Saturday, February 23, 2008

Separation of Church, State, and Me...

I was eating lunch with a group of friends this past week, and as we headed to our vehicles after the meal, one of my friends saw my "Woody Jones for Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Court of Appeals" bumper sticker on my truck and jokingly commented, "well so much for the separation of church and state." We laughed, but it did kinda hit a sore spot with me, because as a minister I have almost always steered clear of making the agenda of the church I represent, a political agenda. Now justice issues are a completely different thing, but espousing a particular partisan platform or individual in a political party seemed to be an abuse of influence and power (such as it is)...other folks take a different stance and I honor their choice to do so, but I have tried to operate differently when dealing directly with the people I serve in my local community of faith. Woody happens to be a member of our faith community (and an amazing guy of integrity and wisdom) and is running unopposed, but I guess technically my friend was right. So where is the line between taking a stand for issues of justice, and pimping a party?

Interestingly, Saturday Night Live began their show tonight with a skit spoofing the presidential debate held here in Austin Thursday night. The twist was that the debate questioners were so enamored with Barak Obama that they threw easy lob questions to Obama and hard-nosed questions to Hilary, and then never gave her a chance to answer. They were obviously satirizing bias in the media, but curiously did exactly the same thing during the Weekend Update segment, unabashedly touting Hilary's propensity for a certain approach as a positive rather than a negative. Again, they are an entertainment show, so really, all bets are off, but the point of good political comedy usually is to shine the light on absurdity and deception in the world of government...and it sure seemed like they ended up spoofing themselves as well as politics.

So, the Woody Jones sticker notwithstanding, I have certainly had strong feelings, but have not made a public declaration since I put a "J'aime Jimmy" placard for Jimmy Carter in my South Louisiana front yard as a newly graduated college and seminary student. Here was a guy running for the nation's highest office that seemed to have personal integrity and honesty (there was the whole Playboy Magazine interview where he admitted that while he had never cheated on his wife Roslyn, there had been occasions when he had "lusted in his heart"), and it came from an unashamed, but not proselytizing follower of Jesus. He had a rough go as a president, having to spend most of his term dealing with the Iran captives issue, but time has borne out his personal integrity and now is seen as one of the most influential ex-presidents ever because of his work in Habitat for Humanity and world diplomacy through the Carter Center.

Then 32 years later comes a young, dynamic, passionate Barack Obama, and for the first time since Jimmy I am inexplicably drawn to this man and his message... and I really do believe that not just HE, but WE can change the way things are going down in this country. Rick (my pastor and friend) and I attempted to crash the Democratic Party Debate watch party here Thursday night since Hilary and Obama were going to make an appearance there. We were playing a hunch that one of our Journey members who worked at the watch party location could sneak us in the back door (yeah, I know, shades of 7th grade). As it turned out the Secret Service presence was so tight that it was not feasible (at least if we wanted to stay out of jail), so we went down to Sholtz's Beer Garden where the Obama watch party was being held and watched the debate from there. Friday night I went down and stood at the back edges of a crowd of 20,000 people who gathered at the State Capital to hear Obama speak for an hour. There is something about him...and there is something about his message that is unique in any politician and national leader I have seen in 30 years. In one of the lines from his speech Friday night, addressing the fact that his critics say that he is unproven and not tough enough to be the commander in chief, he responded, "I have had to be tough all of my life, I grew up in America with the name, Barack Obama". I can respect that. At least he didn't have to be in Christian ministry with the name David Gentiles.

So, in deference to the folks who have strong political opinions that differ with mine in my community of faith, I will not campaign, or make agreeing on that issue a test of friendship or fellowship...but I will still believe that, "Yes We Can"... And, I'm leaving Woody's bumper sticker on the truck...



Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lenten collapse...

Hmmmmm...Maybe this public declaration of my Lenten surrender was not such a good idea after all. The two of you who read this semi-regularly will remember that as Lent began last week, I declared that what I thought God was nudging me to give up was my need to be the hero. We won't rehash the grizzly details as to why this is necessary at this point in my life... but that is only because there are grizzlier details of my complete failure to follow through with this attempt at surrender.

So here we go...and I must warn our young readers, I am a trained, professional hero impersonator, so please don't try this at home. My wonderful nephew, David Alan Gentiles, yeah poor guy, he's got to walk around with his knuckleheaded uncle's name (except my middle name is Anthony instead of Alan) and his delightful new bride of 5 months, Emily, came to Austin Friday to go to the Steven Curtis Chapman concert. Following the concert they came to the house to spend the night before they headed back to Dallas the next morning. We talked until late and then part of the deal was that I would make them pancakes for breakfast before they headed back north. I got up early, let Cleveland out, and decided that I would do what I had done a number of times when David came to visit ever since he was back in college...I would steal his keys and take his car and go fill it up with gas so he would have a full tank for the drive back home. I did just that, then hurried back home and fixed scrambled eggs, bacon, Community coffee, and both blueberry and banana pancakes. We had breakfast, talked some more, then they packed up their stuff and headed out just before noon. They had been gone about 10 minutes when I got a call from Emily..."Uncle David, did you put gas in the car?" I replied that I had, and she thanked me, and then she uttered the statement that was the body blow to the emotional solar plexus, "by any chance, did you fill up with diesel?" The wind sucked out of the room like a tornado had swirled above, and all I could utter was , "CRAP!". Yes...I am way too old and smart not to have considered the possibility that not every car on the planet uses unleaded gasoline. But it was 7 a.m. and I was just on a mission of mercy (this is where I should have remembered the ban on heroism...but NO...)and I had driven down to the end of the street, done the do-gooders deed and never thought a thing about it.

Now those of you who have some knowledge of the workings of the combustible engine are having one of two reactions. You are rolling your eyes and groaning audibly, or... you are laughing uncontrollably at the possibility that anyone could be that stupid. me...someone could.

I told them to drive immediately to the closest gas station and I'd be right there. I did not yet recognize the lent betrayal, but I also did not immediately jump into my super-uncle spandex costume, although I did the next best thing...I went to the gas station, filled up a 5 gallaon can with diesel, went to the parts store and got a siphon tube and some diesel additive...I had messed this now I was going to fix it. I failed at that too, by the way. Four hours later, with a mouth burning from siphoning only half of the 15 gallon tank from its unleaded intruder, I finally gave up...we called a tow truck, found a shop that is open 7 days a week (a minor miracle all its own) watched them tow it off and headed back to the house wet (oh had been raining all afternoon) and smelling like we were sporting that new cologne rage..."Eau de Diamond Shamrock" (Thanks Val for that line). David and Emily were remarkably calm and kind considering there was the distinct possibility that I had just committed Roland-icide (they named their car Roland). We all proceeded to do our best to wash the smell of petroleum distillates out of our clothes and hair, had take-out for dinner and prayed for the best for Roland's mechanical health and the impending lighten-ing of my wallet.

The next morning was Sunday...David is on the worship staff at a huge church in the Dallas metroplex, so I had successfully managed to cause him to miss the one day of work a church staff member is not supposed to miss. The folks at Journey were funny and supportive, teasing and nurturing, as they heard the tragic story of my departure from car-care sanity. A few even were so sweet to give me some money to help pay the stupidity tax I was going to be assessed when we went to fetch Roland from his repairers. David and Emily continued to be gracious as we surrendered the ransom and loaded their stuff back into a freshly-dieseled and newly-filtered Roland and headed back to Dallas. They called when they got home to report that on the way back Roland ran better than he had for a long time. I suspect they were lying to make me feel better...but it worked.

So, boys and girls...what have we learned from this little object lesson? The heck if I know...I just am sure that I have a long way to go in learning to let go and not living out of a need to control the people and circumstances around me. It would not have been quite as cute, but it would have been a lot simpler if I would have just rolled up a few bills and gave them to David on his way to the car and let him buy his own diesel...

Anyway, Roland is OK...David and Emily made it home safe... I'll have more ramen and pb&j's this pay period, but I am content with the universe tonight...And...pitchers and catchers reported to spring training last Thursday...AHHHHHHH... I can smell baseball in the air...Well, mostly baseball with a wee bit of unleaded regular Chevron gas fumes permanently imbedded in the leather of my work boots...but it is spring, and resurrection is right around the corner.



Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Top Ten Tag...

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, A Christmas Story is when one buddy triple -dog-dares his friend to stick his tongue to the frozen flagpole. Well, our friend Bob Carlton has triple-dog-dared a few of us to post our top ten songs about God. You can find Bob's list at ... here's mine...

Lil' Davy's Top 10 Songs About God

Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

The Daylights - Weapons

Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day

Pierce Pettis - God Believes in You

David Wilcox - Show The Way

Mark Heard - Heart of Hearts

Jonatha Brooke - Because I Told You So

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah

Don Henley - The Heart of the Matter

Richard Swift - As I Go

Honorable Mention -

Bob Bennett - A Song About Baseball

Imogen Heap - Let Go

Billy Crockett - Portrait of Love

Over the Rhine - Latter Days

Jump Little Children - Cathedrals



Wednesday, February 6, 2008


A very talented, cool, collection of folks have agreed to collaborate in a online Lenten bolg entitled journeylent. Not all of the contributors are from Journey, they just agreed to help us have a wonderfully broad, expansive, diverse approach to what is like to walk together through these days. I had the privilege of writing today's can go to the link above or find if here...

also...the grandpappy, and in my opinion, still the best of all of Lenten journals is Uncle Milty's at don't eat alone

Fasting slowly...

I grew up in South Louisiana...Baton Rouge, to be exact, with devout Roman Catholics making up one-side of my family and uninvolved Southern Baptists on the other. Cajun country is predominantly Roman Catholic demographically, and I saw, not only my friends, but my relatives go nuts on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), and emerge solemnly (and often with massive hangovers) on Ash Wednesday with smudgy foreheads and a begrudged promise to give up something they loved for the 40 days of Lent. Shelton and I have talked about the propensity for most of our Southern Baptist (and frankly, many evangelicals) brothers and sisters to sneer at those Catholics and mainline denominations as needlessly dour during this time, because we blow right past Lent to the payoff, which is Easter...Resurrection... WooHoo...God Wins...why did we ever let the Mardi Gras floats go home...let's keep this party happening!

I hope you took the time to view the video that Bob Carlton posted yesterday (that he compiled and edited and included the marvelously sketched "40") which chronicled Jesus' fasting and temptation in the desert. That is the place the church gleaned the idea of fasting (purposely refraining from partaking or participating in an activity to concentrate on listening to God) during the 40 days of Lent. Fasting, of course, has been used down through the centuries for everything from weight loss, body-system cleansing, political protest, and spiritual oneupmanship, but there is no discounting its powerful place in the inner disciplines of the spirit life. Check at your school or your office and you will find the objects being fasted from are both diverse and weirdly creative. Chocolate...watching Oprah...forcing yourself to watch Oprah...not wearing a watch, not watching Sports Center every night before bed, riding a bike to work instead of driving, not using deodorant, not nagging your kids, cleaning your room every day if you are a get the picture. Last Sunday, Rick told us that he was going to ask us to fast from something different each week. This past week it was fasting from the need for everything to make sense. Sheeesh...that is hitting below the belt... So I thought long and hard about what it is that God is asking me to fast from this Lenten season and I think I have it figured out. He wants me to fast from feeling like I have to be the hero. That's not just below the belt, that is a chop block around the knees. I think it started being the oldest of three kids. Then I went into youth ministry when I was 18 in a system where the church sets you up to be the pied piper, superman and hero...then somewhere along the way I ended up the single parent of three young girls feeling like I was out there on a limb all by myself with no backup... walking the tightrope with no net...listening to everyone tell me that they had my back but really believing that if I didn't come through, it was toast-time for my girls. It is an unhealthy way to live, an unhealthy way to parent, and an even unhealthier way to be a minister. And people patted you on the back and sang your praises for doing stuff not many other dads did, or for being a wonderful example to the youth that were around you, and for being selfless and humble. In some ways I think I did what I had to do by instinct and self-preservation...there is no question that I love my girls and would lay down my life for them in an instant, or that I didn't love the kids I got the chance to work with down through the years. But Lent gives me a new chance to take a fresh look at the way I have lived life and loved God and other people, and see it through the eyes of an emerging Messiah, making tough calls in the desert for all the right reasons. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, "I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch". I now get the chance to journey over the next 40 days and let God deconstruct for me my need to be a mini-messiah when it is readily apparent that the Real Deal doesn't need any help with the job. Anybody wanna call shotgun?



Sunday, February 3, 2008

Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music Video

OK...I'm officially inspired...



Friday, February 1, 2008

An Ariele-ian Word...

Ariele is my eldest daughter, and in my humble, but terribly subjective opinion, a marvelous handler of words. Some of her work is found on her blog at Here is one of her latest...


all the world's a shakespearean stage.

it's difficult to know if one's a tragedian or a comedian.
graham greene writes that you are a tragedian if you would die for love,
but i think the very notion is die for romantic love, anyhow.
romeo and juliet--idiots. to drain your blood because your lover is dead is lame.

but to throw yourself upon the tracks to save your lover, your sister,
your mother, a friend, an enemy--is heartwrenching, powerful, ultimately noble.
self-sacrifice is something entirely different. such a thing
moves me every time in all aspects of art and history

we all play please? to mollify? to anger?
i enjoy playing the iconoclast, the devil's advocate, though i advocate no devil.
but i am no iago. i am no ophelia, either.

truth be told, i probably love badly.
truth be told, i'm a lousy social being.
other people creatures--they frighten me.
i'm a paralyzed parody of self-aware induced awkwardness.
my heart flies a kite and i become a cold cold woman of the future.
my veins turn to silver. my lips and eyes go glossy grey.

mr. shakespeare, what would you say?

Well... Willy S. and I never really spent much time hanging out, so this is just a guess, but my hunch, Miss REL, is that he would say, "This above all: to thine own self be true". - Hamlet (Act I, Scene III). At least that's what your very proud dad would say...



Aqualung @ the Hiro Ballroom-Something to Believe in