07 November 2008

DC Trip: Episode IV

The picture above is the roof of the subway station. The lighting from the sun coming through the glass and the concrete slats made for an awesome picture. I think it turned out well.

Lincoln in the marble. If I'm not mistaken it's built to his original proportions.

The crowded little bookstore in the Lincoln Memorial. You think our tax dollars could afford a much bigger place.

The Vietnam Memorial. 
My experience with this wall was more than I expected. I knew of the wall. I had seen pictures of the wall. So I though, "Well now I just get to see it up close." When you stand before this wall you become overwhelmed by the number of names, and when you realize that people were behind these names, you cannot helped but feel moved. I found out that the start of the timeline resides in the middle of the wall, so that the first soldier to fall rests beside the last soldier to fall.

The Washington Monument.
I had no idea that you can ride to the top of this thing. It was really cool. The view is amazing and the inside of the monument is filled with decorative stones from different states and countries.

06 November 2008

DC Trip: Episode III

The newest memorial in DC is the Pentagon Memorial to remember those who died in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. It was one of the most thought out and thoughtful memorials in DC. There is an enormous amount of detail worked into the memorial, not to mention how serene and peaceful the atmosphere was.

Each individual was given a bench with their name inscribed on the end of the bench. Under each bench  flowed a stream that was lit from underneath. If you are looking at a bench and look up and see the Pentagon, the individual died in the Pentagon. If you look up and see the sky, then the individual died on the airplane. There is also a wall that runs the perimeter of the property. At the beginning of the property the wall is two feet tall. At the end of the property that wall is seventy-one inches tall. The youngest person that died there was two years old. The oldest person that died there was 71 years old. Also on the wall were years, and if you followed that year from the wall perpendicularly, out on the field would be benches of people who died who were born that year.

This woman sat and stared at the Pentagon the entire time we were there. We found out from the police officer there that many times family members will come out and sit on their loved one's bench, as was the intention of the monument designers.

This was laid at the start of the property. It is made from limestone from the original building. The stains on it are from the damage sustained during the attack. 184 people were killed in the attacks that day.

The kind police officer who told us all about the memorial. He knew every name on the benches, and their ages, and all sorts of information. It was moving to see how affected by the events he was. This was truly one of my favorite sights in DC.

DC Trip: Episode II

The current burial site of George Washington. He wanted a bigger vault for the family so this is the result.

This was the orginal Washington family vault. As seen, if I am not mistaken, in National Treasure II.

A tree on the edge of the Bowling Green. This Tulip Poplar was actually planted by George Washington.

Washington had massive flower gardens, but I absolutely loved the shrubberies. Now I understand what the Knights Who Say Ni were talking about.
(Some of you will get that and some of you won't. If you don't get it then you will be punished by being forced to cut down a tree with a herring!)

Part of the slave's quarters. Either Washington was good to his slaves or he packed them in tight, but I was impressed with the size of the living space compared to what I expected.

DC Trip

I had never been to DC, so Gina and I decided to make a visit over her fall break. The trip came at a perfect time since her dad works in DC right now. That means we had a place to stay, and her mom came, so we had people we loved to see the city with. This picture shows a rare sight in the McGhee family - Gina driving. She likes to sleep and I like to drive, but since the drive to DC took 8 hours I decided to sleep a little on the way.

Our first trip out and about took us to Mt. Vernon (G. Washington's House). The estate still functions as a farm so the grounds were fun to explore. This picture was taken across what they call the Bowling Green, but I call it the ginormous front yard.

As I said the farm was still functioning so I couldn't resist taking a picture of the best side of the sheep. I wanted to see their faces, but they apparently had other plans.

There was a map of the grounds and such. Washington had a unique way of gardening. He had seed beds where he planted crops to let them die and harvest the seeds. He also used natural hedges and trees to fence the different properties. 

The original W's ride. 

29 September 2008

Should I Flip a Coin?

How do you make big decisions? Flip a coin? Draw a straw? "My mother told me to pick the very best?" Should decisions come easy? If I had the answer I would not sit here confused and blogging and you would have to watch TV or read a real piece of writing instead of my dilemma. 

I graduated last May from Johnson Bible College with a BA in Youth Ministry and Preaching. I decided my senior year of school switch from a BS to a BA. In doing so I effectively signed four semesters of my life over to biblical Greek. Tough. I loved Greek. My favorite class. The class opened my eyes up to the world of biblical scholarship, a world of intriguing discussions and harsh, but good-natured criticism. At the end of my five year journey through college I had my diploma in hand, a part-time job as Youth Minister in a neighboring town, and hopes of graduate school after my wife finished her year of graduate work. 

In scientific research and experiment the researcher must control and implement variables. I feel I have found a variable in my life since graduation. I graduated in May, but I'm not sure what decision I will come to. Since the mission trip with the youth group I have grown much closer, and c0-directing VBS helped me learn more about the congregation. VBS also let them in on the fact that I have not matured since the 7th grade. My wife and I have become fast friends with this congregation and their children.

As September turns to October I realize that I have worked at the church for over a year. Does not seem like that much time has passed. This summer for the church brought new life to the congregation and has drawn me further into that life. Therein lies my dilemma. I have hopes of Master's degree and even a PhD, but I also hope to enjoy ministry before I consider teaching at a collegiate level. Knowing this, how do I choose? Hopes of more education and hopes of ministry. The Emmanuel School of Religion will provide me an incredible opportunity for a first-rate and affordable education within a two hour drive of Knoxville. At the same time the ministry at the church has picked up momentum and I am building a rapport with the students. The children at the church make every time I teach an awesome and fun experience.

How do I choose? How do I decide between working toward my future career and the career I'm building in the present?

I'm doing my best to stay objective, but some friends from K-town are too dear to me to not enter into my decision. I know that one day I will look back on this and see God's timing, but for now, I feel like I'm in the dark.

How do I make this decision? 

17 September 2008

Tales of Bravery and Anti-Freeze

Some time has passed since my last blog, so I thought I would let the world in on my life lived on the edge. (In case any of you were wondering, that sentence was a joke.) I have fought bravely on the front lines of life since then, and I have lost. I have sustained no major loss, but laziness has plagued my bones. No self-respecting adult should begin their morning at 11 AM, but lately I have. Two seasons of TV on DVD have found shelter in the caverns of my docile brain, and my house remains a wreck. When will motivation find me? 

So I sit in my favorite chair, writing about laziness on my new Macbook, surrounded by the clutter I have yet felt compelled to organize. In the meantime I have started a career at Starbucks and learned the arts of the coffee barista. I have faced the coffee dragons (as I like to call them), and I have survived the fiery blast that spews forth from their condescension. Sometimes bravery means not reflecting the attitude which the dragons breath down on you. I cannot say that I did not struggle with my attitude, but I remained sincere and helpful, and that will defeat most dragons as they normally receive swords in return for their actions. Bravery: not writing someone off when you have every right to do so.

I'll proceed on, as not to bore you. (I'll try at least.) Today I opened for the first time at the Bucks. 5AM. Ugh. I believe whole-heartedly that God did not intend man to rise before the sun, but I found myself staring down the road into the darkness with my headlights keeping me company. Stupid AM. I managed though, with the help of four espresso shots. Afterward, I took a well deserved nap. Incredible. If only Napping competitions existed, I would not do anything else. Mmmmmm - Sleep.

Nap behind me, I headed to West K-Town to pick up my wife from student teaching. Let me take a quick moment to tell you about the phenomenon that is my wife. Beauty. Humor. Heart. Charm. Love. One day she will achieve sainthood, until then I will remain her favorite sinner. The one guy who did not deserve her, but she still choose to share her heart and home. Blessed. 

Anyway, Gina students teaches and I pick her up on Wednesdays after school so she can attend church with me and we do not waste too much gasoline. On the way I noticed that the Taurus (whom I call Melvin) reached pretty high up on the temperature gauge. I do not like when Melvin reaches the toward the "H" that rests above that safe zone. Melvin never lost his cool, but he came close. When we reached church I looked under the hood, and sure enough the reservoir held no signs of coolant. So after reaching a fever pitch of stress (this activity involves me calling my dad and questioning him like a mechanic, calling a mechanic, surfing the web, and inspecting the engine) I decided filling the reservoir was my only option, and until something serious happened I possessed no reason for freaking out. God talks through my car.

I sometimes worry I will die of a heart attack because I can hardly handle my anxiety. I tell the students in my youth group to bring their worries to God, but I find myself unable to follow that advice. Still, again and again, God finds me driving to the mechanic praying for my car (sounds dumb, but I stress so much about my vehicles) and he provides. Too often I rely on myself, whether my car breaks down, or my bank account looks like a creek in the desert, or I forget why I am a minister. Too often when I cross those deserts, I look back and see God's working. When will I learn? 

Trust will lead to the fulfilled Christian life. Trust. Practicing this simple word will allow us to open up to the leading of the Invisible God, but trusting what you cannot see can feel like walking through the forest blindfolded. Even though trust is hard, trust moves us forward, especially with God. Though the disciples found themselves in great danger, more than once, they would not have seen the miracles if they did not trust the carpenter's son when he said, "Follow me." Trust. 

Trusting God can seem like starring under the hood of your car. You want to make a move, to fix what's wrong, but you cannot see where to start. To trust, just start.  I will learn to trust if you will.

05 September 2008


The Starbucks that my wife (and now I) work at has a montlhy newsletter, and one month I read the featured book and the manager asked me to write a review of the book, and I oblidged.

a Book Review
I had no plans of becoming involved. I had only come to Starbucks to enjoy some coffee and maybe read the paper, but instead I found something else. I asked my wife (Gina – an employee of the Seymour, TN store) if I could read the books on the shelves and just put them back. She told me to hold on a minute and withdrew to the back of the store, and emerged seconds later with a different book. The book, hardback and blue with a picture of dog on the cover, was the “partner copy” of the next book Starbucks would carry. So I returned to the corner with the comfy chairs, sipped my bold with a shot of espresso, and began to read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I became involved.

The narrator and chief character in the book is Enzo, a dog. Enzo feels his time to become a man has come. He saw a show on TV about how Mongolians believe good dogs become men in the next life, so they bury them at the top of a hill to enjoy the wild before they enter their human body. Enzo loves TV and his favorite channel is the SPEED Channel as his master, Denny, races semiprofessionally, and has done so ever since Enzo has known him.

Garth Stein has created an immediately lovable character. Enzo represents an extraordinary level of contemplation for a dog, which he attributes to his education watching TV while Denny and his family work and go to school. Choosing to convey this story through the perspective of the dog expresses superb writing on Stein’s part, which allows the reader to experience a very human story from a very unhuman perspective. Stein begins the story on the eve of the dog’s death, and the reader joins Enzo as he takes a look back over his life. He remembers the farm where he spent some of his childhood; he remembers the passion and sacrifice it took for his master Denny to succeed professionally; he remembers the pain the whole family felt at the devastating loss of Denny’s wife Eve; he remembers the court drama between Denny and Eve’s parents over the custody of Denny’s daughter Zoe; Enzo has seen a lot. In the end Enzo has valiantly helped the Swift family through their trials and longs to see Denny become the champion he is, and all of this with Zoe at his side.

Garth Stein has fashioned a beautiful story that will break your heart and lift your spirit, and he does all of this through Enzo’s eyes. He brilliantly intertwines racing principles with the story and then applies them to the story, the chief of which says, “That which you manifest is before you.” If you read much, or if you don’t read much, you must read this book. It will make you laugh out loud as Enzo gives reasons why humans evolved from dogs and not monkeys, and it will make you cry as the family experiences the terrible loss of a wife and mother. Again, whether or not you read, you should read this book. I give it two paws way up.

03 September 2008

Politics or Circus Ring?

Lately I have listened to talk radio more than usual. It has proved good entertainment since the Democratic National Convention and now the Republican National Convention. If they only passed out free popcorn!
First came the drama with the onslaught of Clintons at the DNC, but they proved (quite surprisingly for me) that they remain dedicated to the party. Endorsing Obama at each of their speeches put them into a better light. Obama's speech, however, proved charismatic but with out much more detail than usual.
The big drama came as McCain announced his VP choice: Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. McCain immediately took the women's issue and put it in the hands of the Republicans, making this voting year historic. No matter which way an individual votes, they vote for a minority ticket. Pretty cool if you think about it.
I must admit, McCain's VP pick impressed me. I love listening to talk radio as this situation plays out. The Democrats screech and wail about Palin not having enough experience for a VP slot, and in perfect political form the Republicans cry out and scream that Obama does not have enough experience for a Presidential slot. What fun! The best part lies in the fact that the hosts actually do screech and scream on the radio.
The issue that bothers me concerns Palin's family. Palin and her husband have 5 children, the youngest (if I'm not mistaken) has Down Syndrome. Many questioned whether Palin could perform as VP and raise this child considering the challenges he will face. Next came word that Palin's 17 year old daughter is pregnant. Suddenly her daughter has become the same media fodder as Brittany and Paris. I find all of this drama over Palin's family unfair and unreasonable.
As American people and families, we should be encouraged by this family's success in politics and continuing dedication to each other. If Palin chooses to pursue success in politics and raise her children then I respect that, her family is not America's business. Obama himself even said that the subject should remain off limits.
I do not understand why her daughter's pregnancy remains such a common subject on TV. Maybe there exist some who would say if Palin cannot control her family, she cannot fulfill her role as VP. Who knows? I'm not sure why media coverage surrounds this poor young woman, but I want information that furthers the election, not coverage of Palin's daughter who has been humiliated enough having her mistakes paraded in front of the whole nation.
I often feel that voters cast votes based on the wrong subjects or on who dresses the best or has the most charisma, and I do not feel this problem is entirely the voters' fault. The media has done nothing to help inform America's voters, but rather turned our political system into a circus (the media did have help from the government though). Before Presidential candidates were chosen, I knew nothing of John McCain except he was old and the Vietnamese tortured him during the war. The only information on the news at night concerned Barak and Hillary. Only until now has the Republican party put itself in the spotlight, and it seemed they had to force their way in.
I urge you to make a decision based on your own research. Listen to the debates, listen to their speeches from the respective conventions, and read about each candidate. I strongly feel that the media in America no longer presents clear, unbiased information if they do decide to talk about something of value.
Well, I think I will stop the rant here. I will save my other political pet peeves for later. I just hope that before November we can rely on someone in the media to provide real information. Until then I will just continue to listen to the democrat and republican hosts on 100.3 FM WNOX, Knoxville's Big Talker. This station provides a good balance of both sides, you just have to sort their opinions out yourself, and they have a good selection of intelligent and entertaining local hosts. So until November rolls around, I'll be here, waiting for the sky to fall, pigs to fly, and the circus to leave.

26 August 2008


Confession time: As a young boy I was a huge fan of New Kids on the Block, unfortunately. I did not own any of the dolls or the bed spread (in case any of you may be thinking that), but I did own a cassette and a coloring book. I remember after a time, the fragile tape inside the cassette broke, and I could no longer listen to my favorite tunes. I cried. Hard.

At the time the loss of my tape devastated me. At five it would prove trivial as I moved on to other stages, but I had only just begun to learn about losing.

Later that same year (I assume. I am not completely sure of ages or timing.) a friend of mine died tragically - Stephen Cole. Only five or six years old, he was riding his dirt bike around a designated area and was struck head on by an oncoming dirt bike bearing a 16 year old. Stephen did not survive the collision. I remember my parents sitting me down to explain, as best they could, what happened when people die. I honestly cannot remember much of the conversation. I do remember not going to the funeral.

In fourth grade my Dad took me and my sister out of school early. I had no clue why he had done so, but I happily left my class behind doing busy work. I found out that my Mawmaw's husband had died. Bill. He was her third husband. She married first at age 14, but he was abusive so she divorced him. With two kids in tow she married Paul who gave her five more children, of whom my mother is the youngest. Paul died when my mom was 16. Mawmaw then married Bill. I did not know Bill well. He mostly kept to himself when we came over, sitting in the front room and watching football. He did give us candy, and terrible handshakes. You know, the ones that make you concentrate on how strong you look. His death did not leave much of mark on my life, just a knowledge that my Mawmaw had strength I did not understand.

Just a week or two before tenth grade my Grandma McGhee died. Great-Grandma McGhee. What a lady. According to my grandpa's legend, she had survived the Trail of Tears as an infant when her mother hid in the mountains. She was full-blooded Cherokee. As a child she worked to provide for the family washing dishes and the compensation she received her mother pocketed. At a young age Grandma McGhee stood on the train tracks to stop trains for the daughter and son-in-law of the outlaw Maw Barker. After such an eventful childhood Grandma McGhee raised eight children, including the most ornery and rambunctious Paul McGhee. (My grandfather, from whom I take my middle name.) Grandma McGhee fought a slow battle and when she died I must say I was not taken by surprise. I loved her, but now she could live forever. I was happy for her. Her funeral brought out the absolute worst in all of her children except my grandfather. As they gathered up the most valuable items, my grandpa and dad took the two things she loved the most: her bible and her porch swing (the place where we all got to know Grandma McGhee). I learned two things during this time. One: People, including family, can become horrid creatures, full of spite and insult, at the exact time you need them. Two: My Dad is a real person. I saw him cry the first time at her funeral. We stood in front of the casket, he said, "She thought you were somethin' special boy." Then his face curled up with sincerity and he cried on my shoulder. Not a wail of mourning, but a deep cry, one that proves your humanity. Humans lose.

Last November my friend Sam died. Born with a heart condition, his first surgery was at six months. He battled illness his whole life, and received a heart and double-lung transplant at sixteen. Sam had a glad-hearted mean streak. He acted gruff, but he meant well. I met him at Johnson. He lived down the hall from me. He was my friend. The last year of his life he lived at home in Nashville. I visited as often as possible, and we emailed and MySpaced constantly. He always called me brother when he signed an email or left a chat. Sam had a brother, but he called him "Bub." It means a lot to know he called me brother because Sam knew more about God than anyone I have ever met. He was my friend. My brother. I cried a lot at his funeral, not because he died. God was getting to know Sam, and Sam was getting to know God and his new body. Sam needed a new body. I cried because I had lost. I had lost the first person, other than my wife, who I had sincerely loved out of no obligation. I had lost the one person who told me to cut the crap. I had lost my friend, my brother. Humans lose.

Everyone has stories about losing. Losing hurts. Whether you lose a ball game your have prepared months for, or you lose a child, losing hurts deep down. Often people say, "Why?" Just this year I know of several people who have experienced miscarriages, who have lost jobs, who have lost family to the War, and lost loved ones to death. One night, when discussing a close friend's miscarriage, my wife said, "I'm not saying God caused this, but why would he let this happen? Why would he let that baby die?" She did not understand this loss.

I have thought about losing a lot lately. I thought about how God let the Devil hurt Job, and Job lost. I thought about how Lazarus died when Jesus arrived too late, and "Jesus wept." Jesus loses too. I thought about how I lost my friend at five, and my Grandma McGhee, and Sam. I thought about how my friends lost their baby and how it cripples their marriage. I asked, "Why?"

I came to the conclusion that we have no way of concluding God's hand in such events. We can see God working through people and timing, but as for the ultimate cause of such events humanity just cannot see that far back.

In The Chronicles of Narnia: A Horse and His Boy the main character, Shasta, and his companion, Avaris, flee on horseback from an army. During the flight a lion begins chasing them. When they have almost reached their sanctuary the lion reaches up and tears into the girl's (Avaris') shoulder and scares the her horse. They reach their sanctuary hurt but a little quicker than planned. Later Shasta meet the Lion, who turns out to be Aslan. Shasta asks Aslan why he hurt Avaris and her horse but the Lion interjects and says, "Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own." Avaris lost.

Often we feel as Shasta feels. We do not understand how God could do such terrible acts, but unlike Shasta we often do not know if God truly caused them. Just like the story our friends lose, and lose often. To comfort ourselves we conclude that God wants to teach us a lesson or needs us to grow, but I think God moves deeper that.

I believe that YHWH has built much of his nature into Creation and when tragedy happens, whether by God's design or by natural laws, we can learn about God. Every time we lose God may not be forcing us to learn, but crying with us, as Jesus did with Martha. Maybe this time God let the world turn, maybe He let creation move on its own, and He lost when we lost. This, however, displays the might and tremendous awareness of God. When we just happen to draw the short straw and that truck plows into your son's bus, God has placed enough of himself into this broken world that we can learn about him as he grieves with us. In our grieving with him we learn more about him. We grow closer to him. We understand him. We lose with Him.

10 July 2008

Love Out Loud

Group Workcamp Report:

Dear Church Family,

Thank you so much for your prayers and support during the youth mission trip to Ohio. We had a great time. The night we arrived we we split from our group into "work crew" with five other people from five different youth groups. We worked with these crews at the work sites painting, scraping, priming, nailing, drilling, and an other tasks needed. Each person in our youth group was able to meet five new people, so by the end of the week we had 50 new friends. 

Each work crew had a resident that received their help. Each day the resident was invited to devotionals held by the work crews. Some residents came and some did not. I remember Susan telling me that her resident rarely had anything to do with her crew, until the last day. At close to finishing time, Susan's resident came out and talked to her. They talked and talked and continued talking. Even though it took the resident all week to warm up to Susan's crew, they were able to make an impact for Christ, and it was shown in a talkative way.

Not only did we participate in physical labor we had a program every night where we interacted with that day's theme. Here is a list of the themes: 
1. Love Out Loud Risks 
2. Love Out Loud Serves
3. Love Out Loud Multiplies
4. Love Out Loud Forgives
5. Love Out Loud Lasts
During these programs we saw skits and videos and listened to Roy present how we can Love Out Loud. The programs were simple, but grounded, they lacked all the glamour normally associated with these kinds of events, and just presented truth. Our youth, and adults, responded maturely and thoughtfully to the presentations and took serious time on day four to examine themselves. I am positive that each of us has returned home with a new revelation or commitment to God.

Needless to say, this week was a difficult week for work as it rained three out of five workdays, but the kids responded with stubborn determination, and out of a little more than 50 worksites, 34 were finished, and over 11,000 man hours were given to the good people of mid-Ohio. After experiencing such incredible events and giving so much to the Lord, he was gracious and gave back to us a renewed spirit, a refreshed commitment, and a reignited passion. The 10 from our church that returned from Ohio are not the same 10 that left. Ask anyone of us and we will share our experiences and our new zeal. Those that went are: Bill, Loren, Randy, Jesse, Susan, Roy, Laura Faith, Micalah, Sara, Sarah, and myself.

Upon returning we have all made commitments individually and as a group to "Love Out Loud" here in our community and we hope that our spirit is contagious. Again thank you for all your prayers and we hope you will join us as we "Love Out Loud" here in Maryville.

In Christ Alone,
P.S. Ask Randy and Bill how it feels to be completely destroyed in air hockey by yours truly.