Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. Spring in Alabama is glorious. The colors are almost false. But memory serves and the blooming brilliance rings true. And then the mercy of dusk when the cut sweet smell of grass dances with the wild onion and you wonder if the moment will ever come again.

2. There are a number of pastors you can hear from on social media and they do not sound like the gospel is good news in any shape, form, or fashion.

3. Who wants to start a business where we are not staring at screens all day?

4. The remarkable thing about listening to Jason Isbell live is he sounds the same, only better.

5. Once again I’ve heard from a man leaving the pastorate. As one who left also, I understand. But I also want to communicate how much I’d like to return. How much I miss. And how I feel like a square peg being pushed through round pin holes.

6. The great thing about buying albums on eBay is that you have to wait at least a week for it to come in a world where everything is instantaneous.

7. If you could pray for my fantasy baseball team. I have some hard decisions to make about who to start in the outfield.

8. I understand people’s need to make Easter something to be happy about. The day of the year. But happy doesn’t cut it. There a 364 days in the year when the good news of the resurrection is necessary information to be reminded of.

9. Bethany by the window in the early morning light.

10. The week after Easter I’ll start teaching a Sunday School geared toward young familes. I cannot stop thinking about it. Every event, every song, every word read seems relevant, useful, spoils in the war east of Eden.

 

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. The significance of Jesus’ preference for keeping company with those on the margins is grasped only when you realize they would look for hope and be exhausted by the search.

2. On this day in 1962, Dylan released his first album for Columbia records. It only sold 5,000 copies in the first year and never charted in the U.S. But it moves me every time I listen to it.

3. Last night I finished a great book about Cash’s At Folsom album. As soon as I put it down, I picked up Willie Nelson’s recent Autobiography and put it down after three pages because it was already doing two things I can’t enjoy. The first is needless and constant foul language that sounds like a frat boy trying to impress his “brothers.” The second is political discussion without nuance. So, moving on.

4. My wife made bread this week that I’m now angling to eat at every meal.

5. If you are on Twitter for any length of time, you will catch sight of anonymous accounts. These are people who usually for humor hide behind an account. Often these accounts are used to make fun of famous people. And there are many that take aim at famous pastors and Christian writers. I used to follow some of these because they are actually funny. But I’ve rethought this and think it’s out of step with Jesus and his gospel. There are good reasons to criticize many of the famous pastors of our day. I’m pretty sure anonymous ridicule is not the way, though.

6. “Wedding Bells” by Hank Williams is the saddest song I know.

7. I guess if failure is what it takes to see the grace of the King, then we should not be afraid of it.

8. There is nothing in the NT that justifies a Christian’s fear of a political candidate. The opposite is true.

9. My daughter had been gone on a trip for 3 days and I miss her terribly.

10. I have a very simple test when I listen to music. “Can I sit out in my yard and listen to this as dusk gives way to the star-strewn night? Will it satisfy in that moment?” If I can’t imagine that, it’s not going to hold my attention very long. I know the songs won’t be something I look forward to after a long day. This week two friends of mine released an album of the most heartbreakingly beautiful, high and lonesome music. It’s the kind of music I’d be evangelizing about even if I didn’t know Corey and Ashley. In The Meantime is a live studio EP with no frills. You can hear the sounds of the room putting you in the space itself. Corey’s playing, singing, and songwriting reminds me of the best of Texas country. I compare all country to Townes Van Zandt and if sits well alongside him, then it’s the real thing. Corey’s songs are that good.  Ashley’s voice rivals Alison Krauss. I don’t have a better compliment because Ashley’s voice may be the best I’ve ever heard. And the band playing behind is perfectly sparse for these songs, giving a chance for each player to shine in the dark corners of the songs. I listen to a lot of country and americana music and this short album of six songs is now among my favorites. You can download it here.

Random Thoughts for Thursday

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1. If this weather is the result of global warming, I love global warming.

2. This past Monday I watched a baseball game while eating hot dogs and it was perfect.

3. I am glad to be unnerved by the Scriptures. If they were never unnerving, they could not be the Word of God. The Scriptures are certainly more than unnerving, but they are not less.

4. Hope is exhausting but it is never foolish.

5. I should publicly admit how wrong I was about the ballpark. It’s true there are parents who take it too seriously, but I love the friendships that are developing with other families. No agendas, just enjoying being together.

6. I know you won’t believe me but free-range peeps actually taste better.

7. Yesterday one friend had an all clear on cancer and another had a pacemaker put in. Both my age. Both pastors. Both, the kind of men you look up to.

8. Putting a record on the turntable for the first time never gets old. I wish I could get paid to do that.

9. My daughter got a new Language Arts teacher yesterday, who just happens to be our next door neighbor.

10. People look at me sideways when I talk about my love of Loretta Lynn. This morning I was driving to where I run and thinking about my kids and asked God, “Why would you give *me* kids like the ones you gave me?” I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t sad or angry. I really wanted to know. I was listening to Van Lear Rose, the Loretta Lynn album produced by Jack White and this was what I heard…

Seventeen Thoughts, Seventeen Years

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Tomorrow we celebrate seventeen years. I wouldn’t trade the hardest of those moments for any without her. These seventeen moments of joy, I’ll gladly never shake…

1. We are sitting on a bench. A stone bench. But it’s the kind of moment you would not… could not even notice how uncomfortable the bench is. Only the moon provides light reflecting on the water of the lake – the lake which now sits at the bottom of the mountain we live on. We are looking into the water. There is a lot of talk about “what we are.” I think I lied through my teeth. Anything to keep close. I picture my arm around her but that would be a stupid risk. And while I may be stupid enough to think I could keep this up, I am not so stupid to take any chances at this point. Also I’m not entirely sure she is all that glad to be with me.

2. Spring’s darkness is a distinct part of the memory. I remember standing out in front of O’Henry’s Coffee. We’d been inside earlier with some friends. We had not been on a date in over a month. She is standing there in the night under the lights of 18th Avenue. We are shuffling our feet behind her red car, a Mazda. I lean against it. Her arms are folded. She is not entirely happy with me. Not entirely mad. And in a moment of insanity, I think about how she is the kind of girl I want to marry. Not love…but close.

3. I’m in my roommate’s bedroom. I’ve no idea why. He’s not there and I’m lying on the floor next to a dusty ficus tree. But I’m on the phone begging her for one more date. This is no exaggeration. She was afraid. I finally had to tell her she can tell me ‘no’ but I will call her back tomorrow and ask again. It sounds pretty annoying. It was. But it worked.

4. Night sky again. The sky looms large. Bethany looks magical. The Shakespeare Festival’s lights cascade across the well-manicured grounds. We walk with hands worked together as natural as breathing. Other couples take advantage of the near silence and paradisal scenery. Carefully sculpted hedges. Reflecting pools. The noise of the theatre whispers in the background. Forever seems close. And If I close my eyes, the scene is before me.

5. It’s funny. She is moving into a new apartment. I’m helping. If I’m lifting anything heavy, it is only to impress. And I’m not sure where the idea came from. Curiosity? Calculation? Hope? The kind of hope that crowds out all rational thought making it impossible to make good decisions. “How long is your lease?” While I thought I was being inconspicuous, she knew exactly why I wanted to know. But I remember us going to Johnny Ray’s BBQ afterwards and I was happy with her answer.

6. We have not spoken in 3 days. And the recollection of hearing how she did not want to be the wife of a pastor is ongoing. She is standing in front of me sad. Tearful but lovely. After not seeing her for more than a day, she looked altogether painfully stunning. We argued outside the church. She was going in to the worship service and I was leaving. We left together and I started scheming for forever that day.

7. Back at the lake again with stars above and laid out on the surface. She knew I was looking for a ring already. So I had to be as sly as possible. Disheveled and unshaven,  it was a bid to quell any expectations. I sat next to her on the bench. Firm seat and steely resolve. I told her we could not afford to get engaged and start planning a wedding. Then I proceeded to get down on one knee. The rocky, root-strewn ground sloped into the water. Diamond out and held up to the moonlight, her voice glides across the water, “We’re engaged!” Anonymous congratulations resound from shadows on the other side.

8. She did not want me to see her before the ceremony. She moves into the room – 500 standing in honor of the beauty before them. Most see her innumerable moments before I do. Anxiously I wait, peeking around the crowd. Words simply are not nearly enough. It was the emotion of every great myth, the birth of every legendary act, and the very pushing back of the Fall itself.

9. Halloween night at a retreat center in rural Alabama. The night air is cool – on the verge of cold. Sitting with our feet propped up on a fence, we had met only hours earlier. We getting to know each other – both facing into the Alabama sky over the tops of pine trees up into the vast expanse full of pinpricks, the very guides of sailors into adventure, time out of mind.

10. Twenty-four hours later – the wedding is over – we are sitting in a Ruby Tuesday’s in Williamsburg, VA. Little did I know that every bite of every meal is wondrous on a honeymoon. I remember sitting there in a corner of the restaurant looking at her and thinking, “Here we are. We’re married.” I might have said something out loud. It was a more real moment than any previous. Hipster opinions be damned – I cannot pass a Ruby Tuesday’s without remembering that moment. Thankfully they are everywhere.

11. After a church softball game we are at a Mexican restaurant on Green Springs. The name escapes me. We are sitting there, in love. Happy to the hilt. You know the happiness. Playful. Laughing and smiling at everything. Every moment is an opportunity to celebrate. It has a rhythm to it. Two souls full of the joy of all that is in the moment, this moment. No wonder Edmond Dantès was so full of revenge. You cannot even imagine any other ‘courting’ couple could feel this way.

12. My face hurts from smiling so much. We are standing in the receiving line. The glorious echo of ‘congratulations!” heard under the stars six months earlier is being repeated again and again and again. Hundreds upon hundreds of reverberations of that moment pushing against the walls of space and time. That echo from friends and family stretching across every season of life. Some echoes from voices not heard but in another life. And we stand there fixed in the movement of heavens. We stand there dressed in the “already and not yet” of which theologians across the centuries have written volumes.

13. I think I can remember “the first time ever I saw” her face. It was in the Sunday School room and she stood in the back. It is possible I was teaching Sunday School that morning. Or helping with announcements. Anyway, I was in the front of the room, she was in the back. And I remember being struck by her face. After meeting her for the first time, my mom talked about her striking features. That Sunday School room where I saw her for the first time is now my son’s Sunday School room.

14. One of my favorite memories of Bethany is captured in a picture and so the memory has stayed with me well. We are in Estes Park, Colorado and hiking. She is ahead of me on the trail. Her hair is in a ponytail. She is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and hiking shorts and standing by a mountain streams and Rockies are rising up behind her in honor. She is squinting and smiling and I can remember the joy of being there and sharing every moment. The smell of the campfire. The wonder of the scenic views. The laughter at all the Elk around our tent in the morning.

15. The day I bought her ring was Friday. I look back and think how she should’ve rightly seen it first. But I showed it to everyone at my office and felt like I was spreading joy among those people I spent so much time with during the week. When my kids get excited about something like Christmas, they cannot contain their excitement. It’s like they’ll explode with joy and anticipation. That is how I felt all day on Friday. Except on Christmas, you cannot wait to get something as a kid. I was dying to give that ring to her.

16. I’d been living in that Brook Highland apartment for a few months. But the night before was her first night in the apartment because it was the day we got home from the honeymoon. It was Monday. I was anxious to get home for the first time because she was there. In our home. Our home. There is nothing like coming home and your spouse is there and you are thinking about dinner for the first time and talking about the day after that first ordinary day of work.

17. The other day we stood in the kitchen and hugged. I may have just gotten home from work. The sounds of the kids were all around us. I started to let go and she said, “No, not enough.” And so I didn’t let go. And she’s right, you know.

 

Random Thoughts for Thursday

  
1. Yesterday it dawned on me that if grace is true, then God is not ashamed of his children when they sin. And if he isn’t ashamed of them when they sin, then he is not ashamed when they express their faith in hackneyed ways. He’s not snobbish. And if he’s not ashamed, then neither is Jesus. He is never ashamed to be associated with us. This means I shouldn’t be ashamed of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Ever.

2. The true scandal of this election is not that some people would vote for a particular candidate, it’s how the church talks about the candidates and others that is the true scandal. If Schaeffer is right and our distinguishing mark is our love, then we should be distinguished by that in the way we discuss politics. Pretty sure that’s not happening.

3. Cash is my favorite Christian artist right now. I bought his Unchained record and cannot stop listening to it. All day at work. At home. In the car. It’s mesmerizing. Otherworldly. And yet at home.

4. The sound of a baseball game, a needle on a record, bacon cooking.

5.  All of Paul’s letters seem to have at their core, the desire for the reader to understand the good news of God’s grace for sinners. That seems like a viable pastoral ambition.

6. An old man was stuck in a dark hole with little light. He prayed to be set free. He was finally set free. One day he looked around and saw he was in a hole deeper than the one he was in before. He now prays for contentment.

7. Those who follow Jesus are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

8. It is hard to hear of pastors leaving the ministry when I miss it so much.

9. Imagine an assembly line. Now imagine that on the line are items with a problem to be fixed. Now imagine no problem is the same. Now imagine no item is the same. Now imagine each one is brought to you by a different person with different personalities and backgrounds and needs. 

10. Most every morning I sit at my desk and miss Bethany within the first hour.