21 March 2011

On The Street (Outside of the Car)

There is a value to being on the street that we don't know of until we actually get out of our protective Japanese/German/Detroit-built car-shells.

There is a connectedness found in pavement meeting the soles of shoes or the tread of skinny bicycle tires.

Suffering can be noticed while one is walking and one's gait is easier to adjust than the thousands of pounds of automobile that we pilot. A bicycle allows for noise and smell to penetrate the riders space, something no dual-climate auto-defrost motorcar would ever forcefully impose upon it's loving owner.

Occasionally, we actually meet people in such a manner, on the street, whether just for a passing conversation or in the midst of their time of need.

I ran into my friend/brother/leader/minister Ryan Callahan this way recently. He lives in our 78201 neighborhood and he was crossing the street walking to HEB as I was waiting on the traffic light to let my bicycle leave HEB.

He was carrying a bicycle wheel.

I pulled over to the sidewalk and we chatted about energy drinks and the tardiness of mass transit. And, somewhere in there, his tire revealed that he had a bicycle problem, a bum wheel.

I think he ended up borrowing my bike long enough to air up the tires and make it nicer for me to take back a day or two later. Still, what if his need had lingered and my surplus could have helped longer? On the street, my excess met his need. Back on the street, his generosity bettered my excess and it will now be ready for the next person who comes along.

He meets people like this all day, on the bus and on his bike. He reaches into his pockets and his heart and gives them bits of himself. And to think he would never know the need unless he sat on a bicycle saddle or a VIA bus...

This is not some call to guilty abandonment of efficient travel or some high-minded sermon on living among "the people".

This is simply a recognition of the tremendously beautiful way that the street can connect us - as long as we're willing to be connected to it.

20 March 2011

God and Culture: Rob Bell, Martin Bashir and Universalism

There has been a lot of talk (maybe too much talk) about Rob Bell's new book "Love Wins". He has been painted as a Universalist, which is a pretty serious charge against a supposedly evangelical Christian.

The nadir of the whole thing might have been Bell's interview with Martin Bashir. Bell is squirmy and evasive and Bashir is certainly much more prepared than all of the other national talking heads were during the book's media tour. Watch:

The interview created a new firestorm and elevated Martin Bashir into a bully or a hero depending on one's reading of Bell's theological shift. Here is a link to an incredibly frank interview Bashir did afterward:


The whole thing is fascinating. The hope here is that the importance of what we believe might be elevated to an appropriate place. What we think matters. How we articulate what we believe matters. And whether "Love Wins" in the way that Rob Bell says it does, it has been helpful in stirring up hearts and forcing folks to nail down what they really will claim as their faith.

14 March 2011

Of Budweiser and the Bourgeoisie

I haven't had a drink in 7 1/2 years. I don't mind if you have one, but I sort of disqualified myself back in the day. Trust me.

Anyway, I have to admit that it was an odd feeling buying beer this last weekend. Let me explain.

We had a small crew of dudes working on our house. They were laboring pretty much all day Saturday when one of the dudes (the only one who spoke English) asked Stefani if she could run to the convenience store and grab them some cigarettes. Their ride would only be back in a few hours and the guys could use the smokes.

After some explaining from me as to what exactly they had asked for, Stef grabbed her keys and headed for the door. And then I stopped her.

"Why don't you grab them some beer," I said.

She sort of stared blankly at me for a second, trying to process the words that had come from my mouth. I think I almost quoted Shawshank right there and then. "I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds."

So away she went to buy two unfamiliar products for some dudes we didn't really know. I smiled as I thought of my pristine, West Texas wife buying sin-taxed contraband (what will the Baptists say?!?) that she'd probably never bought before in her life. When she came back with the cigarettes, they were thankful. When she pulled out the beer, they were stunned.

"We work really hard and do a lot of thankless work," said one of the workers. "You don't know what this means to us - to really feel appreciated."

Which was exactly the point.

If I were honest, I would say that Stef and I are pretty uncomfortable with the whole concept of people working "for us". She is always trying to help them and I am constantly trying to show them that we're equals. It is a strange cultural norm we have to break through, this concept that they are "laborers" and we are the white "employers" for the day.

I wanted them to see that we're both just humans, broken folks plugging away. I hope the beer, delivered with Stef's sincere smile, helped that. I hope they felt appreciated. Not as workers, but as men. I hope they felt respected and valued. I hope...

As Sunday wore down, they had finished their work and were waiting on their ride. I had to drag a bunch of brush from the backyard to the street (brush pick-up day is here!!). After I brought my first load forward, they just started walking to the backyard. Before I could refuse their help, all three of us were now dragging brush to the pile. Some part of me thinks that the dudes are just wired to work hard so they pitch in wherever there is need. And that's honorable. Another part of me hopes that they helped me because we were now closer to being partners than proletariat and bourgeoisie.

We finished and I just smiled. Since their ride was still late, we decided to help them gather their equipment and walk it back to their boss' house down the block. The picture must have been something. Two Mexican dudes with ponytails carrying the heavy equipment, followed by Stef, Jeff, and I...and Bella ambling along for the journey, little blonde curls bouncing in the evening breeze.

We dropped their stuff at the house down the block and shook hands...like men. We talked a bit about their lives. One dude had 7 boys. The other had my ice chest, which, after some intra-lingual stumbling, became his ice chest. "Feliz Cumpleanos", I told him.

I hope Bella sees all of this. Or maybe I hope she doesn't. I hope brown skin and Budweiser don't even register in her little brain. I hope she sees a soul and someone to love before she ever considers class or status. I hope she learns to speak the language of people unlike her, whether that is verbal or just in material gestures. I hope she doesn't fear others for their differences, but yearns to bridge them, even if it requires unconventional means.

Even if it requires bringing home ice cold, beechwood-aged Budweiser...for someone else to enjoy.

Shawshank Beer Scene

We felt like free men...