Wednesday, May 30, 2007

sketches #001 (formerly "randoms")

Please read Agent Wife's take on immigration here. My only addendum to it is...with jesus' words on looking after the alien, along with widows and orphans, wouldn't American christians be flocking to aid immigrants, illegal or not?

Immigration seems to be the modern day exposing of the church's heart.

Pledge allegiance to: a) the flag or to b) your god. Pick one.


I think the CEO is exposing an ill area that was developing in my heart. And he is thus saying, "whoa it down a little".

Confession: I loathe baptists. Not necessarily baptist people. Some dear friends I care about are baptist (such as Agent S and family, formerly of the fair mother city and unintentional initiator of these reports two years ago).

But I work for a baptist. And 99% of all his clients are baptists. And suddenly I realized baptists are everywhere.

And baptists seem to be the epitome of "keeping the outside of the cup polished". Not that this is unique to baptists or even christians in general. Or even me.

But having a document that must be signed saying you will never touch alcohol and etc in order to be a part of christ's church is very cup polishing, period.

I don't hate baptists. I just loathe their denomination. Their politics and general practices.

But today, through my employment with Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc. I picked up a little chump-change job helping some guy move things around a storage unit. And of course, this guy is one of The Son's baptist friends, since that's who he mostly associates with.

And I have to say, the CEO slapped me in the face real gentle and said, "See...they're not out to get you. Nobody's perfect. And you certainly aren't, B."

This guy paid me well for the little I was needed for. Plus he wined and dined me at a donut shop. Basically, I was treated well.

This hasn't made me change my message towards cup polishers. Although I realize it's not a message aimed at individuals or even a denomination as much as it is aimed at all of christ's followers (ie: me).


Summer is in full swing at the Sanford residence. These folks are steeped in poverty, but always find ways to live it up and enjoy life.

The pool is assembled in the back yard. Some inflatable water slide from a garage sale is being set up.

And new this year: a huge-ass volleyball net set up in the front, taking up the whole yard.

Tonight after dinner, me and the family joined in on some impromptu volleyball action. Manuel and I totally whipped Agent Wife & Jessie. I never realized how athletic he was. I guess when you operate chainsaws and clear mesquite fields for a living, you can spike a volleyball even if you're near 60.

Cheap beer an front yard sports. It was fun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A topic brought up by the anti-debator at the God For People Who Hate Church conference was listening. Specifically, how christians historically are lousy listeners.

I have thought of this for years, but never had the vocabulary to discuss it. My wife and I discovered through the old izzy group ministry, that the poor just want a listening ear. Period. Regardless of whatever intelligent banter or schitzophrenic ramble comes out of their mouths, people want to be listened to, not preached at within every moment of silence.

The anti-debator's angle on this topic was: christians have always wanted to direct every conversation with non-christians. If christians cannot direct and dominate the discussion, then they want nothing to do with it. They feel threatened if they cannot get their beliefs in and lay down an anchor of direction.

I say, the same goes for christians talking to anybody. Even other christians. Christians want to spout off their belief and angle first, thus dominating the conversation. Few have the gift of listening.

I think I have the gift of listening by default. That is, I suck at speaking. But I find myself in that temptation to dominate a conversation often.

Last week, I discussed this "listening" topic with two separate pairs of fellow believers. And both times I was interrupted with the other's take on the subject.

Thanks for demonstrating my point.

I'm a big fan of the 58th chapter of Isaiah. The word "fast" is used throughout the text in reference to serving the CEO by ministering to the poor. I'm told by a hebrew scholar friend that in this text, the word for "fast" is "tsum" or something. And tsum means literally "to cover one's mouth so that you can hear the other". In other words, to fast from yacking your yap. To shut the hell up and listen for once.

Can anyone, jesus follower or not, find this true about christians, or am I nuts? Any suggestions besides just learning to shut up?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

the fair mother city: part IV

Basically, I wanted part IV to wrap up parts I-III by enclosing my reasons for being in the fair mother city. My calling or so.

But I discovered I bit off more than I can chew: I don't have the words or scientific research to wrap up this series very well.

Truthfully, I have no freaking clue why I am still here. But I feel it has been the CEO's desire for me to hang around.

I love the poor. They are real. And I am attracted to real-ness, however you define that.

The fair mother city has many poor people, homeless, disability-income culture, and working-class poor.

The FMC is supposedly ranked fifth in Texas for cities with the lowest pay rate. Fifth place doesn't sound too shocking, but when the first four cities are border towns (thus their injustice is obvious - taking advantage of Mexicans who will gladly receive $6/hour bringing the overall pay scale down), it makes the fair mother city's pay scale suspicious.

Many of the local businesses are owned by locals. And many locals are Christians and/or religious social club members. So...with absolutely no scientific data to present, and going on sheer conspiracy theory, I partially blame them.

Why do the religious powers-that-be keep the average pay rate in the fair mother city around $8 an hour with no medical benefits? There's probably some mindless info that could be spouted off about small business and high taxes and all. But most every one of these christian small business owners find ways to pay themselves nicely and maintain their own status quo. They live well above the average citizen, and well above their employees. But so does every business owner.

Then they pay their club dues (tithe) to their social club church, which in turn pitches a tithe of that tithe to the poor, making everyone feel good about themselves.

Somehow, I just don't think Jesus meant it that way when he said "whatever you do for the least of these..." and "sell your possessions and give...".

If I'm expected to stick around here much longer than I hope to see my dream of The Table come true in the fair mother city. The closest thing I've seen to this is The Gathering in Salem, MA pastored by The Why Man. The Gathering and my idea for The Table are not identical in operation, but they share similar models: to love and serve the local community with no strings attached. What The Gathering does for the neo-pagan culture, I hope The Table could do the same for the poverty culture: befriend, walk with, love, serve, and be "a blessing". That serving and befriending others IS the evangelism.

In this city of 116,000 citizens, and (as of 1997 stats) 147 churches, I know of ONE church that sort of models this. Sort of. And by church, I mean the whole church and not some appendage add-on ministry that "helps" the poor.

If The Table is to happen in some sort of "store front" method, then I see the fair mother city as the perfect place. There are tons of poor people pushed aside from the numerous religious social clubs that inadvertently (or purposely) keep their foot on the necks of the poor. Locally, there are tons of social clubs that toss a few scraps out the back door, then get a newspaper write-up or 20-second TV news blurb on themselves for doing "good things for the community".

So basically, the FMC, founded on greed and deceit, harbors the oppressive religious crowd which tosses the poor their crumbs to appease their minds.

And so far, I feel that it is the CEO's will for my family and I to ride it out with them.

We are continuing to live day by day only. That is currently our only choice. And the more I live this way, the more I think it's not a bad choice. For the most part, it's OK for us to live this way: We have no debt. We don't buy ourselves much other than what we need to live (food, etc). And I'm sure the CEO will guide us through any of life's unscheduled mishaps, as he always has.

Otherwise, if the CEO opens the door to move...we're outta here faster than Oprah quitting a fad diet. I am so ready to leave the oppressiveness of the bible belt.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Uncle Lonnie

Late Friday evening at the God for People Who Hate Church conference, there was a viewing of "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher".

This was an hour-long documentary on Lonnie Frisbee, a 1960's freeze-dried hippie from Southern California who encountered the CEO during a drug trip. After his conversion, he became a John the Baptist-like preacher amongst the Hippie community which fueled the Jesus Movement of the early 1970's. His influence and ministry was the catalyst that started both the Calvary Chapel movement and The Vineyard churches. And both church denominations wrote him completely out of their history when his rumored homosexual leanings were exposed by his AIDS related death in 1993.

The documentary featured dozens of interviews. Old friends, hippies who were baptized by him, former church staff, even his ex-wife.

For me, this whole movie played off the repressed sin I and every Jesus follower has: judgment.

Was he an agent of the CEO? Was he a fraud? Since he was gay, does he go to heaven even through he led thousand of people to the CEO?

The tennis match-like volleying in my judgmental heart of "he's good" and "he's bad" hit a stand-still at the closing. One guy was interviewed and stood up for Frisbee, saying something to the effect of, "God ALWAYS uses the foolish to confound the wise. And we're ALL sinners yet not one of us has a sin greater than another"

Not that this amounts to much, but Lonnie Frisbee is now an official "uncle" on the agent b files. Right up there with Uncle George.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

pruning boy #006: proph-o-drama

Several months back, Agent X explained to me the term and action of "proph-o-drama": a story or message from the CEO being told through the actions of an individual's life. Like Hosea marrying a whore to show the CEO's relationship with Israel. Or the recent example given by Mother Beverly.

The "Pruning Boy" series is an attempt to share some of my adventures employed as a manual laborer with Son and Dad Tree Service, Inc. I'm convinced that the CEO has me in this job to 1) show me various spiritual truths that relate to pruning, and 2) experience the plight of the under-paid, under-insured, manual hourly worker supporting a family. At least, that's my best guess at why I'm in this gig. Because it doesn't pay jack shit.

This recent pruning boy episode reads like a dream that needs interpreting:

Son and Dad Tree Service, Inc. was recently hired by one of the largest social-club, mega churches in the fair mother city. A church that has much of the "old money" around town, thus much of the local economical influence.

It's also the church The Son has been a member of for 35 years. But I won't go into the inbred socio-economic relations of social clubs (churches) that keep the fair mother city's economy rolling. That's another report entirely.

We were hired to trim and prune a series of oak trees on this church's property. Oak trees are some of the longest living and strongest trees. And they grow well in this region of the world. They are difficult to plant and get started. But once established, they could last 150 years, as they don't die easy.

So one day, I find myself with a motorized pole saw pruning this enormously grand oak tree located in a huge inner, hidden court yard that I never knew existed. And I would bet that only members of this church know of the court yard since it cannot be seen from the street.


...the guy who's the biggest critic of church in the town known for church.

...pruning and destroying the dead limbs. a beautiful hidden court yard.

...the belly of the beast of religion in the fair mother city.

...unnoticed within the bowels of the operation. one of the wealthiest social clubs around.

...and one of the clubs that's in the top five of my critical hit list.

Let me know if you think this is something the CEO is trying to tell me or if I'm just nuts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

hey baptists! this bud's for you!

Once I was told that in order to join a Baptist church you had to sign some document stating so. And in the fine print, it acknowledged that you would not consume any alcoholic drink. I don't know if that's true. Someone clue me in.

My church of christ (coc) upbringing had no formal documents, but the culture of that troupe just made it understood that you shouldn't drink or something.

That's all kind of nutty considering a) Jesus turning water to wine and b) Luke 7:33-34. But I'm sure some seminarian somewhere can explain this away.

I really enjoyed being in the Boston area with other believers where drinking beer in the presence of others was not an issue. I mean, during the conference, we went over to a joint called "Beer Works" like three times. With the conference host and speakers.

That wouldn't happen in Texas. Certainly not the fair mother city.

I once escaped from a conference in San Antonio that I was forced to attend by calling up an old college buddy of mine. He picked me up at this church and we spent the rest of the day at some beer joint.

I still owe him for rescuing me.

There's not too many places in the fair mother city to enjoy a good brew with other believers. But I guess I did just that with some of the local agents tonight in my back yard. So...I guess my back yard is safe.

It's just nice to enjoy something simple and it not be a big deal to anyone.

Friday, May 18, 2007


As mentioned in the recent travel reports, the entire "God For People Who Hate Church" conference in Salem, MA could easily had been called "How To Love People Different From You".

But that would have been real gay-sounding. And not gay as in boys loving each other. Just gay as in gay. And I probably wouldn't have wanted to attend anything with the words "how to love". Those words sound insulting, like maybe I don't know how to love people.

And truthfully, I really DON'T know how to love people different from me.

But anyway, on The Why Man's recent post, he poses one possibility of our lack of love for people different from us (and "us", as in "followers of Jesus"): fear of possibly compromising the gospel.

Fear? Compromising?

How can you compromise the gospel by learning, listening to, and befriending someone very different from you?

We (as in "Jesus followers") fear that mingling with non-Jesus followers might contaminate us somehow, I guess.

How goofy. What are we really afraid of? Having our beliefs challenged and questioned? Is that why we huddle ourselves in our churches because we fear being questioned somehow?

Any thoughts on this or loving people different from you?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


There I was today, sitting in the migrant worker seat, on the job with Son & Dad tree Service, Inc: Orkin Man Edition.

My boss, The Son had some quick drive-through banking to do. I stared mindlessly from the migrant worker seat when my eyes stumbled across THE Window across the street.

The Window: at the old Le Chateau Apartments (now called something less French). The very window from the dining room where the late Willy Kink and the late Patches lived years ago.

And in between the teller intercom squeals and the really dumb-ass jokes from my boss*, for a nanosecond I was transported back to 4:15am on Friday October 26, 2001.

Where Patches and I stared silently out that window. From his dining room.

And outside on the porch with slight sobs, we mourned the sudden death of Willy who passed eight hours earlier.

It was silent. We were speechless. And somewhere in there a hug was given as well as the most sincere of an “I love you” two guys can exchange without being gay.

Earlier, I couldn’t sleep. So in the middle of the night I went looking for Patches who had ran off on foot from the ER after the doc announced Willy was no more. Patches had made it home.

The cool night/morning air was inviting the Autumn. Willy’s damn TV still wouldn’t shut up about September 11th. The very few belongings Willy had left on this earth, scattered about. And Patches didn’t want me going near the bedroom, where his buddies were mourning Willy by doping it up (which ironically is what caused Willy’s death as he got hold of a bad batch of the same stuff).

I went alone and sat in the McDonald’s parking lot and waited for them to open. I held back tears over a sausage biscuit and hash browns as that damned Willie Nelson song “Always On My Mind” played subtly over the muzak. That’s a terrible song to hear when a friend has passed to the next world.

And in a moment I realized it was May 16, 2007 and I was wearing a uniform shirt and about to go spray pecan trees.

It’s been a long five and a half years, and sometimes I don’t know how I got from yesteryear’s “A” to today’s “B”.

But that window reminded me that it’s all just a journey. I guess.

*Jokes that I choose to endure, but getting closer every day to calling his dumb-ass bluff and letting him know how I don’t think he’s funny, because he hasn’t clued in to my unenthusiastic silence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

this just in

An old post from right here on the agent b files recently became an article in Next Wave, an online magazine on emergent church. I find that real funny since I just learned what emergent means.

It's found here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

agent randoms

Mother's Day:

Agent Wife accidentally started a Mother's Day tradition a few years ago by hosting a backyard BBQ for some single moms. Primarily Frieda Sanford from next door, her mom (now deceased), and another daughter/mom duo. And every year on Mother's Day we hear from those original participants as they call up and ask, "so...what are you doing for mother's day?"

This is probably a great idea to continue every year. But we're pathetic and forget. Plus, we had no idea how big of a deal it was for those ladies at the time. So last night we threw together a fajita feast in our backyard. The Sanford household attended.

It was laid back an fun. And we played Mexican bingo, where Manuel (Frieda's spanish-only boyfriend and the actual property owner next door) really lit up. And somehow, I was arm wrestled to pull the 10 Caliber out of the closet and perform an impromptu backyard jam to 8 people. That's something I never would have planned on doing. Fun stuff.


The Orkin Man:

I often report on my Pruning Boy gig. That is, my part-time manual labor job with Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc.

I've been employed with them for three months now. Early on, I was mostly operating chain saws and such. It was kind of neo-romantic to talk of myself as some kind of lumberjack, which is cool. But that would be an entirely misleading description of my job.

Mostly these days I'm a lawn mowing jockey. Yup. That's me. the very first job I ever had was mowing yards in my neighborhood at 14. Ahh, we all come full circle. Guess it's not exactly something to write home to the alumni magazine about: Agent B is currently...mowing LAWNS for a living. He has a wife, two kids...and is a total bad-ass. If ACU would print the words "bad-ass", I'd totally submit that entry.

Anyway, today I wasn't a lumberjack or a lawn jockey. I was the freaking Orkin Man. I put in 11 hours spraying trees for bugs and so forth as it's the time of year to such. I kind of enjoyed going to the door in my uniform shirt and hat carrying some outrageous bill and saying, "Hi. I'm B with Son & Dad Tree Service, Inc. We're here to spray your trees."

I wasn't too excited to work with chemicals. Several times today I'd find myself getting doused with the spray thanks to wind. Hopefully I won't become impotent. Or the father of septuplets.


Tiger Woes UPDATE:

No news I guess. But I did spend quite a bit of time with him yesterday. All I know is that his friend Paco is moving to San Antonio. And The Tiger is going back to work this week.

I decided to keep my mouth shut about the rumors on him. If the CEO opened a wide door to say something, then fine. But I'd rather The Tiger to speak up first than to be put on the spot.


mi esposa:

Go read Agent Wife's recent post on the poverty culture and their generosity. It's right on.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

tiger woes

We fear the rumors are true of our friend and (almost) 18-year old neighbor The Tiger.

There’s reason to believe he’s getting into petty crimes like breaking into cars and possibly using drugs.

Of course we have no proof. And my job is not to hunt out the guilty. But his older tattle-tale sister Jessie told Agent Wife some details that seem to make sense based on recent behaviors we’ve witnessed of him.

Supposedly, The Tiger, along with his brother The Bulldog and another kid Paco are stealing things, pawning them and/or splitting up the wares. And somehow drug use might be thrown into the mix. All three of these kids grew up going to the izzy group food pantry that I use to help operate. I’ve known them since they were 9 or 10.

Why The Tiger, CEO? I mean, as much as I love his brother The Bulldog, I can SEE Bulldog going into this life.

But Tiger? He actually has some amount of hope. He’s great with people. He loves working with his hands. Quiet, but not a loner. He’s one of the only kids I know that made it through the teen years without being obsessed with girls. He was content to sit in his backyard and try to figure out how to get a broken lawn mower running.

He dropped out of school. And as difficult as it is for my middle class upbringing to type this, leaving school was probably a good thing for him. He hated school but he loves working.

Born, raised, and steeped in three or more generations of poverty culture, The Tiger actually has hope of...doing something.

His mom got him fixed up with some sort of government funded disability check since his youth (which I’m totally against that bull shit. It’s a curse). But The Tiger actually figured out that he had the ability to earn more money than the government gave him on a monthly basis. And he was willing to take the risk of giving up the check for good in exchange for working for the rest of his life.

Petty crimes usually lead to serious crimes, which lead to a life of incarceration and so forth.

I’m praying. Communicating to the CEO. Questioning. Whatever.

What should I do? Anything? The Tiger’s not a confessing type. So should I approach him at all? But I’m not supposed to know about this. I want to be his friend, not his judge or nosey neighbor.

We used to be close. Then he became a teen and my wife and I weren’t cool anymore. I’ve never been cool anyway.

I hope I don’t have to resurrect my agent creds with the local jail just to visit him in the near future.

Friday, May 11, 2007

the fair mother city: part III


History has always been a mild interest of mine. And particularly, local history. And by local, I mean wherever I happened to be living at the time (ie: If I lived in Bangor, Maine, then I’d be fascinated by Bangor’s history. But I’ve never been there, thus I’ve never looked into Bangor’s history).

The history of the fair mother city is fun for me because it’s real. This is my home. I walk or drive by things every day that was once some historical significance of some sort. For example, there’s a huge rusted metal building near Franklin Middle School, between N. 10th and N. 11th streets a few blocks west of Grape Street (I think the address is Clinton Street). Few people know that this was once the garage that housed the downtown trolley cars back in the 1920’s.

I love this kind of stuff. I am a nerd.

If you don’t want to read the details, here’s the history of the fair mother city in a brief, one sentence quip:

Abilene, Texas was founded on bribery, deceit, and greed.

And somehow, in a spiritual sense, I don’t think that’s too far off from the inner makings of the religious church culture that controls this town. But those parallels are mere conspiracy theories of mine, and nothing more.

The brief details of the fair mother city’s founding:*

In the mid to late 1870’s, a community of people lived in Buffalo Gap, Texas in Taylor County. It was the only populated community in the area due to it’s natural underground water source and beautiful greenery. I think somewhere between 1000 and 3000 people lived there.

Word got out that the Texas and Pacific Railroad Co. (T & P) were planning to build a railroad between Dallas/Ft. Worth and El Paso. Everyone knew that having the railroad built in your struggling frontier town meant strong economic impact and thus a strong future for your town. Buffalo Gap was directly in between Ft. Worth and El Paso so all was assumed that they would be put on the map forever.

Meanwhile, three businessmen (J.D. Parramore, and twin brothers John and Clabe Merchant) met with an executive from the T & P at the Hashknife Ranch, located about 15 miles north of Buffalo Gap in an open field where current day Will Hair City Park is located**.

The three businessmen bribed the railroad executive to have the railroad built about 15 miles north of Buffalo Gap…through an empty field they happen to own. Knowing good and well that any land with a railroad on it would multiply in value overnight, the bribing trio planned to auction off city blocks from the railroad and create Abilene, named after Abilene, Kansas which was then a famous cattle shipping point. And this happened March 15, 1881. The first city block sold is at N. 2nd and Pine Street (One City Center which currently houses AISD offices).

Residents of Buffalo Gap were dumbfounded since their town already had the populous in the region. Three years later, Abilene was voted County Seat over Buffalo Gap. Legend states that there was an actual gun slinging fight over the transfer of county record from BG to the FMC. But nobody was shot.

And there you have it: bribery, deceit, trickery, and greed. Little did the founding fathers know (or care) that not only was there no natural water source*** for their new city, but that their open field was a major flood plain****. Way to go guys! Who needs common sense when you can make a buck.

*Please, it has been a few years since I’ve read the numerous history books on Abilene from our local library. Some details of mine written here may be incorrect. If interested, there’s a wealth of books at the downtown library. The best ones on Abilene and Taylor County history are written by Juanita Zachery, who I’m told is still alive and lives near ACU.

** Yes, the pervert park by ACU.

***The fair mother city still struggles to maintain an adequate water supply for its residents, especially amongst drought within our semi-arid region of the planet.

****Abilene, especially the city’s north side (which is usually home to the poorer residents) floods easily and often. There are no underground drainage systems within the north side of town. The streets serve as drainage into the creek system. And the creeks are often in need of cleaning and/or maintenance to insure proper water flow in flood situations. I’ve noticed that creeks in the southern, wealthier parts of the city are cleared out often, when north side creeks are left in need of repair. But I may be incorrect on this observation...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I lied: one more Salem bit

Here's a link to a very recent Christian Science Monitor story on the why man and the anti-debator. They were interviewed and photographed for it last weekend.

Christians and Atheists Start a Calmer Dialogue.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

reporting for duty

Back in the fair mother city. A place I’m not so sure I want to be anymore. But I’ve been whining about that for years.

This will be the last report on the weekend in the Salem, MA area. I cannot add any more to the many good things that have been said throughout the agent blogging network about the conference and overall weekend.

Checkout the new links added into the network when you get a chance: The Kayaker, Smu, Mother Beverly, and The Gathering.

I didn’t realize how much of a respite I needed from the fair mother city until I went to Salem. I didn’t realize how burnt out I was from being on the field.

Being a secret agent has its down side. Like how being undercover on the field, and left with little or no communication from headquarters or face time other agents can be excruciatingly lonely. Not to mention it’s easy to forget parts of your original identity when you’re out on the field.

All that to say: I was incredibly enthused and recharged after this past week. I needed that trip more than I realized. To finally put real faces with blog names, meet and be with dozens of people who are more or less in this same undercover calling of sorts (operating outside of traditional church guidelines), learn and listen and contribute at the conference, and just to get the hell out of the bible belt for 5 days has been absolutely priceless for me.

The only thing I would have changed would be if Agent Wife could have joined me. But that’s difficult with two young offsprings in diapers at this time. Maybe someday, in a couple of years. And unfortunately, Agent Wife had a much opposite experience than I while I was gone, as she spent the week with my family in the faithless material and gossipy overload world of the Houston suburbs. CEO, help her please.

Meanwhile, back on the home front...

Obi-Wan and Lamont are well. Agent Wife dealt with the dysfunctional duo on a grocery run while I mowed yards in the rain on the Pruning Boy gig.

Frieda Sanford has been in the hospital getting some major female parts removed, etc. She is scheduled to return home tomorrow.

The garden is doing very well thanks to a rare overabundance of rain for West Texas.

Thanks for reading and enduring my joy and reports while I traveled. The “fair mother city” series, “pruning boy” series, and basic nonsense on the agent b files will return now to its regularly scheduled program...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

snap shots

The Disability Resourcer walking his dog and newborn son after work. arrogant jackass I actually like.

Pixie (DR's spouse), and the doctor holding offspring of DR & Pixie.

The former record store owner and the chemist/counselor.

This is where I ate lunch Thursday, The Atomic Cafe in downtown Beverly. Damn good coffee and sandwich.

The Vault, home of The Gathering where the conference was held.

Inside The Broom Closet, a downtown Salem magic shop. This is the shop keeper who was nice enough to chat with me while the Why Man was talking to some other people. Her mother owns the place.

The Why Man outside The Broom Closet during my private guided tour of Salem.

The Why Man chatting with a local friend along Essex Street in downtown Salem. Essex is a foot-traffic only street (with exception of delivery trucks). I was amazed at how many people would stop and greet The Why Man along my guided tour. The local witches and neo-pagans really have a deep respect for him, and I'm sure it goes both ways. By the true definition of the word, The Why Man is truly the 'pastor' of downtown Salem.

The Kid, an 18-year old transplant from Florida.

"This is what happens when you get a local christian book store to peddle their wares at your conference: Jesus Bobble-Heads" - the why man.

The abbess and her beer sampler at the Boston Beer Works. I visited that place at least 3 times...

These are two of the greatest, most 'pastoral' guys I've ever met. From Sacramento, CA: Smu (left) and the kayaker.

A discussion panel of the conference bad-asses. From left: the offspring of Jim & Tammy Faye, the abbess, emergent guru (Tony Jones), mother of Beverly MA, Streams Ministry guy, and the anti-debater (Jim Henderson).

A scene from Saturday afternoon's discussion panel with 3 neo-pagans. Left: a witch and owner of 'the broom closet' store (and mom of the shopkeeper in the earlier photo), a druid from a jewish background, and wiccan solitary practitioner Before Girl (who once worked at CBD with the doctor and DR). Smu was the mediator.

Meanwhile, back at the Beer Works with the doctor...

Jim & Tammy Faye's son in the vault during a photo shoot. He was like a rock star.

First Baptist Church in Salem, where the offspring of Jim & Tammy Faye was scheduled to speak...

Me playing ball with DR's dog.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

travel report part II & 1/2

(some delayed live blogging for G13)

The official end of the "God For People Who Hate Church" conference was this morning at The Gathering's Sunday am worship service. Tony Jones was guest speaker.

I think Tony is some kind of big wig in the emergent circles. I think he runs "emergent village" web site or something.

This guy was right on and very easy to follow and understand without being heady or tainted with arrogance. I greatly appreciate that, being that I never understood exactly what emergent was (much less follow intellectual chatter). But finally, I think I do now.

As per Tony:

Our faith in the CEO really is a 'paradox'. Example, people training in science to be physicists are taught that electrons are either a) a particle or b) a wave. But way down the line they are taught that electrons are BOTH particles AND electrons. "Get over it" is applied to learning the 'both' part as opposed to hanging on to their old either/or teaching.

This parallels our faith. Examples:
1) "I believe. Help my unbelief" (Mark 9)
2) Jesus: a man? or the CEO?
3) The trinity: Three? One?

and etc.

Also, as I simplified the definition of "emergent" in my head:

emergent = open ended or perhaps open source. Like wikipedia. Or perhaps, how many sermons do you hear preached that are ended with an open questions such as "what do you think/have to add?" Cults, D. Koresh, and my former host church in the fair mother city never did that. A person's sermon was the dictatorial "end all". Period. Emergent seems to say that it's OK to not have all the answers.

Now I see why a lot of hard core church people hate emergent. It doesn't have all the answers. And it's OK about that.

But really...who does have all the answers?


Currently, I'm spending the lazy Sunday afternoon in Beverly with Dr. James and wife. More to report later, I'm sure.

Hope to report on my time with the why man (who hosted the conference) and the MANY folks I met.

Thanks for reading and staying in touch.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

travel (non)report part II


I'm far too tired to report details of this weekend's events at this time.

For accurate accounts that were blogged live by friends G13 (aka disability resourcer), the doctor, and several others I've met, go to The Gathering's blog site.

Many good quotes, questions, discussions and lessons have been given. I hope I can remember them later on.

My basic take on this whole "God For People Who Hate Church"
conference (a title that surprisingly doesn't offend people up here like it did back home) is summed up here:

How can we love people?

Really. That's it.

I've been most impressed with Jim Henderson, who is one of the main speakers (and strangely reminds me of The Shaman of Chickisha, OK).

Besides publicly stating his extreme lack of enthusiasm for debates (finally, someone else who sees the flaws of people of faith debating with non-believers or anybody), Jim made a brief statement that pinned it all for me in regard to christian's behavior throughout the world:

"If christians cannot have it all, then they want none of it."

This was stated during a story of an Indian friend of his who had led hundreds of people to Jesus during some political rally that also promoted Hinduism and another regional religion. Jim was stating that in our christian culture, church leaders wouldn't have bothered to join in with a rally like that because it also promoted other religions.

It reminded me of the fair mother city's "National Prayer Day" nonsense (which thankfully I missed last Thursday) involving two prayer rallys: one with an exclusively christian group and another with an inter-faith group.

I'm rambling here, it's late, and that's all I got.

I am extremely thankful for this travel opportunity. Many, many friendships and alliances have been formed and reinforced.

I will share photos when I return home next week.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

travel report part I

It’s only been a little over 24 hours since my arrival, but I am very much enjoying my time in the Beverly & Salem areas of Boston’s north shore district.

And over the last year and a half of internet reporting, I’ve enjoyed meeting people from the internet face to face. I’m now convinced that meeting people on-line is a legitimate way of making friends, regardless of how perverted you are or not...

Yesterday: May 2 – travel.

I flew into Boston yesterday around 4p and was picked up by the disability resourcer soon after. He and his wife and baby housed and fed me for the evening.

Finally met many other dear internet friends from the expanding agent network. Such as “The Doctor” (he and his wife are housing me the next few nights). Also the former record store owner and his girlfriend the chemist/counselor came by. Great folks.

The four guys went on a moon-lit night stroll/cigar walk to the beach a few blocks away.

I am really enjoying the foot traffic culture of Beverly and Salem. Houses, commerce, and nature are all a short walk away. The fair mother city has a very mild, almost man-made version of this culture downtown at certain hours of the day, as well as artwalk once a month. But it’s just not the same.

Today: May 3 – free form floating.

One of my main purposes being here is to attend the “God for People Who Hate Church” conference in Salem, hosted by the why man’s church, The Gathering. But that doesn’t start until Friday night. So meanwhile, my only agenda today was to take in the local flavor, and maybe catch up on some reading somewhere.

I strolled around Beverly, found a cool private spot by the ocean, had lunch and coffee at a café (a dozen or so to choose from. I pick ‘em by the name. Atomic Café won).

The why man called and picked me up and gave me a private tour of his stomping grounds in Salem. Finally got to meet him. Very hospitable man and fun to be around.

He explained the neo-pagan cultures to me throughout the day while we toured various magic shops and so forth. I got to chat with a young gal running one such witchcraft store. She was the daughter of the owner. She was very nice and sweet and far different from anyone I’d know back in the bible belt or the fair mother city. Yet talking to her was comforting, much like the poverty culture is for me back home. I don’t know why that is. Something about being around non-churchy people is easy and homey for me, I guess. The why man told her he was the pastor of The Gathering and that I was here to attend a conference there.

She told me that in high school she went through a phase where she wanted to be catholic. She also went through a black-muslim phase and a hare krishna phase, but that she gave it up because she didn’t want to wear orange. She told me of the one time she visited a church and how the image of “that man hanging on the cross” really scared her. “Yeah”, I said. “I guess that is kind of a scary image”. She was real. Nothing to hide. Searching like the rest of us.

The Gathering meets in a killer location: they call it “the vault”. It’s a 200-year old bank building complete with an armored vault as the backdrop for their meetings. The Vault is prime real estate on the foot traffic area where halloween is celebrated for the entire month of October. The gathering’s mission is to “be a blessing to the city of Salem”.

There couldn’t be a better location or venue for a church with this mission. The CEO is all over this church. And I’m looking forward to spending more time there this weekend.

Also, back at The Vault I met the kid, who is an 18-year old transplant from Florida. He specifically came here to join The Gathering in being a blessing to Salem and to the neo-pagan community.

The why man dropped me off in Beverly, where I got to be part of the Sinners and Saints community gathering (home church) pastored by the disability resourcer. Very sweet group.

I am very much enjoying my time here and I’m looking forward to being at The Vault this weekend.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

checking in

I am alive and well in the Boston area. Flew in today via Houston.

Finally met (face to face) a large portion of the agent network from abroad, and maybe more soon.

Just checking in. More substance may be written later.