared in my inaugural post that I fully expected “the man” to continue to be “the man” and stick it to the sheep-like American public. Here’s to “change!”

But in the end, I don’t blame bank execs for being greedy or government officials for pandering to special interests. Of course, we’re ultimately the ones to blame. It is our thirst for bigger and better and more. It is our inability to distinguish between wants and needs mentioned above. It is our sense of entitlement, our thinking this is what I/we deserve. I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about how the bank system works, but I think it is a relatively simple concept. Banks are businesses. The way they make money is by lending money to people who will in turn pay them rather large sums to borrow that money. The more money banks lend, the more they stand to make. Of course, that’s until they have lent so much money to people that there is no way that those people can pay it back. When banks don’t get paid back, they don’t make money, they lose money. I don’t think any of this is rocket science. So it isn’t as much the fault of the greedy bank lending out too much money. We are only getting our just desserts.

And yet, there is that thing called grace that so many of us find absolutely essential to living life.  And grace would seem to fly in the face of the “just desserts” idea.  When it comes to seeing grace in financial terms, the Bible a word for that.  It is called Jubilee.  It is this idea spelled out in Leviticus, but the idea is simply every fifty years (about a lifetime), debts are simply forgiven.  No one would be able to subject another person to financial oppression (or their descendants) forever.  It would have the added benefit of safeguarding from lending too much. If it was all going to be forgiven anyway then one would probably still lend, but not foolishly or over-zealously.   Wouldn’t it be something if economic wrongs were made right every so often. If there was a massive redistribution that took place every so often? It might just turn our world upside down.

Of course, it might also mean that I would have to give up one or two of my jackets. And that would take real change.


I’m sure all of us have noticed that sometimes it takes reading something two times (or more) through before the words really sink in.  It was that way for me today with Wright’s reflections on Romans 8:18-25.  The first time, I sort of hurried through and honestly didn’t think too much of it.  However, after trying repeatedly to find something worth posting today and drawing an absolute blank, I went back to the reading.  I’m so glad that I did, because I missed several things, any of which deserves to be unpacked some more.  But in the interest of brevity, I’ll simply reproduce a brief reflection on the calling of the church.

I love the picture of the church in this passage.  We tend to think of the world getting itself into a hopeless mess, and the church going off and hiding in a building somewhere singing God’s praises, pretending that all is well with them.  That is not Paul’s picture of the church.  As we have already seen, his vision of the church, as of himself as the suffering apostle, is that it is called to be where the world is in pain, so that, by sharing the pain, it can be the means through which God himself, by the Spirit, is present even there.

One of the things I love about Wright is that he is a first-rate New Testament scholar.  And yet, I love even more that he has such a love for the church that he longs to see it embrace its vocation as the body of Christ – the suffering servant.