"For one thing, I'd challenge the idea of a 'scriptural right.' In the Scriptures, 'right' is an adjective."

- The Ancient Mariner
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From Brandywine Books
‘A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War,’ by Joseph Loconte

I’m not sure C. S. Lewis would have approved of this book. He maintained, on numerous occasions, that an author’s biography should be of no interest to the reader. Studying the lives of Milton or of Spenser, he insisted, would provide no insight into the meanings of their works beyond what an intelligent reader can gather from reading the plain texts.

Still, I think Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War serves a useful purpose. Amidst the tremendous popularity of the works of Tolkien and Lewis all these decades after their deaths, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about their artistic motivations (particularly in Tolkien’s case. I’m pretty sure a lot of fans of the movies think the books are about environmentalism). Loconte follows the two men’s lives, concentrating especially on their experiences in the First World War, and explains how the experience of battle (Lewis remembered thinking, “This is war. This is what Homer wrote about”) impressed itself on their memories and their imaginations. In the midst of the great disillusionment that swept Europe after the armistice, Tolkien kept his bearings, because he’d never fallen for over-optimistic enthusiasms like eugenics but had put his faith in eternal things. And in time he was able to help his friend Jack Lewis to understand as well.

For fans unfamiliar with the lives and the thought behind the books of these two men, The Hobbit, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War may be very illuminating. It’s well written and well researched. I recommend it.

From Semicolon
Two for Typhoid Mary

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Gail Jarrow’s book on Typhoid Mary was well-written and informative, but I didn’t care for the tabloid style of the page layout, typography, and artwork. Tastes may vary, and kids may lap it up or at least be drawn to the yellow chapter titles on black background pages and the all-caps section headings.

I learned a lot from the book. For example, did you know that typhoid fever and typhus are two very different diseases with differing symptoms and disease-spread mechanisms? I think I used to know that, but I had forgotten. And I didn’t know that Mary Mallon, aka “Typhoid Mary” spent the rest of her life (mostly), after she was traced and found, on North Brother Island, living alone and convinced that she was not a carrier of typhoid germs and had never harmed anyone. I also didn’t know that only a very few people who have typhoid fever become lifelong carriers. Apparently the germs remain inside these particularly susceptible people (perhaps multiplying on gallstones in the gallbladder) for years and years and are excreted in their feces and sometimes urine to infect others. Most people are no longer carriers a few weeks or perhaps months after their encounter with typhoid fever germs.

The other book Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti had the better layout and narrative flow. However, I learned more from Jarrow’s book. And there’s a feminist slant to Bartoletti’s book that does a disservice to accurate historical analysis. The book indicates that Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) is good and justified in her belief that she is not a carrier, even though she was wrong and infected others. It’s implied that the male public health officer who forced Mary Mallon into quarantine was a bad guy, prejudiced and arrogant. (Maybe he was something of an intellectual snob.) However, the female Dr. Josephine Baker, also instrumental in finding and confining Ms. Mallon, was a heroine in Ms. Bartlett’s book.

Either of these titles, or one of the other multitude of books about Typhoid Mary and the spread of typhoid fever and the civil rights questions involved in the confinement of Mary Mallon, would lead to some good discussion and historical study among middle school and high school students. Also, comparison and contrast to the current handling of the AIDS epidemic and the Ebola virus would be appropriate and and ripe for analysis and even debate.

From Jared C. Wilson
3 Reasons Why You Should Ignore Most Relationship Advice

relationshipsPeople mean well; they really do. As with all advice, your friends and family and countless blog post authors whose helpful little lists proliferate on Facebook, etc. are sincerely wanting to improve your relationships. But all too often their good advice proves unhelpful in the end. Why? Usually for one or more of these 3 reasons:

A Lot of Relationship Advice Assumes Relationships are Simple

I’d say most relationship advice contains kernels of truth but still winds up being woefully pragmatic. It treats relational success or happiness like a formula. You’ve probably heard this kind of advice before, or maybe even given it yourself:

- If a wife would just have sex with her husband more, he would not use pornography or have an affair.

– If a husband would just talk with his wife more, she would be less cranky.

– If you will go on a date once a week, you will keep the flames of romance burning.

– If you raise your children right, they won’t turn their backs on the faith.

You can likely list umpteen more examples. Each of these bits and others like them, as I said, contain kernels of truth. The problem is that they urge us to treat our relationships like some kind of psychological vending machine: if I just push the right buttons, I’ll get the right response. Formulaic. Pragmatic.

But in reality, people are incredibly complex! Our hearts are ridiculously nuanced things. We are a mix of our pasts and our personalities and our fears and our frustrations and our assumptions and our upbringing and our desires and our habits, etc. And let’s not forget that we’re all sinners! So you put this recipe into an intimate relationship, and you’re going to find that the “If you will _____, then they will ______” is an amazingly superficial approach to relationships.* People don’t work that way.

We can all think of examples of marriages where one spouse did “all the right things” (though nobody is perfect, of course), and yet could not win the heart of the other. This kind of advice is incredibly harmful in abusive situations, because it implies blame should be carried by victims. No, people are much more complex and sin is much more enmeshed in our hearts than most relationship advice is able to reliably sort out.

A Lot of Relationship Advice Assumes Both Parties Want the Same Thing

The advice formulas all seem to assume that if you got your relational act together, your partner would get their act together too. There’s even a marriage book out there full of advice for wives titled Have a New Husband By Friday (which I think is an awful premise for a book). But this kind of advice assumes, in fact, that the person who’s become your project actually wants to get his or her act together! It assumes they give a rip about having a good relationship. Or it assumes they don’t already think the relationship is fine as is.

When I was a pastor, this was one of the first things I’d ask a couple who’d come to me for marriage counseling: “Are you both here because you want to be? Do you both want to do whatever it takes to have a healthy relationship?” Because if they both don’t want to change, if they both don’t want a healthy marriage, it didn’t matter how much counsel I gave the both of them — it wasn’t going to “work.” Most couples would say they both wanted the same thing, but over time, I could discern that really one spouse was interested in experiencing healing in their marriage and the other was just sort of there as a last resort or to get their partner to stop nagging them about it. Invariably, without fail, when both parties aren’t interested in the same goal, they did not see any growth together. It didn’t matter how much advice I gave one or both of them — if one of them was not relationally on the same page, it didn’t work. And this is where the next place relationship advice often fails comes in . . .

Most Relationship Advice is Wrongly Aimed

When you only have one spouse really interested in marital health, the advice must shift to where it should have been all along, to where it should always be even when both spouses are interested in a healthy marriage — the glory of God. See, most relationship advice has as its aim the happiness of the one seeking the advice. Most relationship advice has as its end goal the advice-follower getting what they want, feeling a certain way, accomplishing a certain end. But when the other person isn’t cooperating or when the formulas don’t seem to fit the excruciating complexity of two broken human beings negotiating idolatry and habits and wounds in the context of intimacy, the advice-follower becomes tempted to throw up their hands and surrender. Why? Because the aim has been self — self-fulfillment, self-validation, self-esteem. Aimed this way, even if you win some little battles, you discover it’s never quite enough.

Look, it’s not a bad thing to want to be happy, to feel romance, to desire all the wonderful kinds of intimacy that comes with a healthy marriage, or to experience the joy of healthy friendships. But in our fallen world the only sure thing is the glory of Christ coming to bear in and through God’s children. In 1 Corinthians 13 — a passage many married couples interestingly have read in their wedding day ceremonies, only to carry on in their marriages without giving it a second thought — we do not see a love that is aimed at the self. We see the selfless kind of love, the truest and best kind of love, the kind of love that gives God the most glory.

Paul says, “Love never fails.” How can he say that love never fails? Is it because the lover always gets what he or she wants? No. We know from experience that’s not the case. Love frequently “fails” that way. Lovers frequently find that their love, even in marriage, isn’t reciprocated. So how can it be said that love never fails? The kind of love Christ has for us — gracious, selfless, sacrificial, enduring all things and hoping all things — is the kind of love we are called to give the sinners we’re in relationship with. That’s the kind of love Jesus gave us. Do you think it was predicated on our being easy to love? If so, you don’t understand the gospel. No, the Jesus kind of love is love without strings, affection without expectation, service without demand. (Because love that only exists so long as the love is returned is not really love at all — not according to 1 Corinthians 13, anyway.) That kind of love never fails because it brings glory to God, and nothing that brings glory to God can be considered anything but a victory.

* Some of the advice could be rescued a bit by simply removing it from the if/then formula. Husbands should remember, generally speaking, that their wives feel loved when they feel heard, considered, known. Wives should remember, generally speaking, that for husbands sex encompasses more than physical release but is often tied to feelings of encouragement and approval. But even when removed from the if/then formula, this kind of advice can often erroneously assume a simpleness on the part of the advice-follower! Many wives struggle loving their husbands sexually not because of anything “wrong” with their husbands but because of a host of internal barriers and hesitations or even past wounds and triggers. Many husbands struggle communicating with their wives well not because they don’t want to communicate but because they too have an enormous amount of internalized hangups and fears, or they’ve never experienced healthy communication at any other point in their lives. We are all incredibly complex people, making impeccable advice-following and reliable behavior-changing really difficult!

From Out of the blue
Encouraging day

Today I got to have lunch with a brother who has spent decades serving, mentoring, encouraging, teaching, leading, and befriending young people. There are few people I respect more. He wanted to talk about ministry to college students and young singles – they are starting a community for that at their church. I left that lunch wanting to explode with the encouragement and excitement. I love it when churches invest in college students and young singles, and remain confused and disheartened that so many don’t.

Tonight I got to be with these wonderful people (pictured below) at the Core, a Christian gathering that was started by a friend at our local community college, Lone Star. He has become very busy (he works for Ted Cruz’s campaign) and so I have gotten to lead it this semester.

Tonight we talked about Romans 6:3-6, and the newness of life brought back from the dead by Jesus. Several of them shared their stories, and others shared the newness of what God is doing in their lives now. Several people shared with me before the session started that their day had been really difficult, and during the session we had several moments of hilarity – snafus in the worship time, one of our girls getting her foot tangled in her purse and performing one of those hilarious slow motion tumbles from her chair (she was never in danger of getting hurt). We laughed and laughed and I thought about how kind of the Lord to de-stress those of us who have had stressful weeks.

It was a great night. I can’t believe I get to do this.


From Brandywine Books
‘Sin Walks into the Desert,’ by Mat Ingwalson

I’m not entirely sure what to say about Sin Walks into the Desert by Matt Ingwalson. The book’s concept was interesting enough to persuade me to download it, and I read it to the end (something I’m less and less willing to do with sub-par books). So this is a well-crafted and interesting novel. Very noir, in a modern vein, which is to say, kind of goth.

Sin (short for Anderson, his first name) is a… well it’s hard to figure what he is. He’s a loner. He looks and dresses and has tattoos like any ordinary punk, and he’s fairly neurotic. But he has special skills. As a boy (not that long ago) he was on the verge of murdering someone when his uncle (an FBI agent) summoned just in time by his worried parents, swept him up, took him home with him, and began training him to turn his natural gift for violence to useful purposes. But Sin never joined the FBI, or even the military. It isn’t made clear how he makes his living, unless I missed it.

Anyway, his uncle, whom he calls el Viejo, has disappeared, and friends fear something bad has happened to him. So Sin sets out to track the captors, employing the formidable skills he learned from the old man. This leads to a pretty shattering revelation, when all is said and done and a few people are dead.

If you like your books dark, you’ll like this one. I found Sin himself hard to like, but the writing and characterization are good, laid down in spare, downbeat prose.

Cautions for the usual. Moderately recommended, only because of my ambivalence about the main character.

From Jared C. Wilson
Football to the Glory of God?

footballRest, play, and fun are are gifts from God meant to help us celebrate being made in God’s image as Creator and project in some way the creative story he is telling with the universe.

But this can be difficult to do in the kinds of play that look like battle. It is difficult to do in the kinds of play that involve competition at any level. But this is not because “battle play” and competition are inherently bad. They can actually echo God’s story, if we think of them the right way and keep his purposes at the forefront.

Competition in play, for instance, can serve lots of helpful ends. It drives people to work hard to refine the gifts and talents God has given them. It can remind us how fearfully and wonderfully made we are. Reflecting on athletic achievement and competition, Matt Reagan writes:

God could have created us to be just a pair of eyes, beholding his glory and being perfectly content—but he didn’t. He gave us bodies.

The body is a staggering gift, and it enables us to be creators, achievers and accomplishers of remarkable things. In Genesis 1:27–28, God gives humanity the mandate to exercise dominion over the creation, to multiply, and to cultivate the land and its resources. The value of reflecting his beauty through our God-imaging abilities to accomplish is further demonstrated in his call to build the tabernacle with precise and ornate detail, in his later call to build the temple, and in his call to Nehemiah to build the wall, among others. God created us to be creators, and thus reflect him. Building, creating, achieving and accomplishing are good. . . .

Our enjoyment of God in the midst of athletic achievement is a critical component of his glorification.
So if we run fast and enjoy it, which we should, we should enjoy it the way the first frog did. According to Chesterton, the riddle goes like this: “What did the first frog say?” “Lord, how you made me jump!” Jumping and running are enjoyable because they give us the capacity to participate in the beauty and power of God, and they are always gifts from him. As Eric Liddell memorably said in Chariots of Fire, “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Perhaps this would be the only legitimate reason for it to be more enjoyable for me to make a jump shot, or run fast, than to watch my friend or teammate do it—just as the Apostle Paul gloried more, it seems, in his experiential participation in the lives of new believers in the early churches than in just hearing about it.

Games of battle play like football and basketball and wrestling, and I would even argue like boxing or mixed martial arts, can glorify God if the hearts of the competitors are in the right place. Battle play, whether its kids playing war in the neighborhood woods or two pugilists sizing each other up in a title bout, can remind us of lots of noble things: human strength and ability, the war between good and evil, self-discipline and training, and even platform-building for the gospel. (Athletes like A. C. Green, Kurt Warner, and Tim Tebow are good examples of that.)

When used in their proper proportion, sports played hard are a very noble thing. Ray Ortlund writes:

There is only one way to play football—110% effort every play, all the way to the end of the fourth quarter. You lay it all down on that field. Then you crawl off the field after the final gun with nothing left to give. Football must be played with wholehearted abandon. It’s the nature of the game. It prepares us for life.

If I could change the Bible, all I would do is add “play high school football” to the qualifications for elders. Men who have experienced such intense effort, hurling themselves into every play, especially as a team sport—such men understand what ministry demands and how good it feels to give their all for a cause greater than self.

Of course, there are other ways God provides for men to punch through to the experience of total abandon. Football is not the only way. But every man needs some kind of experience like this, to become the warrior God wants him to be.

There is only one way to serve Christ—all-out passion. Passive men don’t understand, men who are afraid they might get knocked down or hurt. Christianity must be lived with wholehearted abandon. It’s the nature of the faith. It prepares us for eternity.

Men with a whole heart — joy awaits them!

Of course, there are cautions to remember in competitive play, especially in battle play competitions like football or boxing. In relation to the former, Owen Strachan urges sober-mindedness:

Football . . . is physically brutal, and therefore raises concerns for Christians, who of all people have the most stake in human flourishing based on the imago dei, the likeness of man to God (Gen. 1:26–27). The game asks a great deal of those who play it, not just in the pros. In terms of concussions alone, taking a shot to the head can leave athletes dazed for days, even weeks. Concussions are the scariest part of the game, and researchers freely confess that they have much to learn about them. It is quite clear that concussions are under-reported and under-diagnosed in youth sports, and despite the millions of small children in football leagues across the country, there are almost no studies of the effects of youth football on the human brain. . . . Football, more than any other mainstream American sport, depends on violence—the cultivation of violent instincts, the use of violence in the moment, and the game yields positive reinforcement after successful acts of violence. Some training in violence is necessary—soldiers defending their country, for example. But the culture of football should concern Christians. The number of football-related arrests, assaults on women and tiny children, murders, drug charges, and more should not glance off the evangelical conscience. The physical brutality of the game likely factors in here. Many of the athletes who have gone off the rails and killed themselves and others suffered from CTE. This is not conjecture. It is fact. We kid ourselves if we don’t acknowledge the deleterious effect of continuously traumatic contact.

The cautions should be well taken. But should they cause us to reject the thing entirely? Some may argue yes. Some in fact do argue yes as it pertains to competitions like mixed martial arts, and the like. And of course, Christians are free to differ on the moral questions about these certain sports. As Strachan goes on to say, “Football is not impervious to the effects of the curse of Genesis 3. This game is subject to fallenness as all of life is.”

So like any good gift God gives, recreation can be misused. Play goes awry when it becomes totally flesh-driven, appetite-driven, and used for our own personal glory and self-satisfaction.
In 2014, the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. In his postgame celebratory remarks, Seahawk defensive back Richard Sherman, largely considered the best cornerback in the NFL, went on a bit of a rant, saying in part:

I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me. . . . Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’ll shut it for you real quick.

Crabtree was referring to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, whom Sherman guarded most of the game. Later, Sherman called his losing opponent a “mediocre receiver.”

When I was a kid, we would call such outbursts “poor sportsmanship.” But I was astounded to see many Christians defending Sherman’s remarks, referring to the heat of the celebration, the adrenaline, and so on. Some even argued that the position of cornerback requires such an attitude. But what people interested in the dignity and nobility of sports, what people interested in grace, can easily see is that Sherman, in this instance, was engaging in an honest moment of self-exaltation. His rant was a great example of how not to win.

See, when we use sports poorly, for our own glory and our own sake, we not only lose sorely but win poorly. And athletes, whether they’re Christians or not, reflect more the heart of God when they accept responsibility when losing and deflect credit when winning, when they seek the good of their team and the dignity of their opponents, when they do things like give up achievable salaries in order to provide financial advantage for their team in employing more highly skilled players who can benefit the organization. But when an athlete plays only for himself, he loses even if he wins. Many athletes love Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” but would that they’d also take Philippians 2:3 to heart: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Pride affects all of us, and it affects all the ways we play. This is why a lot of us competitive folks need to see the great value in lightening up.

When sports go awry, when pride rears its ugly head in our heated moments, as in the stress of competition, the problem is not with the sport. It is with the sportsman.

Paul occasionally used athletic illustrations. A sampling:

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim. 2:5)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24–27)

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:8)

Of course, Paul is not directly promoting running and boxing and working out. But by using these things as illustrative examples in promoting spiritual endeavors, he must not find them objectionable in and of themselves. He is drawing out what is good in athletics to point us to the ultimate good of pursuing God’s glory. I think most would agree that self-discipline is a good thing and can honor God very much. This is what Paul seems to be aiming at mostly in his references to running, boxing, and training.

Paul probably knows that sports, games, and competition resonate with us because they tap into a profound sense of accomplishment, of reward, and of victory that is found both in God’s law and in God’s gospel. Just the discipline, the training, and even the pain endured in sports, for instance, can be surprisingly pleasurable. Ray Ortlund writes elsewhere:

It is possible for two psychologies to coexist in our hearts at once—pain and praise. It’s like a football player who plays hurt. He feels bad. But he also feels good. Both at the same time. It is so meaningful to be on the team and not in the stands, on the field and not on the bench. A man doesn’t mind the two-a-day practices and the wind sprints and the drills and the work and the sweat. He’s glad to be playing the game, and not an easy game. That is the very thing that satisfies a man’s heart.

Ray is using the pain-enduring football player as an analogy for Christians turning their suffering into praise. But the illustration works for the example of sports and play in general themselves. We were made to work and to rest and to worship, and somehow, in the good gift of however it is you enjoy playing, when thanks is given in it to God, all three of these can exist at once. And the result is deeply satisfying to the God-tuned heart.

– Adapted from Jared C. Wilson, The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and The Swiss Alps Fit Into God’s Plan for the World

From Out of the blue
What a game!

No, not that game.

Blake had a soccer game tonight – and what a game! Three assists and one goal in a 4-0 victory over Emery. He had three or four other chances and could have scored more. He is poetry in motion.

I’m going to miss, so much, watching that young man play soccer. Here’s hoping his dream of playing next year in college comes true.

From Brandywine Books
Hoo’s sorry gow?

The other day, for reasons I don’t recall, the word “hoosegow” entered my mind. If you’re like me, you know it mostly from Westerns. It’s what crude cowboys called a jail. “Throw him in the hoosegow!”

It occurred to me to wonder about the origins of the word. Off the top of my head, I guessed it was one of those American borrowings from Dutch, like “boss.” The “hoose” element sounds like the Germanic “hus” or “huis,” meaning house.

So I looked it up. Turns out it’s not Dutch but Spanish, from the word “jusgado,” meaning jail. One of those cowboy borrowings from the Mexicans, like high heeled boots and sombreros.

And now you know too. Because I’m generous. Not a master of languages, but generous.


A Spanish-speaking friend tells me jusgado does not mean jail, but a male prisoner in a jail. This means dictionary.com is mistaken. I want my money back.

From Brandywine Books
Women Who Wrote Mysteries

No voracious reader of detective fiction will complain [about Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set], since these were all better-than-average books of their era, which was no mean feat in the days that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler defined the new prose of the hard-boiled American crime novel. It’s just that the uniting theme—declared in the book’s introduction and echoed in its many reviews—is that women authors of those days were unfairly oppressed by mystery publishers and neglected by mystery readers, but those women nonetheless managed to create, unnoticed, the never-seen-before genre of the psychological and domestic crime story.

Joseph Bottum says this theme is nonsense (via Prufrock).

From Out of the blue
Superbowl 50

Well, being a defensive struggle it wasn’t the most exciting Superbowl, but for the first time in several years the team I was rooting for won.

I’m especially happy for Peyton. Not his best game ever but good enough, and he goes out a winner (if he’s smart enough to retire).

And also very happy for Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips, who coached here in Houston and were fired a few years ago after a 2-14 season. Nice to see them come back so strong – Gary as head coach and Wade as the defensive coordinator of one of the most dominant defenses we’ve ever seen. Good on ya guys!

Congratulations Broncos!

From Brandywine Books
‘The Three Hostages,’ by John Buchan

It was around 1980 that I caught a production of John Buchan’s The Three Hostages on PBS. The dramatization was a one-off; I don’t think that particular actor ever played Richard Hannay again. But it intrigued me enough to motivate me to read The 39 Steps, the first novel in the series. That made me a lifelong Buchan fan, but oddly enough I never read The Three Hostages until just now.

It’s good. I’d say it’s one of the stronger entries in a classic series.

In The Three Hostages, World War I is recently over. Richard Hannay, British intelligence agent extraordinaire, has settled down on a farm in Oxfordshire with his wife Mary (also a retired agent), and their small son. He looks forward (or thinks he does) to living the quiet life of a country squire. But then he receives an appeal for help. Three people, one of them a small boy, have been taken hostage. There is no clue as to the perpetrator. Reluctantly, Hannay agrees to look into it. Gradually he begins to suspect the last person anyone would suspect – a rising young politician who has endeared himself to nearly every influential person in London. A hopeless-seeming but successful investigation (hypnotism features strongly) is capped by a deadly man-to-man showdown in the Scottish highlands.

I was surprised – once again – by what a fine author John Buchan was. Among all the writers of the English “bulldog” school, nobody came near him when it came to writing readable prose. Richard Hannay is a vivid and likeable character, and all his friends are just as believable (his enemies, perhaps, a little less). He especially distinguishes himself in his descriptive passages, which are wonderfully done (this pleased me especially in the short section set in Norway).

Modern readers will be put off by racial and ethnic slurs which were a normal part of English life at the time. For some reason Hannay makes much of the villain having a round head, which he sees as un-English and sinister. On the other hand, those same readers will appreciate the active part Mary Hannay takes in the action.

If you’re open-minded enough to tolerate temporal diversity, The Three Hostages is great fun.

From Out of the blue
Hard run

My expected ten mile run this morning turned into just over five miles, partly walked. One of the strange things about running is how much better a run might be if started at 7:00am versus at 10:30am. I haven’t been able to explain it but both Andrew and I were pretty wiped out after just a couple miles (me more so than him, I expect).

I don’t think it’s wise to over-spiritualize everything, but I think this is the way life in Christ and the race we run in Christ sometimes goes. Some days our run is joyful, free, easy. Other days all we can feel is the pain in our legs, the wind in our face (it was windy today), and the numbness in our feet (I definitely need some new shoes). I was really feeling my weight (I need to lose weight, desperately). After a while the run slows to a walk.

I have been running hard this past year and a half, inflamed with the calling I feel toward college ministry and joyful at the progress God has made happen there. I’ve been running hard at work as well, loving my job (not something I could have said back in 2012), even when it’s stressful or I haven’t performed as well as I feel I can – I’ve been pushing hard. Today was just one of those days, though. We had so much fun last night with the grands and that continued into this morning.

Then I went running.

We cut the run short after we’d only covered half the planned distance. It was a nasty, hard run. I then came home and did some catch-up work (a status report, some code repository work, etc). Then I basically spent the rest of the day in my pajamas watching Alias reruns with Jill. I feel like I have been taking more breaks recently; I missed out on a Lord of the Rings viewing tonight with our College/Young Singles pastor and a number of our people. I didn’t do my Bible reading. In short, I’ve been a bum today. I wrote recently that I know those days are needed, but I also know that we can’t spend our whole lives sitting on a couch.

Tomorrow is a new day. Church will happen and prayers for our Lone Star college will happen with two brothers that I pray with every Sunday. I’ll come home and rest some more, and then attend a College/Young Singles Super bowl party. Then comes Monday and I’m back at it.

I pray this week I will run better, not just physically but spiritually as well. I pray the shoes of the gospel of peace that I put on will fit well and put wings on my heels. I pray the spiritual food I feed myself with will promote muscle, not fat. I pray I will laugh at the wind in my face and rejoice when it’s at my back. That I won’t be numb, but will feel deeply the love and passion of our Lord.

Please pray for me as well, whoever is reading this, as I prepare a subject and discussion for Bible study Tuesday night at Lone Star college. What a privilege that is.

Lord, please prepare me to do your work.


From Semicolon
Saturday Review of Books: February 6, 2016

“Forever reading has been essential, the necessary fix, the support system. Her life has been informed by reading. She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction, even. She has read to find out how sex works, how babies are born, she has read to discover what it is to be good, or bad; she has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her—then, discovering that frequently they are not, she has to read to find out what it is that other people are experiencing that she is missing.” ~Penelope Lively, How It All Began


Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

From Out of the blue
These three

We gave our two oldest a break tonight; we took the three grandchildren off their hands so they could celebrate an early valentine’s with their spouses (and sleep in tomorrow morning) .

We had a valentine themed night with the babies – cupcakes,  light up balloons,  pizza,  a craft,  and veggie tales. Jill always brings the party!


A ten mile run awaits me tomorrow morning.


From Brandywine Books
Chad Bird on the novelist as priest

Gene Edward Veith at Cranach links to an article by Chad Bird on how fiction brought him to Christian faith.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, however, something else was happening. The God against whom I had rebelled, and from whom I was fleeing, began to use these very works of fiction to beckon me home. As it turned out, the novels in which I had sought escape, became part of the means whereby the Lord rescued me from my own death.

From Brandywine Books
Publisher Pulls Book of Smiling Slaves

For several months, the publisher Scholastic had plans to release a book this year called A Birthday Cake for George Washington in which slaves in the Washington estate scrambled to make a cake after running out of sugar. School Library Journal said the beautifully illustrated book painted a “dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners.” Particularly troubling was that the slave were shown to be smiling.

Activists on one side are pleased the book has been pulled, but activists on the other side are saying they’re shocked.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the PEN American Center argued in a official complaint, “Those who value free speech as an essential human right and a necessary precondition for social change should be alarmed whenever books are removed from circulation because they are controversial.”

I have to wonder what Scholastic was thinking when they edited, reviewed, and produced this book.  Were they of the same mind as the NCAC to publish anything of a certain quality? And what of that mindset; is no topic, view, or depiction of history unpublishable? If Scholastic had rejected this book upon its proposal would that have been the same censorship they are decrying now?

Freedom of speech or expression is a great principle within a sound moral framework where truths and recognized authorities can be appealed to. But secularism and its attending ills have pulled the banner of freedom from its pole and dragged it with them wherever they go, saying freedom is meant to be sullied, torn, and battered because it is a virtue on its own. Liberty in law is bound by the privileges of patriarchy, but freedom means whatever the ___ I want or anyone else wants with the enabling of the rest of us. That’s unsustainable.

From Out of the blue
True hope

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain. . .

– Hebrews 6:19 ESV

True hope,  hope that moves one forward,  has to go to the now unveiled seat of mercy beneath the golden gaze of the Cherubim.

True hope goes leaping into the very arms of God.

From Brandywine Books
Nicholas Sparks’ Satisfied Simpletons

Read this review of Nicholas Sparks‘ latest novel and his work at large. Thank you, Heather Havrilesky, for these words (via Prufrock).

Young neurotics are sometimes haunted by the recurring impression that dumb people are much happier than they are. Sparks’s oeuvre seems to suggest that this fabled shadow world of earnest, satisfied simpletons is real. All you need to do to be contented is power down the gears of your useless, overworked brain, the author tells us. Go make some tea and sit on the porch and marvel at the turn of events that brought us to this point, already!

It’s strange how literary and commercial works continue to adhere stubbornly to two opposite poles: poetically expressed skepticism versus clumsy, cliché-driven optimism. If our next great American novelist injected Sparks-style earnestness and stubbornly upbeat resolutions into the next great American novel, would we recognize that novel’s greatness?

From Jared C. Wilson
The Revenant of God’s Sovereignty

36190303revenant-1280a-1449188082920[This article contains spoilers for the movie The Revenant.]

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
— Romans 12:19

I had the great pleasure of getting to see Alejandro Iñárritu’s film The Revenant recently with two of my colleagues from Midwestern SeminaryOwen Strachan, who serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Director of The Center for Public Theology, and Matt Millsap, who serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Studies and Assistant Director of Midwestern’s Library Services. The Revenant tells the ostensibly true story of the fight for survival of frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who, while on a fur trading expedition, is left for dead after being mauled by a bear and witnessing the murder of his son.

The three of us were quite affected by the film and later discussed some of its philosophical and theological implications via email. I’ve compiled our conversation below with the hope that those of you who’ve seen the film may find it interesting.

STRACHAN: I read this reflection on The Revenant and I feel it captured the central tension of the movie pretty well, better than I did upon first reflection.

I was originally thinking about the film more as a display of one man’s quest for revenge. The film was incredibly well-made, but that theme in and of itself did not strike me as profound (though visceral). But this review pointed me to the following question: is Iñárritu pondering which force is a stronger motivator in our fallen world? If this is the director’s controlling question, then the film is asking a more profound question than I first thought.

Now, when I see the movie again, I’ll be asking this particular question and charting it throughout the film. I can’t immediately say what Iñárritu’s answer is. I think it might be revenge. But the point is, there really is something profound going on in the film. It’s not simply “a revenge story.”

WILSON: Yes, I thought Glass’s decision at the end was Iñárritu telling us that Glass’s journey, though driven so long by revenge, had forged in him something else. He wanted to execute his own justice but his own unlikely survival probably showed him that there is something more sovereign and indomitable than the human will — what the Pawnee man he meets refers to as “the Creator.”

Glass discovered he could trust the Creator with his own journey of survival, so in the end he decided to trust the creator with Fitzgerald’s fate too.

I wonder about that saying he keeps remembering from his wife too, the bit about how if you watch the branches of a tree in a storm, you will be sure it will fall. But, she says, “The wind cannot defeat a tree with strong roots.” Somehow at the end, when he had his chance to kill Fitzgerald, Glass decided his roots were deep enough to help him weather this storm.

MILLSAP: I agree insofar as we’re talking specifically about the end of the film. It seemed to me that the journey was primarily driven by revenge, with Glass reaching an epiphany of sorts when he had Fitzgerald at his mercy following their fight. It’s almost as if he had to be reminded at that moment that love was the more powerful force and that his only option was to relinquish his thirst for revenge over to the Creator.

I’m not saying that his will to survive and find Fitzgerald wasn’t also powered by his love for his son, but I still think, if we’re honest, that revenge was the primary motivator all the way through his decision to forgo recuperation and pursue Fitzgerald immediately so that he would not have the chance to escape.

I find the final shot to be the face of a man who has weighed both revenge and love, ultimately siding with the latter, though just barely.

He may have gone with the Creator, but the thirst for revenge – the sense of self-sovereignty — is always there, underneath the surface.

WILSON: I don’t know if I’d define his other option as “love.” Meaning, I don’t think he’s thinking “Love is better,” even at the end. If we’re identifying his motivation in that ultimate moment as “love,” I’m not sure it would be love for his son that drives him to release his captive anyway; it’d be love for Fitzgerald, which I think it’s obvious he doesn’t have.

What I meant when I said “something bigger forged in him than revenge” was more along the lines of this quasi-religious, nature-as-gauntlet, Native American fever dream sense of “bigness” — the mysterium tremendum? — that he labels as “the Creator.” It’s God he’s thinking about in that last-minute remembrance of what the Pawnee man who saved him said.

My take is that when he got to the end of realizing his quest for vengeance, he decided to hand Fitzgerald over to the one thing greater than human will/determination — the sovereignty of the Creator, the thing he realizes had actually determined his own fate.

I think a lot of people will come away from the film struck with ideas of human resilience, endurance, etc, and certainly the film shows us that. But I think the meaning is more about how Glass was really lucky — blessed? predestined? guided, at least — by something greater. And in the end, at least in that decisive moment, he for the first time surrendered to it. He surrendered to God’s sovereignty at the climactic moment he had planned to exercise his own.

STRACHAN: Well said. Chewing on this. That makes more sense than the simplistic love versus revenge theme. Your argument about the film being ultimately about God/the Great Being/sovereignty makes sense in light of Fitzgerald’s comments around the fire to Bridger about “God as squirrel.” Remember? He tells the story about the trapper who went to find God and he climbed a tree and discovered that God was a squirrel, so he shot it and ate it. That was a funny exchange, obviously, but I also marked it as important when we saw it. The Revenant may really be about “God as squirrel” v. “God as Cosmic Sorter of Human Fates.”

Meaning, Iñárritu is in fact making a movie about the nature and character of God. Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald represents amoral atheism and DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass represents the struggling, imperfect, even tortured search for that which is beyond.

Fitzgerald is all here and now. Survive. Do what you need to keep going. By contrast, Glass is at the very least haunted by something bigger. And ultimately that something bigger in some imperfect but real way grabs him at his lowest point, and keeps him from being Fitzgerald. God stops him from becoming what he hates.

So at the end, he isn’t Fitzgerald. And that is not a soaring victory, but it is something, and says something about both the nature of man and the work of the Supreme Being in the world of man.

WILSON: I think you’re exactly right with the squirrel bit. And what I find delicious is that, of course, at the end, it was the “squirrel” who ate the proud Fitzgerald.

MILLSAP: The sovereignty angle is really insightful. You do have to admit that there were many instances of “luck” in Glass’s favor: he could have been shot in the initial attack, could have died from his mauling, could have starved to death, could have died when found by the Indians, could have died in the waterfall, could have died of hypothermia, could have died from the fall off the cliff, etc. So you’re absolutely right that there’s something more at play than just a standard “will to live” scenario. Glass should be a dead man. But he isn’t.

And Owen, echoing your thoughts on Glass’s spiritual nature vs. Fitz’s materialistic nature, it’s worth pointing out specifically that Glass is the only main character in the movie who seems to have some sort of spiritual grounding that moves beyond a nominal Christianity of “last sacraments” and “Lord’s Prayers.” So yes, I agree Inarritu wants the audience to notice the spiritual nature of Glass and how there is divine assistance aiding his innate, natural will to live.

I like the language you used of “surrender,” as describing Glass’s final actions, Jared. Perfect descriptor. Would it be too far, though, to still find that infused with love? I agree that we aren’t necessarily talking about love for his son. It’s very interesting that the flashbacks focus on his relationship with his wife more so than they do on his relationship with his son, whom he clearly loved deeply as well. And the visions he continues to have — again, his wife.

I think there’s more to this than his wife simply being the means through which the “Creator” is speaking to him or guiding him. There is special significance in his thoughts repeatedly returning to her. Perhaps it might be accurate to say that Glass doesn’t recognize the tension as being between vengeance and love, though when you boil it down, it actually is? Would surrendering one’s will to the Creator be an act of love? I don’t know, maybe I’m just too much of a sap in that regard. But I will say that Glass’s final state with that final shot feels to be one of confusion. He hasn’t quite yet sorted out the magnitude of everything that has transpired.

WILSON: A revenant, of course, is like a ghost, someone who’s returned from the dead or a long, given-up-for-dead absence. The most literal way to read the title is that Glass is the revenant, “back from the dead” to exact revenge. But I think, in a unique way, the notion of God is the real revenant in the movie. Glass has survived so long, almost acting like an animal. He’s forgotten what it’s like to be human, to be connected to something greater than just his appetites and instincts. But he gets glimpses along the way, in his dreams and visions. The dream where he’s standing in the ruins of a church is a great image of this, a great image of himself — one made in the image of God and yet broken, empty, a shell of himself. But there’s something still there, a wisp of the numinous still remains. And in the end, when he’s getting to the point of fulfilling his animal bloodlust and his fleshly thirst for vengeance, he sees those Indians in the distance, a reminder not just of his Pawnee rescuer who reminded him of the Creator’s sovereignty, but of his own humanity and its implications. The sole authority of God to judge returns, rising from the ashes of its dormancy during Glass’ journey. The reality that vengeance belongs to the Lord, in a way, “comes back from the dead.” In the end, it’s God’s sovereignty that is the truer and better revenant.

From Out of the blue

It’s a little after 8pm and I’m already in bed. I’m wiped out,  in a good way; Blake’s final soccer season,  our church’s college ministry,  our ministry on campus at the local community college (I got to speak last night),  and of course a full time job that I am extremely thankful for –  this is a busy time.

I’ve always had a healthy sense of guilt.  Unhealthy,  actually. But I’m learning the spiritual value of setting aside time to do absolutely nothing,  on those rare evenings or weekends when I have nothing planned. And to not feel guilty for it, but rather to allow myself to be blessed by it. God is so good.


Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

– Psalm 116:7 ESV

From Semicolon
An Ambush of Tigers by Betsy R. Rosenthal

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Betsy R. Rosenthal.

Collective nouns are such attractive words for poets. Who can resist such evocative phrases as “a murder of crows” or “a pace of asses” or “a sleuth of bears”? It makes sense that there are several authors who have used these collective nouns to form the text for a picture book featuring groups of animals:

A Gaggle of Geese by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Ms. Merriam starts out her book with a snippet of poetry and ends with the same, but the main part of the book is made up of a list of fun-sounding collective nouns with pictures by one of my favorite illustrators, Paul Galdone.

A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns by Ruth Heller. Ms. Heller continues to rhyme throughout her entire book about collective nouns, and she also gives us several examples of these collective nouns that refer to other things, not just animals: “a fleet of ships” or a “lock of hair”. She also informs readers in a note at the end of the book that “one collective noun can describe many groups” and “one group can be described by more than one collective noun.”

I like both of these books (and there are others) and have read them with children several times. However, this new book, An Ambush of Tigers, takes these special nouns to new level by incorporating them into a rhyming poem that speculates on the meaning of the collective noun as it relates to the actions of the animals it refers to:

Who cleans up
when a clutter of cats
gets fooled by the pranks
of a mischief of rats?

When a murder of crows
leaves barely a trace
is a sleuth of bears
hot on the case?

How imaginative! The illustrations by Jago, a British illustrator, are beautiful, lots of detail, but big enough and vivid enough for even small children or groups to enjoy. (Jago is the illustrator who did the wonderful and award-winning pictures for The Children’s Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.) I especially like the murder of crows flying against the full moon in the background with the sleuth of bears on the ground, using noses and magnifying glasses to search for clues. Not terribly smart bears, they need to look up.

So, this book is my new favorite collective noun book, and I’m adding it to my huge wishlist at Amazon. Enjoy it with your favorite child, or with a chaos of children.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Thanks to the people who kept the place interesting and made things work. I can’t pretend do have played a notable part, but I’m happy I got to sit in once in awhile.

In 2002 I had to use dial-up to read BHT and IMonk. The Internet’s changed and it’s clear the people here have too. Clay, Denise, and the rest of the family, thanks for sharing Michael with us.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
It’s Been Real!

I came to the BHT by way of the old John Piper discussion board. That’s where I “met” Michael (his online name was Digory!). I started reading his imonk stuff. Avidly. I found in him a voice that was evangelical but unafraid to say some things that badly needed to be said about the movement. I was so glad when he let me in to the BHT. My contributions have been small. When I look at the masthead I fancy myself as the guy asleep on the bench. He’s not really asleep. Just pretending to be and listening to the interesting people at the next table.

I soon began to think of the BHT guys (almost always guys, Jenny and Sharon and a few others being welcome exceptions) as friends. The BHT truly made me realise that online life is part of real life and online people are real people and can become real friends. This became very real when Michael got sick. This was not just some guy on the internet. This was my friend who was sick. This also showed the limitations of online friendships. They’re real but they’re different. I so wished that I could walk up to Michael and Denise’s house and just knock on the door, sit down, pray with them, shovel their driveway, whatever. Aaron and I fantasised about taking Michael out to a baseball game. That level of relationship was not possible. Nevertheless the friendship was real. And I feel similarly about you all. Thanks!

A few random observations…

~~ It’s remarkable how much the BHT (and most of us!) changed. At first this was a very conservative place (at least it seemed so to me). Piper and Dever and Mohler were held in high esteem. This was shortly post 9-11 and the discussion was decidedly pro-war (ie. Pro-Iraq-invasion); My Canadian-ness was a subject of of (usually) gentle making-fun but also (at times) real disagreement with “socialist Canadian policies” (there would have been little love for candidate Sanders, I think, at the time); Frank discussion of homosexuality was avoided; etc. I think most of us (some more than others perhaps) have moved on to more nuanced views on some of those things.

~~ I always enjoyed when Angus showed to rattle our cages.

~~ Who get’s the Farrah poster?

~~ Rachel, Phoebe, or Monica?

Thanks again, all of you. It’s been real! See you on the other side.

From Semicolon
The Tune Is in the Tree by Maud Hart Lovelace

In the several boxes of discarded books from a local private school library that a friend rescued on their way to the dumpster, I discovered some real gems—in more ways than one. The Tune Is in the Tree is one of Maud Hart Lovelace’s other novels, not about Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib. However, in the book Betsy’s Wedding, Betsy says, “I think I’ll write a story about a little girl going to live with the birds.” It’s not too much of a stretch to think that perhaps The Tune Is in the Tree is Betsy’s story, fleshed out by Ms. Lovelace herself, especially since Ms. Lovelace wrote that The Tune Is in the Tree is “just the sort of a story Betsy used to tell to Tacy.”

In this 177-page fantasy, Annie Jo, who lives with her parents Jo and Annie, gets left alone by mistake, and Mr. and Mrs. Robin feel compelled to take her into their nest until her mother and father return home. For that plan to work, Annie Jo must become a lot smaller, and she needs a pair of wings, both of which are provided for by courtesy of Miss Ruby Hummingbird, who happens to be have a little Magic. After Annie Jo shrinks and gets her wings, she learns all about the birds of the meadow and forest, including the Thrush family, Mr. and Mrs Catbird, the Misses Oriole, and the Perfidious Mrs. Cowbird who causes trouble all over by laying her eggs in other birds’ nests.

This jewel is such a lovely and funny story, and the illustrations by Eloise Wilkin are a perfect match to the story. The book was first published in 1950, in the middle of the time period during which Ms. Lovelace was busily writing and having published the Betsy-Tacy books. I like to think of Ms. Lovelace taking a break from the adventures of Betsy and her friends to write this homage to the world of birds. The child who is interested in bird-lore could learn a lot from reading or listening to The Tune Is in the Tree. The birds in the story are fantasy birds who talk and practice their concerts and even bake cookies (the Ovenbird family). However, the birds actually do embody some of the characteristics of real birds. Thrushes do make beautiful music. Ovenbirds do have nests shape like little ovens, hence the name. And the Perfidious Cowbird really does lay its eggs in the nests of other birds.

Then, there’s the poetry, both the poetry of Ms. Lovelace’s luscious prose and the poetry she makes reference to in the course of the story. Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell, and John Keats are all invoked as the birds keep their libraries in the Brook which “reads aloud all day.”

“And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
~As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Unfortunately, The Tune Is in the Tree is a book not to be found in either trees or brooks. I looked it up on Amazon, and used copies are priced at anywhere between $200 and $800. I don’t plan to sell my newly discovered treasure, but patrons of my library can borrow it and enjoy a wonderful tale.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Er, hello everybody, sorry I’m late, had a terrible time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment. How are we for time? Er…

Hopefully I can hit “publish” before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, etc etc.

It’s a poignant moment to see the Tavern finally close its doors. I’m enormously grateful for everything Michael did in establishing and sustaining this community, and for the conversations we’ve all had over the years, and honoured to have been a part of it. I entirely agree that the time has come to shut the doors, but that doesn’t take away the value of what happened here.

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Thank you, Clay

There’s one apple that hasn’t fallen far from its tree. I mean that in the best of all possible ways. Thank you, Clay.

From Out of the blue
Ill-advised tweet, but undoubtedly true

We do not want this man to have his finger on the nuclear button

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Am Message From Clay

Clay Spencer (Michaels son) asked me to pass this along:

Hello Tavern Fellows,

   I’ve asked Aaron to pass along this message from me to all of you.
   I browsed through some your goodbye posts this morning, and couldn’t stop myself from crying while reading about how my father had such a profound effect on your lives, whether that effect came from personal interaction, reading his writing, or simply having him dust off an open stool for you here at the Tavern. I wish all of you could have seen the joy he got from being at his desk every day and talking with you. Your conversation made him laugh and sometimes made him angry (I can still hear him huffing in frustration, probably at Josh, and see him shaking his head), but you always pushed him, and in times when he wanted to give up, when he wondered if he was doing the right thing with his writing, you all kept him going. Very few things made him as happy as writing and thinking along side you all.
   Thank you for keeping the doors open as along as you have. Thank you for all of your kind words and testimonies about how The BHT helped and changed you. You all said it best who have said “It’s not the same”. It’s not. It never will be. Thank you for keeping this going as long as you have. As the doors close behind you and the key turns, I hope you wander home or to another dusty pub and raise a glass to the iMonk, and to yourselves.
   Best wishes for you all,
Clay Spencer

From Jared C. Wilson
5 Reasons You Should (Probably) Leave Your Attractional Church

downloadTwo caveats, then the list you clicked through for:

Caveat #1. By attractional, I do not mean big or “contemporary.” This is something I go to great lengths to discuss in The Prodigal Church — “attractional” is not code for megachurch or contemporary church. There are healthy big churches and unhealthy small ones, healthy contemporary churches and unhealthy traditional ones. Attractional is not synonymous in my mind with the kind of attraction that a biblical church — centered on Christ, teeming with grace, on kingdom mission — (super)naturally is. By attractional, I am referring to the ministry paradigm that has embraced consumerism, pragmatism, and moralism as its operational values. I am not referring to a church worship style, but of course this philosophy of ministry has big implications for one’s aesthetics and expressions in the worship service and beyond.

Caveat #2. Leaving your church is no little thing, even if your church is legitimately unserious about discipleship or membership, even if your church isn’t gospel-centered or just isn’t as gospel-centered as you’d like it to be. Nobody should leave any church lightly, and it should never be a Christian’s first impulse or first resort. A covenant lightly instituted might still be heavily held. Nevertheless, there are a few circumstances that might warrant moving one’s fellowship, and that’s what this list is about.

So, when do you know it might be time to go? You should (probably) leave your church if:

1. It is rare to hear anything from the stage resembling the gospel.

Evaluating this absence takes a lot of discernment. It is not simply about preaching style — topical vs. expositional, or what-have-you — but about the dominant message being presented from the primary point of communication. Is the dominant takeaway from the weekly worship experience the good news of Christ’s sinless life, sacrifical death, and glorious resurrection? Is Christ made the hero of every text and topic? Is the functional subject of the church’s message Jesus or man? Is the primary aim of the church’s message God’s glory and Christ’s fame or self-actualization, self-esteem, and self-worth? Is the Bible preached as authoritative and sufficient or is it used for quotes? These are all important questions to consider. This isn’t the only thing to consider, but it’s likely the most important thing. (And obviously you should leave if not only is the gospel rare but also repudiated, if outright heresy is being taught in the church or if the most influential voices speaking into the lives of your teachers and leadership are themselves false teachers.)

2. There is no meaningful membership process or pastoral care.

I remember serving in an attractional church where I discovered an unmarried couple living together were allowed to volunteer as leaders in the student ministry. An elder at the same church charged with providing premarital counseling told some engaged friends of mine that the Bible says nothing about premarital sex. I suppose I don’t have to tell you that not only are these incidents problematic but that they are symptomatic of an essential dysfunction in the church — unqualified leaders, unaccountable members, and inch-deep discipleship. Ask these questions: Does your church have membership? If it does, does it function beyond assimilating volunteers into areas of service in the church? Is there a ministerial structure in place that oversees and cares for the needs of members, taking responsibility for their ongoing discipleship, and disciplining them when they engage in unrepentant sin? Do you have any kind of beyond-superficial relationship with any pastor or elder or anybody else in leadership responsible for your spiritual well-being?

3. There is no significant attention given to life or discipleship beyond the weekend worship service.

In many attractional churches, all the energy and thought is poured into the weekend “experience” and not much is afforded other areas of growth and development. Some of these churches actually acknowledge this and will sort of confess they will take responsibility for winning lost people and maybe other churches can specialize in growing them up. Sort of a “it’s a feature, not a bug” attitude. But a church that exists mainly as an evangelistic event is barely a church at all. We are not called simply to make converts but to make disciples. If your church puts very little energy toward helping Christians at all stages of spiritual life grow in Christlikeness, it’s possible you have outgrown them and need to covenant with a church that functions more like the multi-faceted body of Christ.

4. You’re not in a position of significant influence.

It is a noble idea to want to stay and influence an attractional church toward gospel-centrality, but I have to tell you quite frankly it is very unlikely to happen. It’s not impossible, but it is improbable. It’s especially improbable if you are not in any kind of leadership position. You may think yourself a missionary for the gospel in your church — these people do exist, as sad and necessary as that is — but it’s more likely you will be seen as a divisive and disgruntled person. The gospel is divisive, of course, but if you are not in a leadership position to cast vision or in a position approximate to the leaders who do, the discord you sow will undoubtedly not be worth it. Even if you are in a secondary leadership position, if you represent a minority viewpoint among other leaders or you are not regularly trusted by those in authority over you to help steer the ship, as it were, you will have to face the reality that you are in that position to support and facilitate the vision cast by somebody else. You have not been hired to set vision but to help implement it. If you find that you can’t “play ball,” you will probably need to begin planning your exit.

5. The teaching your children are receiving in the church is training them to become the consumeristic moralists the church is currently reaching.

This was a key turning point for my wife and me once upon a time. As unsettled and as constantly discouraged as we were by our church’s emphases, we at least had the discernment to know what was unbiblical and unhelpful. Our daughters, however, did not. And while the local church doesn’t hold the sole or even primary responsibility for discipling children, it is incredibly problematic if the kind of teaching/training they receive at church runs counter to the kind of teaching/training you want them to have. If your primary parental discipleship of your kids consists largely of trying to “undo” or protect against what they’re getting in Sunday School or children’s church or the Fantabulous KidZone, this might be a good prompt to reconsider which covenant community you want supporting your development of them as followers of Jesus.

I know lots of people struggle with these issues and with this decision, because I hear from so many of them. The fact that it produces such angst in them is a credit to their heart for their brothers and sisters and for the gospel itself. Those of you who read this post and immediately are angered or irritated that I’d encourage this kind of critical thinking about the attractional paradigm need to stop for a minute and consider how many mature Christians — not pharisees, not legalists, not traditionalists, but mature, Christ-loving, church-devoted brothers and sisters — are becoming disillusioned by the places that are effectively starving them out spiritually.

I don’t offer this list as a handy-dandy airtight decision maker for you, but as a guide to important questions that will help you get beneath the unsettled feeling you’re already dealing with. Nobody should ever leave any church flippantly or angrily or divisively. But there are times to go. I pray the Lord will give you wisdom and discernment and a spirit of gentleness — and of courage.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I’ve been on the BHT since… I’m actually not sure. It was somewhere around 2001 when I first started reading and 2002 or 2003 when I joined. When I joined the BHT I hadn’t yet graduated from college, met my wife, had kids, or owned a house. It’s been a long time.

I’ve been through an incredible amount of things here with the rest of you. The fights over the Emerging Church, George Bush, the Real Presence, Catholicism, organic food. We’ve done basically everything. I’ll miss the place, but you’re all right: it’s not the same since Michael died.

Pirate is right about politics, at least as far as the president-and-Congress kind of politics is concerned. It’s worse than useless. Trump is amusing in the fire-in-an-abandoned-warehouse sense: not actually a good thing, but fun to watch, and it had to come down eventually. Stop voting, burn your newspaper, turn your back on the state, and cultivate your local families and churches.

From Out of the blue

The Lord is good. He is so good.

Think about it: we believe that Jesus came to earth to live a perfect life and die for our sins. This is, of course, true. But he did more than just die for our sins and forgive us and give us eternal life, all of which are, of course, both true and huge. But sometimes we forget that there’s more. We’re content with the idea of just barely being admitted into the Kingdom as anonymous citizens, to sleep on the streets of gold.

Listen, he did more.

He could have made us his servants. That sounds better – to serve him in the Kingdom and sleep in the servant’s quarters. Yes, much better.

No, there’s much, much more.

We’re not just servants. OK, perhaps we’re like foster children. Now we’re eating at the table.

Wait, there’s more.

We’re not foster children. We are fully adopted children of the King. This isn’t a temporary arrangement or a semi-commitment. The implications: we are heirs. Heirs of the Kingdom, princes and princesses, adopted with full rights of sonship and daughtership, brothers and sisters of our big Brother Jesus who went before us and gave his all for us.

Listen, he gave us all. Literally “more than we can ask or even think”.

From what country, from what universe does this love come from?

Thank you Lord Jesus!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

– Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Seriously, email me and ill add you to my dumb blogspot. Fearsomepirate@gmail.com

From The Boar's Head Tavern
Mixed feelings but I think it’s time.

Of those left, I think only Matthew and Kurt precede me. It’s been a good run but I do think it’s time to close up shop. Frankly, it was a little more fun when we weren’t quite so nice to each other. We’re all so reasonable and mature now that the spark is gone. I found Michael at IM when I was poking around, dissatisfied with the public invitation, and he invited me to join the BHT. I was here for all 26 times Josh was kicked out and let back in. I got to meet a few of the regulars in meat-space but I didn’t get to meet Michael unfortunately. We had some great conversations in the BHT Wine Cellar (AIM group chat).

Trump is a moron.
Molinism is better than Calvinism.
I like the 2nd Amendment but not the NRA.
Most Christians I know can’t separate politics from religion.

All out of parting shots. Adios. Thanks Matthew.

From The Boar's Head Tavern

Love is a powerful word, hidden by sloppy use.

I love Michael. I love all of you, even when we piss each other off. I’m glad we’re able to connect in other places. May it ever be.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

From Out of the blue
Donald Trump and his view of personal property

From Neo-Neocon’s excellent blog: Donald Trump loves the regular folks—unless their homes happen to stand in Trump’s way

As a large-scale real estate developer, Trump has sometimes sued in his efforts to use government to condemn houses belonging to people of modest means whose homes—which Trump considers insufficiently attractive—have stood near his big developments and have chosen to exercise their liberty by refusing to sell to him. That’s one of the reasons Trump agrees 100% with the SCOTUS decision in Kelo (decided in 2005): he sees it making it easier for him to use government to compel the sale of a person’s house even against that person’s will.

It’s Trump’s prerogative to approve of Kelo, and it’s certainly understandable that someone in his line of work might have that point of view. He has every right to build his projects, and to try to buy the land of those with adjacent property. But if more people knew about the tactics he has used in trying to get government to force people out of their homes against their will, and his own condescending and often insulting comments about those same people and their modest homes, he might not be seen in such a positive light. With Trump, the legal often seems to segue into the personal.

There are several examples. One occurred in the 1990s, when Trump was trying to buy the home of a 70-ish Atlantic City widow named Vera Coking. He wanted her property not for building his casino, but in order to use the land as a waiting area for limos. She had lived in the same place for three decades, and said no to Trump’s offer to buy. After that, Trump tried to get the city to condemn her property and buy it for a reduced sum, and the court battle took five years.

. . .

Ms. Coking had said earlier that “This is my home. This is my castle.” Trump had disagreed; he had built a different kind of castle with a different kind of aesthetic, and he made it clear that her home didn’t fit into his picture:

Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees that [Coking] property,” Trump continued…”They’re staring at this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.”

Here’s a picture of the Ms. Coking’s “terrible” house, in front of Trump’s casino:
As Neo says, “I’m not sure everyone would agree as to which of the two buildings is more aesthetically pleasing.”

From The Boar's Head Tavern

I’m another one of the latecomers. I read BHT for years, and remember the thrill of excitement the one time Michael commented on some blog post of mine. (Taking my point and making a far better one… a fact that surprises none of us.)

God used one of Michael’s posts directly in my life in a time when I was burning out in a church plant. It was something along the lines of “go ahead and quit”… which was just the word I needed that day.

I’m with JaredD – the joy for me in being a part of the BHT in its latter days was just to get to know a bunch of the patrons. I’ve gone out of my way to have a pint (and a whole dinner) with Jared, coffee with Brian, and can’t seem to meet up with Jason no matter how many times I get to Minneapolis. (I was just there this past week.)

Thanks to you guys for keeping the doors open and lights on this long.

From home is behind, the world ahead
Christian's aren't good and that's not good

I admit that I can be a little too concerned of what others think of me, especially unbelievers. I can focus a little too much on seeming cool and okay with everything. I can be fickle in my beliefs. And that is something that I need to figure out with God and allow him to work in my life.

That being said, I firmly believe that what we do in this life is more important than we are taught to believe. And I don't think it's particularly biblical to only look ahead to eternal life. Yes, we need to be ready and to prepare, but God left us here for a purpose. And he created life and this earth and he thought it was good. So, to be like God and to be holy means to also think life and this earth is good.

It always irritates me to the core when I'm in a group of people and the worse person of that group is a christian. They can be mean or rude or outspoken or prideful. They're jerks. And the rest of the group- though definitely not perfect- are more compassionate, level-headed, thoughtful people. I get embarrassed to be on the "same team" at the christian honestly.

(I am making a lot of generalizations and blanket statements, I know, and there are a lot of Christians who are some of the best people I know. Those are the people I want to be more like and surround myself with. But, I proceed.)

We christians are so consumed with our "total depravity" and "no good in me"-ness that sometimes we use that as an excuse to not change. We've gotten this idea that this life doesn't matter and it's all about our heavenly home and we have neglected to just work on ourselves as people. Today. We leave all the work to God. He's "changing us from the inside out." So we let ourselves be the angry, mean, racist, sexist people we are because we are totally depraved. The only good in us is Christ.

We are not good people. We are jerks. And that is not a good thing. That is not just us "understanding who we are a part of Christ". No, Christ came to die for us so we could put those parts of us to death. We won't be perfect, and there are plenty of jerks out there who aren't christians, but we should be the best people in the room not the worst. We should be the kindest, the most loving, the most compassionate, the most forgiving, the most understanding because JESUS was all that to us.

It's not okay to just go around talking about how "totally depraved" we are and do nothing about it. Yes, we're sinful and evil. Fix that. Work towards holiness. And that doesn't mean that we need to be more judmental and righteous and make sure everyone lives to our standards. No, to be more holy means to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. That is God describing himself in Exodus 6. Wanna be more like God? Be that. He says himself to leave the vindication and judgement to him. That's the part he doesn't want us to be like.

There are ways that I could be more unashamed of God and the gospel, but I will never apologize for trying to be a better person and caring about this world or this life. Don't be a jerk. Be a light of the gospel to a dying world. Be kind. Be loving. Help someone out physically, not just spiritually.

From fingerpost

The King keeps his best wine in the cellar of affliction.
- Samuel Rutherford

From home is behind, the world ahead
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I just read the uber famous play by Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,and it's one of those plays that stays with you. For me, it was partly because the whole play I was thinking "what the heck is this play about?!" or "what is going on?!". But, it's also due to the fact that the play is incredible and it's not easily forgettable.

There are a lot of plays I wish I had written. This play is definitely on the list. As a young writer, you hear a lot of "that wouldn't happen" or "this doesn't make sense", etc. I'm not arguing these aren't valid points- because they are- but one day I want to write a play where I get to make all the rules and I get to say what would and wouldn't happen and, when people read it, they say "okay, yeah I believe that."

The given circumstances in this play are kind of ridiculous. The play begins at, like, 2 in the morning where the characters have already been drinking at another party. George and Martha, the first couple, invite over the second couple, Nick and Honey, for there own little after party. They basically drink all night long which means that by the end of the play they are probably three levels past drunk. But, you also believe that they are the most honest they've ever been. You don't for a second think they're gonna wake up in the morning and not remember what happen or just chalk it up to another drunken night. These events have lasting consequences on their lives.

The characters are outlandish but strangely very human. At first, I was thinking that no one talks this way and no one is this cruel, but then the whole time I could picture people I know who are these characters. They may not act like these characters, but they could. And that's the point. Albee was able to write real people who do things and say things that most people would stop themselves from doing and saying. But, they are not too far from reality.

Albee also uses dialogue to walk all over you. It is so weird but it flows so well and the whole time I was just in awe of his ability to take out-of-this-world circumstances, characters, and dialogue and make a beautiful play from it.

I read up a little about the play after I finished because I wanted to try to understand everything. Once you finish the play, in my experience, you feel like you have a better understanding of the whole thing than you did at the beginning. (That's kind of a "duh" statement, but true.) The play wraps everything up so nicely and drops a bomb that destroys everything all at the same time. It's awesome. But, reading about the play, the analysis talks about your typical, familiar story of social pretenses and taking off masks. SO many plays are about that. (It works, I guess). But, for me, what I took from this the most was the power of words and the power we gain through our words. The stories they told, the secrets they revealed, the insults they poured out on each other all were ways to gain power and to keep power. And George ends up winning the power, sorta ironically since he is the weakest at the beginning, by speaking things into existence that, because of the understood "rules" between Martha and George, could not be unspoken. He got what he want through his words. Ugh, it's so good.

Those are some of my initial thoughts and take-a-ways. I'm curious for others who have read this play what they took from it.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Now Reading:

Reading Challenge: now reading

A book on Christian Living:  The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (Tim Challies)

a biography: Crazy Horse and Custer (Stephen Ambrose)

A Classic Novel: Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)

Off-plan: The Hammer of God (Bo Giertz)

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Another Try At Another New Year

Big for last year -

we remodeled our bathroom.  We hope to put the finishing touches on this weekend.  Phil worked so hard on the part he's doing and it all looks great.  I hope that means more entertaining here.

I finished reading through the Bible in a year.  It only took me seven years.  But I had some really good side trips along the way.

I started a business.  My goal is to be a blessing to families and a help for kids.  And let them pay me to do it.

Knee surgery - after four months I'm finally starting to feel "right" - but I've been so sedentary that I'm way far behind on fitness.

I started serving our church by scheduling volunteers for Sunday School.  Again...a blessing for families and a help for kids.

What's up for 2016 -

Grow my business.  I'm aiming at helping home school families with special needs kids, growing Barton Reading System (for people with Dyslexia) and forming summer enrichment activities.

Starting reading through the Bible again.  This time, using a two-year plan, via "ReadingPlan."

A "goal" is to keep up with reading organization - what I'm reading, what I read.

Part of this is a targeted reading plan - that will give me a structure of what sort of books to be reading, which will give me a little better diversity than I have now.  I'm using Tim Challies' "reading challenge" - who wants to join me?

Almaden Quicksilver - the goal is to hike every trail.

And the other health - use "my net diary" to track food, to lose 1.5 pounds per week - with a focus on "real food."

Work on being a better wife...

and the usual...blog more.

From The Living Room
2015 in review.

  1. In the first ten weeks of the year, I started a new job, turned 30, totaled my car, moved to a new place, and bought a new car. Nothing major or anything.
  2. Stag’s Head, where I have celebrated more birthdays than I care to think about, closed its doors, and I am still kind of upset about this.
  3. My church underwent quite a few changes this year–this is still not really a space where I feel like I can write about it in detail, but it’s been both a difficult and a beautiful year for all of us, I think. A lot of breaking happened, but a lot of healing happened, too, and quite a bit of rebuilding, and I am immensely grateful for what God has done and will continue to do.
  4. Visiting my friends Michael and Emily (and their kid) with our other friends Chris and Meagan in June.
  5. Getting to be the reader judge for the Tournament of Books!
  6. Watching the documentary The Drop Box with my roommate and crying through the whole thing. (It’s on Netflix, go watch it.)
  7. Getting to hang out with a bunch of my friends from grad school at various points through the year.
  8. Memorial Day festivities with my church.
  9. Learning how to be a cat person, thanks to my roommate bringing our cat Chandler home one day. Said cat also plays fetch, but only with bottle caps, which is both weird and freaking adorable.
  10. Speaking of Chandler, roomie also got me to watch Friends, which I somehow missed out on in the ’90s and ’00s.
  11. Attempting to drive down to Galveston to watch the fireworks on July 4th with Steph and her mom (it didn’t go quite as well as planned).
  12. Jurassic World, y’all.
  13. Not one, but two quote-alongs at the Alamo Drafthouse–one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (with coconuts and inflatable swords!) and one of Serenity (with cap guns to shoot at Reavers).
  14. The duck army thing.
  15. The force of nature that is the musical Hamilton–I got a friend at church to listen to the cast recording so I could have someone besides the Internet to talk to about it, and I’m trying to get more people to listen to it so I’m not just venting at him all the time. (A friend went to New York and got to see it, and I am still immensely envious about it.)
  16. I had my first experience as a bridesmaid; that wedding was a blast.
  17. My friend Hannah and I got to go see the musical Once when it came through town!
  18. I sat in a counselor’s office a lot this year. One of the things he kept telling me is that I was strong and brave, and I think it finally hit me when I was alone one day while I took a week off (see #25) and I got washed over by such a wave of gratitude to God for giving me a lot of people who sustained me and for starting to heal me of a lot of stuff, and so I was ugly-crying and it was messy and glorious and wonderful. (Sorry for the run-on sentence.)
  19. I started sponsoring the excellent Christ and Pop Culture and as a result I got added to a super-secret group on Facebook, and quite honestly that’s one of two reasons why I’m even still on Facebook.
  20. Lots of watching Jimmy Fallon or random NBC dramas or chick flicks with my roommate.
  21. Sitting around with a bunch of other ladies–some old friends, some new–at my friend Steph’s birthday party. We ate tacos and talked about personality tests, which is a lot more entertaining than I’m making it sound.
  22. A handful of friends of mine went to be part of a church plant downtown and the church got written about in Houstonia, which blows my mind.
  23. I got to know a lot of friends’ dogs via housesitting this year…
  24. The week I took off of work in September during which I did almost nothing except read and watch Netflix, and it was glorious.
  25. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m tired of hearing about all the mass shootings–as in, let’s not let these keep happening.
  26. Also, can someone please just kidnap Donald Trump and drop him in the middle of Uzbekistan or something?
  27. I hung out with my extended family a couple of days after Christmas and we played cards, and it was rad.
  28. A member of my family had a (minor) medical crisis and I got to be the grownup in the situation for what I’m pretty sure was the first time, and it was actually kind of empowering.
  29. Oh yeah, some Kaleoians and I took the trek up to Lanier Theological Library for a lecture by Jeremy Begbie on art and the church, which included some excellent performances as well (spoken word poetry and cello, two of my favorite things). We also saw my friends Hannah, Jenni, and Johnny, people I’ve been meaning to get in the same room as each other for a while, and it was as delightful as I thought it would be.
  30. This year has been really hard in a lot of ways; I spent the first 2/3 of it working through a lot of emotional pain and things I’d left undealt with for years, and confronting my own sin and shame and fear and anger. But like I said, God also did a lot in me this year, and even though I felt crazy and sad and terrible, He continued to keep caring for me and looking after me, and I think I finally saw that He was both protecting me and letting me be made more like Him in all the times when I thought He’d just left me alone. And if nothing else, despite how hard a lot of this year was, I am still thankful for it.

From The Living Room
the 2015 book list

I did you a favor(?) and linked to all these books on Amazon so you can take a look and see what they’re about if you want. An asterisk means it’s a re-read. :) Stats and the top 10 at the end…

January 17: Joy Davidman, Smoke On the Mountain
January 23: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March: Book One
*February 9: Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
February 26: Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions
March 17: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
March 23: Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
March 25: Jesse Ball, Silence Once Begun
*March 27: Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
April 12: Ernst Cline, Ready Player One
April 21: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March: Book Two
April 25: James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular
May 2: Ray Ortlund, The Gospel
May 9: Edward T. Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness
May 12: Lauren Winner, Wearing God
May 24: Marilynne Robinson, Home
May 29: Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted
*June 3: Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent
June 11: N.D. Wilson, Death By Living
*June 13: Adam L. Feldman, Journaling
June 22: Jared C. Wilson, The Storytelling God
July 2: Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.
July 8: Edward T. Welch, Running Scared
*July 8: Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
July 9: Stephen King, Joyland
*July 11: C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night
July 15: Andrew Klavan, The Last Thing I Remember
July 16: Andrew Klavan, The Long Way Home
July 16: Andrew Klavan, The Truth of the Matter
July 16: Andrew Klavan, The Final Hour
July 17: Paula Hawkins, The Girl On the Train
July 22: Tim Keller, Preaching
July 23: Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
*August 5: Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft
August 6: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression
August 12: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
August 19: Marilynne Robinson, Lila
*August 25: Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
September 1: Tim Chester, You Can Change
September 5: Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word
September 11: Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
September 11: Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell
September 21: Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines
September 23: Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer
September 29: Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken
September 30: Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things
October 2: Kathleen Norris, Dakota
October 11: Marie Kondo, The life-changing magic of tidying up
October 19: Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints
October 24: James K.A. Smith, Letters to a Young Calvinist
November 2: Robert Galbraith, Career of Evil
November 11: James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
November 15: R.J. Palacio, Wonder
December 10: Russell Moore, Onward
December 29: James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom
December 29: *Lauren Winner, Girl Meets God

total: 55
fiction: 21
non-fiction: 24 (including 2 graphic memoirs)
books written by women: I was trying to read more books by ladies this year and I got to 21, compared to 11 last year, so that’s improvement, I suppose. :)
most-read author: tie between James K.A. Smith (whose books I adored) and Andrew Klavan (whose books I kind of hate-read), with 4 apiece

top 10 non-rereads, in no particular order:
Desiring the Kingdom Imagining the Kingdom
Letters to a Young Calvinist
Station Eleven
The Night Circus
Shame Interrupted
Death By Living

My Top Music of 2015

In the past, I've often taken time at the end of the year to run down what I considered to be the best music of the year. In a former life (college, really) I was a music reviewer. While I won't be crafting the sort of thing a music journalist would in this space, I will review what I considered to be the best music of 2015. There is one caveat, however. I don't have the resources or time to keep up with everything. So, this post is me telling you what is the best among the music I picked up in 2015. These selections were all released this year (with the exception of an honorable mention that was released in summer 2014 but I only discovered in mid-2015). So, away we go ...

Honorable Mention:

As I mentioned above, this one was actually released in 2014 (otherwise, it would easily make my top five list). The Cold Stares are semi-local as they are based in Evansville, Ind., but heavily gig around Nashville. The band is only a duo (drummer and guitarist) but are the sound of Black Sabbath backing up Muddy Waters. I dig their sound immensely and can't recommend them enough. Great riffs, great singing. Blues with a touch of spirituality mixed in. Pick it up, folks. The band also released two EPs in 2015 that are stellar and fairly varied.

Lately, there have been several artists appear who seem to be throwbacks (Adele comes to mind) to when singers had soul and sang quote-unquote "real" music. Time will tell whether they are one trick ponies or not. However, Leon Bridges, with the release Coming Home, has delivered something seemingly authentic and, well, just real. Featuring narrative-style storytelling on several songs, the laid-back groove will put you in a different era. Everything about this is a throwback to the days of Otis Redding and what may seem like a simpler era. We know, of course, that is not necessarily true, but the main thing I take away from this album is being transported and that's one thing good music does. Be sure to pay attention to the Scripture woven throughout. This is the way to do it, folks.


Number Five:

This duo was relatively unknown to me before a guy named Jeff (at our church) pointed them out to me. Lots of people point out lots of music to me so I didn't give it much thought (I had a song of theirs from the Divided and United: Songs Of The Civil War album I loved from several years back). However, when I saw they were giving away this album on NoiseTrade, I immediately gave it a download. What it turned to be was one of my favorites of the year. Neo-folk can be great or awful. I put this in the former category. Full of stomping rave-ups, Swimmin' Time makes me laugh, think, and just generally feel good about life. It's repeat listening.

Number Four:

One of the former Mars Hill Church bands, Ghost Ship was never my favorite of those bands (Citizens, Red Letter, King's Kaleidoscope, etc.). It's not that I disliked them, they were always just OK in my book. However, their sophomore release, Costly, written in the wake of Mars Hill's dissolution, is next-level material. Cam Huxford's songwriting is stellar (we sing their song "One God" at our church) and, refreshingly, honest and raw on this album. Songs like "Provide" are blunt and necessary for the church. songs like "Adoption" give new perspectives to Jesus' sacrifice and love for us. I often dislike modern worship music because it's, well, bland and derivative far too often. this is the opposite and something I hope more churches search for in their worship music catalogs.

Number Three:

Mark Tremonti is one of the hardest working guys in hard rock music. Formerly of Creed (while I wish no ill will toward Creed, their music or fans, I hope the band is done) and currently a driving force in the awesome band Alter Bridge, Tremonti, takes a thrash-ier turn with the second release from his side project called, strangely enough, Tremonti. The band's first album, All I Was, was consistent and heavy with good melodies. This album ups the ante a bit in every way. The melodies are stronger (by the way, I love heavy music, but melody is 100% essential), the riffs are heavier, Wolfgang Van Halen's bass more groove-inflected and Garret Whitlock's drums more brutal (in a great way). If you like heavy music, this needs to be in your catalog. Just listen to "Another Heart,""Sympathy," or "Tie The Noose" if you doubt me.

Number Two:

The exciting thing for me as a music fan when following a band is seeing a clear progression in quality and songwriting from a band. Needtobreathe is perhaps the best example. I've followed them for a few years now (since The Outsiders). I saw them live on The Reckoning tour and was impressed. However 2015's two releases from the band are proof the band is only getting better. The live release, Live From The Woods, captures and frenetic energy of their vastly-improved live show (catch them sometime, it's an experience). However, the Rivers EP is a collection of different mixes of songs from their Rivers In the Wasteland album. I'm sure this was meant as a little bonus release for fans. However, it's one of the best releases of the year. The songs are even better than the original versions, in my opinion and capture the band at its best. I'm very excited about the next release.

Number One:

My co-worker at the church, Drew, came in to my office one day in early May and told me about this guy Chris Stapleton who had just released his debut album a few days earlier. Stapleton had, apparently, been building quite a buzz around Nashville as a songwriter and, with the release of his debut Traveller, was gaining ground as an artist in his own right. I gave it a cursory listen on Spotify and was blown away. I went to my local Walmart establishment (the only place to buy physical music in our town these days besides the quasi-scary Kmart) and picked up a CD copy. If it was possible to wear out a CD, I would've word this one out. Of course, by now, many know him because of his breakout performance with Justin Timberlake on a recent awards show. I hesitate to use the term "real country" because that's kind of played out (he's not the latest "real country" savior following Jamey Johnson and Sturgill Simpson ... though I love those guys and that sound as well). He's just a country singer that owes as much to the blues as George Jones. Check out "Fire Away,""Tennessee Whiskey," and "When The Stars Come Out." This is seriously good, even with all the hype. I'm grateful for the tip from Drew for this one.

From home is behind, the world ahead
My Christmas Reflection

This is a weird Christmas for me because I am away from my family and home and in a new town that is about a road long. But, it's okay. I've got my icecream, my favorite artist playing, a puzzle to do, and a couple presents under the tree. I'm debating whether I'll go to the Christmas Eve Service tonight at the Methodist Church. I would like to go, but I am worn out from the week and quiet evenings to myself are few and far between these days.

All that being said, I still want to stop and listen and reflect on the implications of Christmas. I still want to make room for Jesus and remember him on this day.

I was listening to a song called "Belly of the Deepest Love" (by Tow'rs) and one of the lyrics says "I tried to get to you but you came to me instead." I feel like that sums up the good news that the Angels proclaimed to the shepherds and that we still share today. All of history, people have been trying to understand God and work their way into goodness or acceptance by God or people. And there has been varying degrees of success in achieving those goals. But our efforts have yet to get us to God. So, Jesus gave up his throne and came down to us. He walked on this earth. He came to be with us.

He came so He could die for us and make a way, but it is also nice on Christmas to just reflect on the first part: He came.

I don't really know why but whenever I think about that fact, I always am stopped in my tracks. It's the most beautiful story every written, told, and lived.

God did not leave us on our own. He came and He is coming again. And whenever we need him, He is there. He is here and all around.

That is good news and that is enough for me today.

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Book Reading Challenge

From Amazon, via Challies - Since most of my reading is on Kindle, I'm going to add an additional challenge - half the books will be paper copies.


From The Living Room
second week of advent.

1. abraham
Father Abraham’s sons and daughters
started as the stars in the sky and a promise
and fire passing through the carcasses of covenant
the flame, the blood, the unseen day

2. moses
exodus from slavery led to desert mountain
the holy mystery descending in earthquake
a choice set before them for life or for death
the law, the land, the unseen day

3. david
a better king to shepherd the sheep
than the youngest son plucked from the fields
a greater son to rule forever
the throne, the temple, the unseen day

4. Jesus
the pilgrim, the prophet, the better son
the lamb, the priest, the greater law
the shepherd, the king, the truer temple
all found in one loud Word of amen

From MzEllen - For the Life of Me
Following Jesus on Twitter

This is a great graphic - I really liked it the first time I watched it and it's just as powerful now.

From The Living Room
first week of advent.

You said once that You groan along with us
When language fails us to speak the grief
Or pain or pleas up to the Father
Word of God, pray for us

You said once that You come near
To the ones who draw near to You
But what if we can’t find our way in the dark
Good Shepherd, seek Your sheep

You said once that the poor and meek
The mourners, the persecuted
Were the ones that would inherit the world
King of glory, bring Your kingdom

You said once that You were coming back soon
It’s been almost two millennia and we still
Keep looking down the road to catch a glimpse of You
Son of God, come back soon

From Overcoming Our Genes
Willing To Die For Jesus

Above is a 10-minute interview of Myriam, a ten-year-old Iraqi Christian.  She survived an invasion of ISIS.  She thanks God and teaches the world a lesson on forgiveness. Watch Myriam as she shares her story of being displaced from Qaraqouish, Iraq by ISIS and forgives them.