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.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. Applause is addictive and deadly. Especially when you receive it in one area of your life but not in another.

2. Flannery O’Connor said she wrote so she could know what she believed. Which is the reason for many of my posts. None of the words come from a heart perfected in belief. In fact, writing them down convinces me of my need and His sufficiency.

3. My favorite album of the past year is True Sadness by The Avett Brothers. Not only is the music something else but the songs have an effusive joy surrounding the heavy themes. Also, we need more kindness and their albums have it in spades.

4. As I watch a lot of the battles of the culture war being fought on social media, I see a bitterness masquerading as righteous indignation. The former comes cheap and revels in the downfall of another. Bitterness feeds on scandal and it’s heart leaps when another is revealed because it justifies a dearly defended fortification. Bitterness cannot look inward and see it’s own faults. It wants enemies. Which is why it cannot be righteous indignation. 

5. Endo’s Silence was a hard read. Beautifully written but painful.

6. It’s supposed to snow down here tomorrow and I don’t ever want to be so old I see it getting in the way. I want to always see it as something magical.

7. Isn’t it strange that a published writer acknowledged as talented with the written word is less qualified to teach writing in public schools than someone who has not written but has a teaching degree? Cannot get my head around it.

8. I preached on Sunday and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. More so than the 40 during the week.

9. This Sunday in Sunday School I’ll be teaching on that part of Romans 5 where Paul says we rejoice in suffering and I cannot think of a subject I’m less qualified to teach on.

10. One reason my wife is so attractive is she has no clue how attractive she is.

Random Thoughts at the End of the Year

1. With each passing year, this world holds less charm – less light in the dark nights of the soul. The desire for a view of something over and above it all creeps in ever more. This world where we humans live slinks toward dehumanizing. Only in the promised forever do I see hope for being all we were made to be. The irony of moving towards death is the promise of finally life.

2. There is a passage in Endo’s Silence where Rodrigues thinks about his captors and their cruelty and comes to the realization that this is sin. Not stealing and lying as most imagine. That truth makes it possible for him to pray in his misery. And that’s why I can’t read it quickly.

3. Stars are prone to fall.

4. My son cried the other night as he talked about going backing to school and I felt for him because of Sunday nights.

5. I’ve got this old Merle Haggard record that contains whole worlds of dusty truths.

6. Leisurely enjoying a good meal makes us more human.

7. I wish Christmas lights stayed up all year.

8. A celebrity obsessed culture will evaluate the year by the loss of them.

9. We’ve been listening to the Avett Brothers a lot in our house because we could do with kindness in this world of  cold weights and measures.

10. Sometimes after a particularly demoralizing day at work, I’ll buy flowers for Bethany. Don’t be impressed too much. It makes me feel better. And therein lies a wisdom older than all the stars.

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 about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter 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. 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 worshippers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, most-likely ugly shepherds; beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

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 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.
(Art: Blue Christmas Candle from Stushie’s Art)

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. What is so unusual about the newest Avett Brothers album is it says things about those who would be our enemies that Christians should be saying but are not saying. Our culture creates enemies out of every opinion. It makes love harder than ever. True Sadness is an album of profound insight – seriously, really profound – throughout each and every song. But the song “No Hard Feelings” is a song I needed to hear over and over. I’ve included the video below.

2. The gospel is not merely good news among other stories. It is hope against all hope lost.

3. It seems to be customary on social media, particularly Twitter, to be against hate speech, while still feeling comfortable ridiculing your family publicly. This confirms that many who are against “hate speech” are actually more concerned about being part of the crowd that is against “hate speech.” They are not interested in loving people so much as being seen as the kind of person that does not participate in hate speech. For they make it clear they are okay with being seen as being unloving to their family. Which is cool on Twitter. And that’s what it’s all about, really.

4. When I order anything that is not through Amazon Prime I feel I just mailed off 8 box tops for an exclusive 3-D Bob Horner baseball card.

5. I’ve been thinking about Paul’s thorn. Wondering what mine could be. What do I pray to be removed but that God has graciously not removed? I know what it is. But it makes only a little easier.

6. There are Christmas traditions I hold dear, but none more so than turning off the radio when that Wham song comes on the radio.

7. There is a way to allow something that dehumanizes men and women.

8. The birth of Jesus was a political event. For he is the hope that ends all hope in rulers and politicians.

9. Christmas is for sad, disappointed people. The poor in spirit. Because that’s who Jesus came for.

10. The best part of the Christmas season is Bethany.

Random Thoughts For A Long Weekend

1. The hardest thing to believe is our sin is our greatest problem and the gospel is the greatest news possible.

2. If God loves us and he gave us the Scriptures because he loves us, then his Sovereignty over all things is good news for the hurting.

3. They get paid for your clicks.

4. I went to a concert where a mosh pit formed and I got clocked in the back of the head. From that moment on I’ve only wanted to listen to Jazz and big band. 

5.  Went to see Tim Keller speak a few days ago and I’m still reeling.

6. I still believe the church wil truly be thinking deeply, not when it is trying to engage artists and creatives but when it is trying to engage accountants and plumbers.

7. Gospel hope is never a cop out. I didn’t think it was a cop out when my son was born and he would just stop breathing and no one knew why, it wasn’t a cop out when we ran out of money, and it wasn’t a cop out when my daughter was diagnosed with ASD. Gospel hope is never a cop out.

8. Last night we watched an old black and white movie and there were no gross scenes, no explosions, and no gritty language and it was exceptional. Weird how that’s possible.

9. Coffee and John Coltrane on a cool Fall morning.

10. If my wife is so smart how did she end up with me?

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted because broken hearts find it easier to see need of him.

2. I posted something earlier this week about how Christians think they are going deep when they talk about art and culture but I think they are going deep when they talk about things like plumbing and accounting. I said this, not because art and culture are not needed topics, but because they are easy topics. Straight lines between theology and art. But plumbing? Accounting? The vocations we need but are never really celebrated – when we are tracing those lines, then we’re thinking deeply.

3. The King of Kings does not flinch because of an election.

4. Two weeks from today till Sean and I are reunited with Robert, Pete, and Leah.

5. With all the contempt the NFL has shown towards those who exposed CTE, do you really think they would care about a player involved in domestic assault?

6. “You twist the light in your hands /It moves and sparks/It’s all the love you can give/Reasons fall from every storm that you lift/We move through the dark, helpless”

7. I miss my palapa in Cancun like a fat kid misses cake.

8. We do need songs that sound like quiet flowing streams. But we sure as heck need songs that sound like Apocalypse.

9. Work that dehumanizes participates in the Fall of man.

10. I miss sitting under a palapa with Bethany in bathing suit.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. There is a bent part of me hoping Dylan doesn’t even go and get the Nobel Prize.

2. Sometimes worrying about the possible negative consequences of presidential elections, feels like a luxury.

3. Those things which can bring the most joy also are in the position to deliver the greatest disappointment.

4. I know you don’t think you can drink Mango Tangos all day in the Mexican sun, but you can. You really can.

5. The other day I saw two young ladies studying in the library. They looked so young and everything was held so lightly. Their laughter was nothing but beautiful. They both wore hijabs. This was the only thing that stood out about them except their laughter. And it was like no one was there for them to be self-conscious about. They weren’t just alone at the table, the room was empty. I wonder if I’d be the same. 

6. If you don’t think Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize because he does music and not Literature, then the Psalms and the Greek choruses are excluded as Literature too.

7. When I walk over my front yard and hear the crunch of dry grass under my feet, all I hear is, “You don’t have to cut me anymore.”

8. Keep in mind that Shakespeare wrote plays, which were the pop culture of the day. Actors and playwrights were not held in high esteem like today. Once you know this you can understand why Dylan may be a good choice for the Nobel Prize. If you don’t understand Shakespeare’s influence on Literature and culture, shame on you. If don’t know Dylan’s, same.

9. If the NT writers didn’t feel the need to condemn the Emperors of Rome and their policies, our leaders should feel no need, either.

10. Some days the pain is slight. But most days it is in technicolor. HD, even. I’m tempted to look down at my hands and say, “It’s the damnedest thing.” But I suppose I’m to take it all as a blessing. Knowing and doing and very distant cousins.