Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. When dieting I only eat the fruit-flavored jelly beans.

2. Most of my kid’s Christmas toys work.

3. When I try to picture Dolores Umbridge, my mind fills with the visage of Janet Napolitano.

4. Now that Christmas is over, the next day on the calendar which will be wielded to make you feel guilty about something…anything is MLK day. Then Valentines. Then Easter. Oh wait, I forgot New Years. Just watch. So terribly predictable.

5. The only thing I like about being sick is the reading while your laying around. And the bacon.

6. As soon as Christmas came the ornaments on our tree breathed a sigh of relief but could not help but feel sorry the toys knowing their future held little hope.

7. I knew I had lost my daughter when she chose to play with the Leapster over the iPad.

8. I don’t think the modern evangelical church knows how to disciple men and women in their day in and day out lives. All it knows is “quit what you are doing and be radical.”

9. If you can get drunk on queso and salsa, tonight I’m getting plastered.

10. Spent $70 worth of iTunes gift cards on a digital Springsteen box set. Part of one of the videos didn’t work. Just part of one. Apple is crediting my account for that $70 plus tax. And all I asked for was a way to fix it. That is customer service.

Tuesday’s 10: Books from 2011

I wasn’t really sure which books to list today. If I were to list the best books I’ve read this year, most of them would be books I read last year also – Pride and Prejudice, Witness by Whittaker Chambers, Count of Monte Cristo, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’ve read them all before. Some numerous times.

So I decided to just list the best books I read for the first time. Remember this is the best of my 2011 and not the best books of 2011. Though many try, that would be an impossible list according to logic.

So, below are my ten favorite books I read for the first time in 2011. In no particular order.

1. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Merton’s memoir of his journey to becoming a monk is one the most well-written and memorable stories I’ve ever encountered. The fact that he is not always very likable and he is the one telling the story make it all the more enjoyable.

2. The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. Oh man, I loved this book. Couldn’t put it down. But I’m addicted to books about art theft.

3. Winter Light: a Christian’s search for humility by Bruce Ray Smith. The first release by my publisher has been shooting through my mind and heart like stars in the winter night ever since I began. Though I read this for the first time this year, I’ve now gone through it 3 times. Part Brother Lawrence and part casual poetry.

4. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis by Michael Ward. Imagine reading a book unlocking the code to help you understand your favorite childhood books…

5. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. This was a hard read for me. But I couldn’t put it down. It made me ashamed of all the character traits I saw and admired but lacked.

6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. The only book since Dracula to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Hard to stop reading even when you know you have to sleep and get up for work in the morning. Can’t wait for the second one.

7. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. I can’t stop think about this story of the architectural renaissance of Chicago, the 1893 World’s Fair and a serial killer. A crazy story that would be unbelievable if it were not true.

8. Lit by Mary Karr. I’ve always thought poets were the best writers and Karr is no exception. I got so enthralled in this memoir I began to take it everywhere I went. Gritty. Raw. And absolutely beautiful.

9. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. i may be cheating on this one. I don’t remember ever reading it but I might have when much younger. Regardless, it isn’t till you actually read the story that you realize that neither Romeo or Juliet are heroic in any fashion. They are teenage fools with nothing to really admire about them. I always thought they were to be applauded. They are to be heeded.

10. Phantastes by George MacDonald. I’m not even sure what the book was about but I cannot stop thinking about it. And it has been almost a year since I read the thing. It gave me weird dreams but I’m still enraptured by the scenes. A book liberally full of wonder that left me wanting more.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Last night I enjoyed one of my favorite Christmas traditions, watching a Christmas movie while my wife wraps presents.

2. OK, who is gonna buy me the new live Taylor Swift CD/DVD for Christmas?

3. I’m waiting for a blog post letting us know if you don’t go to church on Christmas you don’t understand Christmas. Just wait, it’s coming to a Facebook feed near you.

4. You know, all Rosemary Clooney had to do was ask Bing Crosby if they were going to televise the show at the inn in Vermont. But then we wouldn’t have gotten to hear her sing that song.

5. Sometimes when I’m sad I think of all the happy memories I have of bacon and the future we have together.

6. Ummm, we have coat hangers on our Christmas tree and they’re still shaped like coat hangers.

7. I like White Christmas but I think my favorite Christmas movie is The Bourne Ultimatum.

8. While you’re worried about Christ being taken out of Christmas, The Bare Naked Ladies are singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on the radio.

9. I’ve given up on a White Christmas and now I’m holding out for an iTunes Christmas.

10. The baby we celebrate this season grew up to make the best wine ever for a wedding party. I’m sure he would not mind our extravagant Christmas festivities. So relax a little. And enjoy it for a change all ye evangelicals.

Tuesday’s 10: Gifts That Wont Fit Under the Tree

No forty-year old man enjoys getting gifts as much as I do. Birthdays and Christmas are awesome for a guy like me. But some gifts are just too big to put under the tree. I already have been given them anyway.

1. My Wife. Not only does she put up with me but she seems to enjoy it for the most part. She continues in beauty and I cannot imagine life without her. Actually she might fit under the tree.

2. The Kids. Each one so different and full of so many reasons for joy. I could have never known the love I’d have for them. They also may fit under the tree but we have set up a perimeter around the tree for the protection of remaining ornaments.

3. Our House. It’s like a modern mountain chateau. And though it’s technically our neighbor’s/friend’s, I cannot imagine living in a house I’d like more. We rent a work of art.

4. The Night Sky. I’m clueless when it comes to constellations but a clear night sky is a gift beyond imagination. If we never had it and then was just given to us out of the blue, we would weep with wonder.

5. Friends. We have so many it’s ridiculous. We don’t deserve them. Maybe my wife does. And they are incredible. They have prayed for us and supported us. They make us laugh and they make us teary-eyed with their kindness.

6. All the Music. A man who has the ability to listen to Louis Armstrong play his trumpet, settle into Springsteen’s “Darkness”, breathe in Dylan’s “Freewheelin”, and revel in Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” cannot want for much.

7. Memories. We never think of it till we are old. But all these remembrances and the very ability to recall them because one of our senses has been sounded is a wealth beyond measure given.

8. All the Books. Who would I be without them? They have been constant companions and are my final destination each and every day.

9. My Hometown. We have been back in Birmingham for over 2 years now. Almost seems as if we have never left. I love this place. I love the mountain we live on the valleys we pass through. The people. The restaurants. The roads. It’s all home.

10. Family. We live close to all of our immediate family. Most married couples do not get to enjoy this. We didn’t for a decade. But now we are geographically close to everyone and growing closer to all of them.

Christmas As A Hammer

Short post today. But one I’ve been swishing around in my head for a couple of weeks.

My fellow Christians will use anything as a hammer with which to pound conviction. Liberals, evangelicals, emergent, high-church, low – doesn’t matter, we’ll use any event, news story or personality to make people feel bad about something. And usually it’s one of our own personal little convictions we recently have gotten excited about.

And Christmas is no exception.

Our culture is lush with materialism year round. But we choose Christmas to beat people over the head with this fact. You know, the season in which we are usually after gifts for others and not ourselves.

Neglecting Jesus is day-in and day-out phenomena for all of us. But we choose this time of year to be upset because someone or some business chooses to say “Happy Holidays!” Which is really a kind thing to say, just not kind enough for our liking.

And therein lies the problem. It’s all about us.

But it should not be. Christmas is a time for joy and wonder at all the grace lavished on us through the crazy miracle of incarnation. I can’t think of a better time to want to lavish gifts on loved ones and to enjoy with childlike excitement the gifts others have given us.

Listen, if you have convictions about how to do christmas, that’s great. There’s no need to turn them into sermons. Of course, the problem may be that you “do” Christmas instead of celebrating it. It’s a statement of your conviction- what you will do and not do this year – and not a celebration of all that God has done.

May the joy and wonder of what God has done in giving us this Baby spill over into our enjoyment of all the parts of the season.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Gonna take a couple of days off this weekend. Probably Saturday and Sunday.

2. Word on the street is Tebow will be standing in for Chuck Norris in the last 5 minutes of his next film.

3. Thanks to everyone for the kind words regarding my article being published over on CT. There are now autographed commemorative copies available but if you wait for the Groupon, they will be free.

4. Who gives a rip about the Muffin Man? It’s the bacon man we love.

5. When work is slow, I feel like an expert.

6. My head tells me the wrapped cylindrical object under the tree is Summer Sausage but my heart says rocket launcher.

7. I’d spend more time with the iPad but geez, I have to sleep.

8. Do you know how hard it is to find LOTR pajamas? In my size?

9. Did I tell you about the time I was playing Free Cell on my iPad and there was no 6 of diamonds? I did a screen capture in case you did not believe me.

10. It’s possible that impoverished people the world over get to this time of year and think, “I feel sorry for those poor souls over in America who, for a whole month, are being subjected to George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ over and over and over again.”

Tuesday’s 10: Thoughts On Tebow

Everyone else has weighed in on Tebow. Why not me? Some of these are the beginnings of blogposts unto themselves. And they may show up someday. But for now, ten thoughts on Tebow and all the criticism.

1. If you are a believer, any discussion of Tebow should be colored by an understanding that he is our brother. This doesn’t preclude criticism but it should color it differently.

2. Tebow has the jaw line of a cartoon Batman.

3. Am I the only one who gets the feeling this is the the cool kids not liking the not-cool kids?

4. What does Tebow now have to do to earn the respect of the commentators who were/are his critics? My guess? Stop talking about his faith and/or win a Superbowl.

5. The only player who has a better winning percentage than him is Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Freakingundefeatedhalloffamebound Rodgers.

6. I just assume this is all about our culture’s desire for edgy heroes. You want edgy? You can have Alec Baldwin, Xavier and Cincinnati’s basketball team and Miley Cyrus.

7. One of the criticisms of Tebow is he will not be able to keep up this kind of winning and will eventually not do well. Of course, those who say this do not think he will not keep up this kind of wining and get better.

8. We now live in a culture where Christians get all excited because of a vaguely spiritual line from unbelieving musicians and recoil at the overt faith of a professed believer in the gospel.

9. Respect of players > opinion of commentators.

10. I actually thought that after the Sandusky/Paterno revelations, people would long for heroes like Tebow. Silly me.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Wife brought home Zaxby’s last night and I felt like we were cheating on Chick-fil-a.

2. For all of you who think Christmas is too materialistic, can I have your presents?

3. I’m thinking about starting a new blog detailing all my meals. It will be called “Awesome.”

4. I need to just get over it. I’ll never look as good as I want to in a leotard.

5. One of my favorite parts of the season is curling up by the fire and skipping “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on Pandora.

6. Zaxby’s sauce is also known as “1/6 of a Big Mac”.

7. My greatest weakness as a writer is remembering what punctuation goes inside the quotation marks and which are outside. So I just do it both ways and then I’m happy to have gotten half right.

8. Just how Pagan is the Winter Solstice? Cause I need an excuse to keep our tree up till March.

9. So far the best part of working in a bank is someone always has change for a dollar.

10. Not being able to remember the last time you had bacon is kinda like a meat specific amnesia.

Tuesday’s 10: iPad Apps I Love

Finally I get to blog about something I love dearly. My iPad 2. I’ve now had her…it since October 27th at approximately 6:45 AM. And I’ve no idea how I lived…breathed without her. I mean it.

Since we met…I mean since I got it, I’ve tried out a number of apps. The following are 10 that are nothing but awesome. I’m sure this list will change a little over time. But for now these are the favorites and how much they cost.

1. Pages. Easily my favorite, Pages is Apple’s answer to the train wreck that is Word. This is a gorgeous and easy to use app for word processing. Worth all $9.99 and then some.

2. Flipboard. I’ve no idea how to describe this one except it makes blog reading very enjoyable. The aesthetics are wonderful and again like all the best apps it is easy to use. I still can’t believe this one is free.

3. Angry Birds Seasons HD. So awesome, awesome, awesome. $1.99 for Seasons HD.

4. iBooks. I love reading on the iPad. I like real books as much as anyone but I also like reading on something as beautiful as her. It…the iPad. Free.

5. Kindle. This one just popped up into my favorites list. A couple nights ago I checked out an ebook through Amazon from my local library. Within minutes it was on my iPad and ready for me to devour. I cannot even get my head around how awesome this is. Free.

6. Lyrics Finder. Sometimes I cannot understand what Dylan, The Boss or Van the Man are singing. Pull this app up while listening and the lyrics are right there. Easy and seamless. $.99

7. Monet HD. Exactly what you would expect, Monet’s work in all their beauty. A breathtaking app full of masterpiece after masterpiece. It all comes with museum worthy music. And from the same folks there are apps for Van Gogh, Carvaggio, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci and more. $.99.

8. Shakespeare. Seriously. Sometimes I just read parts of one of his plays at random. With many writers – even the best – you have to dig for the treasures. But with the Bard, they just sit there in the wide open ready to be scooped up. This app has some amazing features including a glossary and quotations. And it was free.

9. Freecell. I’m a gamer. I game. Especially with free games.

10. Life for iPad. Reminding us that not everyone who has a camera is a photographer. And also reminding us why so many want to be one. Free.

Rest, Though the World Swirls Around Us All

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Jesus

That was our call to worship yesterday. And with the world swirling around me, it’s all I needed. Though I did not chafe against any of it, the rest of the service wasn’t really needed.

The offer of rest was a welcome one.

Living in the unpredictable wake of moving into a job in which I do not yet feel comfortable has left me feeling the thinness of my own skin. Corporate culture is different from what I’m used to. Not bad, just different.

There is no need to feel sorry for me. Actually I’m appreciative in the midst of this. I can get pretty wrapped up in my world but I’m aware there are many who did not really have the choice I did. I moved toward the things I’m struggling to understand and do well.

I drive approximately 5 minutes to a job I lunged for. But I pass so many each morning mired in their cubicles and positions. You can see the fire flickering out at traffic lights everywhere. Hurrying to a place they have very little desire to occupy, they sigh in so many words…

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,…”

So, I know. I know there are others who are laboring under heavier yokes than me. But I love Jesus’ words as one who has the world swirling around him and wants it all to slow down. A moment for a peaceful soul is the order of the day.

As we inch – speed closer to Christmas day I feel the tug of the rest promised. A rest promised for restless hearts and worried minds. A rest for the tired and weary. And a double rest for the confused and languishing.

As I type this I sit under the stars, everyone a sermon. Every one is a reminder of the One announced by a star. The Gentle One for all those who have been banged up by life. And death. The One with a lowly heart for restless ones.

Though the world swirls around us all.