He Listened to Jazz on Thursday


Today is his birthday.

My dad was a pastor. So Sunday, being a workday, his “off day” was Thursday. I remember two distinct things about growing up with dad who was off on Thursday.

First, Thursday was report card day and that was never a good day. But better to give my report card to dad first, then mom.

But a gentler memory is walking in after school with Jazz filling the house. If he was home, that’s what was playing. He had this one Lionel Hampton tape he played a lot. I don’t remember liking it. I don’t remember hating it. It was just part of the air I breathed in. But while in college I borrowed his car and sure enough, that Hampton cassette was queued up and for the first time I listened and my love of Jazz was born that day.

He wrote poems for family occasions, too. They were not very good as poetry but they were exceptional as heart and hearth.

And baseball. Some of my best early memories involve baseball with him. And my last best memory is talking baseball in that miserable hospital room from which he took his first step  to go on ahead of us all.

Most of all, he loved my mom, which is one of those gifts I opened every day and only saw the value of when I was much older… just like all the other things above.

Rest: Part 2


Everyone is still asleep. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is spinning slow and soft on the turntable. My stomach is wishing it was later in the morning so I could begin fixing breakfast. Only coffee for now. Anxiety for tomorrow’s fantasy baseball draft with friends is in the forefront of my thoughts (Trout? Altuve? Goldschmidt?). Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poem, “The Objective” has swirled in my head since I woke up.

Chapter One of Subversive Sabbath is titled “Sabbath and Time.” Each chapter is broken into parts a few pages long. I will list those sections and provide some quotes from each – I did more underlining in this book than I can ever remembering doing before – and then give some reflections on what I have read in this chapter.

Remembering Sabbath

“We have come to know Jesus only as the Lord of the harvest, forgetting he is Lord of the Sabbath as well. Sabbath forgetfulness is driven, so often, in the name of doing stuff for God rather than being with God.”

“Sabbath is assumed to be the sign of a shrinking church. So time poverty and burnout have become the signs that the minority church remains serious about God in a world  that has rejected him.”

“The result of our Sabbath amnesia is that we have become perhaps the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.”

Made to Rest

“Adam and Eve’s first full day of existence was a day of rest, not work.”

“Their (Adam and Eve) first knowledge of God and the world God had made was that rest was not an afterthought – rest was of first importance.”

“Sabbath reminds us that our time was never our time in the first place.”

“Sabbath is that kind of complete reorientation of our lives towards the hope and redemption of Christ’s work.”

The First “Holy”

“Sabbath is a moment of eternal glory momentarily breaking into our finite, present world.”

“Interestingly, the only thing God deems as qadosh, or ‘holy,’ in the creation story is the Sabbath day.”

The First “Not Good”

“The Sabbath is a celebration, a day of rejoicing over the goodness of what has been made and who made it.”

“Relational needs are not a by-product of the fall. Likewise the need for rest, or Sabbath, is not an aftertaste of human sinfulness, unlike our chronic inability to receive rest.”

The First “Rest”

“What is the culmination of creation? In Genesis 2:2-3, there are three sentences of seven Hebrew words each, and the middle word of each sentence is the word for the seventh day. this textual feature is used to state that the seventh day is the goal of creation. The climax of creation is not humanity, as we have so arrogantly assumed. Rather, the day of rest is the climax, when creation all comes together and lives at peace and harmony with one another.”

“Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are not what we do…”

“A Sabbath day is not merely stopping our work; it is also stopping our thinking and scheming about work.”

The Taste of Sabbath

“Sabbath does not always pay off the way we wish it would. Resting is costly.”

“Years ago, Harvard  theologian Harvey Cox argued that the death of God in our culture was related in some way to the fact that we no longer celebrate, or integrate festivity, in our culture. That is, our celebration deficit is part of our loss of God in culture. And when festivity and play ended, argued Cox, culture and community begin to erode at their very core.”

“What was intended by God to be a celebration reflecting on his goodness and the goodness of his creation has been, once again, replaced by the devil’s false forms of celebration: drunkenness, loss of self-control, and debauchery.”

“Sabbath is about delighting in God for his sake and the sake of the world.”

I finished this first chapter about a week ago and have not really been able to move on in my thoughts.  There are two reasons. The first is so much of the teaching was familiar like a song you have never heard before but has been around forever. You know it regardless. Maybe that is because my soul was hearing what it has been needing to hear for forty some odd years.

But also, there are a lot of new ideas. New to me, at least. The idea that the Sabbath was the culmination of creation was an entirely new thought to me. Also, I had never noticed that it was the only part of creation called “holy.” I don’t care who you are and what you believe about all this, that is worth thinking long and hard about.

My wife and I had a discussion the other day about the religiosity of sports in the lives of people all around us. We love sports. Especially baseball. But we feel like sports has become the de facto religion in our community. It is seen as the thing you do not say “no” to, whereas corporate worship and community are optional. Sports is Lord. There is no use really denying this.

As we were talking about it, Bethany asked me “Why, though?” and I could not answer her. It offers community for those who may not have it? Significance, too? Also, just like church it keeps the kids out trouble and busy? But I could not find an answer, so that question hung like a mist in my mind for a few days. But then I read on in this chapter and when I got to the section on celebration, it dawned on me. This may be part of it, that need to celebrate we were created for, may be part of the answer as to why sports has become so religious in our culture.

The one quote I cannot get over though is that, “Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are not what we do.” This week I got to talk about Justification with my ninth graders. And one of the things I wanted to make sure they knew was that one day they will be tempted to value themselves based on their vocation and what they do and how much money they make. The gospel changes that. And Sabbath is a weekly reminder of this reality.

Bethany is now stirring in the kitchen as a foretaste of the meal we will enjoy with friends tonight in our home. The Clarinet Concerto has ended, the record flipped over to the one for the Bassoon. My kids are watching cartoons. And the last lines of that poem by Berry cannot be gotten rid of –

having never know where they were going/having never known where they came from

Nineteen Years, Nineteen Moments

wedding day

1. We are sitting on a bench. A stone bench. But it’s the kind of moment you would 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 three 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 of the water. 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’re 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 Ave. 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 Edmund 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 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 room where I saw her for the first time was later my son’s Sunday School room.

14. One of my favorite memories of her 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 stream and the 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 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. 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.

18. We are sitting on a beach. Both of us are watching the water meet the horizon. Something about the sea air, the light of dusk, and the waning sun causes us to look at each other and smile. We’ve been here a dozen times. We know this place and maybe it knows a little about us. The kids are playing nearby in the sand. Some others are playing in the water. Another family is having pictures made, trying to capture something only cameras wish for. Our bellies are full of seafood. Our hearts are full, too.

19. It’s snowing. Our chairs in the living room are turned so we can look out onto our white front yard, which has never looked so beautiful. A Christmas tree sits between us. We are drinking coffee and watching the biggest snow flakes we’ve ever seen fall from an Alabama sky. John Coltrane plays in the background and the snow just keeps coming defying all predictions and expectations just like lovers do in all those great stories that’ve always been told.


Rest: Part 1


My wife sleeps nearby. My kids too. I’ve risen before the sun with Hugo and Springsteen. When I poured my coffee a full moon lit the kitchen well enough, no other light was needed. Now the sun hides that mirror and day arrives. Eponine has just told Marius she does not want money for the address. The Boss sings, “I work all day out in the hot sun.”

When I started my new positions as teacher and pastor back in August, for the first time in my life I began to observe a day of rest. No work for 24 hours. This resolve came from reading Eugene Peterson. I pretty much swore to myself if I ever went back to ministry, I would observe a day of rest every week. No work for 24 hours. And since August, I have only failed to do this once. Maybe twice. And even then it was Sunday School prep for which I at one time was not paid. But still, it was work. I felt the pressure of teaching…preaching really to 100 men and women in my Sunday School class. That day showed me the rest was worth more to my teaching than my preparation. The next week showed me this even more when I did rest.

That lesson seemed to be more effective and powerful showing me that I am not in control and my smarts are not the end all be all.

You may have noticed that I have been using the word “rest” and not “Sabbath.” I just noticed that too. There are probably two reasons for this choice of words – my history and a new book I’m reading

When I was a youth pastor in Greenwood, Mississippi, I was enjoying what could only be called a successful ministry in a small PCA church. The lead pastor encouraged me to get ordained with the full approbation of the Elders. I had not been all that interested  because a previous pastor I worked with at another church had encouraged ordination so as to reap the tax benefits. That turned me off to ordination for a time but the encouragement of these men with whom I served softened my heart. So I studied and wrote my papers.

It has now been over 10 years since I sought ordination so the process is a bit hazy. I know all the papers I had to write were accepted and were seen as very well done. I was examined in committees and that went well. But before ordination can happen, you have to preach and then be examined on the floor of a presbytery meeting. This examination consists of being asked theological questions, which I answered without any problem. All was going perfectly till they asked me if I had any exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Now there are two things you need to know about this whole process. First, there are differing opinions within the PCA on whether you should be able to take exception to any part of the WCF. Some Presbyteries will allow you to take an exception on certain issues. Some Presbyteries will allow none. Second, you need to know this was one of those presbyteries that allowed no exceptions.

I let them know that I did take exception to the Confession’s teaching on the Sabbath. I did not believe that the Sabbath laws of the Mosaic Covenant were still in force. That did not go well. That whole event is a blur but I can remember a few things. One is an old man pointing at me and calling me an “antinomian” meaning that I am anti-law. The word heresy might have been used. A few men shaking their heads in disapproval. Anger. I had done my homework and was able to quote stalwarts throughout Presbyterian history and leaders within our denomination. All for nothing. My ordination was indefinitely tabled.

Since I was not a Sabbatarian in confession, I had no hope of being ordained in that presbytery. I not only felt defeated, I was angry. And my anger grew as I learned that I only needed to say that I was wrong in my conviction. My practice did not matter. Actually, I was told by one pastor that I only needed to rescind my exception and I could keep my private conviction. Knowing most other presbyteries would not have even blinked did not help.

Needless to say, I not only soured on Sabbatarians, I soured on Presbyterians. I soon left and went back to my Baptist roots.

Earlier this week, I listened to an interview of A.J. Swoboda about his new book, Subversive Sabbath. Before the interview was over I had ordered the book.


How did I get from drowning in the floor of that Presbytery meeting to swimming further out into what feels increasingly like refreshing pools of teaching on Sabbath rest? Swoboda points to it in that interview and his book which I have just begun. Taking a Sabbath is God’s gift of rest. Rest we were made for. Rest that reminds me that I am not God. And neither is the world with all its demands.

I would like to resume this blog with a few posts as I read through this book. My hope is that I will find rest and those of you still interested in reading this nearly abandoned space will find some hope in rest also.

Springsteen just sang, “The way the winds rush through the trees.” Marius is waiting. The sun waits along with the day. My kids stir in the next room waiting for breakfast. And I have already felt the pull of work and how hard it is to say, “no, not today.”

10 Thoughts on the New U2 Album

For 30 years I’ve been actively listening to U2. But even before that the videos for “New Years Day” and “Pride” were capturing my attention. So when a new U2 album is released, it’s an event. In fact, since Rattle and Hum I can recall the events surrounding every one of their releases.

But I’ve been anxious about the new album. The pre-release reviews have been positive. Multiple said it was their best since Achtung Baby, which is my favorite U2 album. But I’m always worried. Do I love all their albums? Yes. But there is in all of us U2 fans the desire to be blown away. I want U2 albums that make me feel like I did when I skipped school to be the first in line to get Rattle and Hum and then listened to it over and over for weeks on end.

This past Friday we got Songs Of Experience, the long-awaited follow up to Songs of Innocence. The following are my thoughts after about 20-25 listens.

1. After two complete listens, I texted my two best friends and told them I thought it was better than anything since Achtung Baby. They were nonplussed. After more than 25 complete listens, I not only still stand by that assessment, I am more convinced of its truth. It will go down as one of the great U2 albums.

2. The refrain with the chorus at the end of “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” is one of the most powerful musical moments I’ve ever encountered. I cannot get it out of my head. Those lines are rolling around in my head constantly.

3. This album starts with a hymn and ends with a psalm. And everything in between feels like something out of the Psalms: injustice, mortality, repentance, confession, joy, hope, and thanksgiving.

4. Bono’s voice has never sounded better. Hard to believe, but it really is true. The space age auto-tuning used in the first song is not because he needs help. It’s for effect, almost as if he is looking back at the world from space.

5. At the end of “American Soul” Bono sings “For Refugees like you and me/A country to receive us/Will you be our sanctuary/Refu-Jesus. It’s a play on words, of course, that most people will find a little hokey. But the more I’ve thought it, the more I’ve appreciated that last word. Who is he referring to here? Is this a reference to America as a Savior to refugees and they are Refu-Jesus? Or at least, should be? Or is this a reference to the refugees as Jesus? “I was a stranger and you took me in.” Regardless, it deepens the entirety of the song’s message.

6. I joked the other day, that Songs of Experience is my favorite Christmas album. But maybe, I made more sense than I even knew. This is a dark album in many ways. The music and the lyrics deal with a darkness that pervades our culture and even worse lurks in our hearts. But it’s awfully hopeful too.

Darkness is the natural habitat for hope. I’m showing my students the movie, The Nativity Story in class right now. The movie makes clear the cultural and political world in which Christ was born. Their hope of his coming was always on their lips because the darkness was ever present in the specters of Rome, poverty, and a culture of death.

This album has no cynicism. No irony. All hope for the darkest of nights. But what it does that is a little different from the international situation we have now, is add ourselves into the mix of the guilty. The problem is not merely “out there.” Which, of course, is why he came.

7. “The Little Things That Give You Away” is as good as any song U2 has ever done. It’s “One” good.

8. “Red Flag Day” reminds me of War in the best possible way. It’s a perfect pop/rock song. And because it is a response to this, it’s just that much more of a great song.

9. The fact that my kids love these songs is important. Listening to U2 as a family is something we’ve enjoyed for a number of years now and if they didn’t like it or if we didn’t, there’d be trouble.

10. U2 albums are personal for me and have been for a long time. I’m not the kind of fan that dreams of meeting them. I don’t figure out how to see them on every tour. But they have shaped the way I think about myself and the world. And they’ve been doing that for 30 years. That’s no small thing.

Christmas Is for Those Who Hate It Most


Who is Christmas for?

We are now accustomed to hearing how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his problems with the season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe this has always been the case. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy. Not too long ago, I heard from one of these people. They told me how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was hopelessness and devastation in her voice. She was sure Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of the pain. It’s been a story hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense. Christmas is a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year for one is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year for another. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

All the hurt and pain and disappointment with the expectation of joy and excitement make it hard for people to love Christmas. In fact, some hate it.

But I’d like to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss.  And we imagine how they can easily enjoy the holidays. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen, drinking perfectly mixed hot cocoa. Admit it, we live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is so damnably backwards. Christmas – the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer – is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful privileged class. They were poor and most-likely ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor.

But Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son, whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when the son wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for whores, adulterers and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for all those who have squandered the family name and fortune, prodigals who want ‘home’ but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray. Christmas is for every family with an empty seat at the table.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for those who need it. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a Universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it the most.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

bill evans

It’s been awhile…

1. In the kingdom of God, under the rule of our Lord and King, Jesus, there is no option of stepping over the hurting and vulnerable so as to achieve a virtuous end. By sheer logic, it cannot be done and remain within the kingdom. It cannot be done in name of tax cuts. It cannot be done in the name of the unborn.

2. The irony is how blind we are to our captivity because of our high definition televisions.

3. Having a whole week off from a job you love at Thanksgiving…, well, there’s no category for that.

4. Yesterday I drove through two SEC college towns and you could actually see the tail wagging the dog.

5. Bill Evans sounds like rain falling in the night.

6. I actually believe what the church needs now more than ever is a robust pastoral theology rooted in the history of the church. The therapy-driven discipleship models and the thin “I just think” practices we have adopted need to be replaced with thick thoughts about God and who we are before God that have been around longer than the current news cycle.

7. There are also a lot of evangelicals not supporting Roy Moore. Actually, I have yet to see one Roy Moore yard sign. But signs for his opponent are everywhere.

8. It dawned on me the other night, during a miserable experience at McDonald’s (for the sake of my children) how I expect employees there to act happy working in a job I would never do. Their misery at work should require my compassion instead of contempt.

9. I am weary of my phone. Not because I want a new and better one like *they* want me to. I am weary of “needing” one and carrying one.

10. My wife standing beside a perfectly browned turkey on Thanksgiving Day…happy Thanksgiving to me, indeed.

The God of All My Tomorrows, Part 2

Part One is here.

The following is a true story.

“You have been scheduled for Remedial Credit Card Training. You will need to report to room 501 at the downtown tower at 1PM on…”

That was in a stomach plunging and chest tightening email. I should have been used to these emails. My numbers were consistently low and if I remember correctly, I was on probation because I had not met the required minimum of sales dollars in a given quarter.

I admit, I was not very good at being a banker.

Once, I was struggling to help a young lady, who was having an issue with her account. In the midst of the struggle, she stopped and asked me a question…

“What did you do before banking?” 

“I was a pastor.”

“You need to go back to that.”

The context for receiving the email was a huge push for credit card sales. Obviously, credit cards are a huge moneymaker for banks. So that was part of the reason for the emphasis. But what I remember the most was all the talk about The Golden Boy.

The Golden Boy (not his real name) was a fairly new employee, who within a few months had achieved unheard of sales numbers and they were almost all credit cards. Those sales numbers were determined by the credit limit of the credit card. He was in the hundreds of thousands. Keep in mind the average credit card is about $10,000. We would have a branch meeting or a meeting with the regional manager and in each meeting there was a shaming. The Golden Boy’s numbers would be given and we would be made to feel awful because none of us had numbers anywhere near his. We listened and then left the meeting with the assumption he was doing something not quite above aboard.

You only got a “Remedial Credit Card Training” scheduled for you if they thought you were not selling enough credit cards. And by their standard, I most certainly was not. Part of the problem was I did not want to sell credit cards. That sounded awful in and of itself. Going to additional training because they want you to do more of the thing you have no desire to do was depressing. Trying to sell credit cards sounds painful for one reason. It is painful.

When I took the job at the bank, I had no idea how much active sales there would be. I assumed I would sit at a desk and wait for people to come in and open accounts. But I began to see very quickly, not only was I expected to get as many sales whenever someone came in the bank, but I was expected to drum up business by making sales calls over the phone. We had “call lists” we had to work through. We had to call “clients” who were already banking with us and the goal was to make a sale depending on the offer for a given list. The goal was to get more accounts open. You have a checking account? How about another? You have a home? How about a mortgage?

You get the idea. If I had known this, I would have never took the job.

Once I was in another meeting that was also remedial. This meeting was attended by those of us who were struggling in all the sales areas. This meeting was led by my regional manager and his boss. This meeting is easy to remember for two reasons. I was sick with a fever but did
 not realize how bad I was till that meeting. Second, and related, my boss’ boss said, “Your job is basically retail with better hours.”

Banking is not what it once was and was certainly nothing like what I had in mind when I took the job. When anyone walks into a bank, they are walking into a retail shop that sells debt and other lesser products.

When I got to the Remedial Credit Card Training, I was glad to see familiar faces. Some had been around longer than myself and a few were even in management. Let me set the stage.

The training was downtown at “the tower.” The room we were in was long and narrow with a table at the front and about 12 tables for for the trainees. There were six on each side of the room with an aisle down the middle of the room, and two people were to sit at each table facing the front. There was a phone on each of the tables, which could only mean one thing… we would be calling customers while being observed by either the person beside or by a trainer. So I looked for someone I knew to sit with. Seeing all this took only a moment and I thought this would be the worst thing about remedial credit card training. But then I saw the Golden Boy sitting at the front of the room with our regional manager and one other man I did not know.

The man I did not know was from the credit card department and he started the meeting by going over all the benefits of our bank’s credit card to use as sales pitches. After he was done, our regional manger began to tell the amazing story of The Golden Boy. After extolling his sales numbers, he was very explicit about how he’d done this with integrity. In other words, he was aware of our suspicions. Then he explained we could all learn from him and his sales skills. He did not imply we should be as successful as the The Golden Boy.

He said it.

The Golden Boy was then asked to demonstrate why he was so successful by doing a role play of a phone call with a client. The client would be chosen because they were on a list of clients to be called with a credit card offer. That may sound obvious but you need to understand this simple fact to make sense of what you’re about to read.

The following is an example of a role play with my regional manager:

“Hello Mr. Smith, this is The Golden Boy with ____________ bank. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, is anything wrong?”

“No, we just like to periodically check in with our clients to see how things are going and to see if there is anything we can do for you.”

“Thank you for calling but everything is fine.”

“Okay good! OH WOW! There is something I need to make sure you know about!”

“What is that?”

“Wow! You have a credit card offer of 0% for 12 months and if you spend $500 in the first 60 days, we will deposit $100 in your checking account!”

The Golden Boy then explained to us the how important the “OH WOW!” was.

That’s what we were to learn that day in Remedial Credit Card Training. We had to practice it over and over right then and there with a partner while being observed and then call customers and use that technique in hopes we would get enough information to then go back to the branch and enter the credit card application.

Do you see it? All of us saw it. 

Usually a bait and switch comes in the form of advertising what looks like a good deal and then substituting it with an inferior product or something more expensive. The problem with the bait and switch is a dishonest means is used for a sale. You use one thing to sell something else entirely.

We were being asked to pretend we were not calling about a credit card offer when that is exactly why we were calling and then we were to pretend we were surprised about the offer in order to get them pleasantly surprised.

That was the first time I considered walking out for good.

The God of All My Tomorrows: Part 1


What surprised me was the timing, not the location.

At the bottom of the little mountain we live on is a large used bookstore. Big and slightly unorganized, it also sells vinyl records and I love them for it. The poetry section is small but usually has something I’m willing to spend a couple of dollars on. You can almost always find some Buechner in the fiction section.

On Sunday Nights, we meet with our small group from church. Because of my son’s baseball game, I would have to go by myself. However, I did not want to go by myself and this may be critical information.

Really, without much effort I could have talked myself out of going. After all, there was a good chance he would pitch in a game for the first time ever. But there were a few thoughts swirling around in my head throughout the day that pushed me to go. First, I was looking forward to discussing the sermon we heard in the morning service. Also, I was frustrated with the ballpark forcing us to choose between a church activity and them. But really, the driving force behind it all is I get paid to lead this small group. It’s part of my job description.

I work part time at my church and full time at the school, which is a ministry of the church. At the church, I minister to young parents and I teach Bible and theology classes full-time at the school. Once a week I teach an elective on “The Gospel According to U2” to high school students.

And that’s why I was at the used bookstore. I left for small group a few minutes early so I could stop and see if there were any books about U2 to use for my class. I’ve been listening to them for 30 or more years but I love U2 and I love books. Plus, the school gives me some funds to spend on such things.

Feel free to think about how wonderful that is.

They did not have the book I wanted but they did have a DVD of the show at The Rose Bowl on the 360 tour. That was the show we all watched live on Youtube. I can remember lying on the couch in our living room in Wichita, KS and Bethany telling me she could not stay up any longer. They also had a book I’d read before. Fascinating but not what I was looking for. I thought long and hard about whether to get these or not and then decided to sleep on it. They could be helpful, but again, they were not what I was looking for.

Pun unintended.

I walked over to the poetry section to see if there was any Collins or Heaney. They only had volumes I already owned. Time was running out and I needed to go if I wanted to take the scenic route and avoid the interstate with the windows down and sunroof open. So I walked out with the same amount of money I had when walking in.

Turning left out of the parking lot, I headed south with Achtung Baby, my favorite U2 album, playing fairly loud. I can remember thinking about how listening to that album was actually class prep and I had quite possibly the best job ever. Dusk settled and the more I drove south, the thinner the traffic. Grace upon grace.

I cannot remember if I realized I was passing the turn to my previous job before or after my chest tightened, the world started to spin and my limbs felt weak. That all too familiar electric feeling surged through my nerves. Misery and terror flew at me from the inside.

When you’ve had panic attacks off and on for three years, you know the signs. Like a known enemy, whose scent is smelt on the wind, you just know. It’s coming. And you cannot stop it. You can only hope to minimize the damage. So I turned on the a.c. in the car, put up the windows, closed the sunroof, changed the music, and took deep breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose.

Or is it the other way around?

“What is real?”

You don’t work there anymore

You don’t work there anymore

You don’t work there anymore. 

You have a job you love and you have no complaints about that job and you look forward to going to work everyday and you get to talk about theology with students and poetry with colleagues and you love it more than you could ever imagine and you never thought you would ever have a job like that.

It worked. Kinda. The weight on my chest lessened. The air cleared and the terror lifted, only leaving behind a thin shadow. All that remained was the usual jittery feeling that sticks around for at least an hour.

Oh, and the nauseous tightness in my stomach. That stuck around too.

Small group was lost in a fog. There had been no panic attacks since I was offered and took my new positions. I tried to eat something. The group noticed how little I was eating and made a joke about it because anyone who knows me knows my love of all that is edible. So I told them what happened and they were just as surprised as I was.

As I drove home under the canopy of a young autumn evening, I resolved to write it all down.

How could just driving by the turn to my previous workplace cause the beginnings of a panic attack? This made no sense to me. For more than two months I have been a teacher. I am a pastor again. I love all of it. I love the schedule. I love the kids. I love the teachers I work with and my bosses too. I love it when it’s hard and busy.

That’s why the timing surprised me.

But not the location. The location made complete sense to me. I was driving the same route to work just like when I worked there.

Graham Greene wrote,“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”

Writing is also cheaper than therapy.

I have never written down what made me so miserable about working at the bank.  In my next post I will begin telling that story.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. I don’t have a whole lot of thoughts about the NFL and the anthem. But one person summed up what I could not put into words. He said, “We are watching two false religions have a worship war.”

2. If Marilynne Robinson wrote a review of a phone book, I would recommend it.

3. I’ve been listening to Serial and I’m not sure a jury of peers is always a good idea.

4. Followers of Jesus should hurt whenever and wherever we see others hurt.

5. “Do not resist an evil person” is in the sermon on the mount.

6. I never dislike baseball more than when the Cubs win. Working on this.

7. Maybe part of the admonition to “count the cost” is if you teach people about the sovereignty of God over all things – including the bad things – you just may have to replace your AC unit within 24 hours.

8. Just as we want to model our theological convictions to our children, we need to understand we are modeling our preferences for the things we consume. What am I consuming entertainment-wise and what does that model to my kids? I’m not just thinking about the moral aspect of entertainment. We live in a culture in which no one bats an eye about a “poo emoji.” To question that may be seen as snobbery. But we got to this point somehow. We now communicate with “poo emojis” and our entertainment bears this out. A piece of poetry is no longer seen as a viable piece of entertainment. Funny and cool are the standards. Is it entertaining? Does it keep my attention is what we are really after. If I do not choose the good, true and beautiful, there is a good chance my kids won’t either. They will only choose what keeps their attention and the rest will be described with a poo emoji.

9. It seems a skill of teaching is to be aware when a student learns something even if they do not yet see the value of it. But not just that, you have to be okay with that in a culture of immediate satisfaction.

10. Dylan: How come we don’t eat out lots?

Me: Because your mom can cook better than most restaurants. And she’s better looking.