Another Sunday — The Grove

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

The fun thing about the journey is that I rarely have any idea where I’m going after I finish at one church. Sometimes it just sort of occurs to me, or sometimes somebody suggests somewhere, and it just seems right. Other times, because of circumstances, I know exactly where I’m supposed to be. This past Sunday was one of those. I finished up with Southwood last time I was there, and needed somewhere to go next. When I got the word from Michelle, in my Journey Group at Sojourn, that the group she went on a mission trip to Costa Rica with this summer was going to be talking about their experience this past Sunday at The Grove Baptist Church in Madison, I knew where I was supposed to be that week.

The Grove was one of the smaller churches I’ve been to during this journey, sanctuary-size-wise, but was completely packed out, and thus probably had larger attendance than some of the much-larger churches. The atmosphere was very contemporary — a full band played worship music, the sanctuary had chairs instead of pews, I didn’t see a pulpit. It may have just been because they were having a special program, but I was amused that they had a bulletin with no order of worship.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy being able to sort of let go during the musical praise part of a worship service. I am a hand-raiser. And I realized Sunday, though, that I will only raise my hands when I’m at a church where other people are. It doesn’t have to be common, but there have to be at least a couple of other people doing it. At first, I felt sort of chicken, like I wasn’t brave enough to do it on my own. But then I realized that part of the point of the journey is to experience how different churches worship, and that I really do make an effort to embrace that where ever I am. If I raise my hands during the songs at Southwood, I’m defeating the purpose of being at Southwood. Being at a church where I could, however, for the first time in a while was VERY nice. I’d forgotten how much I missed it.

Also on a musical note, so to speak, we sang a song I like a lot, “God of This City.” The funny thing is, it’s a song I very much associate with this journey, since it’s an exploration of the Church at Huntsville; the song and the journey both have an awareness of “the city” as a religious entity. The funny part of that is, I wasn’t technically in the city this Sunday when we were singing that, and the first time I made a note of that song, possibly the first time I heard it, was at The Open Door in Lafayette, La., also very much not in my city. (In further irony, they did another song at The Grove that we sang on one of the three Sundays I was at The Open Door, “You Are Good.”)

I realized that this was my first time attending a Sunday morning service at a Baptist church in over a year, which is interesting to me. For the first 32 years of my life, I never went anywhere else for more than a week or maybe two in a row.

Like I said, the service was used as an opportunity for the mission trip team to present about their experiences, and I was glad to be able to be there for that. There’s a chance that I’m going on a mission trip to Costa Rica myself this fall, and I was interested in what they had to say about it.

The pastor explained why they had waited six weeks after the trip for the presentation. “When you come back from a trip like that, you are, one physically exhausted, and, two, you are spiritually spent.” He went on to say that it takes a fair bit of time to figure out how you have been changed by the experience. And I think he’s got a point — another good friend of mine just got back from a mission trip a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been interesting to see her thoughts and impressions of the trip evolving during that time. I’ll be curious to see how she feels about her experience six weeks out.

The presentation was very cool, possibly as a result of that decision to wait. There was a slideshow, but it wasn’t until the very end, after everyone had spoken. The presentations, then, were less travelogue and timeline than testimony, talking about how the trip had touched and changed them. Very personal, very spiritual, very meaningful.

It made me hope all the more that God sees fit to send me this fall, but I’m very much trusting that if I’m supposed to go, it will work out, and if it doesn’t, I wasn’t supposed to.

Up next — I’m not sure. After this visit to a Baptist church, there’s another that I think I may have to go back to in the very near future. Not sure if it will be this Sunday, however. My pastor sent me an e-mail recently about bringing my new kayak and going out with him on Sunday. If he’s thinking Sunday morning, that may be church. We’ll see.

Fun With Photo Apps

(Original is at bottom right.)

“Weekend” Update

OK, so other than the post about the kayak a while back, I haven’t done a whole lot of personal-life blogging lately; it’s all been idea-y the last few weeks. There’s not really anything interesting I can tell you about my life lately.

After my extended absence from blogging, however, I will give an update on this past weekend. I was sick. Frustratingly so. I came home from work Friday, took a nap ’cause I wasn’t feeling good, went and played in the Face2Face show at Ars Nova, realized afterwards I still wasn’t feeling good and went to bed pretty much until Tuesday morning. I missed the Saturday night Kenny Mango’s Face2Face show and rehearsal on Monday night, as well as work on Monday. I did manage to go to church on Sunday; I woke up that morning feeling pretty good, went to church, but immediately thereafter was, like, running into stuff at Target because I felt so bad. So I went home, and back to bed. The church part, of course, will be a blog post soon.

I was back at work Tuesday, and hosted the Sam & Greg’s Face2Face show that night. That show marked the beginning of a brief return engagement by F2F veteran Meghan Kenny, home briefly from college, and she was amazing. Meghan’s going to be playing the next three weeks at Sam & Greg’s, and I can’t recommend enough that you come check out at least one of those shows. It’ll be five bucks well spent, I assure you.

Because of illness, I still haven’t had a chance to take the kayak out, but have plans to do so this weekend, so I’m hoping that works out.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been. Hopefully I’ll get a couple of posts online before too long.

Jesus Calls Peter


my own two arms

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Self-Sacrifice.”

Today’s two bits of theology are brought to you by an episode of Friends that I’ve never seen and by Rebecca St. James. How far wrong can you go?

Apparently, from what I understand from friends (the people I know, not the show) is that there was an episode of Friends (the show, not the people) that argued that nothing is truly selfless. Basically, anytime you do something, you have a motivation, a desire to do it. You get something out of it, even if what you get out of it is selflessness. If I sacrifice for you, it’s because I make the choice that’s what I want to do, and get the selfish benefit of having make the sacrifice I wanted to.

To which I say, sure. To quote a contemporarily popular show, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Rather, I would argue that’s a good thing.

I would argue that giving is about the heart. I believe firmly that God is less interested in what we do than in who we are. A good deed done for the wrong reason is of less benefit that the transformation of the heart into something He can use. He doesn’t desire that we sacrifice in spite of our hearts; He desires that we sacrifice because of our hearts. A heart that gets its fulfillment from service to others is a beautiful thing in His eyes.

So, the Rebecca St. James part, then. She has this song I like, Carry Me High. And toward the end, there’s this spoken word bit — “Until you find something worth dying for / You’re not really living.”

And I could accept that as an axiom. But I also believe it should be taken a step further: “Until you find something worth living for / You’re just slowly dying.”

It’s easy for me to say I would die for something. My God, my country, my niece, someone I love. Heck, given a chance to fly, I would risk my life for the cause of human space exploration in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, it’s unlikely I will be called upon to die for any of those things. It’s a good thing to say those are the things that are that important to me, but I doubt that will ever be tested or demonstrated. Truth be told, I hope those will never be tested or demonstrated. I’d like to think I’d be willing to die for those things, but I don’t have any great desire to do so.

And that’s true for most of us. Most of us don’t end our lives by laying them down for something more important. The ends of our lives generally come in more divers and less epic circumstances.

So what do we do in the meantime? I would argue that the important thing is not what we’re willing to die for, but what we’re willing to live for. What we’re willing to give our time, energy and money to while we’re on this Earth. What we’re willing to pour ourselves into. What we’re willing to be passionate about.

For who, for what, are you willing to make yourself a living sacrifice?

Weekend Improv

In case anyone is interested, I will be in two Face2Face Improv shows this weekend:

— Friday at Ars Nova theater in south Huntsville at 7 p.m.

— Saturday at Kenny Mango’s Coffee Shop in Madison at 7 p.m.

Directions and ticket information can be found on the Face2Face Improv Web site. Tickets for Saturday’s show can be bought on Friday at a discount.

In addition, I continue to work the Tuesday night show at Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria and Gelateria in downtown Huntsville pretty much every week.

Come check us out sometime!!

For those that haven’t seen Face2Face before, we’re a comedy improv troupe. We make up scenes on the spot, based on suggestions from the audience. (And for the more timid in the crowd, we don’t bring anyone on stage or force anyone to do anything; you’re more than welcome to just sit back and enjoy the show.) We do a family friendly show of live entertainment. If you’ve ever seen the old ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we’re kinda like that. Only better.

I can’t embed them here, but there are videos of some of my work with the troupe on Facebook that should be publicly visible. Ticket information for shows is here.

To Love At All

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Love.”

“Don’t know much about love
Think it starts with belief
I’ve seen it there for healing
Can feel it beneath my feet
Don’t know much about love
Don’t think it can replace belief
I can feel it when I’m kneeling
Coming up from underneath
Wondering at the mystery.”
— Sarah Masen, “Jenni’s Face

The older I get, the more time goes by, the more I realize how little I know about love.

And, really, I’m OK with that.

Sometimes, the best thing, the most important thing, you can learn is that you have learned nothing.

The apostle John wrote in his first epistle that God is love. I read in the book, The Knowledge of the Holy,an argument by A.W. Tozer that any desire to take this phrasing to mean that love is a particularly important attribute and defining attribute of God above other attributes is misguided, and that we should know that phrasing isn’t meant literally because if it were, algebraically, it would require that the opposite also be true — Love is God.

Now, some today might call me a heretic for saying this about Tozer — or Piper or Augustine or Driscoll or Calvin — but I’m gonna side with John on this one.

What if he’s right? What if John, who was the beloved apostle of the incarnate Christ Jesus and who of the New Testament writers was particularly intrigued by the power of the word, wrote that, more than once, for a reason? What if God is love?

If God is love, if love is God, the two would have to be interchangeable. You would have to be able to take 1 Corinthians 13, and write it something like this:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not God, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not God, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not God, I gain nothing.

God is patient.

God is kind.

God does not envy

God does not boast.

God is not proud.

God is not rude.

God is not self-seeking.

God is not easily angered.

God keeps no record of wrongs

God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and God. But the greatest of these is God.

And, you know, I don’t know that I’m uncomfortable with that. I read that, and I read truth.

If God is love, then love is God. And God is infinite and unknowable. And if love is God, love is infinite and unknowable.

I could spend the rest of my life seeking to know God and know Him no more than I did when I began, because any percentage of the infinite is no greater or less than any other percentage. And if love is God, then the same is true of love. I can no more about love no matter how much I learn about love.

And so I’ve given up trying to understand.

I will continue to learn, and continue to love, but knowing that the best I can hope for is that tomorrow I do so better than today and less well than the day after.

I can do no other.

Another Sunday — Sojourn II

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday, I was back at Sojourn, teaching kids again.

On a practical note, I am still working on my approach. I’ve been doing this since January, and am still finessing it. I think I’m doing much better than I was in the beginning, but I’m still working kinks out. This month I think was not quite as good as the two before it, but I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe next month with be better. And, as with improv shows, I’m open to the idea that sometimes the audience is just in a different place from one to the next, regardless of my work.

The lesson was about love and service, and specifically about Christ washing the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. The kids were taught that the act was a demonstration on Christ’s part that He loved His apostles, but also a lesson to them that just as He was not too good to take on the role of a servant in washing their feet, they should be willing to humble themselves to serve others. A good reminder.

The funny thing is, this story has become so linked in my mind with the Biblical picture of marriage that I have to remind myself that, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with marriage at all. At least, there’s no direct mention or application to marriage in the passage.

Everybody likes to get all debate-y about the verses that instruct that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands, but generally are much less concerned about the verses that say husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Possibly because “love” is such a much more agreeable thing to do than “submit”; and possibly because it’s easy to parse “as Christ loves the church” modifier to mean something as simple as, like, “a lot,” which we’re totally comfortable with.

I did some research last year about what that phrase might actually mean, Biblical ways in which Christ loves, and how they might apply to the role of a husband in marriage. But if I had to pick one passage to be the answer, to serve as a picture of what that might mean, that would be it — Christ humbling himself into the role of a servant to wash the apostle’s feet. The gesture is very much one of putting yourself beneath another, submission not just in authority but in worth; a higher calling of putting one’s spouse ahead of oneself than wives are called to.

Next week — back on the road. I think I may be supposed to go to some place called Grove Baptist, but I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Completely Floored

“On the table in the mock-up room, there’s a rather distinctive piece of red triangular grid. What are y’all doing with that?”

I had tagged along on the annual intern and co-op tour of Marshall Space Flight Center, and was visiting the propulsion research facility that has been used for development of the Ares I rocket. The highlight of the tour is full-scale mock-ups of the rocket’s instrument unit and engine housing. The piece of grid in question was on a table in that room. I knew why it was there in the first place, but didn’t know why it was still there.

So I asked the tour guide, and he told me. And hearing the final part of the story was one of those moments that makes me proud just to be associated with NASA.

I knew what the grid was. It’s a piece of flooring from Skylab, or, more accurately, from the Skylab trainer decomposing outside the U.S. Space & Rocket Center here in Huntsville. (Donations to the Skylab Restoration Project can be made to the USSRC.)

The floor, as described in Homesteading Space,was a relic of the development of Skylab. Originally, Skylab was going to be launched as a live, fueled Saturn IB stage. Once it arrived in orbit, astronauts would retrofit it from a live rocket stage into a space station. To expedite that process, engineers looked at what could be done to provide a head-start on the conversion. It was determined that the stage could be launched with floors in place, so long as the floors were a grid pattern than would be allow fuel to pass through it easily.

Eventually, the decision was made to use a Saturn V for the launch instead of the smaller Saturn IB, which meant that Skylab could be launched as a fully ready space station, instead of as a rocket stage. The change meant that the floor was no longer needed for its original purpose, since the stage wouldn’t be fueled. In the meantime, however, a secondary application of the design had been discovered. The obvious problem with floors in microgravity, of course, is that things don’t stay on them. You can’t, nominally, actually stand on the floor. But someone realized that the grid floor lent itself to that nicely. Footwear was designed with a triangular piece that fit into the grid, allowing Skylab crew members to lock themselves into place easily to stand in front of equipment. The original purpose was obsolete, but the secondary purpose was invaluable to the program.

I was touring the Ares I mock-up building years ago, when I saw a piece of the Skylab floor. I asked about it, and was told that Ares engineers were looking at using the design for the new rocket. The human factors engineers were trying to figure out the best way to install equipment in the instrument unit. One of the proposals was to place equipment on a shelf that would be made along the lines of the Skylab floor. The triangular design would be sturdy enough to support the equipment during launch, without wasting precious mass.

Ultimately, however, the idea was rejected in favor of mounting the instruments directly to the interior wall of the ring. So I was a bit surprised to see the floor piece still in the room. And that brings us back to the beginning of this post.

The person I asked, who was leading the tour, was in human factors — designing the equipment with the people who will be using it in mind. Ares I was being designed so that it could be serviced on the launch pad in the event of a problem in order to expedite turnaround time. And that requires that the equipment be designed to be accessible, but also with an eye toward the fact that human beings aren’t perfect and hard hats can catch the edge of instruments or tools can bang against things they’re not supposed to. Someone had the idea of using the Skylab floor design for yet another application — tools carried in to the IU have the potential to hit something or be dropped or cause problems otherwise. But what if tools weren’t necessary? The Skylab floor and footwear allowed astronauts to lock into place and unlock easily, with no tools. If the same concept could be applied to the IU equipment, the need for tools could be reduced and the risks they present reduced correspondingly. The Skylab floor, in this case, wasn’t being used so much as the answer as the question — how can the same thing be accomplished in a way that could be used for Ares.

With Ares I most likely canceled, the odds are that particular application of the Skylab floor design won’t be flying. But the same concept could carry forward into future vehicles.

That said, it’s amazing how one piece of pretty simple design has had four separate applications in the space program over the years; how much inspiration engineers have taken from a repeating triangular pattern. It’s a testament to the creativity in NASA both decades ago and today, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if future engineers discover even more solutions in those simple triangles.

Could you live without the internet for a month?

559 – The Matrix – Seamless Texture

In a word, no.

About a month ago, there was a major 3G outage in Huntsville and I was without internet for a good two hours or so. Let me point out, at no point during that two hours was I even in front of a computer, though if I had been, I would have had the internet, since only the cellular connection was down. No, I had to do without the internet at, like, Barnes and Noble and the movie theater. And it was … painful, almost. That's stretching it a bit. But it was a noticeable void. I've nicknamed my iPhone "the pocketful of omniscience," and it's not terribly far off. It's an extension of me, of my mind. Doing without it is, in effect, a partial lobotomy, as surely as if a part of my actual brain was removed. Without my phone, I KNOW less. With it, I know things I don't even know. Like in The Matrix, where you can instantly know how to fly a helicopter or kung fu, without having to learn it or have that information already stored in your brain. You just know. With the phone, I know how to go places I've never been. I know what people I've never met look like. I know why the Ryman Auditorium looks like a church. I know all the words to a song I've only heard part of. I know what my best friend is doing on the other side of town or a state away.

So, yeah, if you cut out the part of my brain that remembers how to get places or what people look like or lyrics to songs, I'm sure I COULD live for a month. But I'd really rather not have that happen, ya know?

Ditto the internet.

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