Jackson Pollack's Letter to His Teenage Son

A Jackson Pollack painting (Public Domain)

A Jackson Pollack painting (Public Domain)

Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

(Source: American Letters)

What advice will I give my sons and daughter?

Stay awake, pay attention, the world is bursting with the glory of God. The more you “see,” the more joy can be had.

Ten Commandments for Mature Living

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Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

“Life has served me as it serves everyone, sometimes well and sometimes ill, but I have been grateful for the gift of it, for the love that began it and the other loves with which I have been so richly endowed,” -Morris West

In Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, Ronald Rolheiser summarizes the marks of Christian maturity/discipleship with Ten Commandments for Mature Living. Let me share the ten and give a line or two for context:

1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life. 

Life is a gift, salvation is a gift, and God loves to give good gifts to his children. Thankfulness and gratitude are the path of holiness. 

And, the most loving people you know, are the most thankful. Love finds its roots in gratitude.

Mature people enjoy their lives. 


2. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.

Nothing in life is black and white, including our own hearts. The world is complex, and our hearts are sick, who can understand it? 

A mature person can watch the confusion, evil, and nonsense around them, and engage with empathy. Knowing the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Knowing there are no perfect people and everyone’s in process. 

This also includes accepting our seemingly normal and small lives. If we are always waiting for someone or a new situation to fix us, and give us the life we're supposed to live, bitterness is right around the corner.


3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.

Whatever emotional pain we carry it will retransmit on God and others. If someone hates you, you will hate them back. If you’re bitter, you won’t be gracious and loving with others. 

All of us hurt, and will be hurt by others. The question becomes how we’ll respond to the hurts and pains?


4. Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.

Suffering is the path of a compassionate and supple soul. In suffering we are being refined by fire to become more hopeful, faithful, patient, kind, and compassionate. Suffering is never wasted in God’s economy. 

But, many reject any kind of suffering, and see it having no place. That’s when hardness sets in. Depth comes through suffering. 

5. Forgive—those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you. 

 Lack of forgiveness is cancer to the soul. Many people walk around with a false piety while they can’t forgive others who have wronged them, can’t forgive their lot in life, and even can’t forgive God for all the above.

If we understand grace, and understand the forgiveness God extends to us, then we must keep short accounts with God and others. 

6. Bless more and curse less!

Speak words of blessing to others, especially children. Blessing is: great job, I love you, I’m proud of you, so glad you’re my friend or son. Cursing: you do nothing right. I hate you. You’re a jerk. 

“When we act petty, we get to feel petty. When we act like God, we get to feel like God — and God is never depressed,” (page 6). 

7. Live in a more radical sobriety. 

Radical sobriety is about living in the light, telling the truth, and living in wide open spaces. No one is perfect, the cross has outed everyone, so hiding and pretending is the path of destruction. Honesty and openness with our sins and addiction is the path of healing and maturity. 

Living in the light doesn’t mean you have a happy-clappy glow around you. Living in the light is about a posture of honesty and open hands. Where there’s nothing to hide even when it’s hard to talk about it. 

8. Pray, affectively, and liturgically. 

Pray from the heart to God, openly and honestly, and in private. And pray with others in a community. We are too weak and blind to not live in constant prayer. 

Seeking maturity without a prayer life is like trying to start a fire without matches. 

9. Be wide in your embrace.

This one is about accepting the Otherness of people. Most immature people live with skepticism and fear of others who don’t think, believe, live, or have the same ideology as them. Fundamentalism is the root of paranoia. Fundamentalism forgets the Imago Dei of all humans.

If we have a solid identity rooted in Christ, we can embrace, and love others different from us on many levels. 

10. Stand where you are supposed to be standing, and let God provide the rest. 

Be committed and faithful to your place, space, and time. Immature people are always looking for the next thing, next community, and whatever is bigger and better. They can’t seem to love and minster to the people right in front of them. 

Be faithful with the job you've been called. Commit to your spouse, kid’s, church community, neighbors, and other civic duties in the here and now. Stop looking for something elsewhere. 

God will provide what you need when you’re faithful with the little things. 

Life is short and fragile. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. 

How could these ten commandments radically alter how we lived each day?

(Source: Sacred Fire, pages 245-273)

The Joy of Missing Out

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The fear of missing out, FOMO, is killing us. That all we have is now, the next opportunity for growth or experience is guaranteed to fix our boring and joyless lives.

Ask the attendees to the Fyre Festival how that worked out.

Svend Brinkmann, a Danish psychologist, has written a new book warning about FOMO, and her cousin, the personal growth movement. He says the movement is a:

“… rampant development culture that knows no boundaries.”

Brinkmann argues that FOMO goes against the nature of our humanity. People can’t be plugged in all the time. Humans have boundaries and limitations. Sorry Tony Robbins, there’s a limit to human potential. We’re not God.

Instead, Brinkmann argues for disengagement, and what Aristotle suggested moderation in all things. A culture with overwhelming amounts of choice is psychologically damaging, and what he calls the hedonic treadmill.

Missing out is an ethical necessity Brinkmann suggests:

“We are only able to live up to our obligations as human beings if we are willing to miss out on something in order to be there for other, specific, people.”

Missing out requires sacrifice for the greater good. The good of the people and responsibilities right in our midst. That somewhere else is where we find gold and hidden treasure is just a narrative we build in our heads to deal with our ordinary lives.

But in the ordinary and mundane and routine we find much joy and grace. I think it’s time we get off the treadmill and unplug a bit.

*Originally published on Medium.com.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/06/the-joy-of-missing-out-svend-brinkmann-review

Will Our Boys Thrive or Starve with the Current Models of Christian Leadership?

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Is it time to consider the Master Leader for next-generation leadership in the 21st century?

The engine of the predominant leadership model in the modern world needs more than a tune up, it needs an overhaul. The leadership ethos of power, control, efficiency, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and Law; is ineffective and left wanting.

Is it time to consider a new path and a way forward for the upcoming generation of boys soon to be men? Can we in good conscious say the current models of leadership in business, politics, media, entertainment, church, and home, are worthy of imitation?

Every day we hear of a new scandal in the White House, an abuse of power in the boardroom, a sexual predator in Hollywood, and inappropriate behavior of our clergy. Are these the role models of leadership we want to hand down to our kid’s? Can we do better?

I think we can, but it will take a kind of leadership that is so countercultural and against the grain of our modern sensibilities most will reject it. A leadership that embraces and embodies the Master Leader’s wisdom that critiqued our models of power and said (my paraphrase): don’t lord over others (like the world), don’t use your authority to control and manipulate and abuse, become a servant. That’s what I came to do, and it’s the best way to live and lead (Matt. 25:25–28).

I’m speaking to males (not because this doesn’t apply to females), rather, I am a man, and don’t like the hand we’ve been dealt for male Christian leadership in every sphere of life. Let’s say I have a particular soft spot for the next generation of men. Why?

We have a generation of boys pretending to be men. Men who aren’t ready to take a wife, to lead her, love her, serve her. Men who think playing nine hours of video games is a healthy way to live out our existence under the sun. And men who don’t think pornography is harming them or anyone else. Men who think the world owes them something because they are a special snowflake.

We have too many men who aren’t equipped and ready to lead a company or church or family or themselves because the models of leadership handed down in our modern world are built on sand. It’s time we rebuild the foundation with steel.

So what could countercultural Christian leadership look like in the 21st century? What beliefs, practices, and habits are essential for a new way of being and leading in the next generation?

Henri Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, examines the temptation of Jesus to navigate a way forward for Christian leadership. He suggests three shifts, and three disciplines, for empowering the next generation of leadership:

Shift #1: From Relevance to Prayer

When Jesus had fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days Satan tempted him. The first temptation was:

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” (Matt. 4:3).

The temptation of relevance is the air we breathe in our culture. Here’s Jesus being tempted by Satan two thousand years ago. Do a trick for us Jesus… turn those rocks into whole wheat. Show your relevancy and give us what the market demands. We’re hungry, fill our bellies, you’re a difference maker, and impacting the world. Don’t prove to be a square.

Relevance is tempting because at our core we want to make a difference. Seen as someone who has the answers, knows what’s going on, and appears to be in the loop.

But Jesus’ way of being and living and leading is not bent on relevance. He need not prove anything to anyone. He doesn’t have to be in the know and have all the answers (even though he has all the answers being the Son of God).

Jesus is secure in the Father’s love.

Notice how he responds to Satan:

“It is written… Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4).

Bread is nice. Getting things done and making a difference is fine. But man can’t live on relevance alone. Man is built for more than our cultural moment. He needs something greater than accomplishments, success, money, and power. Men need something greater and better and more satisfying.

Man needs God.

Men need to hear a word from Someone that’s not temporal and the latest fad. They need to hear someone say: you’re loved regardless if anyone knows your name, business, or ministry. Your relevance doesn’t predict your acceptance, and your relevance doesn’t tip the scales of my love.

Discipline #1: Prayer

So how do we cultivate a leadership and a life that’s not bent and obsessed on relevance? We pray. Not just pray, but pray like a mystic. Hang on and don’t get weirded out.

Nouwen defines a mystic as someone who’s identity is rooted in God’s first love. Some have called it, God’s one-way love. Prayer is not just asking God to get you out of jams. Prayer is cultivating a relationship with a person. Prayer is the avenue to cultivate an identity rooted in God’s love, and not relevance.

The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is the suicide rate is sky high. No one talks about it. In all the efforts to paint a picture of Apple, Facebook, and Google, being the company to work for, what you find under the hood isn’t pretty.

Yet, young men are being lured into these jobs because they are the relevant place to work. Who doesn’t want to be relevant, right?

But right now in cubicles, board rooms, and pastor’s offices, are men who hate themselves, feel irrelevant, and wonder why no one seems to notice them, or their work. They won’t voice it, but it’s real. I’ve been there.

Prayer is how we cultivate and experience the one-way love of God. Prayer is how we fight the temptation of relevance.

Shift #2: From Popularity to Ministry

Who doesn’t like crazy stunts on You Tube? When I was a kid, we used to ride bicycles off roofs into our friends pools. One of my favorite shows growing up was That’s Incredible, filled with crazy things people did and lived to tell about it.

Jesus tempted a second time is asked to become a stunt man. Satan says:

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matt. 4:5–6).

Come on Jesus, you’re the Son of God, throw yourself off the Temple. The angels will come and save you, right? Pull off this stunt and you’ll be the most popular Rabbi in the land.

Every day we’re tempted to be popular. To prove we have what it takes to do the job, get the girl, and make stuff happen.

Jesus wouldn’t play that game. But instead he says:

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Matt. 4:7).

Jesus didn’t need popularity to live a full life. He didn’t have to prove himself as popular by jumping through the test of Satan.

In fact, every time Jesus did a miracle or something amazing, he’d deflect the act, and tell the recipient of divine grace to keep it under wraps.

When Jesus completed his ministry and resurrected from the dead, he only had 120 followers. By the worlds standards, Jesus was a failure. His popularity was abysmal. 120 followers on social is loser status.

But these 120 disciples changed the world.

Popularity is a fools errand because it’s an isolating act. Seeking popularity is about the Holy Trinity of: me, myself, and I. When you only care about being seen, known, and respected, we push others away. Instead of ministering to others, we’re consumed with perception, or if we’re living up to our standards.

Popularity breeds a belief we have all the gifts, knowledge, and ability to make stuff happen. We possess no weaknesses or faults.

Like Jesus, when we have our identity rooted in the Father’s love, we have no reason to prove ourselves worthy to others. We don’t have to become the mythical stuntman.

So what discipline do we need to fight off the temptation of popularity?

Discipline #2: Confession and Forgiveness

The next generation leader needs a healthy dose of confession, forgiveness, and repentance. No man, woman, or child sees everything, knows everything, has no weaknesses, and can accomplish everything. We all have a sin problem and live in a fallen world. We must acknowledge our sins, tell God, others, and keep short accounts with both.

Saying we’re sorry is one of the most countercultural moves in the universe.
 When we can embrace the reality, we’re all pilgrims on the way, and we hurt God and others daily, and popularity is a dead end, we’ll confess our sins.

When we can be vulnerable and say we’re sorry: we no longer live in isolation of God and others. We enter our communities as equals, no longer needing to be top dog, and marveling at grace.

Shift #3: From Leading to Being Led

As men, this one is difficult. Men want to lead and be out in front. Whether it be at work, school, or home. Leading to being led, is a question of power.

Notice the third temptation of Jesus:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” (Matt. 4:8–9).

Jesus knows power corrupts. Economic, political, and religious power are a threat to intimacy. If our life pursuit is power and control, it pushes aside anyone or anything that gets in our way. Most people on a power trip have a hard time developing intimate relationships with God or people.

Power always threatens intimacy.

Notice how Jesus responds to the temptation of power:

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,’” (Matt. 4:10).

Jesus says, I’m good. You can keep your kingdoms, I will worship and serve God. Power makes for a poor God and threatens worship. Power blinds and makes us god-like. What good is it to have the whole world and forfeit your soul?

So how do we shift from seeking a leadership bent on power? How can we shift from always leading, to being led, and loved by God?

Discipline #3: Theological Reflection

Theological reflection is not about taking seminary classes. Theological reflection is a discipline rooted in shaping and forming a mind in Christ. The world will pummel every man with visions of true masculinity, success, and the good life.

Having minds sharpened and formed by the Scriptures, Christian teachers/pastors/family, and other good Christian literature, is a way to fight the temptations of a world allergic to grace.

Theological reflection is also about discerning where God is leading us, where he’s speaking, and how we can announce good news in a world falling apart.

When we take the discipline of theological reflection seriously we can live, act, pray, and work in Jesus’ name. For his glory, our joy and good, and for the joy of others.

What Nouwen has laid out for the future of Christian leadership is challenging. But a challenge the next generation of Jesus-loving men need to consider.

(Source: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen.)

*Originally published on Medium.com (faith hacking)

How We Destroy Lives

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An interesting take from David Brooks on the Covington High School fiasco:

Within living memory, political polarization had at least something to do with issues, but in the age of social media it’s almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

The problem with social media is everything is instant with no room for reflection and dialogue. Everything is now, you must decide, now, and better not be on the wrong side of the argument. The nature of social media loses the person behind the post or tweet. People become a nameless face defined and described by a moment, picture, or statement.

In my opinion, we have too much time on our hands to make this story national news. We give too much attention and weight to things that will be forgotten by the end of the week. Also, pointing to myself, we don’t give enough attention to the stuff that matters in our own lives and communities.

Social media will destroy many lives, and has, because you can’t tell a compelling story, or give a true impression of someone in 180 characters or less. True understanding and connection takes time, effort, and proximity. Something social can’t and doesn’t offer.

(Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html)

A Prayer for Grace Junkies

holding-hands-prayerImage.jpg

Feel like your life doesn’t match your confession? Are you spiritually dry? Feel like sin is getting the best of you? Are you running from God? Here’s a prayer to pray from the hymn writer and pastor Charles Wesley:

A Prayer for Grace Junkies

O Jesus, full of truth and grace,

More full of grace than I of sin,

Yet once again I seek Thy face;

Open Thine arms and take me in,

And freely my backslidings heal,

And love the faithless sinner still.

Thou know’st the way to bring me back,

My fallen spirit to restore:

O for Thy truth and mercy’s sake,

Forgive, and bid me sin no more;

The ruins of my soul repair,

And make my heart a house of prayer.

-Charles Wesley

What Did Martin Luther King Jr. Think About Walls?

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In a speech given in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his thoughts about the Berlin Wall. Seems timely in our current political climate:

“For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Source: http://time.com/5504826/martin-luther-king-wall-history/

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pursuing Peace, and 3 Documentaries Worth Watching

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If you live in a America, today is the Martin Luther King Day Jr. holiday. The civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s was a complex man who did much good for equality in America. One of the things I want to instill in my kid’s as followers of Jesus, is to be peacemakers. When they see injustice from the little going ons on the playground, to bigger issues of society, they should speak up and pursue peace.

We often watch the famous MLK, I Have a Dream speech, to remind us the ideals of King are right and good, and also to remember they won’t be fully met this side of heaven. Total justice and equality won’t be realized until King Jesus, “makes all things new.” Knowing these truths keeps us humble and kills the pursuit of a utopian society. We understand the problem of racism and other evils are found at the heart level of every human, and fleshes itself out in other systemic sins of society (my take at least).

But we’ll still work toward peace, justice, and love of neighbor, wherever they are found. Jesus has no problem telling us the heart is wicked and the source of all sins (Mark 7:14-24), and simultaneously calling us to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).

Also, if you have a few minutes in the next couple of weeks, these documentaries are worth a watch. MLK was complex, but it’s important to remember the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement were complex as well.

  1. King: A Filmed Record . . . From Montgomery to Memphis, 1970, an older doc worth a watch.

  2. King in the Wilderness, 2018, saw this HBO one last year, and it was fantastic.

  3. In Remembrance of Martin, 1986, this one is from PBS, and they always do a good job.

Mary Oliver on Instructions for Living a Life

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Mary Oliver, the famous Pulitzer Prize winning poet died today. She left behind a large body of fantastic poems. Here’s a line from “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I wonder if we’re living in a day where paying attention, astonishment, and talking about it, is being replaced with: distraction, boredom, and isolation?

(Source: https://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/sometimes-by-mary-oliver/)

Is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Helping or Hurting Us?

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Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

My wife watched the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Somehow I got sucked into the vortex of the organizing guru and sweet Asian lady who doesn’t speak English. The premise is simple:

Step #1: Identify reality: you’re a hoarder. You can couch it as sentimentality or memories of the past. No, you’re a hoarder, you have too much stuff, stop playing games.

Step #2: Smell your clothes, hold up your shoes still in the box, and raise up the porcelain clown to the sky. Now ask one vital question: does it bring you joy (What kind of weird voodoo is this?)?

Step #3: Throw out all the crap that doesn’t give you joy. If you can’t, see Step #1.

Step #4: Find some tiny boxes, fold your clothes into the size of a quarter, now place the clothes in the tiny boxes of your drawers. Find more tiny boxes and place the rest of your possessions inside. You should now have nine things to your name.

Step #5: Now celebrate your new life. With your nine things…

Okay, so I’ve taken liberties on how the show works. Nothing against Ms. Kondo. But you get the gist.

Confession time: I took Kondo’s advice, kind of. My wife told me I needed to go through my closet. It was time to purge clothes. Am I a hoarder, maybe?

It felt good to let go of the shirt I bought ten years ago for an Easter Service. The pants with a stain on the butt, but oh so comfortable, needed to go. And yes, my fat man pants, from when I was carrying holiday weight from the mid 90s.

Now, I didn’t take Kondo’s advice verbatim: does this item give me joy? Instead, I asked: is it stained? Does it smell? Does it fit?

I wasn’t ready to let some weird organizing voodoo and self-help mantra enter my soul. Too practical for that.

I’ll say, it was good to do this exercise of purging and simplifying. It always is.

I can’t say my marriage is better. It was good before. I’m not sure if I’m happier. But it is easier to find clothes and not be overwhelmed with options in the morning. When you have fewer clothes, you tend to not only wear what is near the front of the closet. I wear like five things anyway, so thanks Kondo!

The exercise was also good because it revealed how I buy things I don’t need, or get attached to things I don’t wear, or the ways I tell myself I need something, when I don’t.

Good, I guess.

But here’s what I don’t like about shows like Kondo’s, and others. I’m aware that some of these couples on the show need help in organizing and tidying up. Yes, some of these people are hoarders, and have an unhealthy attachment to their stuff. If you watch the show, you see marriages on the rocks because of the amount of junk and mess in their homes, and lives. I get it.

But is tidying up our closets the answer? Is that going to get us where we need to go?

The culture in the West is in a moment of an unhealthy obsession with efficiency, productivity, technology, and yes, organization. The message goes: if I can get organized, find the right app for accomplishing my goals, and of course, eat the right foods, I will be a good person, I will find the joy I’m seeking.

If something is wrong with me or society, we throw money, technology, education, legislation, or mere grit and will at it. I’m not a problem, it’s everything around me.

Is Kondo hurting people, or helping?

Here’s the thing, our culture runs on Law, not Grace. If you follow the rules, whatever we deem to be the rules, you are a good, worthy, and righteous person. If you don’t, well, your life is a mess, and it’s time to ask: does this sweater bring you joy?

Law.

Our foodie obsessed and healthy eating culture is running on Law not grace. If you eat Kale, you’re good, Big Mac, not so much. What is that a Bud Light? Come on, only good people drink craft beers.

Law, and more Law.

So the couple who organizes their home is now in the graces of… what? Not sure. You’ve met the standard by placing your underwear in a ring box. Good job.

The grace of Jesus, is something different all together. Wait, what? A Jesus juke?

Yep, here’s why. All the shows, blogs, and books on productivity, food, organization, goal setting, and the stuff like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, are the product of a Law based culture.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their lives since the beginning; with Law. Whatever standard I set for myself, whether it be God’s Law, or otherwise, is the determining factor if I’m doing well, or failing at life. My law keeping is the factor of my happiness and joy, or not.

The scales of my life are constantly shifting between goodness and badness based upon how well I’m keeping God’s Law, or My Law. I recycled this week, the scale shifts in the right direction. Threw a can into the trash and now a whale will die in the ocean. Scale, wrong direction. Time to get back on track.

Christian people, and non-Christians, do this all the time.

Here’s the scoop, the Law is designed to be a Revealer, to shine a spotlight on how we fall short of God’s commands, and any commands we build for ourselves. The Law is a grace, yes, because it shows where joy is found. When we walk and live in line with God’s best, His Law, things go much better. Stealing, lying, cheating on your spouse, and worshiping things that can’t satisfy, is always the path of despair, death, and disintegration. We know that in our bones.

So we have an entire culture living separated from the God of grace but seeking satisfaction and rightness in how well they’re killing their goals, tidying their homes, or drinking and eating the right foods. It all looks so nice on the surface. Who would shame a person for wanting to lose weight, eat right, and yes, simplify their closets to four pairs of jeans, a shirt, and one pair if undies?
 But it’s a facade, smoke and mirrors, only deals with the surface of our lives. Doesn’t get to the gut, heart, and the soul.

The gospel says: come and eat all who are thirsty and need of drink. You don’t have to have a clean home, kept all your New Year Resolutions, or only eat Kale.

God’s acceptance of us is pure and beautiful and unmerited grace. God’s gift of grace is not because we’re worthy or awesome or drink the right beer. We’re failures when we get honest with ourselves. But God did something about it. He took our place and covered our inability to keep his commands. Everyone needs a Savior, and we can look for it in Jesus, or in tidying our homes, eating the right foods, or voting for the right candidate.

Does that mean we shouldn’t care about what we eat, if our homes are a mess, or have a few goals for improving your life this year, of course not. But that comes later. And whether we’re staying on the diet or eating Big Macs like mints, God’s love and acceptance is still runs on grace.

Our culture is tired and worn out. A little secret no one wants to admit. Modern society is not kind because it runs on Law and not grace. Everything is a competition and everyone is trying to meet some standard that on our best days; we fall on our faces.

Grace is so contrary to the default mode of our hearts and minds. So whether you have four items in your home after taking Marie’s advice, or have newspapers stacked to the ceiling. Grace is still available, and it’s a holy and crazy grace, most of our culture knows nothing about.

Is Kondo helping or hurting us? Not sure, but I’m going with Grace.

*Originally published on Medium.com.

Year in Review: Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

I like challenges. One of those challenges for 2018 was to read 50 books. Well, I did 54, and wanted to share a couple reads I found enjoyable. These are fiction and nonfiction titles.

Nonfiction

#1 The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

I’m a grace junkie, and have always enjoyed Manning’s work on the love and grace of God. This book is a quick and easy read for spurring our affections for Christ.

The Furious Longing of God
By Brennan Manning

#2 Art and the Bible by Francis A. Shaeffer

Shaeffer is somewhat of a hero of mine. The way he connects art, culture, creativity, and the Scriptures is really helpful. If you are a Christian and an artist of any kind, this is a short and encouraging read.

Art and the Bible (Ivp Classics)
By Francis A. Schaeffer

#3 Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

In a distracted world digital technology is not helping our cause. Newport cautions about the overuse of social media, technology, email, and other time wasters, for doing our best work. Very challenging and practical.

#4 The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Calling all reader’s… please read, and read often. Don’t feel guilty about it either. A great book about the pleasures and necessity of reading.

#5 Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

This book is thirty years old, and prophetically predicted what media would do to our souls and culture. Fascinating and important read.

Fiction

#1 The Body by Stephen King

I’m a sucker for a coming age of story. The Body is a short novel and the inspiration for the 80’s movie Stand by Me. Stephen King is known for horror novels, but his non-scary stuff is some of his best work.

The Body
By Stephen King

#2 Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

A Sci-Fi thriller where a guy is kidnapped and finds himself caught between two worlds. It is sparsely written and fast paced story, with tons of twists and turns. Great book! Check out Crouch’s other work too.

Dark Matter: A Novel
By Blake Crouch

#3 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is my favorite children’s author of the past. I picked this classic up again, and it holds up even as an adult. Great for the kid’s!

#4 Finders Keepers by Stephen King

A crime thriller about a retired detective Bill Hodges solving a case involving stolen books. The book is part of a trilogy. It’s a deep dive into the lives of the characters and fast paced story. Lots of twists and turns. King at his best.

#5 Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

They’re called "brilliants," and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in - and betray his own kind.

Great book, and part of a trilogy.

Life Itself is Grace

Listen to your life.
All moments are key moments.

I DISCOVERED THAT IF you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

-From Frederick Buechner Now and Then and Listening to Your Life

A little more from Buechner on grace…

Why Do We Struggle to Keep our New Year Resolutions?

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

Creative Commons (pixabay.com)

As 2018 comes to a close people will reflect and set new goals and resolutions for 2019. Some will balk at the idea and say they're stupid and a waste of time. Regardless of where you stand on the Resolution Train I think the practice is important for two reasons:

  1. Resolutions creates space to pause and reflect on the previous year and give thanks for the good, bad, and everything in between. And to adjust unhealthy patterns in all of life. Gratitude is the key to a happy life, but if we never pause to think about the good, we become cynical. 

  2. Resolutions fight against living a passive life. People often say: let go and let God. Or, just go with the flow. That’s fine. But God hasn’t called us to passivity. No one ever stumbles into godliness and joy, and no one ever loses weight, pays off debt, or grows their spiritual life or craft without a plan. 

We could add more reasons for the benefits of goals and resolutions but something larger looms in my head on the subject. Why do I stink at keeping them? What factors contribute to failing weeks into a goal?

I’ve gone down the weight loss rabbit hole and fizzled out around February many times. Other years I’ve planned to read the Bible in a year and lost steam around Leviticus. We’ve gotten our financial house in order for a few months before April came and the IRS said: pay up. 

So why is it hard to keep goals and resolutions?

Let me take a stab based on no research and mere conjecture and learning from past failures on my part:

1. Our goals and resolutions are too vague. 

Weight loss and getting healthy in 2019 is not a bad goal. But a better goal is to give a specific number and timeline. 20 pounds by July 1. When I think about failed resolutions and goals, they often swim in generic terms like: pay off debt, read the Bible more, get healthy, grow spiritually, or date my wife.

When goals are too vague, it takes the pressure off whether we fail or succeed. We have no way of measuring progress when possible. 

2. Our goals and resolutions have no plan of attack. 

Okay, so you want to read the entire Bible in the year. What plan will you follow? How many pages and chapters must you read per day to hit the finish line? Will you take days off?

Want to pay off debt... what is the plan? How will you determine the amount to pay each month? Will you get a side job to help? What do you need to cut back on?

Whether you are trying to lose a few pounds, spend more time with your loved ones, what is our plan of attack? Whenever I’ve failed on goals, I had no solid plan. 


3. Our goals and resolutions never go public.

Once your goals go public and shared with others things get real. It’s easy to downplay resolutions when you keep them to yourself. This doesn’t mean we have to share every detail of the goal. But having a community of people rooting you on is essential for keeping goals and resolutions. 

When you know your goals are not being attempted in isolation, it can be a huge motivator to keep going.When I’ve failed over the years I kept my goals secret.

My three reasons for not accomplishing goals and resolutions might seem obvious. We all know when our goals are vague we can take them or leave them. When a plan isn’t in place the probability of completing the goal slim to none. Not seeking accountability and support from others make them hard too. 

But one reason rises to the top. It’s something that has helped me accomplish goals and resolutions on a more consistent basis. And it simply is this: you have to know WHY?

Why do I want to pay off debt, lose weight, read the Bible, be more creative, build a business, or spend more time with the ones I love, serve my neighbors, and be more generous? Can you answer the question?

Losing weight is an obvious choice for many people in 2019. Most will say they want to lose weight to be more healthy. Okay. But why? Is there a bigger reason to be healthy?

How about so I can keep up with my young family? Health allows to serve other people and not be wiped out all the time. Maybe so I can play in the companies basketball league and get to know my coworkers. Being physically healthy also feeds into my spiritual life and the joy quotient. We are wholistic people of minds, bodies, and souls which work in tandem. They all feed off each other.

Knowing your WHY gives a weight and intensity to your goals and resolutions. I don’t want to just read the Bible for religious, academic, or guilt reasons. I want to read the Bible because it’s the avenue for cultivating a closeness and intimacy with God. It’s an opportunity to teach and encourage others to know God and follow his ways. If my only reason for reading the Bible in a year is because it would be good for me spiritually (which it is). You won’t keep going when Leviticus gets boring. You need to know your WHY?

I can’t answer your WHY? But this year if you’re so inclined and you jump on the Resolution Train. Consider your why, and may it be the launching pad to see these goals realized. 

If you’re not sure what your WHY is? Keep asking why… Why do I want to lose weight? To be healthy. Why do you want to be healthy? To keep up with our kid’s. Okay, why? If you keep digging and asking: why, why, why? You’ll find a greater motivation to keep going when times get hard. 

Find your why. Make it public. Get specific and have a plan. Do these things and you’ll amazed what you’ll accomplish in 2019. 

Now before I go, let’s practice what we preach. I’m going public with a couple goals for 2019. I won’t give the why, but you can hold me to these things:

1. Read 75 books. I read 55+ past year. 

2. Read the entire Bible in One Year. I didn’t do it last year, and instead read deeply in specific books.

3. Read the entirety of John Calvin’s Institutes. I read the whole thing in seminary, and would like to revisit this classic treasure of Christian theology. 

4. Pay off debts from 2018 (new kid, unexpected house expenses).

5. Be more generous than last year in money, time, and relationships. 

6. Okay, a cliche, but needed… get to 169 pounds.

7. Write 500,000 new words for the blogs, articles, and books. 

8. Reboot monthly date night with my wife. Finally out of the fog of a newborn.

9. Win the Super Bowl… got to dream big, right?

I have others… But here we go...

Happy New Year, and thanks for following along!

Ryan

Clemson QB on Faith and How to Fight the Post Holiday Blues

Freshmen quarterback Trevor Lawrence for Clemson University explains how he keeps calm in stressful situations. It’s part personality and part his faith in Christ. Lawrence nails the heart of Christian faith by finding an identity greater than football and circumstances. He knows his God and knows he’s loved regardless of the final score of the game.

Lawrence taps into something we all need to hear this time of year. Our identity shouldn’t be wrapped up in our performance or things that are temporal. 

Christmas and the holidays are coming to a close. We feel the hint of depression as the hustle and bustle of parties, gift buying/gift giving, school programs, church events, and work parties wind down. The schedule once full in December now empty in January. 

We reflect on 2018 and see the trials and everything in between. Did we lose the weight? Finish our Bible reading plan? Accomplish our financial goals? More time with real humans, and less time staring into the abyss of a screen?

How did we do? Good, bad, average…

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

We look to 2019 and set new goals, move on from the past, and focus into the future. Not all bad things. But they are all based in our performance. We base our worth and value and existence on how well we achieve, perform, and find success in whatever we’re trying to accomplish. 

Lawrence is right, we need an identity greater than our accomplishments and the roles we play. We need to know the Christ who performed on our behalf and loves us despite what the scale says, or how much the kid’s liked their gifts, or whether the family got along during the holidays.

I spiral into Post-Holiday-Blues when my identity is rooted in something other than Christ. When it’s planted in the temporal or the roles I play as a husband, father, pastor, writer, friend, son, and neighbor. 

Trevor Lawrence is only 19 years old. I wish I had half the wisdom and faith he does at such a young age. 

When our identity is secure in something eternal and rock solid is doesn't negate the desire to accomplish great things. It doesn't make us passive. But when things aren’t going well, our goals aren't met, and the pass falls to the ground as the clock expires, we aren't crushed either. 

That is the beauty of the gospel. And that’s what will carry us through 2019. 

Thanks for reading in 2018,

Ryan

Christmas Eve, 50 Year Anniversary of the Earthrise Photo, and a Reason to Worship

creative commons

creative commons

Today marks the fifty year anniversary of the earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 in 1968. The first NASA crew to land on the moon.

Today is also Christmas Eve where millions of people will gather to remember the day the God-Man was born in Bethlehem. The one who made earth and the entire cosmos (John 1).

Most see this anniversary as a historical event to celebrate science and technological advancement. God sees it as a gift. A gift to the world to remind them who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. The one who deserves all glory and honor and praise.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge. -Psalm 19:1-2

Merry Christmas!

Say No to the Algorithm Gods

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

I’ve blogged consistently since 2004. A variety of topics from angry seminary student and pastor-in-training explaining why the American Church is anathema. Later in 2007, I switched to post-seminary pastor focusing on leadership, theology, and productivity.

Now, I blog on whatever interests me. It could be the family, the writing craft, latest book projects, theology, technology, art, productivity, book reviews, or silly church signs I find along the journey. My blog is now a digital scrapbook for documenting life under the sun. An extension of what I’m thinking about, trying to understand, reading, or creating.

In the heyday of blogging from the early 2000s to 2008, blogs were a platform for people to share a bit of their lives, expertise, or something in between.

Now, blogging and personal websites are giving way to yes, you know, social media. Blogs are no longer documenting family trips and thoughts on your favorite band. The cemetery of neglected blogs is growing and growing with every new social media platform.

Social media is becoming the new blogging.

Is this good?

Yes, and no. Yes, people can still share family photos, favorite recipes, and interesting links to articles. Not a problem.

If the spirit should move you, share your thoughts on God, politics, or why your favorite football team needs new ownership. Freedom of speech makes America great.

But just like blogging platforms that used to be seemingly innocent with people sharing their photos from their trip to Canada. Now social media is a place where trolls and other sociopaths congregate to give their harsh critique on any opinion given from the existential things of God, philosophy, and politics, to why your opinions on movies are way off.

Sometimes this has a place, most of the time it leads nowhere good.

Before social media people did the hard work of finding and engaging with the content, they found interesting and important. You loaded up your RSS feed with blogs and websites you read on a regular basis. You controlled the content.

Social media is now algorithm based. You’re fed the things the gods of the algorithm think you will enjoy based on your likes, comments, and searches. We are no longer in control.

So now, our consumption of content from the social webs is determined on an outside force. This doesn’t mean we don’t have control of who we follow or not. But your feed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is driven by the algorithm machine.

Again, this doesn’t mean we have to interact, like, and comment on what comes into our social feeds. But it also means our temptation of jumping into the fray and commenting and lashing out and not having control of our media is lessened. That’s human nature.

So back to blogs and websites. Despite the billions of social media users blogs are making a comeback. And I think for good reason. People want control over the content they create and consume.

I used to post articles from my blog on social and they would get a lot of interaction. This was before the algorithm gods changed their metrics. Now 1–5% of my followers even see the stuff I make. The algorithm gods determine the worth of the articles based on the previous interactions of my content, likes, comments, and even whether they have images or links.

I’m at the mercy of the social media gods.

This doesn’t mean blogs and websites aren’t read. They’re now read primarily through links on social media sites.

Hossein Derakhshan argues what we have now is The Stream:

“The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.

The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.”

Is The Stream good?

I don’t think so. It’s making us passive consumers who live at the mercy of our social media feeds. The gods of social are making guesses of who we are and what we like. Which can be so subjective especially when you consume something you wouldn’t normally interact with. Browse a book on Amazon you’d never read and watch how the same genre of books pop up in your search feeds.

They bombard us with content and images and video that form ideas in our minds. We make too quick of judgments, accusations, and assumptions because of the constant blasts of micro content.

The Stream will lessen our ability to think, reflect, and speak in winsome ways. The Stream will make our human relationships more shallow and our ideas about the world disconnected and fragmented.

Later Hossein says The Stream is just another form of TV:

“The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail. This is not the future of the web. This future is television.” (source: https://medium.com/matter/the-web-we-have-to-save-2eb1fe15a426)

TV makes us passive and consumption focused. Reading, writing, and thinking is active and creator-centric.

I believe the blog and other websites will find a fresh voice in the coming years. Not that social media is going anywhere. Not that The Stream is going anywhere either. But people are seeing the addictive nature and waste of time social media is. We’ve been lied to that if you’re not constantly on social you’re missing out.

But the best things in life never happen on the internet, do they? I hope not.

People will find their own content and not be controlled by the algorithm gods any longer. Who wants to be controlled inside a media platform of what I have to consume, what I have to interact with, I want my freedoms back. It’s coming.

I’ve taken steps in my social media consumption. Last year, April 2017, I fasted from social media for 40 days. From that exercise, it showed me the unnecessary need for constant social media interaction. I still post on social, but spend little time interacting, and scrolling.

Has my life worsened?

Nope. Still have a great family, friends, church family, still know what’s going on in the world, and people still find my work.

I’m not an alarmist and I think social media sites have some value. But I think people are asking bigger questions for how we interact with media. What are the long term ramifications of our obsession with social media?

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re trying to scale back social media. Alan Jacobs gives an eight point response for your consideration:

1. I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.

2. I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.

3. I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.

4. I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.

5. If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.

6. Private communication can be more valuable than public.

7. Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.

8. Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

(Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/the-8-point-social-media-apostasy-of-alan-jacobs/)

I hope we can have more meaningful conversations around dinner tables, cafes, and living room into the future. Don’t let The Steam win.

*Originally published on Medium.com