Random Thoughts for the Weekend

deathly hallows

1. Church history yawns at our worries over the machinations of politicians who are but a vapor in this stretch of redemptive history, reaching into the known future of the One, who spoke into all into being and sovereignly rules over even the least of our breathings.

2.  One of the great things about reading back over my Facebook memories is seeing how God has worked in my life and the lives of others over the years. It is oftentimes hard to see how unkind I could be on Social media. Judgmental and snarky, I could be devastating in my assessments of others and so very kind to myself. Recognizing that is a grace too.

3. It is so hard to believe that our union with Christ involves not only being to dead to sin but being dead to all those outworking of sin that creep into the crevices of our heart. Dead to fears of failure. Dead to anxiety over finances. Dead to vocational shame. Those no longer have dominion over us though they wage a guerrilla warfare against us.

4. A lot of time artists and singers are described as “fearless” and I just wonder what one afraid of their own self would sound like or look like?

5. Again, as I slowly finish the Deathly Hallows, I am amazed at the literary quality. This is my 7th or 8th reading and I am always seeing new sentences that simply transcend the writing of the vast majority of writers.

6. There are an infinite number of ways to fall off the head of a pin.

7. Politics will not destroy western civilization. But what entertains us may.

8. I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music anymore for a number of reasons. But this morning I listened to Robbie Seay Band’s Better Days for the first time in years and I was encouraged. And I needed a hell of a lot of encouragement. Wait, that didn’t quite sound right.

9. Every news outlet makes money off your fear and the King says, “Do not be afraid.”

10. There are few lines that move me like “Come ye sinners, poor and needy…” I can rarely sing that one audibly.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

whisper tames

1. In this day and age of everyone taking aim at the government all the time, and taking sides, I keep thinking about Paul never even addressing the politics of the day. Not once. I wonder if part of that is a certain humility, because he knows what he would do with that kind of power. He knows what he did when he had that kind of power. “There but for the grace of God go I.” This is an edge of living out the gospel we do not address enough, “If I was the one in power, how would I behave?” What kind of person would I be if I had money? I know the latent unkindness in my own heart enough, that when in power, I just might not use it well either.

2. I’m reading the last Harry Potter again. And while I like all the books and think they are all good literature, that last book is something else. Rowling settled into a a far more literary, deep, and beautiful style. When Harry, Ron, Hermione are in Grimmauld Place that first night and she describes Harry seeing Ron and Hermione’s hands so close together and wondering if they fell asleep holding hands and how lonely that made him feel… that’s just great writing.

3. “How is your fantasy team doing?”

“Cards are playing great.”

“Yeah, but how is your fantasy team doing?”

“Cardinals are above .500 and playing good baseball.”

4. I am serious when I say this – when I go to estate sales and look records, it is depressing to see what most people from that generation were listening to. Most of it is saccharine and sentimental. It is rare to find great jazz or country records. Once I found a bunch of great jazz and Ray Charles records. But that is rare. And there is a difference between Ray Charles and Andy Williams.

5. The Scriptures are an endless of mine of treasures and an inexhaustible well of refreshment.

6. My daughter just called me from Orlando and said she cannot find her money. So this is how my parents felt when that happened?

7. Back before there was an “Americana” genre or Uncle Tupelo, there was Drivin’ N Cryin’. They were punk rock. “Wait, that’s a country song?” I can remember when my buddy Jeff gave made me a copy of copy of a friends copy of “Whisper Tames the Lion.” It went from alternative rock to country and back again and I was hooked. I saw them live so many times in those ensuing years I can’t even count. I’ve been listening to those first four albums over the past week and I gotta believe this was the formative band for my listening. I started listening to Dylan and all the Americana style bands in college because of DnC. I can remember seeing them on Letterman and thinking, “Well, they are no longer gonna just be big in the southeast.” Never happened. Below is a sample of what all you Yankees missed.

8. I don’t think I’ve eaten one thing that is good for me since my wife went out of town.

9. Update: She found her money!

10. I don’t sleep well, eat well, think well, or do anything well without Bethany around. I’m glad she is having fun at the beach but I know she is wearing a bathing suit all day and I don’t get to enjoy it.

Random Thoughts at the Beginning of the Week

nikki lane

1. The other day I posted, “Hope is exhausting.” Many agreed. Others did not understand. They took “exhausting” as a pure negative to the point that it bled over into hope having a negative edge. But that is not true. There are a lot of enjoyable things that are exhausting. Hiking and running, for instance. I was simply naming something I hadn’t heard anyone ever name. That hope is exhausting. It is true, some will forgo hope because they have been exhausted by it before, just as they will forgo the hike because they prefer the couch. But it needs to be said that hope is exhausting. Hope for the things in this world and our hope of heaven.  But I think sitting by those who are struggling with hope and acknowledging “hope is exhausting” is a kindness.

2. I feel like the storage shed of information I would like to tell my parents is filling up quickly and another will have to be constructed.

3. I know we still have a Jason Isbell record coming but it’s gonna have to be unbelievably good to beat out Nikki Lane’s Highway Queen, as my favorite record of 2017.

4. One of the strengths of Tim Keller’s ministry no one really talks about is the kindness with which he treats his listeners. He is never shrill or condescending. Always considerate towards his assumed listener. Belief and trust in the power of the message will do this.

5.  Last night we sat outside with our neighbors and ate Conecuh sausage, field peas, greens, cornbread and watermelon at dusk. It was a perfect evening.

6. I think the reason I always go back to Springsteen is even when I don’t like him, I believe him. Those songs remind me of the human condition and everyone has story lines stretching back further than I can see.

7. I suppose everyone in pastoral ministry has someone whose books have influenced them in a unique way. When I think about the writings of Eugene Peterson, I get more emotional than makes any sense to even myself. My pastoral nerves are sensitive at that point.

8. Even though the Cardinals look bad and my fantasy team lost week one, it is still better to have a week of baseball than a week without.

9. Reading poetry will keep you out of the tepid reservoir of cliches.

10. Driving to Pennsylvania this week to speak at a conference. Please pray that the van makes it there. Not too worried about getting back.

The Need For True Sadness: Why This Is My Favorite Album of 2016

True_Sadness_image

I wrote this piece a few months ago and the publication I sent it to never published it. I forgot I had written this till an article I read the other day about the new documentary on The Avett Brothers.

Then yesterday, two things happened that caused me to revisit this article. A terrorist attack that caused acrimony on social media before the dust settled. And an ugly fight between one of my former Seminary professors and a prominent writer and thinker.

I still listed to this album a lot. not every day like I was but close to it. I need more albums like this in my life. Full of kindness and perspective about this all too brief life here on earth. We need more albums like this in our lives.


The Need For True Sadness: Why This Is My Favorite Album of 2016

Let me start with a story.

Almost two months ago, my friend and I travelled a few hours to see a band in a run-down club. We saw this band live three years ago at a little festival in our hometown. Blown away, we swore we would go see them again if they came anywhere close. We got there early. There was only one row of people between us and the stage.

Two “bands” I did not know opened up. The first was just two girls. One on drums and the other singing and playing a distorted electric guitar. I’m not sure if they were any good or not, I was too distracted by the drummer. She looked so strung out. And I could only think, “this is some man’s daughter.”

The next band had a similar set up. This time it was two guys and the one at the drums sang. And he looked like he had been in a fight. And he had, as he told the crowd later.  Their music was mosh-pit inducing and we ended up too close to the action. At one point, after I had to push a guy away because he began kicking the women (they looked like they had just come from a PTO meeting) next to me, he rejoined the melee of the mosh pit and then he or one of his moshing friends punched me in back of the head.

That was it. I was done.

This was one of those moments of clarity you only get a few times in your life. You cannot orchestrate them. They are just given by God. I had a moment of clarity in which I asked why, at 45 years old, I was in a  place like this among music like this and people doing this. My friend stayed up front, but I spent the rest of the night at the back of the room near the bar, hoping the resulting headache would go away. I couldn’t really enjoy the band we came to see. maybe it was the girl doing drugs next to me in the back of the room. Or the one, who looked like an anime prostitute with an accountant.

For the next two weeks, I don’t think I listened to anything except Jazz – Thelonious Monk, Coltrane, Brubeck, and lots of Louis Armstrong. I wanted everything to sound and feel as different as possible to the darkness and violence I experienced in that club.

And then one day I was on Twitter and saw something about a new Avett Brothers’ video. Someone foolishly said this was the video we needed at this time. I took that statement as a reference to the weeks following the election and all the arguing and fighting. Rolling my eyes, I kept going through my feed. But then I saw it again and again. People kept talking about this video.

My knowledge of The Avett Brothers  was limited. I own a few of their albums but never gave them a whole lot of time. In my estimation they were the epitome of hipster music. “Ain’t No Man” was played regularly on our local radio station. Catchy, but I never really paid it much attention.

I’m not sure why I gave in and watched that video on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving. But after watching it only once, I agreed. “No Hard Feelings” is the kind of song we need.

When the sun hangs low in the west 

And the light in my chest 

Won’t be kept held at bay any longer 

When the jealousy fades away 

And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust 

And it’s just hallelujah 

And love in thoughts and love in the words 

Love in the songs they sing in the church 

And no hard feelings

I watched that video again and again. And then the video for “Ain’t No Man” over and over. And I then went back to all the albums I did have and listened to them. And when I say listened to them, I really listened to them. I was not just being entertained, I was taking in their lyrics like literature to see what I had missed.

And then on Thanksgiving day, thanks to a late birthday gift, I bought their new album, True Sadness. I have listened to it at least once every morning since.

Tolstoy writes in What is Art?, ““Art should cause violence to be set aside and it is only art that can accomplish this.” Notice what he is saying and not saying. He is not saying that art does this naturally so much as art should cause violence to be set aside. In other words, art can and should be used to put violence aside so people can be kind to one another instead of mean and violent.

My wife and I have been watching Ken Burns’ Jazz. And what strikes me every time I watch these stories is how Jazz musicians were at the forefront of setting aside racial hatred and being kind to each other regardless of skin color. The music was the vehicle to bring together not only musicians but fans. For even as our country was fighting against the racism of Germany, the military was segregated. But Dave Brubeck’s jazz band was not. The music was being used to set aside the violence of prejudice and replace it with kindness.

And what has continually moved me as I listen to the Avett Brothers’ newest album – and all their other albums for that matter – is how kind the lyrics are. Their songs seem calculated to encourage and dignify not only their people but everyone everywhere.  And this is done while at the same time showing a humility and recognition of their limitations and broken-down conditions.

Take the title track, “True Sadness” as an example. While this is not the song getting all the press, it is the “center” of the record without question:

I cannot go on with this evil inside me

I step out my front door and I feel it surround me

Just know the kingdom of God is within you

Even though the battle is bound to continue

‘Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams

And I hate to say it but the way it seems

Is that no one is fine

Take the time to peel a few layers

And you will find

True sadness

In a culture that prizes gritty, cynical and mean-spirited dialogue under the banner of honesty, The Avett Brothers’ songs are a shot across the forward bow of open-hearted kindness about their struggles and weakness. When was the last time you heard a song about the evil being inside them and not “out there?”

And the limitations of our own lives?

You got to go somewhere, ain’t that true

Not a whole lot of time for me or you

Got a whole lot of reasons to be mad, let’s not pick one

I could be exaggerating, but the landscape of modern music for the most part wants us to be mad. About something. Anything. Maybe it has something to do with our desire to be under the tyranny of cool. Being mad and being cool have gone together since James Dean and Marlon Brando. The smirk and the sneer reign supreme. And a smirk and a sneer seem required in music these days.

But this seems wholly missing from the The Avett Brothers. And not only in their songs but in them also. In interviews their kindness and humility is inescapable. The more I get to know them, the more likable they are. I also get the impression they would be the first to admit how much they fail at this kindness.

And that consistency of kindness and generosity of spirit spills over into their fan base as seen on the Facebook page, Avett Nation. There you can sign up for Avett Mail and someone may send you everything from a CD, or a sticker or a handmade ornament. Or all of those. Why? because they enjoy the music and being kind with that enjoyment. There you can also donate to St. Jude’s, where Bob Crawford, the bassist’s daughter was treated for pediatric cancer. You can get encouragement in the form of lyrics. And those who cannot attend a live show encourage those are getting to attend. It would all be so very cheesy it if were not so rare and needed in this jaded world.

Last week I saw an interview with them at Google in Detroit and they talked about the kind of songs they write. Seth Avett says they could be performing for 20 more years. And if they are going to be playing these songs over and over thousands of times, they need to be songs they believe in. They cannot be about the “dance floor,” he joked. As soon as he said that, my mind ran back and noted the message for each song on the newest album:

  1. “Ain’t Nobody here, who can cause me pain or raise my fear.”
  2. The promises of fame and fortune are not to be trusted.
  3. When I leave this world, I want to leave it with no hard feelings and no enemies.
  4. The discovery of being limited in what we can know in this life
  5. A husband’s need for his wife when life is hard
  6. “My heart is in the puppet box and Satan pulls the strings.”
  7. If you peel back the layers, no one is “fine.”
  8. The fear of confessing your love to another.
  9. Being an artist comes with a price.
  10. We live in a world where you can be a victim of anything.
  11. No matter how you slice it, divorce is painful.
  12. We are so small as we navigate this world of truth and lies and there is something bigger.

In other interviews you will read of their love of great works of literature, all these books with a metaphysical bent. Tolstoy, Pascal, and Bonhoeffer. These are some of the most revered writers in the world. When I learned this about them, it left me in no doubt about the seriousness of what they are singing. In the stratosphere of their own hearts and minds, I think what they read is a witness. The songs above all are part of the great discussion about what it means to live wisely before God on this earth in the limited time we have.

That’s how you get an album titled, True Sadness.

This is rare air they are breathing and I am glad we get, through listening to these songs and singing along, to take in some of that air. My hope is that it makes me a better person as a result and not merely entertained. And that’s the whole point of the album, anyway.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. In a culture of perpetual outrage, to buy into the belief our struggle is not against flesh and blood is not gonna be easy.

2. News of a new Jason Isbell album and tickets to see him at the Ryman are welcome news during a work week that made me want to listen to all his songs with the bad words.

3. I could be wrong but I think a sign of spiritual maturity is not wanting to argue on social media.

4. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than financial security.

5. The problem with baseball is how few games there are.

6. I was talking with my friend, Corey, the other night about music. He’s a musician, so these discussions are always interesting. I walked away from his insights realizing at least one reason why some songwriters are at a level of creating of life-changing art and others are not. You can trust them. People like Jason Isbell are rare. It is not mere entertainment or fame they are after. They are creating something from a place beyond the surface level of this culture. All their failures and weaknesses, skill and success are calculated toward creating something akin to literature for the ages.

7. Christians should be more offended by unkindness and gossip than by culturally-conditioned profanity. Far more. 

8. Fantasy baseball draft is today, so I hope you have been using the prayer cards I mailed out, just so you know how to specifically pray for me and my team.

9. The new Tedeschi Trucks Band live album is mesmerizingly good. Joyous and full of transcendent moments. Adding to my enjoyment is it was given to me as a “Thank you” gift for my writing. That makes the listening so much more enjoyable.

10. There is a lot in life, when evaluated, seems off kilter. Out of balance. Something’s not right. But sitting at the dinner table with Bethany and the kids seems in place. Maybe that’s history. Maybe it’s a createdness we ignore. Not a command. But maybe like sunsets, we should pay attention to this.

Five Reasons to Read Russ Ramsey’s Struck


1. I’ve never read a book like this. Whenever I read a new book, my mind flips through my memories like a Rolodex, trying to find some other book to compare it to. This book is no exception. But I kept coming up empty. I could think of nothing. This originality was a rare gift.

2. It is well-written. It is not easy to find well-written books by Christians. This is a scandal within evangelicalism. But Russ is a great writer and this book is so well-written, it may spoil you. If I can’t wait to pick up a book again but I dread finishing it, I know I’ve found a great piece of writing.

3. The subject matter is critical. Western Christianity struggles with its faith. That faith is informed by the Bible. And the Scriptures were written for the most part in the context of suffering. And our entire culture is calculated to move us away from suffering in any shape or form. We need this fact to be kept in front of our faces, which are lulled into forgetting our mortality in this  Disney Land we reside in. Now there are a lot of books on suffering out there, but in this one, we get to walk though it with Russ. 

4. This is an honest book. Honesty and authenticity are getting top billing these days. For good reason. We need more contexts in evangelicalism in which we can say, “You too?” And “me too.” You can’t do that without honesty, and sometimes honesty costs a pound of flesh. I appreciate his (and his wife’s) honesty throughout the book, which I am sure cost them. 

5. Jesus is the hero. If you buy this book for no other reason, this should be enough. There are a lot of spiritual biographies and memoirish books in the Christian market. And they are honest and well-written. But few point to Jesus and his love for his people so well. I walked away from this book knowing Russ better but thankful for Christ and his redemptive work more. I know Russ well enough now to assume this is what he wanted.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. It is good news that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Because so many of us have hard situations that either seem to never cease or will only cease when our hearts beat their last. 

2. I think it’s a good idea to evaluate the music you listen to by, “Would I trust these people with my kids?”

3. I assume the people incessantly posting politics on Facebook are the same ones that make sure I know all their opinions on the various issues with bumper stickers. I assume their political opinions  and stances on various issues are accessories, like earrings and broaches.

4. This past Tuesday I spoke at a retreat and my time there was slow and relaxed. It was the opposite of every other Tuesday. And like a gift from God, full of grace and mercy.

5. I think people were under the illusion Disney cared about them more than money.

6. So there’s this series on Netflix called Captive. And each episode is the true story of people being held captive. Nothing prepares you for one of the stories being about someone you know. 

7. I love the reverse echo of the resurrection in the laughter of friends.

8. I knew I hadn’t gotten enough sleep when I got choked up at my desk while listening to The Avett Brothers’ “Head Full of Doubt.” That “decide what to be and go be it” part. 

9. My résumé reminds me of that lost Mars rover that disappeared into the blackness of space.

10. About to celebrate 18 years of marriage with Bethany. In the far reaches of my memories I can just barely reach a recollection of my life before her. But it’s not worth the effort. No day previous compares to our hardest day.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. We typically think of demonic teaching and living as “libertine” and “hedonistic” but Paul makes clear  in 1 Timothy 4 there is an ascetic life that is also demonic. 

2. Let me say again, increasingly you will be made to feel guilty about not protesting ________. And what is incredible is how much of this will come from the church. In other words, the standard of concern is the amount of “ink” used to protest via social media. Resist it.

3. In light of Acts 6:4, it is astonishing how prayer is rarely mentioned in pastoral job descriptions.

4. Last night I watched a baseball game. It was Spring Training. And it was between two teams I didn’t care about. But it was baseball. And it was beautiful. So very beautiful.

5. The Scriptures are closer in kind to love letters than textbooks.

6. The new Alison Krauss is exquisite. I’ve listened to it a couple dozen times now and can tell you it will be nominated for album of the year and may win. But even if I’m wrong, it’s still a beautiful collection of songs.

7. Four months till I see Tedeschi Trucks Band live. Four long months.

8. It is now rebellious to say a boy is a boy and a girl is girl. Maybe that’s why old music sounds so good.

9. The desire to speed up baseball is needless. We should be trying to slow everything down so that it’s like baseball.

10. I love to sit in the silence and listen to the background of the early morning. It makes music sweeter, the voice of God clearer, and I can hear the train down in valley below. For a moment, I am outside of my own time and feel as if I could be enjoying a morning from long ago.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. One of the more profound ideas swirling in my head is being loved by God. It is stated so often, the gravity gets lost in the repeating. But we are not just those who have salvation. We are not just tolerated. We are loved with a love that cannot be diminished. Hard to get my head around that, sometimes.

2.  So much great music coming our way… Alison Krauss, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gary Clark Jr, Jason Isbell. I’m gonna need to sell a bodily organ.

3. It is amazing we live in a climate in which someone you do not know can feel free to insult you via social media. And simply for disagreeing with a possible conclusion based on a possible implication. This is not a world I want to live in.

4. Y’all, we are just days away from baseball getting started.

5. I was listening to a talk given by Eugene Peterson yesterday and in it he quoted a Christian philosopher, Albert Borgmann, from the University of Montana who studies the effects of technology on people. He says that with each new technological advance there is a breakdown in relationship… in how we relate to people. And the reason is technology is always about speed and efficiency. Step away from your phone and let that sink in.

6. In an interview, Derek Trucks said he was careful about the kind of music he listened to, because as a musician he knows whatever he takes in will come out in what he plays.

7. If you are all for protesting for the rights of others but you cannot be kind to people you disagree with, then do not be surprised if you are not taken very seriously.

8. Peterson goes on to say, we in the church must be careful about technology and not assume that it’s use is all good. Because relationships are fundamental to living out the gospel and if technology does damage to those relationships then we must be careful.

9. I am convinced more than ever, the primary text of the American church is the News.

10. I cannot get over the other night. Bethany and I sat in the den after the kids went bed. Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio spun in the living room. Some Monk too. She read a novel and I read a used book of poems. Life can get chaotic and dark but that was a good night.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1. The only way out is to admit you are part of the great problem.

2. I think the reason we like sad songs is becuase they are in sync with the longing we all have for something beyond what we have experienced. As a believer in the gospel, I think that longing will only be satisfied in the restoration of all things. But we all are drawn to those songs because we know things are not what they are supposed to be.

3. In a protest culture, people’s convictions on an issue will be gauged by what they say about an issue on social media. 

4. Every time I go to the used bookstore, I visit the small back corner where the poetry section is. If I’m lucky, there will be book there I’ll want enough to buy. Yesterday, there were about a dozen. Hall, Heaney, Milosz, Oliver, Collins, Ferlinghetti… The joy of the hard choice.

5. When you eat Thai food in a gas station and it’s the best you’ve ever had.

6. I still find it hard to take seriously the praise of conservatives for Trump and the criticism of liberals. Conservatives, who thought Clinton was disqualified because of his womanizing, now praise a man who owns strip clubs. Liberals simply have regained a critical voice after losing one for a president that used drones to kill men and women overseas. I am convinced that increasingly no one has convictions beyond the conviction that the other side is wrong.

7. 1984 is the wrong book. Brave New World is what everyone should read. Everyone is worried about politicians. I’m worried about a culture drowning in Applebee’s and laugh tracks.

8. Baseball season with the green and brown and the crack of the bat and the wind ups and hot dogs and keeping score and leisure enjoyment and “birds on the bat” and dusk descending and the heat giving way to the night and field under lights and the joy of a double and the heartbreak of an RBI single.

9. Alison Krauss singing “Windy City.” Or anything.

10. One of those small things that no one ever tells you will be meaningful when you are young is the quiet joy of sitting across the table from the one you love.