Random Christmas Thoughts

1. An underlying theme in While You Were Sleeping is “falling.” Throughout the film people and objects are falling down: ice-skater during opening, Lucy’s tree, Peter onto the tracks, kid on bike, Joe Jr. in Lucy’s closet (x2), vase in Peter’s apartment, Lucy and Jack on the ice in front of her apartment, Ashley Bartlett Bacon almost falls in the hospital hallway, Nurse falls when Peter asks Lucy to marry him.

2. My 4 year old son asks if he can open presents every morning when he gets up.

3. We – my family – have already listened to ‘Must Be Santa‘ by Bob Dylan 7435 times.

4. Christmas lights should be year-round.

5. If you are wondering why I know all this about number 1 above, my wife and I have a tradition of watching it every year.

6. Food as gifts. Genius.

7. My favorite part of the Christmas story is Mary’s ‘Magnificat.’

8. It’s true that people are trying to do away with Christmas in the ‘public square’ but it’s also true you are very likely to hear The Bare Naked Ladies Singing about Jesus this time of year.

9.  My kids have already broke three ornaments.

10. I watched Charlie Brown Christmas instead of the Iron Bowl on Saturday.

Thoughts At Christmas For the Rest of the Year: Part 1, The Waiting

It must be awful for my kids. The day after Thanksgiving we told them that the Christmas season had started. But we then let them know it would be another month before the opening of presents. My 7 year old daughter looked a little downcast while my 4 year old son asked, “What’s a monf“? Confused, he joined his older sister in her determined impatience. The waiting is indeed the hardest part.

I remember looking through catalogs as a kid and staring longingly at the same circled toys again and again. I’d turn the page and look at another and then do it again. The girl’s section would emerge and I’d quickly start over again. All those longings merged into dreams of all the joy to be had when Santa came. The patience was painful.

Only the accoutrements of Christmas could tide me over till the day. Lights. Trees. Candy. Charlie Brown Christmas specials. Black and white Christmas movies. Parties. Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time.’ And peering into the wrinkled pages of a Sears Wish Book.

My wife says I’m a ten year old boy trapped in a man’s body. Just because I want a wii and Beatles Rock Band for Christmas is no indication. But I do still long for Christmas. The waiting is still difficult.

Christmas has always been full of waiting. The Israelites waiting for the Messiah. Mary waiting nine months. Joseph waiting for Mary. Herod waiting to hear from the Wise Men. Even now we wait for Jesus to come again. Waiting for something to come is inextricably linked to the Christmas experience.

Isn’t it funny how for kids all the lights and trees and songs not only tell of the promise of what is waited for but also make the waiting really hard. Every twinkling light is a reminder of shiny new toys with buttons and blinking lights. The songs sing of presents and the joy of that morning. The tree is a towering promise of dreams nourished on hope just waiting to be fulfilled.

And so the waiting. Just like we wait for what is to come. And here we are – never knowing and understanding how long. Songs reminds us of the bliss. Every taste of choice fare is a reverse echo of what is coming. Trees remind us of the towering promises of God’s faithfulness proven upon a tree. And so we wait until that day.

Random Pastoral Thoughts

1. John 13:34 is the fulcrum for the leverage of the gospel in relationships.

2. The question is whether it is best to be held fast uncomfortably in the hands of a loving father or released with no troubles whatsoever.

3. Repentance cannot bloom except in the fertile soil of humility.

4. We don’t know it because of all the access we have to preaching through the internet, but there may be no more public place of vulnerability than the pew.

5. In the ICU is the juxtaposition of the genius of man and his fall into sin.

6. Christians should be the last to accept the conventional wisdom.

7. If I can run 5K three times a week in 6 year old LL Bean trail-running shoes with holes in the seams, the church can function without all the audio/visual bells and whistles we think are so necessary.

8. The use of business principles in the church makes me want to vomit.

9. Everyone wants to talk as if business principles fit well in the church…that is, until a pastor asks for a raise.

10. The answer never seems to be prayer. This is why the question is rarely asked.

One Year With C.S. Lewis As A Mentor

At the end of 2009 I found myself teetering on the brink of quitting the ministry. I am not sure I told anyone this at the time – not even my wife. The taste in my mouth had become bitter toward the ministry. Not the gospel, just vocational ministry. It felt like business. The mystic and prophetic elements that drew me in seemed all but missing. So I thought about quitting. Sitting in a pew sounded wonderful. It still does sometimes. I remember praying one night while walking around my neighborhood alone. The air was cool. Christmas lights were lit already. All I could really say was, “help.” This sounds more dramatic now than it was then.  Then it just sounded pretty pitiful. Thankfully, he provided that help.

I started reading Eugene Peterson’s books for pastors.  And they were refreshing. For the first time in months I could feel my heart warming to the idea of being in ministry again. So I decided to start reading through more of his books and so I gave myself a year of slowly reading through his writings. It has been very rewarding despite the fact that some people literally think he is going to hell for writing The Message. I wish I was young and brilliant again.

This brings us to 2011 and my decision to read through C.S. Lewis. While I am not new to Lewis like I was with Peterson, there is a good bit of his work I have not been exposed to. And there are a few books about him I want to read. I can only guess his sobriety and skill in writing will be helpful. Refreshing even.

My plan is for this to be a little more intensive. Not only do I plan to read about 30 or more books this year – either by Lewis or about him and his work – I also plan on blogging through them. As of now, I am thinking about starting a companion blog devoted specifically to this while linking to each post through this blog. If any readers would like to read through any of the books “with me” they will be able to do so.

(On a side note I plan on reading some classic Greek mythology, George McDonald and all the usual books I read in a given year. All in hopes they will add some interesting insights.)

I do have a request from my readers. Are there any books of Lewis you would recommend as must reads for me? Chances are I am already planning on reading it but I am sure I am missing something someone has read and found interesting. So please send me some recommendations and feedback on what you think about this project of mine. And if you have any ideas on how to make this project better, let me know.

Random Thoughts: A Light-Hearted Edition

1. This makes it real hard to be a Neil Young fan. That and his music.

2.  Some people think it is an injustice that Bristol Palin is still on DWTS. I think it is an injustice the show even exists.

3. The Beatles are dominating the iTunes charts. Take that cynics.

4. Someone brilliant asked, “Why would you require the pilot of the plane to go through security…since HE COULD TAKE IT DOWN SIMPLY BY STEERING”?!

5. Outside of the military, is there anything the federal government does well?

6. Are TSA screeners going to be in charge of my physicals when Obamacare hits the streets?

7. I feel sorry for people who reference their favorite college team in their email and comment on forums. That is, unless I know you… then this does not apply to you because that would be mean.

8. I’m thinking about starting a fake Twitter account and using it to post Tim Keller quotes without referencing him just to see if anybody would re-tweet them.

9. This remains at the top of my wish list. I know it’s digital – but aren’t we supposed to be saving all the baby seals who die in the process of making physical box sets?

10. Two words: Bacon Jam.

Practice Your Unrighteousness on Facebook and Twitter

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” 
– Matthew 6:1

I am certain I’ve done it before. But when I saw someone on Twitter a couple of days ago, say how they would be spending the day in prayer, I was reminded of why I don’t like looking at my Twitter feed. And I was reminded of the temptation to show off how awesome we are as Christians.

But here’s an idea:

Maybe we should stop practicing our righteous on social media and start practicing our unrighteousness there. You know, start telling people how much we need the righteousness of Christ credited to us instead of telling people how much time we spent in prayer for the hurting throughout the world. Maybe we should start telling the world how much we struggle with unrighteousness instead of only telling them about how passionate we are about holiness, leading them to believe our lives are as pure as the wind-driven snow.

What if some Mom started a revolution of telling other moms how much she fails her kids and in longing to be better she leans on the merciful arm of the living God? What if she did this instead of trying to impress everyone with the beauty of her kids through doctored pictures and expensive portraits?

What if fathers confessed their inability to lead well in the home instead of acting like all is well by telling the world about the wonderful times of family worship meant to conjure up enviable Rockwellian moments?

What if we kicked self-righteousness in the teeth and in the interest of encouragement, found ourselves more willing to admit our struggles with righteousness than making sure people see our perceived righteousness?

What if?

Random Thoughts for Wednesday

1. In case you were wondering, this is on my wish list.

2. Wait, they still make Zunes?

3. When Jesus said to not practice your righteousness before men, he probably meant facebook and Twitter also.

4. Tryptophan is in my near future.

5. It’s fun when your team is undefeated but not near as fun as when the expectations are lowered and the microscope is on everyone else.

6. I drove by an SUV last night that had vastly more TVs screens in it than my house.

7. I cannot wait to read this.

8. I have yet to find in Paul’s in letters a command to do personal evangelism. Still looking.

9. If Cam Newton is guilty, I’ll eat bacon.

10. Did I mention how much I want this?

One Year Ago Today, We Moved Home

One year ago today, we moved home. We have moved a number of times since we left Birmingham in June of 2000. But this was the only one without any real emotional difficulty. We left a church where I was doing youth ministry and was pretty much paid to leave (severance…thankful for that). In my first few months there I had to fire my secretary and was told the lead pastor – the fundamental reason I felt comfortable accepting a call to that church –  was leaving for another position. I’m not bitter.

OK, maybe I’m a little bitter.

We left behind a number of close friends and a city we liked. But there has not been one moment in which we have not been passionately glad to be back in the city where we were raised.

All four seasons have passed through our time here. We have watched them come and go like old friends who we long to see again soon. Though summer can take the long way back and spring should stick around a while longer, we yearn for many more and look forward to watching the seasons turn into years and the years into decades. All here.

Speaking of old friends, we have spent a good bit of time with many. It is incredible that I can now go to lunch with friends who have known me for so long and love me still. What is just as wonderful is all the new friends we now have – so easy to be with, laugh with and rejoice with. We have no money to speak of but are wealthy in friendships to the point of not having the time to spend them all. Our cup runs over daily.

Our family is close. Birthdays are spent with them and our kids can get to know them well. All was out of grasp before. Now, our children beg to spend the day with their grandparents and vice versa.

Only someone from Birmingham will understand. But every turn down a mountain lane and every road climbing out of one of the valleys is a reason for wonder. Right now the trees have burst into the usual colors of Autumn we never really get used to. The morning fog is likely to cut off the tops of the trees and block any hope for a view of the valley below. The air is crisp and bursts with nostalgia.

“Remember when…”

Those who know me well will understand the salvific and noetic effect of my being able to enjoy all my favorite restaurants. Mr. P’s Deli and New China in Bluff Park, both about 3 minutes from where we live. Jim-N-Nick’s and Surin West on Southside. The Purple Onion at the bottom of the mountain. The Fish Market. These are important landmarks in my life. No really, when not eating there, I am dreaming about them.

I love this place. Nothing could induce me to move again. The desire for Emma, Knox and Dylan to grow up here is strong. I know it may sound crazy for a pastor to say but place seems important right now. Especially this place, this place so crammed like a dusty attic full of memories, good and bad – reminders of God’s grace and reminders of my indwelling sin. It’s impossible to explain. But, well, the desire to stay here forever feels like a gift. We were willing to go anywhere for so long. And did. And so this gladness to be here till buried here feels like a gracious present given by a loving Father.

And we are thankful.

Random Thoughts From the Weekend

1. I live in one of two not-so-distinct realities. Either I am reading Witness by Whittaker Chambers or just thinking about it.

2. Everyone I know who rails against the ‘American Dream‘ lives in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house (or better) and can pay their bills because they have a job.

3. Can’t we all just be honest and admit that we all have racist thoughts and say racist things sometimes so we can stop being shocked about it?

4. I have yet to think of anything edible not improved by bacon. (I would appreciate my Jewish readers referring back to #3.) Update: No offense intended…just New Covenant/bacon humor. Update 2: Wait…I have Jewish readers? Which one of my 5 readers is Jewish?

5. I think it makes perfect sense for Pelosi to remain the face of the Democratic Party. Mind you, it is not necessarily her face.

6. In the story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, we want to be seen as the former while still talking like the latter.

7. Why would anyone ever buy a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits album when you can hear one of their songs on the radio at any point during the day?

8. If a tree falls down in the woods and no one is there to hear it, ESPN would report that Cam Newton pushed it down.

9. So I will not forget the curse, I am forced to always have a car in the repair shop.

10. Nick Fairley pushed down that tree…leading with his helmet.

My Break from Social Media

Over a month ago I took a break from facebook and Twitter. I did not get rid of my accounts, I still respond to most messages and I use them both to publish posts from my blog. But my presence their is almost at nil. I don’t read other people’s status’ (stati?) or post a status on facebook. And my only tweets on Twitter are links to my blog.

The decision to do this was not made in a vacuum. For months, I had been going back and forth about some kind of change. For the most part, neither form of social media was enjoyable like it had been. And I began to be jealous of those who were not using Twitter and facebook. And can I be a little honest? I got a little weary of almost everyone who added me on facebook and Twitter thinking I was someone else.

So I pretty much quit. And I have not missed it at all. This surprised me. I imagined waking up in the fetal position for the first few weeks and needing a 12 step program. But it was easy, really. The desire to post every clever thought was with me for a couple of weeks. (You would not believe how many clever thoughts I have.) But that is gone for the most part.

The main result is that I find myself reading more. I’m back to knocking out 2 or more sizable books a week. I look into the eyes of my wife and kids more. And I have fewer regrets about saying something worthless for hundreds to read.

Let me add, I do not look down on anyone for not following me in this decision. I make no judgments about those who use facebook and Twitter. I don’t even think they would necessarily be happier if they gave ’em up. I have not shown more self control. I have not shown more spirituality by this. It is simply my decision and mine alone.