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.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. I have a theory. After thinking about the Nashville Statement and all the virulent reaction to its being released, I think the primary issue around sexuality and same sex issues is suffering. Not being able to indulge involves suffering. Saying “no” involves suffering. And we live in a culture where suffering is to be avoided at all costs. It’s the theologically liberal version of the prosperity gospel that says, “God does not want you to suffer, so be whatever you want to be.” There are other issues to be sure, but this I have yet to hear much about.

2. Politics aside, I now prefer corn tortillas over flour.

3. Yesterday, while my students worked on an assignment, I sat outside and talked with another teacher about Blues and Jazz records. It was the polar opposite of my previous job.

4. Coffee on a clear cool September Saturday morning with nowhere to be.

5. A desire to be seen as edgy or cool will eventually lead to error. 

6. I need a good fiction book. Please leave recommendations in comments.

7. A couple weeks ago, it got really hot and there was talk of climate change. Now it’s unseasonably cool in Alabama and the same thing is being said. If any argument is rigged, it’s this one.

8. Every now and then a band shows up on your radar and they are so unlikely. Unlikely to hold your attention. Unlikely to be a hit. But even so, you cannot stop listening along with many others. That’s what it was like with The War On Drugs last album, Lost In A Dream. It’s a desert-island disc. So I thought there was no way their newest offering would measure up. But it has and then some. A Deeper Understanding is the long-awaited follow up. There is an orchestration to these songs that may have as much in common with symphonies as with Dylan, who Adam Granducial sounds like and Springsteen, who he is inspired by. From beginning to end, I have no complaint.

9. Do you remember that scene in Pride and Prejudice where Jane is telling Lizzy about her joy in getting engaged. She says she wishes everyone could experience the joy she is experiencing. One of the effects of loving my job is wishing others could also experience that. It is now very hard to hear others talk of the misery they experience in their work.

10. Last weekend, the wife and I drove to the beach to be with good friends. No offense to my friends but the best part was riding down and back with her alone.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend


1.  The above piece of art is Van Gogh’s “The Good Samaritan – After Delacroix.” It is stunning for the eye and the heart. I have no taste for politics and I do not like any politicians. But, if it is true our current President did not categorically repudiate the white-supremicists carrying Nazi flags that marched in Charlottesville last weekend, any defense of this by those who follow Jesus is not merely a political issue but a gospel issue at it’s deepest level. This is not controversial in the least. The teachings of Jesus and his Apostles are clear on how we treat other people – we love them even if it feels like a cross to bear. We love them regardless of their race. We love even if they want to kill us. There is no getting around this. There may be a thousand issues swirling around all the issues of race and protest and politics, but for the one who places all their hope in the mercy and grace of the gospel of Christ, there is no other way to live besides love for our neighbor regardless of what they look like, what they believe, and whether or not they mean us harm. Again, this is not politics, this is theology.

2. The Glass Castle may be the craziest memoir I have ever read. It is certainly some of the best writing I have enjoyed.

3. Speaking of broken records, my truck overheated again and the plan is to not let the day end without buying a new vehicle.  (raises fist in defiance)

4. Someone asked me the other day if I missed anything about my last job. I miss nothing about working for the bank. I worked with some good people but we were so frantically overworked that you could never really get to know them anyway.

5. I keep trying to listen to albums other than Isbell’s The Nashville Sound, but none of them are near as good. Not a one.

6. Relax, we still have more than two months of baseball left.

7. I am barely into my third day of taking a rest day – a day when I do no work for my job(s). As much as I look forward to this day, it is hard work to not work. But because there is always something that can be done when teaching, it is tempting to open the computer and begin working or do some related reading. Plus, I *really* enjoy getting ready for classes. But I get the feeling this rest day is good for me on a level I cannot pin down just yet.

8.  When I got my first paycheck from the school, my first thought was “Which record do I want to buy?”

9. Me: Everything I know about teaching I learned from School of Rock.

8th Grade Boys: What is School of Rock?

10. I think it’s in The Message version of Proverbs 31 that it says, “She rises early and drives a school bus so her family can enjoy good insurance.”

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

bethany bus

1. What a week. I started teaching. My wife started driving a school bus. My daughter started High School. My son started Middle School. And now all three kids are at three different schools.

2.  Love your (political) enemies.

3. When I was in college, for a number of years (it takes awhile when you pay for it yourself) I was a secondary education major. But then I decided to pursue a call to ministry. Now I do both of those. This all feels like I’ve been guided along.

4.  One sign that you may need to try a new place is when the waitress knows which sushi roll you ordered the week before.

5. Related to the first point above, I am learning the value of Sabbath rest in a fresh way.

6. The last time the Cardinals had a run like this was 2011. The last time they had a rally animal was 2011. The last time I quit a job and started a new career was 2011. They won it all in 2011.

7. (Waits for new War on Drugs album impatiently)

8. Yesterday I told Bethany that I could not believe I get paid to do this. She asked if I felt like that when I was doing youth ministry. I don’t think I ever thought that way back then because I had not yet walked through the valley of the shadow of banking for six years. Being thankful for those six years will take time and effort, but I can catch a whiff of what that thanksgiving looks like.

9. After watching the video of Tim Tebow making that autistic kid’s day (year?), he may be my favorite ballplayer. Some things go beyond stats and success.

10. I am so proud of my wife. She is seriously the most competent person I know. There were zero doubts she would be able to get through all the training to drive a school bus. I had no doubt she would do a good job driving it. But what you need to hear is how she talks about the kids. If she was your kid’s driver, you’d be very fortunate.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. For what you communicate in your vocation to be your only comfort in life and death is no small thing. I am not sure I realized this before. Far too often “success” is the comfort…was the comfort.

2. Mozart’s clarinet concerto.

3. Side goal with my students: Expose them to the magisterial thinking of Calvin.

4. My daughter starts high school in a few days. How is this even possible? She is only 7 and just yesterday she could fit in my lap and asked me  to carry her because she was tired.

5. This week I talked with a fellow new faculty member about Shawshank Redemption. We talked about being “institutionalized” and the fear. I am about to describe something many of you understand about the workplace even if you never had words for it. 

You are standing on the head of a pin and you are realizing there are an infinite number of ways to fall off. And daily you are shown new ways of falling off. The head of that pin is never expanded. That would cost money. It is always contracting. And fear is all around you. 

Even though I am no longer standing on the head of a pin, it is hard to not stand as if I am.

6. It is hard to watch the Cardinals right now. Easy to not.

7.  Yesterday I was cut off by someone getting off at the same exit I was. It was an unnecessarily dangerous piece of driving. And then I thought how funny it would be if we were going to the same place. And that got me thinking about how followers of Jesus talk about each other and deal with each other and we are all headed to the same place.

8. People say there is no magic but I disagree because of coffee.

9. That moment in the roadhouse when Jayber sees Troy Chatham with another woman.

10. Have you ever not feared?/To stand there in all that mercy,/if only for a split second, with/nothing to fear, is heaven itself.

Random Thoughts After Quitting My Job


1.  If you write a book about how your work is significant in the eyes of God, even when you hate it and it seems small and miserable, there is a good chance you will have to go through that for about six years, if you have not already done so. God will be faithful, though. And the gospel will taste sweeter at the journey’s end.

2. On Monday I will start working with people that care about poetry.

3. Someone should do some serious writing about “vocational shame.” I talked about it in Sunday School one week for about 10 minutes and I still hear from men who struggle with this. It is real and deadly. There is gospel hope but it’s a hard road to walk. In the main, it is hard because most men have trouble admitting it.

4. If anyone tells you that working in a bank is a lot like ministry, go directly to

5.  There is wisdom in knowing that even in a business you have struggled to respect, there are good people working there. And there are some like my best friend, Sean, who are living out the kindness of the gospel with the people they oversee.

6.  Yesterday I was listening to all these songs which had been anchors for me along the way and when I got to “Every Breaking Wave” and I heard “Drowning is no sin” I had to stop what I was doing and excuse myself. Some of you will understand.

7. Almost my whole time at the bank, I kept a copy of Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front pinned up just to the right of my right-most monitor (I had three monitors). As I clocked out yesterday, I unpinned it and left it lying on my keyboard in hopes it would be read. Not a lot of hope, though…

8. I’ve been thinking about Shawshank Redemption a lot over the past couple of weeks. It’s been maybe 20 years since I have seen that film but I saw a clip not long ago that reminded me of so many scenes from the movie. Working for the Bank is nothing like prison. Know that. But metaphors are only meaningful if what is not similar can converge at a point and then help us see something true. Plus, the fact that Andy was a banker is not lost on me.

9. One of the great struggles has been knowing that other people struggle far more than I do. Either because of tragedy or poverty or disease. I know this to be true. But I also had to recognize there is something intrinsic to the way we were created regarding the vocations we are engaged in. It is never just “work.” Our whole souls are involved. And when the only consolation is that you can pay your bills (no small thing) the soul shrivels. I am glad we were able to pay our bills. But that was never enough. Some may think this is a weakness. But I think it is a strength developed over time as I understood more and more what it meant to “work” as one created in the image of God.

10. You need to know my wife is as excited about my new job as I am. This is no exaggeration. She had to keep reminding herself it was me quitting and not her, because she had taken on all the joy. No wonder since she has had to shoulder a lot of the darkness and anxiety I’ve been through. She never quit holding my hand, though. Not even once.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. It is good to be part of a “me too” church culture. There, you can not only be honest, but you can know you do not repent, believe, or fight alone.

2. Reading a book about Mozart will make you hate the movie, Amadeus, in retrospect.

3. I have one week left at the Bank and my parting shot is only this:

Where angels might dance/there are an infinite number of directions/for the rest of us to fall.

4. Social media is destroying confidence in parenting. You only see the perfectly matching outfits on the beach because of the professional photographer. You do not see the abject fear. Or everyday frustrations. You do not see the kids fighting and complaining between shots.

5. When a friend tragically loses their only child, you look at your children differently. You can’t help it.

6. I think I expected Crime and Punishment to be a window. Instead, it was a mirror.

7. My middle son doesn’t like watching videos with animals killing other animals. It truly bothers him. After the boys went to bed and while Bethany was picking Emma up from band camp, I started to watch No Country for Old Men. Now as I rule, I am not one to just start a movie. But I loved the book and there it was on Netflix. But after the first scene ,I couldn’t handle it. I turned it off. I’m too much like my son.

8. There is a lot of “positive thinking” about vocation. Some of it is palatable. Most is unconscionable. You see, what so many of the punchy quotes miss is this: If it is true someone can find their groove in vocation – that sweet spot where desire and skill and training and experience come together for their good and other’s good – then is it not also possible the very opposite can happen with varying degrees between? It is possible.

9. I don’t think the technology of a book has been surpassed yet.

10. Did I mention I only have one more week at the bank?

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1.  One of the things studying the New Testament will do, is train you to not assume. For example, our culture – even Christians – assume we should honor God and fear what the president will do (or not do). But Peter turns that paradigm on its head and says fear God and honor the Emperor, who was not very honorable. To enter the NT is to enter another world altogether, where assumptions are daily challenged.

2.  I finished reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings while on vacation. And it reminded me of when I was young and being so moved by what I read (Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey) in my literature classes that I wanted to tell someone and not really knowing who. I often wonder if those who made all A’s in those classes care about those stories now. Do they still know those first few lines of the prologue of Canterbury Tales in Middle English and carry them around like hoarded treasure?

3. The grace and mercy given to me through the cross saves me from the wrath of God. Also, it saves me from my insecure need to be angry about everything there is to be angry about.

4. How Christians talk about those they disagree with is infinitely more important than what politicians talk about.

5. I have now seen two posts on social media conflating the liberty we have in Christ with our nation’s independence. They are nothing alike. And for those who follow Christ, one of those freedoms is so treasured, the other is but a wistful rumor.

6. The difference between a very crowded beach and one that is not, makes all the difference. The beauty is obscured by the amount of commotion. But first thing in the morning? When no one is out there? Magic.

7. I have this theory: If you talk about a relational problem between two people (or two groups of people) too much, you actually do more harm than good. I think it’s a fairly sound theory for a couple reasons. First, generally the talk involves and naturally tends toward offenses and hurts. And the law will eventually push one party away. And second, I believe there is grace in silence. This stands in opposition to modern thinking that does not believe you can talk about anything too much.

8. I miss sitting out on the balcony in the morning with Bethany, looking out over the Gulf, eating half a biscuit and sausage topped with pimento cheese and a fried egg.

9. There are many  moments in Dante’s Inferno where my breath is taken away. And then there are other times where I’m glad there are notes and commentary for my second reading.

10. There is always more grace and mercy enjoyed, than we can see.