Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Did I mention that I moved my blog to Word Press?

I did...


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mentoring Profile #7: James Norwood Blazer Senior

My grandpa was a WW2 Co-Pilot in a bomber (Claims Hitler gave up after he heard Jim Blazer had shown up), a salesman (mostly to industrial plumbing companies), played the stand up bass his whole life, had four children, and refinished furniture in his spare time. This is his flight school picture.

He is the kind of man whose relational weight will not be known this side of Heaven. His funeral was huge because he learned how to use his cell phone. And, as far as I can tell had lunch with every man in Northeast Oklahoma. He kept in touch with his flight crew his whole life, helped a distant second cousin with ancestry stuff for the Blazers, had lunch with his pastor every Sunday night for as long as I can remember (even after that Pastor built his church into one of the largest in the country). I believe he and Grandma began several support groups at their church - but I don't know that that is blog-material.

He once took me aside and took five minutes to explain to me that my grandma is the funniest person he has ever met. It was a wonderful five minutes. I have since learned how true it is - my grandma can be funny through jokes, good-sarcasm, exaggeration, and pure silliness. My grandpa was more of a knock knock joke man. Last week my dad told me this joke. "I know two short jokes and one long one, do you want to hear them? (Do I have a choice?) joke, joke, jjjjoooooooooookkkkeeeeee." If Geeps (my nickname for him since i was a kid) were still around he would be desperately trying to send that joke throughout Tulsa County.

There is more of course - more background, more about his father David E. E. Blazer (whose fountain pens are on my wall and whose business phone was 5 digits long), more about their kids... But mainly I remember consistency. He was at my spelling bee in 5th grade, and the legend is that he also mis-spelled "lightning" with me. I would have got it right had I asked for an example. I spelled it "lightening" as in "lightening in the load" ':} I ate at their house more times than I could count, stayed in their guest room frequently as a kid, always made him get out one of the 2-3 swords he had hanging around the house (or old Revolutionary War guns). Grandma and I played a lot of gin and scrabble, but Geeps was always there (usually in his recliner).

I appreciated him, loved him, miss him, wish I would have asked him to teach me more about refinishing furniture or how to play the stand up bass.

Geeps came to know the LORD late in life after listening to a televangelist - which really helps me to not hate them. I didn't know him before that, and his faith was very shaped by Tulsa-Bible-Belt culture. But, I know that he knew the LORD, prayed for his family, gave away what he had, and loved as best as he knew how. Geeps and Grandma have had to see a lot of pain the past few years - probably no more than many of their age, but it was still hard. They were sometimes leveraged into bad situations they didn't deserve to be drug into. But, this is what I know: 20 years after a divorce from my dad Geeps walked up to my mom and said, "Hey there pretty lady" as though no time had passed and nothing had gone wrong since they had first met in the mid-70's. This was at my college graduation.

Once I was talking with another member of the family who was in pretty bad shape. I told him to stop posturing as a Christian, stop reading his Bible for awhile, and when he did read it to pray like the Psalmists who are so honest with God about their fears, hopes, anger, etc. The incident that led me to say this was warranted.

Geeps was 80 at the time and present for the conversation. He later told me he couldn't sleep after what I had said, and that he got up later and read Psalm 88. I count that as one of the most spiritually humbling moments of my life. I am still amazed that the Holy Spirit would do that when I clearly have so much to learn about family, love, hard work, and faithfulness from Geeps.

He died in 2008. The nice suit I own I bought for his funeral. He would have been proud in a straightforward way. Not in the way that thinks I am more spiritual, but the kind where you are proud because you understand that this is clearly the vocation of your grandson and you are proud and wish him well.

There is always more to say. When I see Grandma I pick her brain about their early life, and about their stories. I am reading "The Greatest Generation" in hopes to understand the two of them a little more. I love and miss Geeps. Apparently I used to go up to him as a kid and say (all the time according to my dad and Grandma), "Hey Geeps, I have an idea, let's get a book and read it!" Good thing Christians never really say goodbye I guess.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mentoring Profile #6: Donald Toomey

Dr. Donald Toomey is my mom's dad. He is not her biological father, and I don't know when I learned that but it never made any different - he was always Grandpa, her dad, etc.

I wish I knew his story better and will hopefully get to spend some time with Grandma this weekend to learn it more thoroughly. I know that I have a photo album of his time as a WW2 photographer (he enlisted before he was 18 because he believed in serving); and the photos are amazing - some taken right before (and in) the Nuremberg Trials.

I got to go to their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2001, where my Grandma could not stop talking about the kiss "he planted on me" on Friday night.

He did not go to my high school graduation, and he told me it was because everyone did that but that he would come to my college one (which he did). I thought it was funny then, and I think it is funny now.

Grandpa had a PHD in Geology (Grandma drew the pictures - meticulously) for his thesis. He was a learned man, and spent his retirement making young artists famous in New Mexico with his journal articles. He wrote a book about 19th Century California Missions and especially the influence of Father Junipero Serra I remember him showing me the system in his library - all the books standing up were the ones he had read, and the ones laying down were on his "to-read" shelf.

In 1999 I discussed a book on Revelation that attempted to read it as 3 scrolls; letters, worship, and war. 9 years later he and I began writing letters to one another and he asked me to send him the book. That is how thoughtful and intelligent he was.

My grandpa has weaknesses. I think he would have wished for a degree in psychology to heal all of the wounds in his own family. At the same time, he did not sit idly - he loved well when and where he could. I would be surprised and disappointed if any of us doubted his love and willingness to offer whatever he could when needed. Probably that could be said of most grandparents, but his personality was such that it was an ever-present reality when you were with him. The sense of love - even without lots of words.

I received my Masters of Divinity Diploma in December, and walked last week. Of all of my grandparents, he would have been the most proud. They were all proud, but he is the most learned. My brother has a PHD in Philosophy - and that is in no small part related to our grandfather.

He is famous for his retorts following someone sneezing. The first sneeze would generally go unrecognized, but the second received one of 2 responses, "Oh, wipe it off the walls!" or, "Once more and we'll vote on it!" And if you sneezed a third time, you might hear, "Oh shut up!" Said in fun.

Grandpa died in 2009 in his office. He was in the house with the only woman he ever loved, he went peacefully. I think my rememberance/mentoring is this: Grandpa loved well. He loved his wife, his daughters, learning. If he was my only mentor I think I would be okay.

Shortly after he died, Grandma sent me one of his sculptures - of St. Francis. St. Francis means a lot to me, but he means more because I believe this sculpture was on Grandpa's desk. Thanks Grandma.

As a grandson it is especially wonderful to think about how well he loved his wife and how well he loved my mom. It still makes me happy, even as I wish I could have more time with him. Thankfully, I'm confident I will get that time eventually.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mentoring Profile #5: The Marvel Universe

So, the reason I haven't written in awhile is that I cannot decide what next to write about (or who).

My main thoughts were another author: John Eldredge or Brennan Manning; possibly John Piper, but it was really just his way of thinking "by enjoying Him forever" from the Shorter Catechism...

Second Main thought (really the first) was... BA ba ba ba: The Marvel Universe.

When I was 12 and 13 I read 9 comic books, and got what backdated copies I could find. I read Iron Man, Thor, the Amazing Spiderman (there were like 4 Spideys at the time, now there are like 51), XMEN, the Uncanny XMEN, XFORCE, XFACTOR... maybe it was 7 because that is all I can come up with. I have been saying 9 for 20 years now, but maybe it was 7.

I promise I will get back to real people, but I saw Iron Man 2 the day it came out and loved it - so I thought I would go ahead and write this post. Partly because War Machine was invented when I was reading the comics, but also because Tony Stark is a very real human - narcissistic, brilliant, but very dark and selfish also.

Mostly comic book folk solve their problems by punching someone or kissing someone. There are undertones, some good artwork, meta-themes (like oppression, the grand story of the unlikely hero, etc.), but as far as I can tell problems are solved by punching/kissing. I tried the second one to no avail throughout my teenagedom.

In all seriousness, I think I learned that 'heroes' have back stories, darkness doesn't preclude light. Or something... Bad guys can become good guys by choice.

And, as a man, there was a pleasant amount of violence, speed, movement - of - story. It took me about 20 minutes to read a comic, and most of the time there was a good bit of closure.

As I get older I am less sure of what I know, but the world seems simpler. The Marvel Universe, without regard to the plots of villains, is a simple place. So, in addition to (literally) thousands of almost useless facts, the Marvel Universe presented a nice outlet, lots of explosions, and an appreciation of the real role of story in a heroes life - it is just a story, there are still choices and people on the other side.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mentor Profile #4: Joe MItchell

Joe was in my story about Kris Cooper. He is a good friend, his wife has a blog, and I worked under him at Kanakuk for 3 Summers.

He and I power-sprayed a track and two tennis courts one week. Power Spraying a track and a tennis court is fun because power spraying is fun. It is not fun because being lightly shaken all day is not fun. Also, because a power sprayer (a good one anyway) will strip paint if you have the right nozzle on it. In this case, we were walking a line because we were going to re-paint what we stripped... So, strip the courts, but not with abandon. Or something... Anyway, that is how I spent my first week with Joe.

Here is what I remember about Joe (who is, I think, 1 or 2 years old than me). When we worked together he would typically say, "It'll be alright." To new ideas mostly. Meaning, 'I'm tired, let's think of a better and more efficient way of doing this... and if we don't I will have rested for five minutes on my rock rake.' Joe's answer, "It'll be alright." Means: we have man-power (implication: not genius engineering) behind us, let's just finish the job. Sometimes he would say, "It'll probably be alright." If you ever hear me say this, what I have actually just said is, "the process is actually fine and I think we just need to finish it." What I learned from Joe here was to just keep working. I still don't always do this, I wasn't exactly mentored in a 'roll up your sleeves' kind of house; but I am a lot better since working with Joe.

Joe and I aren't too similar. But, for a few years we would talk in March about basketball, and if I called him now and asked about the Lakers (his team), we would have a nice talk. He would then indulge me in regards to the Celtics (my team).

Joe played a bit of point guard when we had some time for bball at camp. We liked playing together. Once, I stepped back and missed a 3 and he said, "You were trying to step back like Reggie (Miller)." A few years later I did it successfully against a league team, and thought of what he said. He is a good player, uses the backboard well and tends to forget that he can score pretty well.

What I remember from playing basketball with him was that if I did something dumb or missed a layup he would get on my case, but not in the irritating way. I knew he just wanted to win, he knew I didn't want to miss, but he provided that strange kind of man-encouragement that sounds discouraging, but is really just us understanding language backwards or something. Kind of like when I was studying for my ordination exams and Rick kept telling me he would kick my ass if I didn't pass them. It was encouraging.

I remember other things, like he and my wife attempting to date :). I remember that he helped me understand that kids will always want to do something more if you go and do it with them. I remember him reacting well to a guy getting very sick (not to his stomach, but not-breathing-kind-of-sick) at the pool one summer. I remember that Joe is great friends my oldest Kanakuk friend Stuart Finley (we were campers together in 1985).

But, under Joe I learned about hard work, enjoyed some basketball, and forever adopted a phrase that helps me to keep working at stuff, "probably be alright..."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mentor Profile #3: Andre Dubus

When I moved to St. Louis I was tired of trying to improve myself through books, trying to assimilate so much Christian information, etc. that I took a break from reading Christian books. During this time I picked up a book an ex-girlfriend had given me called, "Meditations from a Movable Chair". It is a book of essays by Andre Dubus.

I have since purchased every book of his I could find.

Some of his short stories have been made into movies. Namely: "In the Bedroom" (Story is called "The Killings"), and "We don't live here anymore" (book is good, but the 2 companion novellas make it fantastic).

There are sub-themes to his literature that involve running, sex, masculinity, marriage, raising children, coming-of-age, etc. But, I think the two things I 'learned' from Andre Dubus were to enjoy literature again; just in and of itself to enjoy reading. And he labeled many small gifts in life as sacraments.

Dubus is the first author I read after being sick last year. He is who I pick up if my only goal is relaxation. I have only found one person who likes him even half as much as I do - my old neighbor who is a professor at Webster U (which makes me feel smart that she likes him).

The other thing he mentored me in was enjoying small things. A sacrament, in this sense, is simply a grace or gift. Running is a gift, having a good conversation (especially with my four year old) is a gift, a good drink is a gift. Peter Devries says it this way, "The greatest gift known to man is the recovery of the commonplace: coffee in the morning and whiskey in the evening without fear." When I am here (in a place of enjoying 'the commonplace') it is partly because of the writing of Andre Dubus.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Mentor Profile #2: Dale and Dave

Since I tackled a huge one with number 1, I thought I would do an easier mentoring moment I had a few years ago for the second post.

When I first moved to STL I rented a little house in South Webster Groves, and it had a nice corner lot. As the Spring rolled around I let the grass get a bit long and was instructed by my landlord to mow it (it was in the lease that he could charge me 40/week if I didn't mow it). So, I mowed it, didn't bag it, and shot a lot of the grass into the street.

Across the street from me lived two older men - both retired, Dave and Dale, next door to one another. They came over to talk with me about the grass in the street. They began with firmness, and then were gentle - I have no idea if I had anything to do with this, or if is just 'how they are'. Dave and Dale explained that it was unacceptable to have grass in the street. This is not how you mow, keep up your yard, or be a neighbor. But, if I wanted to borrow Dave's blower to put the grass back in my yard I was welcome to it. Dave was clear that he was not offering to blow it for me (Dave was probably 70)! They seemed to figure out that I did not understand these things - either instinctively or through previous mentoring.

I remember being annoyed. I had better things to do, I was trying to build a youth ministry, etc. But, I also remember using his blower. Then, going over to borrow some clamps for a table I was making; then having a Nat Light with him in his yard one day (Dave drank Nat Light; he was an old painter and that was just fine with him to get his beer at Aldi's). I only lived there for about a year and a half, but I still see Dave's old work van tooling around sometimes. He had an annoying little dog (really his wife's dog); I don't miss the dog.

It was a good, light lesson - on being a man, taking care of one's yard, listening to older men, and general neighborliness.