No Random Thoughts Today After the Storm

Normally I would post my Random Thoughts for Thursday. But not today.

Right now they are saying 128 have been killed in my state as a result of Tornados. Much of my hometown of Birmingham and the towns surrounding it have been devastated. We are being asked to conserve water in the area because the Birmingham Water Works has lost some of it’s power. There are thousands upon thousands without power and in some areas they say the smell of gas fills the air causing many to stay outside. Some cannot get out of or into their neighborhood.

We ourselves were not directly affected by last night’s storms. The ‘excitement’ for us took place before the sun came up yesterday morning. The sirens went off, we checked the weather. While doing so, lightning flashed and what was just dark sky a minute before was now freakishly green. So we grabbed the baby and headed downstairs to huddle with the oldest two. The effect was only a few limbs in our yard but many of our neighbors in Bluff Park had multiple trees fall – some on their homes.
We are very thankful that we are safe and our families and friends are safe. But many, many lives will be changed as a result of yesterday’s events. Please pray for the towns of Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Hueytown, Pleasant Grove and Birmingham and all the others affected.
Below is frightening video of the tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa and the Birmingham metro area.

Midweek Music: 10 Albums I May Be Listening To In 10 Years

I would highlight a new artist but all I really want to listen to is Adele’s newest album. So here are 10 albums from 10 different artists I think I may be listening to 10 years from now:

1. 21 by Adele – I can’t stop listening to this album. It gets better every time I listen to it. It’s a sonic, vocal and musical masterpiece.

2. Moondance by Van Morrison – Flawless throughout, I never tire of these songs. So many moonlit nights had air filled with the sound of Van singing these tunes.

3. Live at Royal Albert Hall by Bob Dylan – This is easily my favorite Dylan album. These 2-disc piece of history marks his move from acoustic troubadour to bluesy pop icon.

4. Abbey Road by The Beatles – Genius.

5. Lady In Satin by Billie Holiday – Lady Day’s last recording, recorded just weeks before her death and released just after, it is a stunning, hypnotic piece of art. Though technically not her best singing, it is her singing that makes this one her best.

6. Blue Train by John Coltrane – Almost every sermon I’ve ever preached should should this album as a footnote.

7. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys – I get chills every time Sloop John B starts. Every. Single. Time.

8. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen – Americana. Gothic. Haunting. Beautiful. Stories.

9. Dusty In Memphis by Dusty Springfield – I’m not sure there would be a Duffy or an Adele without Dusty. Every song is incredible and full of heart-rending soul-deep beauty.

10. Mack the Knife: The Complete Ella in Berlin by Ella Fitzgerald – I bought this on my birthday while living in St. Louis.  Autumn was in full swing, winter winds not far behind. And I can’t listen to this album without that moment. That was 10 years ago.

Sure, I could list more…what are some of yours?

10 Thoughts On the Present Criticism of the American Dream

                                                                 American Gothic by Grant Wood

I’ve gotten some good feedback on my post, Rethinking the Criticism of the American Dream. But, I know, it is a little long. So I thought I would do a more limited SFN-reader-friendly-version. So the following is a top ten list of thoughts from that post:

1. I used to criticize the American Dream. And then I would drive home…to my 1900 square foot home with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. In other words I was criticizing the very thing I had already achieved.

2. The American Dream can be in opposition to the Christian faith. But so can any other dream.

3. You should not criticize the American Dream in high def video.

4. You should not criticize the American Dream from your iPhone or laptop. Or any smartphone or computer really.

5. Every pastor I have heard criticize the American Dream has achieved it already.

6. The American Dream is not the problem. The heart that wants it at the expense of everything else is the problem.

7. It is easy to point at the American Dream and criticize it. It takes work to diagnose the real problem.

8. Missionaries fly to distant lands on the backs of those who have achieved the American Dream.

9. There are countless people who have rejected the American Dream and have black hearts.

10. It is patently sinful to rail against the accoutrements of the American Dream while enjoying them. Just as it is sinful to rail against sex while enjoying it within the confines of marriage.

What do you think?

Louis Armstrong, Miss Marple and Jesus: What Does A Peaceful Soul Look Like?

                                                                 Christ in the Storm – Rembrandt

(This is part four of a series of posts: one, two, three.)

When my children ask me what something is, a textbook definition will not do. It may take them deep into the meaning of a word or action, but they will not understand. Before the definition is meaningful, they need a picture or a story. So, like a child, before I even try to define ‘peace’ I wanna get at what it looks like first. In other words, I need a picture.

I want a peaceful soul. But I cannot seem to get there. Today I railed at my kids. Granted, I’m getting over a cold, I slept little and they had pushed that button approximately 4372 times too many. But it showed what I lacked – a soul at peace.

I am not entirely sure I know what it would look like. Or even sound like. Maybe a cross between my father and Eugene Peterson with a little Miss Marple thrown in? Maybe its the color of the sea and hues of an early spring day. Maybe it sounds like late-night Louis Armstrong. In mono.

But mostly Jesus.

All these stories I’ve grown up with and know by heart and never have noticed how at peace Jesus is throughout. He is at peace in the midst of a storm, enough to sleep. He is at peace with God, his Father, doing his will. He is at peace with his enemies even. I mean, the peace which he exudes during the Last Supper – I would have railed at Judas. And everyone else because of what is coming. The pressure would have been too much. I would have cried out in anger against the very nails whose stuff I dreamt up in the dark recesses before time was. And yet Jesus without being an emotionless stoic, is at peace while the created order conspires against him, the Creator.

Also, I never noticed how at peace he is with himself. Maybe because I never thought about such a thing. I think about myself a lot. Too much. But Jesus is at peace with himself. He is certain, fixed like a flint on his mission –  his way of doing things. I question every move I make. Sometimes for years on end. Arguing with myself – justifying myself even as I accuse myself.

You do it too.

I never noticed how much Jesus talked about peace. I never even once noticed. It’s thematic. And not just in the red letters. Throughout the NT, the Spirit of Christ through the writers seem to have ‘peace’ always at the ready as a subject. Of the NT literature only 1 John has no mention of peace. This tells me something – it is not silly to want a peaceful soul. If the soul is so serious a thing as to be told I should not want to trade the world for it and peace is thematic for the Christian life…then I just may be onto something.

Maybe this is not a divergence but an insurgence into the very heart of God, himself. Maybe this is what we were meant to pursue. And perhaps the strangeness of it is calling us to see how we have not cared for such a thing as we ought.

10 Things I Say To My Wife That Make Our Marriage Great

I’ve been doing a lot of premarital counseling lately, which of course makes me think about how great my own marriage is. Why so great? I say things which help our marriage be great. The following is a sampling of what I say to my wife that contributes to the greatness:

1. “We don’t have to always do what I want. If we do what I want 90% of the time, that should be sufficient.”

2. “I want you to take a deep breath, step back and look at this body and see if you can be still be mad at me.”

3. “This tastes waaaaaayyy better than what you tried to make last night!”

4. “You look really hot tonight…do you have a fever?”

5. “Why are you wearing that? We can’t go swimming. It’s December. And it’s 10 o’clock at night!”

6. “You don’t “spell bad”… well… it’s not as bad as your grammar!”

7. “No, it’s not really all that weird that you are addicted to Lego Star Wars. What’s weird is that you are good at it.”

8. “You don’t do all the work around here, just most of it.”

9. “What makes you think we have money for children’s shoes when we *supposedly* can’t afford Angry Birds Rio?”

10. “I can’t believe you thought I would exclude you! Of course you’re included when I say everything is better with bacon.”

Midweek Music: Adele

One day I was sitting in a Barnes & Noble and I heard this incredible music playing. I couldn’t sit still while listening. It was old. Timeless even. But sounded new. My first thought was how this sounds like Duffy and Dusty Springfield. Before I left I checked with the music section. It was Adele’s newest album, 21.

I’m tempted to call this album flawless. And I am not the only one. Right now it is the number one album on iTunes and getting rave reviews everywhere.

Below is the official video for the opening tune. You can thank me later.

Random Thoughts While Sick

I’m sick.

And I have a lot to do – so blogging may be light over the next couple of days. However, since I cannot stop thinking, here ya go:

1) I think it’s weird when people say, ‘I hate being sick.’ And yet…

2) Being sick is a catch-22. The temptation is to be in a foul mood and make others miserable. However, if you smile a lot, people think you cannot be all that sick.

3) You might think I would crave bacon when sick. Nope. I crave Chinese food and swear by its healing powers.

4) I just called my 2 year old a ‘menace.’

5) Angry Birds makes me angry when I am not feeling well.

6) When sick I think about the other people who are well and envy them as if I will never be one of them again. I think back to the glory days of health and how I wasted those days! But alas, I am unwell.

7) Why are my kids so loud when I am sick?

8) I take Nyquil in a tankard.

9) I had started running again so I knew that sickness was on the way. Happens every time.

10) I know you think I am being a big baby. So. Takes one to know one. (Sticking tongue out) ~

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Just got the new Adele album. Timeless. I’ve only listened through 3 times but I cannot imagine a better album coming out this year.

2. On the way to lunch yesterday with my 5 yr old son:
    Me: What a beautiful day!
    Knox: Yep!
    Me: With all the flowers, and trees and blue sky above.
    Knox: And beautiful cars and Star Wars…

3. If loving the Yankees is wrong I don’t wanna be right.

4. If we really cared about crime, all policemen would dress like they are S.W.A.T. and they would carry rocket-launchers.

5. Wait a second, did that Rebecca Black song come out on April 1st?

6. I know I’m supposed to be waiting for the economy to get better or something but I really am just waiting for Angry Birds Easter.

7. Was reading the other day about a writer’s need for “branding” among other things. I don’t know about the other things but that branding has got to hurt.

8. Every time I cook my kids bacon I pray to the God of the New Covenant that they will not eat it.

9. My desire for the US budget to be cut and for the reduction of government spending comes from my hatred of children, women and old people. And puppies.

10. Parachute Pants > Skinny Jeans.

Midweek Music: 10 Reasons I Love Van Morrison

I know, I know. But this is my last post on Van the Man for a while…maybe.

1. A pursuit of beauty. It shows up again and again in his songs and set him apart from every other singer/songwriter I know. Beauty is not only the means but the ends for Van. And when that comes through the eyes and voice and heart of a curmudgeonly old man it’s well…it’s beautiful.

2.  Songs that could have been written yesterday or 40 years ago. He is writing songs that not only fit with the music he was making 40 years ago. He is writing songs that simply fit in with the old Jazz and Blues which he grew up listening to on the BBC.

3. His love of music. The music is the end for Van. He is not making music to make money. The money allows him to do what he wants, which is to make more music. He not only sings, he sings about singing and the music itself is often the subject.

4. His love of musicians. I love to hear Van sing about the musicians he loves. I love to hear him talk about them in the rare interviews he does. he seems to be constantly pointing to other great musicians. Most of which are dead. I would not have known Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and Lester Young apart from Van singing about them. And he loves to surround himself with great musicians and singers and make sure we hear them. The video below is an excellent example of this.

5. No protest songs. No politics at all. His music transcends it all. Thankfully, in a world where everything is politicized I can sit down with Van and not have to enter in to such.

6. Spirituality. Van went through a Christian phase and probably a Zen phase among others. I simply  love the fact there is always an element of something transcendent going on above. The music and lyrics speak to this throughout his career. His version of “Be Thou My Vision” is the best I’ve ever heard. He does not make it sound like anything other than what it is…a hymn. By the way, did you know that “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” is a prayer to God? Below is a crazy good version of this song live.

7. A sense of place. Van name-checks towns and streets and countries and villages frequently. And so the songs belong not out in some ethereal nowhere. They are fixed very often in places you can find on a map. And usually in Ireland, his home. I get that. Because I love my home, I can understand someone writing beautiful songs about where you are from.

8. A sense of history. His own history and the history of music itself. The songs are full of the memories of a man growing old and weary of the world in which he finds himself.

9. Lyrics as poetry. You would be hard-pressed to find a song of Van’s which could not stand alone as poetry. In fact he has a few poems set to music on his albums. No wonder, for his love of poetry is evident. He references Donne, Kerouac and T.S. Eliot.

10. He’s been doing the same thing for a long time. I understand the need for an artist to grow and do different things. But I also love that Van does different kinds of music while never really doing anything different. Sure, he’s done Pop, Country, Jazz, R&B, Soul, Blues, Celtic, Rockabilly and Skiffle. But you could put it all on the same album and it’s still Van doing his thing. No compromise. Just him, “Into the Music” as it were.