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12/22/2005

SANTA GETS EVEN


Click image to enlarge and read this craiglist listing.

12/21/2005

HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Poor sister-in-law. She doesn't get much press here at SHLOG.COM. I've mentioned just about the whole family tree in some way or another but not Kathy Lineberger , Becky's youngest sister, the most pitiful twig of the bunch really - the single one who never gets to share her Dr.Pepper and french fries, never wakes up in the middle of the night and breast feeds...anyone...ever, never frets over toilet seat position or wet towels on carpet, never hurries through a visit to the restroom while tiny hands knock and voices ask repeatedly from behind the locked door "Are you going number one or two?", always listens to the coolest most current music as loudly as she wishes and always goes to the movies...always...sometimes more than once a day. We hate her...I mean, pity her for this.

Like so many single people, who are usually lying liars, she beams and spunkily answers, "Fantastic!!," when we ask how things are going. But we hear the tears pooling behind the curtain of her fained exuberance. Oh sure, sometimes life kicks a nut into her nest, like when she was asked to style me (buy all the clothes with my label's money, cut my hair, put some gel in it, pull it periodically, say "looks good" a few times, and sit a lot) for my first and third album photo shoots. But that was but a single solitary shining red#7 Crunch Berry in an otherwise bland drab Peanut Buttery life.

Pathetic. No matter how much she tries to convince everyone that she's "doin' great." Great indeed.

I ask you, how great can the life of a barber be? And that's what she is. Let's don't kid ourselves. A barber. "Image Consultant." "Stylist." These are just masks she wears upon her pain, rainbow and blue sky fancy-pants linguistic smoke and mirrors, code words for "I'm a miserable BARBER. I cut hair. It sucks. I want to die sometimes." Seriously, how full of wonderment and satisfaction can a life spent with magazine cover gracers be? How uninspiring must a job that is never the same from one day to the next leave someone? How many late night talk show hosts and movie stars and rock n' rollers can one really converse with before chunking it all to manage a Sally Beauty Supply? Really? It's only a matter of time. Jerry Curl and Dippity Do - that's the future, I fear. "Fantastic," she claims.

And I suspect the more miserable she becomes the more she feels she must work in search of any salvation from her ho-hum existence. And work she does: hair for Vertical Horizon when they appeared on Conan O'Brien, wig styling for The Dukes of Hazard, styling for Robbie Seay's photo shoot, Faith Ford's hair for Faith and Hope, hair for All My Children, hair for Priscilla Presley and Christie Brinkley and lots of others. Hair. Hair. Hair. Celebrity. Hair. Hair. Hair. Big pay check.

That's no life. That's a death sentence...in Texas...with a brick and no blindfold.

You know, her job really, now that I ponder it - no, her whole life - yea, might make her the most pathetic and needy person this Christmas season - a time when we're to reach out - no - reach DOWN to the downtrodden - or maybe it should be OUT to the downtrodden to avoid the redundant use of "down" - anyway, it's the season when we're to reach beyond our own stockings full of pleasure and prosperity and offer a leg up, a place to crash, a free meal or two to our sisters-in-law (literally and metaphorically speaking) or anyone else we know who is, again, truly pathetic and dying inside from mediocrity or highlight fumes. And I guess that's why we - Brian, Amy, Becky and I have decided to open our door to Kathy this year - tomorrow night I hope - then remind her of the bed time routine, kiss the kids goodnight and run away, leaving her alone with a whole house full of the joys she's so lacking. Running everywhere. Eating from HER plate. Knocking on the door while SHE goes number one or number two. She needs the happiness we figure, the spice, some kool-aid and Cheeto in her otherwise bland lobster bisque and white wine life.

Merry Christmas, Kathy. What's ours is yours. Don't wait up.

12/20/2005

BOWING BEFORE BRANT

I bow before Brant Hansen after reading this genius post on his blog. Who cares if I or you or anyone else agrees with the point he's making. This is satire and sarcasm at it's finest. After forcing my wife to read it ("Who reads blogs? What IS a blog?") she exclaimed, "This guy works for ---FM? Why?" Interpret as you will. In her own way it was the highest of compliments. Then, "You KNOW him?" It was as if I was bestest friends with a Beatle. I got major cool points (More than I got for moving to Nashville). We made out. Again, thanks Brant.

Read now. Bow later.



[Blackmail photo of Brant in "Creed Position" courtesy of the 1990's when he fronted a band called Farewell To Juliet. A reminder to us all that Google never forgets.]

12/19/2005

DJ VERSUS CRITIC

ChristianityToday.com, perhaps the critic of Christian music with the largest audience, says these are the best "Christian" albums of 2005:

1. Switchfoot - Nothing Is Sound
2. Over The Rhine - Drunkard's Prayer
3. David Crowder Band - A Collision or (3+4=7)
4. Mae - The Everglow
5. Sara Groves - Add To The Beauty (No relation)
6. 4th Avenue Jones - Stereo: The Evolution of HipRockSoul
7. Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
8. Andrew Peterson - The Far Country
9. Bart Millard - Hymned No.1
10. Eisley - Room Noises

(Go to ChristianityToday.com for the complete list and "near misses."

ThePDAdvisor.com (A website for those in the radio industry) polled its many reporting stations and compiled its radio play data to determine that these are the DJs' favorite artists (or his/her boss, Mr. Program Director) for 2005:

ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Casting Crowns
Jeremy Camp
Chris Tomlin

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Jeremy Camp
Chris Tomlin
Bebo Norman

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Nichole Nordeman
Natalie Grant
Joy Williams

GROUP OF THE YEAR:
Casting Crowns
MercyMe
Kutless

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
The Afters
Jadon Lavik
Joel Engle

So who impacted album sales the most in 2005? Do people buy records because they hear it on the radio or read about it in print or on-line? That list is coming soon. For now, which CD collection would you want for Christmas: The DJs' or the Critic's?

TIME TO BE THANKFUL

Last night I hurriedly prayed with my kids before bed time.

"God, thank you for helping Gresham and me feel better today. And thank you for a warm house and hot water and food to eat. Amen."

Then Gresham prayed...and prayed...

"Thank you for Nonnie and Geedaddy and Granda and Papa and Mimi and Papaw. Thank you for Gabriella and Penelope and Mommy and Daddy. Thank you for Nathaniel and Natalie and Philip and Olivia (the cousins) and Uncle Brian and Aunt Amy and Beth (teacher at church) and my room, blue like a truck and carpet and fan and Jancey (our Compassion International child) window and trains and cars and saxophones. And thank you for macaroni and chicken and table and chairs and juice and mayonnaise and ketchup. And bears and wolfs and Bagwell (Brian's dog) and Brandon (a friend of cousin Philip's) and Jaime and Julie (neighbors of Brian's) and Shannon (another neighbor). Thank you for suitcase and bed and blanket and floor and cup and sun and cereal bars and grass and our van and Chick-fil-A and mayonnaise and Chuck E. Cheese and McDonald's and..."

Apparently, there's a lot more to be thankful for than I thought. But we're a little sleepy this morning. Thank God for naps.

(By the way, this divine lesson came from the child sage who, five minutes prior, was streaking around the house singing "We wish you a merry poo poo." Mysterious ways indeed.)

12/15/2005

AND THE GOVERNMENT WILL BE ON HIS SHOULDERS

LUKE 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Augustus. Born Octavius, adopted son of Julius. Heir to the throne of the great Roman empire. Julius was so proud of his boy, and himself, that he forged a coin in Gaul, distributed across the empire, to honor them both. On one side, the face of Julius. On the other, the face of Octavius. Written across both were the words, "Divine Caesar and the Son of God".

Powerful men are often in love with themselves. That's nothing new. Megalomania is as common among the famous as flies among the poor. But few call themselves gods. And Julius wasn't the only one adoring himself and his offspring this way. Emperor worship was the national religion, most fervent in Asia minor where the greatest number of Christians, followers of a rival Jewish king, would one day lose their lives for refusing to honor Caesars and their empire. Julius was a god to his people. A full fledged god. Capable, so they thought, of controlling the earth below and the sky above, capable of creating and sustaining their very lives,

But his own life wouldn't last forever. And when Octavius ascended his father's throne he dubbed himself "Augustus." Not the humblest of names. No, Augustus means "worthy of reverence and worship." Like his father, Augustus reigned as god over his kingdom.

Until 17BC, when a strange star appeared in the sky. The great Roman thinker and writer Virgil interpreted the sign for him. "The turning point of the ages has come." Utopia is on the horizon, the dawning of a new and great era has arrived, through the great Augustus.

Now, there were shepherds watching their flocks and an angel appeared to them with a different interpretation. (LUKE 2:10-11) "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

"Christ". The rescuer.

"Lord". Emperor. King. The King.

This was the day the Jewish prophet Isaiah had written of, the day power changed hands on earth. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

"Government." Power. Rule. Not a system. Not a senate or an office. The ultimate authority. The right to reign.

"On his shoulders." Passed on. Bestowed upon. The power and position that Caesars believed they held, that dictators crushing the Jews for centuries wielded, the authority and control exercised by mere mortals sitting on thrones inherited from Fathers and Mothers - this mantel is handed to a child heralded by the night sky Caesar claims to conduct.

A new King. A new kingdom. The kingdom of God lying in a manger, growing in Nazareth, learning from the rabbis, wearing his prayer shawl, preaching in the synagogue, ""The Spirit of the Lord is on ME, because He has anointed ME to preach good news to the poor. He has sent ME to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

Revolution has come to a manger, come through a Jewish rabbi born to a virgin in the Middle East. And an empire, a god, a savior, is overthrown. A new kingdom for the poor of spirit, the mourning and the quitters that would outlast the reign of all Caesars has come.

So great would the Christ's influence be that one man, a follower of his named Peter, would announce, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Peter. A revolutionary like his Master. What a rebellious pronouncement he made. Rebellious? Yes. For before Peter ever spoke these words about Christ, Augustus had written them about himself on Roman coins, " Caesar Augustus. There is no other name given to men by which we may be saved." Peter reminded us all, for all times in all nations, that only Christ saves the oppressed, the sick and the sinful.

What the nativity scene dimly lit on our mantles fails to capture for us is the defiance, the seditiousness of the Christ Peter knew well. The placid figurines leave us wondering why anyone would want to kill this precious child. Remember though. Asleep on that hay is the King of kings come to do through his people what no Caesar could, come to bow every knee, erase every border, destroy every flag, save every soul, free every captive, feed every stomach, open every eye, right every injustice - and do so by giving up His own life, not by taking another's.

Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

12/14/2005

BRANT'S QUESTIONS on MY NON-VIOLENCE POSITION

SEE THE COMMENTS ON THE PREVIOUS POST REGARDING MARTIN LUTHER KING'S QUOTATIONS TO SEE WHY AND WHERE BRANT ASKED ME THESE QUESTIONS:

BRANT ASKED:
"Is your [brand of pacifism] one that holds that our nation, or any nation, should not use force to defend itself, or innocents in other nations?"

MY ANSWER:
I don't know. Here's what I think though. I think this scenario of nations using violence to defend themselves or other innocents is fantasy. I don't know that it has ever happened in modern history - that I've learned of. I can think of no situation in which violence was used by a nation to defend itself or save the innocent in which that was the ONLY motivation, and the result was that harm came to the "guilty" and armed only. It's just not a real situation you're asking about.

But, in case that seems like a dodge, while I don't know for sure what God would say in such instances, I can find no loophole for such instances in the teachings of Christ, the example of Christ, Paul's Epistles, the teachings of the early church or the examples of the battling Jews of the Old Testament. So, no, using violence to end violence is not just. Or, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr, to think we can arrive at peace through war is like thinking we can arrive at purity through fornication.

BRANT ASKED:
"Is your [brand of pacifism] one that holds that police should not use force to defend the innocent?"

"Police" is too general a term. It does not factor in one's faith, one's relationship with and commitment to God. I do not, as a Christ follower, expect those outside the Church to be moral and do not judge them or expect them to behave virtuosly in any way. Moral expectation is reserved for fellow Christians, beginning with myself. (This is why it's odd to me when folks boycott non-Christians for acting like non-Christians). So, to answer your question and change it a little, no, I do not think Christians should use force with the intent to harm, punish, kill, cause pain to another human being regardless of what it is that human being is doing. The intent matters. So, no, I do not think a Christian should be in an occupation that requires them to be violent in order to fight violence. Tertullian, an early church bishop, instructed that Christians who are part of the military should be disciplined out of the church even if they do not bear arms in the course of their duties. That's how strongly many early Christians believed the teaching of Christ to be against violence.

BRANT ASKED:
"If so, and given that you believe we have political responsibilities to advocate for justice -- understandably -- will you advocate for the eradication of police and military?"

MY ANSWER:
I don't know how you're defining "political" but if you mean political in the nation-state/government involvement sense, the answer is an emphatic no. I have no "political responsibilities to advocate for justice" in that way. I do not vote. I do not pledge allegiance. I do not respect our flag over any other. I do not live for or die for a nation and have no faith in impotent governments incapable of legislating beneath skin, in the soul where law must be written in order for justice to be lived naturally. There is no such thing as justice without Christ and no government can therefore create true justice - only the Church.

Romans 13 says there will be governments (local magistrates, police etc) that have swords (weapons) and will use them to punish those who break their laws. Some use this passage to say Paul is prescribing them to do so, that he is commanding government to punish the law breaker with force. IF he was doing this in Romans 13 (and he isn't) then the scope of this punishment and violence is, using only this passage, only local, within the borders of that magistrate's territory. But Paul is not being PREscriptive here. He is being DEscriptive. This matters immensely - the context. He is warning people to obey the laws of men when they don't cause us to break the laws of God because 1)we don't want to cut our lives and our impact for the kingdom of Heaven on earth short by getting our heads chopped off. That would be stupid. 2)we should represent Christ well by being respectful and civil and not causing unnecessary problems for society. Following Jesus will bring us enough problems of it's own without adding to them with negligence and petty law breaking. Die for a good reason, the right reason, the Gospel of Christ, Paul seems to be saying. Don't die by the magistrates sword over some avoidable infraction. He's warning us. He's not saying Hey, magistrates feel free to make any rules you want and kill your citizens if they break them - God doesn't mind. This is especially true when we read Romans 12 and THEN read ROmans 13. There's a fishy chapter break thrown in there that really confuses things. Romans 12 ends by talking about how vengeance and punishment are God's job and that we should love always, even those who harm us, and never seek revenge. THEN the magistrate is contrasted against that, against OUR Christian way of living.

So I admit that police and the military do much much good, when they're not violent. Traffic laws are not God laws but they help society work better and don't go against God's laws so, sure, let's have them and let's enforce them with fines. Laws against murder, rape, theft - same thing. They make society safer and don't break God's laws so, again, have those laws and enforce them. But don't use violence in the process of law enforcement.

The obvious follow up question to all of this that I'd ask myself is "So what do you suggest instead of violence mister unrealistic high horse hippie? How do we defend folks and enforce laws without using violence? What's your alternative? How would YOU stop Hitler or Sadaam or Osama?"

Great question. How would you answer?

12/13/2005

GUIDANCE FOR THE MISGUIDED

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."

"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

~all quotes from Martin Luther King Jr

12/12/2005

KINGDOM FLASHBACK

This week at IKON (a bible study for post high school young adults meeting at The People's Church in Franklin, TN, 8ish, Tuesday nights) we're finishing up a four week look at salvation called REVOLUTION EVOLUTION. We never teach a series like this. Instead, we teach through whole books of the bible, verse by verse, but I felt strongly that so many of the frequently asked questions at IKON could be answered or replaced with better questions if we took four weeks to better understand how we are saved, what that word "saved" means, what we saved from, what we're saved for etc. And it seems to be working. Lights are coming on, shame and despair are being replaced with confidence and hope that comes from understanding just what it means to be a "new creation."

Tomorrow, the last night of the series, is the part of the salvation story that was left out when it was told to me growing up. Being saved from Hell and sin were always in the tale but the part about the Kingdom of Heaven coming through me right now, the part about me building God's Empire today, what that looks like and exactly how it comes about, those parts were mysteriously absent. Until...

I was working at Word Publishing in Waco, Texas as a phone rep. My job was to call church librarians and convince them to buy many many copies of whatever it was we were selling that month. Along came Tony Campolo and his book Carpe Diem. I sold many copies of Carpe Diem to churches because I read and believed it. In it the existential version of Max Lucado waxes philosophical and simply about the Kingdom of Heaven in ways I'd never heard before. He talked about the Kingdom of Heaven in a present tense and this piqued my interest and study of the phrase. And it sent me searching for other words by this conspicuous Evangelical. While I don't always agree with Mr.Campolo's words, I always come away thinking and living differently, especially about the Kingdom of Heaven, the role of Christians in aiding the poor and oppressed and the eternal value of the smallest act of love and compassion.

Here's just some of what he said in a 1990-something interview that got me thinking way back when:

"You know the difference between the sixties and the nineties is that in the sixties young people wanted to change America and they thought they could change it from the top down. They thought that all they needed to do was to elect their people to office. All we needed to do was to get in positions of power and we could impose a new and better world upon the entire society. Well, it doesn't work that way.

Jesus said it doesn't work that way. The kingdom of God doesn't come from the top down. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. I always tell my students that we are part of a mustard seed conspiracy. We do a little thing here and a little thing there. We work in a project here and we work in a project there and it begins to grow. It begins to move up through the entire system.

All across America people are becoming actively involved. I hate to say it but they are not really primarily concerned about national politics. They are interested in building a house with Habitat for Humanity in their own neighborhood. They are interested in working out of their local church or their local service club. They want to do something that they can see, that they can get their hands on. They want to deal with people face to face and they want to make a difference that they themselves can witness. That is what is new. It is not this macro-change; it is micro-change. The belief is that when there are enough micro-changes going on society will change."

Thank you, Mr.Campolo, for believing in the Church more than the White House and for infecting me with the same rightly placed confidence.

BENEDICT BLASTS CONSUMERISM CHRISTMAS

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict has warned against rampant materialism which he said was polluting the spirit of Christmas.

"In today's consumer society, this time of the year unfortunately suffers from a sort of commercial 'pollution' that threatens to alter its real spirit," the Pope told a large crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square on Sunday to hear his weekly Angelus blessing.

12/08/2005

SORRY FOR SHLOG SLACKING

A little personal update.

The number of people coming to SHLOG.COM has dramatically dropped off in the last couple weeks due mostly, I'm guessing, to my lack of daily posting. Sorry about that, and thanks to those of you who've hung with me and kept on stopping by in hopes of reading something new. I'll be more consistent and maybe even interesting soon...I think.

We sold our house, as frequent readers know by now, and bought another house, a smaller house in need of love - and a kitchen, floors, wall repair, lighting, air duct cleaning and paint. Apparently it takes a while to do such things. A lot of time. Three weeks so far and lots more to do.

That leaves us somewhat homeless. Over Thanksgiving we lived in a hotel - for about a week I think. Hard to say. I stay in lots of hotels so I was pretty confused as to when I was "home" and when I was "on the road." Then we moved on to Brian and Amy's house (Amy is my wife's sister. Brian is her husband/my friend/business partner/co-pastor.) Brian and Amy have four kids and I have three so things were a bit crowded. Brian and Amy baby sat often while Becky and I demolished, painted, cleaned, picked out flooring and cabinets and met with workers and sometimes said we were doing those things while we went out to eat and saw movies instead. I'm kidding of course - or am I.

Then, with the house beginning to take shape Brian and I left town on this Christmas tour of ours. On top of all this I've been teaching a series at IKON while Brian gets a much deserved speaking break, working on a redesign of the IKON web site, and STILL writing on a book and being a husband and father and part time exotic dancer - OK, not that last one, but I've been very busy and that's my point. Just seeing if you're paying attention. And aren't we all. Busy, that is - not paying attention.

But all the dust is clearing. Tour ends soon (Dec. 9). Brian takes over teaching at IKON for a couple weeks soon. The IKON site is almost ready to go live and looks great. And we'll move out of Brian's house this week as well - without cabinets and appliances of any kind, but we will have a home with floors and fresh paint on the walls and clean air.

And then regular SHLOGGING should commence. Merry Christmas to me and SHLOG readers everywhere...and God bless us everyone.

SG

FIGHTING SANTA CLAUS

Saint Nicholas is the common name for Saint Nicholas of Myra, who lived in 4th century Byzantine Lycia, (modern Turkey), who had a reputation for secret gift-giving. This is as much as is generally known about him in the West. This historical character was the inspiration for a mythical figure known as Nikolaus in Germany and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and Flanders, which in turn was the inspiration for the myth of Santa Claus. Among Orthodox Christians, he is remembered with more reverence and less frivolity. Saint Nicholas is revered by many as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prostitutes, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, the city of Amsterdam and of Russia.

In 324 Licinius was defeated in a war against his Western co-ruler Constantine I of the Roman Empire (reigned 306 - 337). The end of the war found the Roman Empire unified under the rule of Constantine. Under his patronage the Christian church experienced an age of prosperity. But the relative peace of his reign brought to the forefront the internal conflict within contemporary Christianity. One of the apparent main reasons of this conflict was the failure to agree to a commonly accepted concept about God in general and Jesus in particular. At this time the teachings of Arius in Alexandria, Egypt were gaining popular support but also attracting great opposition. They would form the basis of Arianism. Emerging fanaticism in both opposing factions only resulted in spreading tumult across the Empire.

Deciding to address the problem as a matter of the state, Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea which also was the first Ecumenical council in 325. The number of attendants at the council is uncertain with Eusebius of Caesarea reporting as few as 250 and Athanasius of Alexandria as many as 318. In any case Nicholas is usually counted among them and was noted as an opponent of Arianism (Arius taught that God the Father and the Son were not always contemporary, seeing the pre-incarnate Jesus as a divine being but nonetheless created by (and consequently inferior to) the Father at some point, before which the Son did not exist).

A later writer claimed that after Arius had presented his case against Jesus' divinity to the Council, Nicholas hit Arius in the face out of indignation. Nicholas was kicked out of the Council for this offence, and jailed as well. However, according to this account, that night the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision to many of the bishops of the Council, telling them to forgive Nicholas, for he had done it out of love for her Son. They released Nicholas and allowed him back into the process the next day.

The council lasted from May 20 to June 19, 325 and resulted in the declaration of the Nicene Creed and the formal condemnation of Arianism. The books of Arius and his followers were condemned to be burned but the execution of this decision was left at the hands of each bishop for their respective territories. To what point this decision was followed remains uncertain.

FOR MORE INFO CHECK OUT WIKIPEDIA'S SAINT NICHOLAS STUFF

12/04/2005

GLORIA TALK

I'm on the road at the moment, in Michigan this afternoon, on the Gloria Christmas tour, a tour my label, Rocketown Records created and put on for the first time last year. Me, Ginny Owens, Michael Olson, Watermark, Taylor Sorensen, and a killer band and veteran crew are crisscrossing the country right now spreading Christmas cheer and what not.

One of the best parts of this tour, last year and this, however, happens not on stage but around lunch tables and in bus lounges. The conversation on this tour is historically weighty and entertaining. I've never been around so many people who wind up talking about such deep and sometimes uncomfortable and controversial matters - and always do so productively and with gentleness and large amounts of humor. It's mostly me, Brian, Taylor and the band getting in on the conversation but others sometimes join the circle for a few minutes too. There's no TV watching, no small talk. We know each other well and speak freely, confident that we can't offend or disappoint, knowing we're cared about and released then to be honest and stupid and knowing and confused openly. Here's just some of what's been discussed so far:

FREE MASONS: This is a topic from last year. Are they a cult? Where and when did they start and why? Is it true that they secretly run the country? George Rowe, not on the tour this year, last year actually brought a folder full of research he'd done on them over a two day tour break and "taught" us about this odd group. Seemed uninteresting to me at first but turned out to be geekly fascinating. And George is a great teacher.

REFORMED THEOLOGY: Every Christian tour has it's reformed folks and reformed folks like to convert other Christians to their brand of theology. Interesting I think. Our resident reformed evangelist is Jeff Pardo, band leader/keyboardist, and he's just fun to mess with. We don't disagree with him but we enjoy getting him to talk in circles like a dog chasing his tail. But who wouldn't get turned around with a bunch of mean spirited fast talking friends like us ganging up on them? The tail chasing begins when he says God is sovereign and therefore can do anything. Then we ask him if God can limit Himself in any way, say, limit his knowing or his controlling or his omnipresence, if He can contradict His own nature, disobey His own commands, make a rock so big He can't lift it etc etc.. No, the answer comes back. Well, we turn the screw, if God CAN'T then we can't say He CAN do everything can we? This is meaningless of course but we don't tell Jeff this, we just enjoy the stream of smoke spewing from his ears as his brain sputters and spins. That's a good time. (Seriously, Michael Olson and Brian AND Jeff have great insights on this brand of theology. And we're slated to talk about it's opposite, Open Theology, sometime soon.)

PACIFISM: We haven't hit it this year but last year it was a good little discussion. I'm obviously a pacifist - obvious if you've read much on my blog and message board over the last two years. But few folks in CCM circles are I've found. There were some pretty hard core Republicans last year on this tour who were arguing heavily for war. But they couldn't make a very strong biblical case for it. Practicality and self-preservation were their guiding principles. This year when politics/war came up those folks were more reserved, even saying that maybe we shouldn't have gone to war at all, but we all agreed that now that we have gone to war it's more costly to human lives to pull out now without cleaning up some of the mess. Of course we're musicians and have no idea how that mess gets cleaned up and who who should do it.

CANONIZATION: We have a Greek Orthodox guy out here, Brian and I grew up Southern Baptists, Jeff is Presbyterian, and there are some undeclared folks in the circle as well. And, being Gen-Xers and younger, none of us give a rat's what denomination we belong to as much as we do about what is lived out and emphasized in our respective churches. The one thing we all have in common is a concern or curiosity over canonization. We've talked at length about Constantine and how he jacked up the Christian faith by marrying it to the government and how under this new theocracy of his canonization took place. So we have questions about things like the Gospel of Thomas and the differences between the Orthodox Bible, Catholic Bible and the Bible most Protestants use. Brian and the Orthodox guy are the resident experts on this.

BOOMER CHURCH/CHURCH MARKETING: There's one guy out here who'll say anything, calls it like he sees it and he started this discussion by asking why Baby Boomers have to name sermons after TV shows or movies. He went off in fact about how false and fraudulent it all seems to him to market Jesus and church as if that's going to make him show up. He said it all so well that I wished I could have recorded it all and sent it out in a mass e-mail to every megachurch in the US. Unanimously, none of us wanted our churches to "chase culture" as one person dubbed the tactic. It was obvious that if other folks our age think and feel this strongly and this way the Willow Creek Association is in big trouble. But, I'd argue, if marketing doesn't matter to us, if we just want the truth and depth and challenge and community and service, then we'll show up in spite of the slick marketing. And I do. So maybe the Association isn't doomed after all.

THEOCRACY: The role of religion in culture and politics. Last night this came up because of the war discussion. I wondered out loud if Falwell-esque conservatives who've been very much for this war in Iraq in part because it would establish democracy and physical freedom (two things presumed to be inherently good and godly) regret their support of the war now that it is resulting in the establishment of an Islam based theocracy. In other words, to Christian conservatives in America, does the good of physical freedom and democracy outweigh the evil of establishing a government around a false God, Allah? Because that's precisely what we've done. Good discussion, no conclusion.

MUSIC: Have you heard...? I think___________ is a better guitar player than ___________blah blah blah

CHRISTIAN MUSIC: ALl but one person on this tour does not listen to Christian music on a regular basis and all but that one don't buy it either. We talked about why that is. Why be in something you don't support? Do we think we're better or different from that which we don't like? Are we arrogant? What is it we don't like exactly? Is it musical, lyrical or philosophical? Can it be changed? Should it be? How did it get this way? What was it's purpose when it began? Do we want to stay in this industry? Is there an alternative? Good honest talk that made us all feel better but really solved nothing in the end. It did get us asking better questions though.

LEGALIZATION OF DRUGS AND PROSTITUTION: I wasn't in on this one and can't really believe there was so much support for every side of this debate. I can't believe there's a debate. But there was and it yielded lots of inside jokes and revelations about each other. You'd never guess in a million years who was for legalizing prostitution. Wow. Things CCM magazine should never know...like they'd even ask.

More topics as they come. Feel free to pick one of these and discuss amongst yourselves.