Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a piece of string

What can a piece of string do?
What can a piece of string do when tied to a piece of wood for a handle? It can start a less-than-perfect lawnmower to cut a less-than-perfect yard by two fellas who are trying hard to make honest money by doing honest work.

And when that one string breaks, leaving one strip of grass uncut, you learn how frustrating a piece of string can be; that same piece of string that held the whole thing together can turn its back on you and make the whole thing fall apart.

Then it finds grace in the amount of $40 that says, "All is well; God honors hard work," and sends them on their way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

a list: the top 5 things I've learned...

... while traveling across the ocean to China.

1 | Privacy is a luxury. We know, practically, that in many places in the world people live in much smaller spaces with much larger families, generally (minus the "much larger families" in China). But this time, I actually learned something from this. I like to be alone, and I like to be alone in spaces with quiet and air conditioning and a flickering candle to remind me that the Holy Spirit is indeed present in this space. But all those things cannot become my necessity - Christ is my necessity.

When you sit next to a pastor in a restaurant who's been in prison for 3 years - you come away changed. In that cell, there was likely no candle to remind him... there was just the very Truth that the Spirit was abiding there with him there.

2 | Choosing to follow Jesus is an "all in". I'm reminded of the parables Jesus told that go something like this: Who constructs a building without first laying the foundation, counting the cost? Who goes to battle without knowing how many soldier he has and what he's up against? Will we really follow? To my brothers and sisters in China, it was an "all in". Not that they claim to have arrived or to have attained perfection... yet they are all in.

3 | Traffic in the US is not chaotic. I'm not sure I'll ever complain again, not after having my arm grabbed by my Chinese brother exclaiming, "Wait!" - only to rescue me from a speeding cab driver.

4 | In my experience, the Chinese people are very gracious. In almost every setting, our Chinese hosts - from hotel clerks, to fellow believers, to servers in restaurants - were gracious and patient with our total lack of language skills. In fact, they often disappeared to find someone who could speak English to us. What a contrast from the US! Imagine our disappointment when our return flight, with US-based attendants, was filled with rude interactions between our Chinese passengers (some with limited English) and the impatient and ungracious attendants. Very sad.

5 | Jesus is real. I could add many, many words, but most simply, I can tell you is that my faith was propped up in ways I couldn't have imagined during my time in China. Jesus is real!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

success: in whose eyes?

Success: (2.) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like. (dictionary.com)

There are multiple definitions of success, and I'm sure we could come up with ones similar, but this one names a particular version of success that is easy to see in American culture: "making it". But it isn't uncommon for me to tilt my head, squint my eyes, give a "hmmmmm" and wonder, "I'm not sure about this 'success' thing."

In particular, I'm not sure about success and how we measure in the Church; Jesus is to where our eyes tilt upwards. What do you think was counted as success in the Kingdom he was bringing? How did his life measure as successful?

LinkAnd what about the Church? It isn't uncommon to see us measuring success in just these terms - wealth (is our "giving" good enough this year?), position (who has the most titles - Dr., Reverend, etc.; what is our position in the community?), honors (I live in a city where there is a "best place of worship" vote in a local publication).

The following article is a beautiful story of a life - a father - whose son, among many others, has been deeply shaped by a man who, in fact, turned down numerous opportunities to make himself more successful, but often took the "lower road" (which ended up being what many of us as followers of Jesus recognize as a truer success).

Click here to read this story, posted on RabbitRoom.com.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

{music & lyrics} East Asia: Runner's Song

To be taken care of, loved, shown the ropes, translated for, and saved when you are risking your life across 4 lanes of traffic - this is not to be taken lately, no sir. In fact, when this happens, you do what any thankful person does: you write a tribute song.

{ps - the timing on the audio and video is, er, less-than-good. So you might want to just listen.}

Friday, June 10, 2011

East Asia: a dimly lit soccer field

First things first - some of us almost didn't arrive. All but 3 members of our team tumbled out of their taxis and risked their lives cross the every-man-for-himself street, to soon thereafter be greeted by mostly-shy college students.

But where is that other car? Our dear Runner attentively waited for them, while we made our way to the soccer field, where we awkwardly gathered in a circle, forgetting for a moment how to make a circle, and introduce ourselves, the Americans.

Once into smaller groups, with the purpose of practicing English by asking questions of each other, I'd drawn a few aspiring musicians to my group, awed to be sitting by a "professional musician" (which is a. not me and b. extremely kind and flattering of them). "Can you play the first song you ever wrote?" Hemming and hawing ensued, followed by a few phone calls, a mad dash to a dorm room, and next thing we all know, a guitar's magically appeared, with a little circle of music happening on this now-dark soccer field.

"Every day, every day, I want to be more like you;
but every time, every time, my plans fall through."

Well-received. And in the meantime, I'm shaking off the time-travel I just did to my sophomore year of high school, when that song was written.

a student who really loved practicing English

But I'd rather sing about story. So, I asked if I could be allowed to play just one more, a song about songs. "This one," I told them, "is about all the stories I've written songs about, ones from long ago, ones about people I may not even talk to much anymore. But they aren't useless; those stories aren't irrelevant. They've made me who I am."

I remember every name and every face
and every road trip that we ever made.
And I count every single one as my blessing
'cause I know my life never went unlived.

No, they don't break me, they don't break me anymore...
they just make me... who I am.

["Who I Am," by AWP]

What I didn't tell them was that some of those songs, especially some of the most painful, were often very difficult to sing at one time in my life. But I wrote them anyway, sang them anyway. They were meant to be shared and offer something to the listener, maybe someone who understood how it felt to be in that story (or maybe someone who only understood after having heard the song, and needed those very words to bring them to understanding).

And I watched in the circle as those words imparted some understanding. In some hearts, memories were stirred, stories of their own. I saw it; I know it was there.

We owe them - all of them - the sharing of stories. And one day, they won't break us anymore.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Music: a Porch Concert

What's this all about? Our friends over at Waynoka Cove have a beautiful community gathered around them (and beyond their own walls and street), and we're getting together to celebrate this! They've been building a workspace for artists, neighbors, building projects, etc. - all the specific uses are still being considered. And many people have given gracious gifts to the building of this workspace.

Though it isn't quite complete, we're celebrating all that Jesus is springing up in the hearts of his people, growing gardens, building workshops, and living together and loving each other. Come join us! (and bring a snack and your lawn chair/blanket!)

you're invited to
A Porch Concert with
Abbye & Jeff Pates
with friends Matthew & Katie Clark

in celebration of community
and new creative space at Waynoka Cove

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
@ 7pm, 3116 Waynoka Dr., Memphis, 38111
(this event is free of charge, but we will take up a donation for completing the shop)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

East Asia: an overview update

Though there will be many more updates in the days to come (complete with stories and pictures, of course), here is a link an overview update I wrote last week for my Church Family.

Click here to read.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

books: The Last Days of Old Beijing

While on a stroll through a local bookstore, I picked this up:

Might you call me obsessed since my return? Maybe. But being in a place for 11 whirlwind days can only give you so much insight, so I'm getting as much as I can, even from 13 hours + one ocean away.

Be still, my beating heart.

Friday, June 3, 2011

East Asia: colors

There are some things that can't escape your notice in East Asia (that big country we visited that starts with a C) and some of those things are the colors, oceans of color. When you sit at the table, drive (or swerve) down the streets, climb the walls, or turn your eyes upward - there is the color.

Color reminds me of a Creative Maker who puts life into things that we couldn't imagine needed it. We need food to live; but do we need the cherries to be so beautiful, shiny and eye-catching? We need people to work and do business [and make messes], but do we need them to have such humor, such smiles, such personalities? May you find Real Life in these photos!

And then there's color that isn't seen by the eye, but that swirls around in the conversation, in the exchange of stories, in the depth of honesty. The color of friends, of Family.