Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


So we're looking at this sold-out concert coming up soon (eleven days time). Day two...drool.

Jack Johnson
The White Stripes
Death Cab
Hot Hot Heat
Nada Surf
The Bravery
and Depeche Mode, of whom one Michael Paul Terranova raves.

While it's not last year's show, which boasted Interpol, Franz, Keane, Killers, Muse, Modest Mouse, Snow Patrol, Shins, Green Day, and Jimmy Eat World, i still desire to be there, live and in person.

Anyone want to help a brother out with some tickets?

Or better yet, anyone need an escort?

I've eighteen months experience, and my rate for an evening runs about the same price as a ticket...


So I haven't posted in a week. Not to say that i haven't been writing; three large posts have been drafted, and currently sit at different levels of 'unfinished.' More recent musings may hit the keys later today, so be prepared for an avalanche of depth-charges.

Chatting with Arkay Sunday eve, he noted that i've been thinking about a lot lately. This is true. Must say, that's also pretty normal for me; i do tend to think about a lot, but rarely bring much to the surface beyond a quick summary or a quip.

Being concise with vital matters has never been my strong suit, but incoherent rambling, i think i have it down!

Non-descript summary or full-length dissertation...that's what i alternate between. Now, in the blogosphere, my posts tend to alternate between two lines and two pages, with little in-between. So i got to thinking. at what length do we start to tune out when reading blogs? when we start having to scroll to read more? two screens in? similar to email? at what point is impact lost?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Conversations

It's been a really good extended thanksgiving; i've really enjoyed spending quality time with friends and eating all sorts of tremendous food (like stuffing with two kinds of sausage). The conversations have been life-giving, and i've heard kind words from trusted friends, who have been quite encouraging.

Sometimes the little things, the things that probably aren't intended as encouragement, tend to be the ones which connect, and that was the case. My friend Michael has just returned from his practicum in Singapore, and it was great to see him again. Sitting around the table and talking with us about his future plans, he used the term 'marketplace ministry.' I don't know what that is, so when we were talking one-on-one, i asked him. Here's the response:

"It's a christian word; more or less, it means, 'working in business.' It's like 'secular,' a 'christian word' that doesn't mean anything."

Hearing that was so encouraging to me, especially since i know so many people who use the term 'secular,' which i've intentionally expunged from my vocabulary, since it has no meaning (outside of a subculture which i don't live in).

My friend's words confirmed a hunch that i acted on three years ago. Shortly after beginning to follow Jesus, i found myself immersed in the 'christian subculture' (which i presume is an extension of youth groups, but can't confirm, since i've never been involved in that world), and began learning all the language. I was starting to get pretty good at it, and i was learning how to manipulate words to get my way, or to get people to like me, since i had mastery of a few stock phrases and could throw about religious terminology without much trouble.

The summer of 2002 was a time of questioning for me; i saw the road i was called to walk, and realized that i wasn't going to get everything i wanted, and that the lifestyle of james bond didn't mesh with the commitment to learn life from jesus. My first reaction was 'i don't like it.' So i gave god the finger, and said, with my actions, words, and thoughts, 'i want your spot; i want people to worship me, not you.' Crazy? Yes. Delusional? Yes. Arrogant? Yep. Guilty as charged? Yes, but if i overthrow the one in charge, that's a non-issue.

That lasted about a month.
In that timespan, life humbled me sufficiently, and it became pretty clear to me that i was a fool. An early August road trip was a pivotal experience in learning to settle in new territory, and to consider myself a servant, rather than a king.

I came back to Clemson convinced that authenticity was the only option for my life, realizing that a lot of starting over was needed, and that it involved peeling off some of the clothes that i'd learned to wear, but that didn't fit. I began to understand Jesus' words about becoming like little children, then seeing the kingdom of God, which now looked a lot different. The first session of training at church cemented this, and i began to make a conscious effort to be authentic in my use of language. So the 'christian phrases' began to go, as well as all the other cliches and words that didn't mean anything outside of the circle of people who knew the code.

That's led to all sorts of awkward moments over the past four years, which continues to today. Every time i hear echoes of that world of consumer christianity which i left, i cringe, and i really don't know how to engage, outside of strong visceral reactions that usually tend to stop conversation cold (moreso than profanity).

Have i over-reacted at times?
Probably, and it's a challenge to learn how to speak truthfully and honor god with my speech, yet to speak honestly about life without inserting pious phrases that don't really mean anything.

Things would be a lot easier if i hadn't gone through that shift, but i wouldn't be much use to those kindred spirits who haven't come from that world and don't know the code words.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Get Rich or ...?

With no class this evening, I started thinking about a chill, low-intensity way to enjoy the night off after a day of writing. So as the fingers raced across the keyboard, i asked the questions, 'what movie would i prefer to see this evening, Curtis Jackson's screen debut or the newest tale from Hogwarts?' 'and when do i start calling people and extending invites to last-minute spontanaeity?'

Then the phone rang.
My supervisor was calling me in to work this evening.
There went the night off.
With three night classes this fall, I don't get many of those. When i do, there's the chance of something like this coming up, killing any half-made plans.

But i did get rich, to the tune of $32.66.
With a short week and a surplus of hours, overtime pay might kick in...
and i'm looking forward to another raise come january...$8.33, perhaps?

Spent the evening reading The Radical Reformission and beginning Teaching Cross-Culturally (pleasure reading, not directly required for class: a reward for finishing a paper/making it this far), talking with mom, and hanging around the library doors, watching and waiting.

Work-study at its finest.

CraigsList Job Sighting

Just saw this ad for a sports management position near Pasadena; sounds intriguing, although the whole bit about not being able to use a computer to do my work kind of bums me out...

Anyone think I should apply?
Or just get back to writing this paper?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The time is now 10.49 am...

Since our last post, much has transpired in the world of our hero. He has intrepidly faced technological malfunctions, six-year-olds with saliva to spare, and the challenge of biking the streets of Pasadena without a working brake system.

But this morning, our cameras find him doing something quite routine. He's answering phones, and his words have been along the lines of:
'Good morning, Fuller Seminary.'
'Fuller Seminary, please hold.'
'How can i help you?'
'Seriously, i can help you.'
'Can you give me a last name or department?'
'So why would this person have called you?'

The morning's been interrupted with waves at known passers-by, brief conversation and chit-chat, and facial twinges when he sees the news out of Boston; the Florida ball club is trading young ace pitcher Josh Beckett to the Red Sox, rather than the Dodgers. Not optimal.

One laugh-out-loud moment yesterday pm. Jess Conklinn calls around 4, in the home stretch of the afternoon, when switchboard operaters are more likely to take personal calls. At the end of the conversation, Mr Work did not press the 'hang-up' button on the phone.

Oh no.

He tapped the 'release' button on the switchboard. Classic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wednesday Night

Made it this far, amidst the swirl of minor dramas that's been this week.

Minor dramas, what you say?

Tuition came due on payday, so i was kind of boggled for a bit as to whether i'd actually be able to register for classes, or whether some of the aid i've been given was going to come through (if not, i'd be down another $1300, about a grand more than i'd kept in reserve). It did come through, and i did register. Courses will be:
Global Evangelical Movement - Missions History with Jehu Hanciles (professor from Sierra Leone, doctorate from Edinburgh; from all accounts,he's going to kick my ass.)
Spirituality in Mission with Stephanie Smith (excited; Steph's reading list includes David Bosch, Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster, Desmond Tutu, and CS Lewis, and she's a solid human being)
Exegesis of John's Gospel with Marianne Meye Thompson (i'm quite stoked about this being my final theology course, due to the material, professor, and classmates)

Overeating last night didn't help my state of mind. I don't think it played a role in the minor bike/car collision i was involved in, but you never know.
Yeah, the brakes are down, as is the CD burner on my computer. The verdict after a reformat; it was the hardware after all.

On the plus side, the first half of today's evening class was pretty meaty. We discussed Eric Law's book 'The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb,' and the idea of giving away power, alongside the reflections on 'Uprooting Racism,' a book which four white guys in the class read together over the past month. I like much of what Law suggests, but the question that arises for me is this: at what point does giving away power cease to be empowering, and when are we abdicating our responsibility to be good stewards?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hard to get up...

Hard to get up this morning.

Got a bunch of work to do for both classes today, but just completely unenergized.

Burnout? At least on one front. I'm autopiloting through the assigments in my head, just need to put it to paper.

Last week was overwhelmingly encouraging and invigorating, and once i get back into life, i'll be fine, just really down right now.

Why? Got some bad news this weekend, and i'm in a situation that i don't quite know how to handle, besides all the usual angst of life. all of that dovetailed last night when i went online and saw that Eddie Guerrero died yesterday.

Eddie was a second-generation wrestler, and one of my favorites to watch, incredibly talented in the ring, and a master of pulling in a crowd. He'd been through a lot in life, hit rock bottom with drug and alcohol addictions, losing his family and nearly his life, before what i can only call redemption. the wwe put out a great dvd on him last year, entitled 'cheating death, stealing life: the eddie guerrero story,' which tells it better than i could.

Eddie'd been clean for four years, reconciled with his wife, and won the world championship last year. On screen, he was a fixture in the main events, a huge fan favorite and a tremendous entertainer who was going to get another world title shot this week. At 38, he really seemed to be enjoying his job and life.

And then he was found dead in his hotel room Sunday morning, apparently died while brushing his teeth. No autopsy yet, and speculation is that he died from heart failure.

I don't get it.
This doesn't make sense.

I'm hoping for the best, yet when the best is 'just a freak medical thing' or 'repercussions from things done years ago,' and a guy is dead in the prime of his life, leaving behind family, friends, and millions who knew and loved him from afar, it's not really comforting. Just really numb right now, not really sure what to say.

Initial plans for tonight's raw and friday's smackdown have been scrapped, and both shows will be tributes to Eddie, in the vein of the Owen Hart memorial in 1999. If you can watch wrestling this week, do so.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Long day at the preventing abuse conference, and i crashed out for a few minutes on the return rail. Loads of good, practical information, and some really solid people were there, both at the podium or in the seats. Odd phenomenon...from lunch onwards, everyone i struck up conversation with had a close pasadena connection...bizaah.

Two months of info-gathering on the sex trade and trafficking...tons of resources. I really do need to start dispersing some of this; another blog or a full website is in the offing. Anyone up for helping put it together, doing idea generation and/or design with me?

Today's talk brought me to thinking, strategizing, and dreaming...crazy church planter in me is starting to come back out...and i think i may have a practicum idea or two...

Got back home at ten to six, didn't want to go to class...but here i am, and it's proving worthwhile. Just happens that Dr. Bobby Gupta's in town from India for the school's 40th anniversary celebration; he's being honored for his work planting churches in india and also connecting North Americans and Indians in ministry ventures, and spoke in chapel this morning. Dr Lingenfelter invited him to class tonight, both to lecture for an hour on partnership, and also to speak to our small project group. Really amazing of him to do so, recognizing that we're looking at these issues as it relates to Indian bible colleges and their training of ministers, and setting us up to speak with a guy who knows the issues firsthand. Whoa.

However, I'm positive that i will be wiped out or zonk out?
I'm opting for the latter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sex Trade: Conference

This Wednesday, i'll be in attendance at a conference hosted by the Cedars Foundation, which will take place in downtown los angeles, and will run from 8.15a to 3.30p.

The day will focus on the sex trade and on human trafficking, with an emphasis on prevention. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that trafficking is the human rights crisis of the 21st century, and it's commanded my attention over the past few months, for a multitude of reasons. Thus far, my involvement has been limited to penning an article in the SEMI, Fuller's student newspaper (linked, p 8 of the PDF). So I'm looking forward to being around people who've seen this reality much longer than I have, and have insight on some of the different angles that we need consider; should be a great learning experience.

Registration is free and open to all interested parties, so if anyone's intrigued and able to join in last minutes, shoot me your info or comment and i'll forward materials your way, along with contact info for the persons in charge of the event. No guarantees that i won't try to hitch a ride...i can go metro, but that's always an adventure that i like to avoid if possible.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hard Truths

It's been a week of hearing and learning hard truths about myself, and they’ve been largely been relational in nature. I'll speak more specifically in person, but for now, here's a correlated word from Eugene Peterson,

"By insisting that God is three-personed, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - God inherently relational, God in community - we are given an understanding that God is emphatically personal. The only way that God reveals himself is personally. God is personal under the personal designations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and never in any other way; never impersonally as a force or an influence, never abstractly as an idea or truth or principle. And so, of course he can't be known impersonally or abstractly.

We are not used to this. We are schooled in institutions that train us in the acquisition of facts and data, of definitions and diagrams, of explanations and analysis. Our schools are very good at doing this. When we study persons, whether God or humans, we bring the same methods to the work: analyzing, defining, typing, charting, profiling. The uniquely personal and particular is expunged from the curriculum; and that means the removal of the most important things about us - love and hope and faith, sin and forgiveness and grace, obedience and loyalty and prayer - as significant for understanding and developing as persons. The fact is that when we are studied like specimens in a laboratory, what is learned is on the level of what is learned from an autopsy. The only way to know another is in a personal relationship, and that involves at least minimal levels of trust and risk."
(Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places 304

And I don't know how to trust others, nor do i actually listen to other people without predicting their words and preparing my response, or ask people questions rather than finding out things. I've developed a bit of competence and resourcefulness and can do my work well, yet am a type-a control freak who tends to take everything on his shoulders rather than sharing. It's like my strongest traits and greatest strengths come out of huge deficits elsewhere, and my deep passions come in areas where I carry the most baggage. Looking down the road, this freaks me out.

I don't like it, and want to change, especially when i see how i depersonalize and dehumanize other people, while putting that sort of conduct at the top of the list of 'things that are just wrong.' Big 'my bad' right there, and repentance, change of direction, is called for on my part.

But the really hard thing about this is that it's not something I can do on my own. Just as I can't dissect God and boil God down to a concept, I can't do that with people either. One doesn't learn relationships apart from persons, and trust doesn't happen when one doesn't take risks. Risks with my life, no problem. Anything crazy, I'm always game. But taking a risk with another person, actually trusting and caring enough to speak honestly and truthfully, to actually put love into practice...i don't go there often.

Watched Garden State again recently, and it resonated deeply, brought emotion to the surface, and inspired. I'd add Andrew Largeman to the composite of movie characters that i identify myself with (see 02.04.05 post). Si has a great post on the film, and much of what he says is what I'd like to say.

I'll be straightforward here. It's a challenge to believe. To believe that following Jesus really does make a difference, that the church really is a community where we can relate as healthy persons, that love is real, that God can change people, that there is a distress that leads to life rather than death, to actual heart-felt change, rather than an endless cycle of condemnation (2 Corinthians 7, many thanks to Winn for preaching it three years ago), and that we can ask the hard questions, hear the hard answers, and not completely flip out and start throwing punches.

Crazy, but if this whole Jesus thing really is true, then everything changes, including those lessons learned early and often in life. 'Trust me; I tell you the truth' is directly at odds with that 'you can't trust anyone,' but what if we actually believed it, and let it define our lives? Would we change? Would I change? I think so.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Life of a Tutor...

I had two English lessons today, and while they could not have been more different, both were rejuvenating.

First, I met a friend at the bookstore/coffee shop to catch up after a few weeks apart; he's working on a major term paper for a church history class, one which i know well, so we spent the bulk of the time together brainstorming, putting together a potential thesis and a plan of action. Loved it.

Second, my intermediate conversation students at the head start center had to run today, so I sat in on Ellen's introduction class and soon found myself as unofficial child care for the two six-year-old guys who were there with their mothers. Within five minutes of trying to do a vocabulary-teaching puzzle, i re-learned that kids don't like to work together (even when the project's one that can't be done individually, which should force the sharing of resources), unless the task is something monumental.

Like fighting me.

So we spent the next hour outside, and one of these fellows kept jumping on my back and shouting out 'i gotcha!' i'm thinking...'dude, you're, like, a tenth my size; what do you mean, gotcha?'

These guys had limitless reservoirs of energy, so we went from wrestling to chases around the playground and the entrance paths. It was quite the experience, watching the kids go through the gamut of emotions insanely quickly. For instance, Benjamin fell and skinned his knee, cried for a minute, and then took off running, much like the superhero he claimed to be. The guy conjured up tears within seconds when i didn't give back a toy gun (which didn't seem an appropriate plaything; a trip inside confirmed my hunches, as his mother insisted that it be dropped in the trash), and begged relentlessly, in between spirited efforts to forcibly seize it from me. But 'no' means 'no,' and i'm starting to see the wisdom in that.

Playing with kids reminded me that there is value in the child development courses i took in undergrad, and also brought to mind the close connections that i see between learning to follow jesus and education at its best (sadly, neither is welcome in many churches or schools...just a brief gripe).

Today led me to ask the question, 'what are my most important skills for this job?'
making paper airplanes
pursuing on foot at the right speed and angle, so as to direct the guys towards the playground and not the parking lot