Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rocky Mountain High

Trent and I hiked to Horn Peak, a 13,450 ft. mountain that ranks among the ten most difficult hikes in Colorado. Trent was amazing! He had a couple of moments on the way up where he was a bit beaten down, but by the time we got to the tree line and the first peak, he was fresh as a store bought Krispy Kreme. While I was gasping for air and cramping with every step, Trent was slinking to the peak with the greatest of ease. He graciously waited for me to catch up before we summitted the peak together.

The climb was easily one of the most difficult physical challenges I've ever attempted. It blew away two-a-days in football and roofing houses in the Louisiana summers (the physical challenges that ranked 1 and 2 prior to climbing Horn Peak). Having Trent there with me made it extra special. It was the kind of epic adventure that you imagine the great men of old embarking on with their sons; the kind of character building right of passage that makes a boy into a man. This was real Braveheart kind of stuff!

Dawn at the base of Horn Peak. Wow!

Our first Mile Marker. Only 3 miles to go!!

There's the Peak from the trees

The ascent to Horn Peak

Summit Champs!!

The view from the top!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Things I'm Learning from Autism (Part 4)

People with Autism have difficulty communicating and interacting with others. In this sense, they are just a magnified version of the rest of us. What I'm learning is that the problems we face with Pierce, although very difficult, are not all that different from the problems we face with our typical children, or even ourselves.

My wife and I can be selfish, poor communicators. My other kids often times become fixated on certain topics or objects, and demonstrate self serving motives on a regular basis. There is no guarantee that Pierce's therapy will give him the bright future that we hope for, but there is also no guarantee that our typical children will develop into the wonderful people that we hope for. In a very real way, Autism is just an extremely magnified view of the problems we all face. We are all selfish, unresponsive, myopic and obsessive. We just have sophisticated ways of covering it up.

So, what I'm learning from Autism is that we are all broken, and there is no simple therapy for our condition. Only something transcendant can make us whole. Just as Pierce doesn't have the ability to "cure" himself, we have no way to fix ourselves. In our case, Jesus is the cure. Ephesians 2 tells us that we were "dead" in our sins, "but God, who is rich in mercy" has saved us, offered us a seat in heaven, and given us his son. His grace has made us complete.

Autism Lesson #4: Autism is just a magnified view of the problems we all face (selfishness, communication and fixation).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Things I'm Learning From Autism (Part 3)
One of the main concerns with Autistic people is that they have a tendency to wander. We have had to call the police several times when Pierce has escaped our grasp and wandered off through the neighborhood. We've added locks to our doors, installed alarms, and have even purchased a tracking system that works through a wrist tag attached to Pierce's arm. Even with all these precautions, Pierce still finds ways to escape and wander. He's a regular Harry Houdini!

What I've learned from this propensity to wander is that fear and danger are good things in that they warn us when things become unsafe. Now, we certainly aren't supposed to base our life decisions on safety and security; God often times calls us to enter into situations that are insecure and unsafe. If we based our lives on safety, we'd never travel to places like Darfur, which desperately need our help. But it is foolish to subject yourself to danger if there is no extenuating circumstance that justifies such action. In Pierce's case, wandering into danger because you have no inner voice to stop you is simply reckless.

So, I guess the main lesson here is that danger and fear are reserved for causes that transcend common sense and call for drastic action. Reckless living for the sake of curiosity is a bad thing. It hurts those you love and compromises your ability to truly live out the Gospel. Our call is not a safe one, but it is also not one that is reckless and prone to wander.

Autism Lesson 3: God gives us a sense of fear and danger so that we will weigh our actions based on the Gospel and not be reckless

"Overdressed" Dresses up Nicely (A review of the new Caedmon's Call release)

When you're wearing a fig leaf, it's hard to feel overdressed, but that kind of ironic imagery not only paints the cover of Caedmon's Call's new release, it permeates nearly every song on the album. The return of Derek Webb brings with it a raw and rich honesty, and the songwriting talents of the underrated Andrew Osenga give this album, and the band, a mature yet edgy, warm yet independant feel that is unmatched in their previous efforts. If 40 Acres told of a band coming of age, Overdressed tells of a band entering a new age with a feel that is at the same time both fresh and trusted.

The album begins, as it should, with Webb singing Trouble, a bluesy number that speaks of sin as not simply a "struggle", but something as deep as "the blood running through my veins." Webb's return is marked by the band's trademark B-3 organ, and fresh harmonies. Trouble is a song that sounds at once familiar, and demonstrates, right from the start, that all is right in the world of Webb/Caedmon's relations.

As the album progresses the thing that stands out is the flow of different styles and voices, instruments and arrangements. Need Your Love and Sacred, songs that easily bear the Caedmon's Call signature, are followed by Expectations, a simple yet sweeping epic that speaks of the over-optimistic outlook often attributed to real world faith. Osenga writes with great timing and truth that Christianity is often presented as another "expensive ad for something cheap." The variance in arrangements and writing gives the album the same kind of flow as a good compilation or soundtrack, and, as the album builds, a sense of anticipation develops within the listener. This is a "can't wait to hear what's next" release.

The anticipation created by the beginning of the album is richly rewarded in the second half of the release. The back-to-back-to back string of Share in the Blame, Hold the Light and Two Weeks in Africa is their best three song combination in recent memory. Share in the Blame is a folksy and melodic modern day admonition to get the log out of your eye before blaming others. Hold the Light is Osenga's tribute to accountability and trust, and it's haunting chorus is framed well by beautifully arranged instrumentals. It's a song more felt than heard, more absorbed than encountered, and it flows nicely into Two Weeks in Africa, a celebration of the change of perspective that comes only from participation in missions. The bridge on Two Weeks in Africa takes you from internal struggle to hope to outright elation over the possibilities present when people become partners with Christ in international missions.

The record ends with another gritty Webb number, All Across the Western World, followed by the encouraging Always Been There and Start Again. In a twist of irony, the final songs speak of the presence and new beginnings that Christ offers only to those who come poor and weary. It is a fitting ending for an album that recognizes man's propensity to stand before God Overdressed, embelishing his own goodness in light of God's glory.

In all, it's good to see Caedmon's Call return to form. The addition of Webb, though significant, is not all there is to Overdressed. Truth be told, this album dresses up very nicely. The writing is solid, as usual, but the overall flow of the music and themes is what makes Overdressed the best Caedmon's Call release in years.

If you're anxious to hear something off of Overdressed, check out Share in the Blame on the Caedmon's Call Myspace Page here. Great guitar solo by Andy!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Things I'm Learning from Autism (Part 2)

This lesson goes hand in hand with Lesson 1 (Taking is bad; asking is good). The process of teaching Pierce to ask for what he wants is only effective if what he wants is witheld from him. In order to do this, we have had to remove all the toys and books from his room, place his favorite foods out of reach, and generally put everything he desires out of his grasp. We still want him to see the things he wants, but we want those things to be accessable to him only upon request.

This brings up an interesting lesson that I find so profound. The lesson is that our desires often seem just out of reach, and there may very well be a purpose for that. When the things you really want are beyond your reach, you become patently aware of your inability to get them on your own. You realize that you need help to get that which you desire most.

In Pierce's case the toys, food, books, etc. that he really wants can only be acquired with the help of others, namely his parents. In the case of humanity, the things we really want that are out of reach are often merely reminders of our helplessness before God. Our ultimate desires are security, comraderie, happiness and love. To a certain degree we can find all of these, but not in their fullest sense. In this world, security is an illusion, comraderie is flakey and fleeting, happiness is here one minute and gone the next, and love seems to come only at a very high price. We can have all of these desires, but the elusive quality that nags at our soul is the complete fulfillment of these desires. It is the book on the highest shelf, the four star restaurant with the food we can't afford, the toy that Mom won't indulge us with at the check out line. It's that nagging sense that things aren't as they should be, that we need help to make sense of it all.

For now, the help we need is the faith that one day things will be set straight. It's the belief that this is not all there is, that the thing we desire the most will one day be realized. It is, as the Apostle Paul implied, something that we do not yet have (Romans 8:24-25), but that we are to believe nonetheless. For, as Paul says, "hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

So, what I've learned from this aspect of Autism is that the things that are out of reach are there for a reason: they make us aware of our need for help, and they instill within us a hope that some day they will not only be within our reach, but fully attainable. So, lesson 2 ends with these words: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13)

Autism Lesson 2: Desires are out of reach because they make us aware of our neediness, and fill us with hope.

Things I'm Learning from Autism (Part 1)

I've decided to start a series on my blog called "Things I'm Learning from Autism." It should give you a glimpse into the world of Autism and the kinds of things a parent of an Autistic child thinks about. I'm going to try to post something everyday for a month on this topic. For those of you who don't know, my son, Pierce (4), has Autism.

So, here's the first thing I'm learning from Autism:

Autistic people are in their own world and they're only capable of thinking of themselves. In light of that, it's very important to stretch them to think about others. Here's what that means for us: We have to set up our home in such a way that Pierce has to ask for anything and everything that he wants.

I'ver never thought about it before, but having to ask for what you want is an interesting way to teach someone to think about others, isn't it? We usually think that asking for what we want is selfish, don't we? I want a new car, but making that desire known would just make me look unrealistic and self-absorbed. We all want a million dollars, but try going up to someone on the street and asking them for that kind of money, and you'll get a strange look at best and a punch in the face at worst. If we went around voicing our desires, we'd look extremely narcisistic. So, why would we want to force our self-centered little boy to ask for everything he wants?

The reason we need Pierce to ask for stuff is becuase we need him to know that, in life, you can't just go around grabbing anything you want without asking. In other words, what I'm starting to learn is that it's not wrong to desire things, but it's very wrong to take action on those desires without asking. It seems to me that this is why God tells us over and over again in the Bible to ask for what we want. He says that we "have not because we ask not" (James 4:2), and states in Psalm 37:4 that we are to "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Ultimately God tells us to ask Him for what we want for that same reason that we ask Pierce to ask for what he wants. What God knows (and what I'm starting to understand) is that when you have to ask for things, you have to recognize that there is someone who controls those things. And, when you see that you are not in control of the things you desire, you come to a place of unselfishness. So, while taking assumes ownership, asking assumes a lack of control and a limitation of rights. In this sense, teaching Pierce to ask for what he wants is training him for a life of unselfishness. In the same sense, learning to ask God for what we want is designed to teach us how to delight in God's control and ownership, so long as we ask with the right motives (James 4:3).

Autism Lesson 1: Taking is selfish; asking is unselfish.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Flowers from the Grave

Cpl. Jonathan Markham joined the Army as a cavalry scout a year after graduating from high school, in 2003.
Sigh. This story breaks my heart. Imagine you're Stacey Markham, and you just found out that your husband, Cpl Jonathan Markham, died in a roadside blast in Iraq. Now, fast forward six days. Your doorbell rings and there's a delivery person giving you flowers and a card. You open the card and read the words, "I love you with all my heart. Jonathan". It's at that point that you realize that your dead husband took the time to send you flowers and a card from Iraq as one of his last acts on earth. So sad.

You can read the story here. This thing is getting real old, real fast.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Letting Go" of Bush

Peggy Noonan

Gosh, I love Peggy Noonan. I've linked to her many times, but linking to her recent article is pretty tough! I almost always agree with Noonan, and - man, this is hard to say - I agree with her again. In this article she articulates why she no longer supports the Bush Administration.

It's taken me this long to get here, but I'm here. Now, unlike my liberal friends, I don't think George W. Bush is a bad guy. I don't think he's this terrible dictator who is out to hurt America. I just don't think Bush took advantage of the most polarizing event in modern American history to unite a country that wanted to follow his lead. Here's what Noonan says about this:

Bush the younger came forward, presented himself as a conservative, garnered all the frustrated hopes of his party, turned them into victory, and not nine months later was handed a historical trauma that left his country rallied around him, lifting him, and his party bonded to him. He was disciplined and often daring, but in time he sundered the party that rallied to him, and broke his coalition into pieces. He threw away his inheritance. I do not understand such squandering.

Instead of using wisdom to lead us out of crisis, Bush and Co. jumped the gun, like an eager child pouring a glass of milk, and made a huge mess. The Bush Administration's consistent bungling has not been intentionally malicious, but it has cost us dearly. Again, Noonan's words ring true:

What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom--a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don't need hacks.

It's sad for me to say it, but I'm no longer on board. Immigration is a disaster, the war is a quagmire, government spending is out of control, and the only thing I can say good things about is the abortion issue (at least Bush appointed pro-life judges). Call me liberal... Call me a flip-flopper... Call me un-American. When it's all said and done, I just can't feel good about this thing any more. I'd like to apologize to all my fans.