the Weekly Town Crier

towncrierBlippity bloppity boo to you too. So what of it?

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Outside‘s 2015 list of “The 16 Best Places to Live in America”. Did your town make the list?

Read about the “121-year-old bottle of whisky” found in a “Scottish time capsule”. Would you try it?

Browse Paste‘s list of the 10 best things on Crackle (other than Seinfeld, though Jerry does make an appearance).

Read as Oregon Live catches up with NPR’s/”Portland’s Own” Ari Shapiro.

Read Time‘s report: “J.J. Abrams Says Nazis Inspired the New Star Wars Villains”.

Read about “One Woman’s Attempt to Become a Wrestling Fan”.

Browse this list of “15 Composers To Watch” in 2015.

Read reports that “Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence are writing a movie together”.

Read as Salon explores “Why the ’90s are literally disappearing from history”.

Read FACT‘S piece reporting: “Spotify demands access to your contacts, photos and location”.

Adding traffic sound effects on ants makes them entertaining to watch“.

Browse Time’s list: “14 of China’s Finest World Monument Replicas”.

Read Outside‘s piece: “John Muir Knew How to Live”.

Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “How Coolness Defined the World Wide Web of the 1990s”.

Enter the debate: “Are Older Whiskeys Really Better?”

Read as Banksy interviews Run the JewelsRead about Banky’s Dismaland. See the trailer.

Read about “Pop Tart Beer”.

Watch Seinfeld Recut as a Devastating but Heartwarming Lifetime Movie.

Apparently “Axl Rose and Slash are friends again” prompting many to wonder about the possibility of a Guns n’ Roses reunion.

BrowseUncut’s 50 best bootlegs”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Paul Thomas Anderson to Release Documentary on Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood”.

See a $20,000 opal, which looks like “a nebula trapped in a gemstone”.

Read NME‘s report: “Morrissey announces release of debut novel. See the cover.

Browse Paste‘s list of “6 Fictional Languages in Literature”. What’s your favorite?

Read as the Washington Post laments: “We’re now averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2015.”

Read Flavorwire‘s report: “Bruce Willis Probably Got Fired From the New Woody Allen Movie”.

Hear “Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp’s Hollywood Vampires cover The Who’s ‘My Generation’.

See photos of rarely seen cultures.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report that Odd Future rapper Tyler the Creator has been banned from the UK.

See “Harry Potter re-imagined as the villain of a horror movie”.

Read the Washington Post‘s report that the Mormon Church will continue its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.

Watch “a Supercut of All the People Batman Has Killed”. For a guy with a no-kill policy . . .

Browse Spotify‘s list of “the most timeless songs ever”.

Should We Yell At The Lost Sheep For Being Lost?

lostlambOver the years, there have been seasons of life during which different passages of Scripture have played special or significant roles. I am currently spending a lot of time with Psalm 46, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Several years ago, prompted in great part by Tim Keller’s treatment of the last part of the chapter: the Prodigal GodI spent a lot of time ruminating on Luke 15.

No doubt you have heard segments of the chapter preached in evangelistic contexts: God is chasing you like the lost sheep and hunting you down like the lost coin and/ awaiting your return like the younger brother. This is certainly an implication of Jesus’ illustrations but they are not the point of the chapter. In fact, when we approach the three illustrations this way, we actually lessen their impact.

We are currently trying to sell our house. Please buy it. It’s got the three most important things to look for: location (near the freeway), location (near Chipotle) and location (near AJ’s). Similarly, the most important things to remember when approaching a passage of Scripture are: context, context, context. Let’s step back a little before stepping forward.

Luke 15 occurs near the middle of Luke’s account and is found in the midst of Luke’s record of many of Jesus’ parables, many of which center on the true nature of God’s kingdom. The chapter is broken in to four sections, with verses 1-2 setting the conceptual context for everything that follows:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus reacts to the grumbling Pharisees and scribes. verse 3 tells us: So he told them this parable. In the context “this parable” actually refers to three different illustrations all making the same point. It is key to note that, even though he tells three stories, Jesus is making a specific point in response to the grumbling and complaining religious folk.

imagesThroughout Luke, but especially in chapter 14, Jesus pushes against the “religious”understanding of who is part of God’s family and who is not. As Chapter 15 opens, we see Jesus once again pushing the generally accepted traditional, religious boundaries by actually eating with sinners. Not just in word but in deed, Jesus was telling society’s outcasts that there was a place at God’s table for them. And this drove the religious people bonkers because they thought that their place at God’s table was exclusive and that people had to meet certain standards before being welcomed. Jesus comes right through the middle and shatters everyone’s status quo. To the religious, Jesus says: there is room at God’s table, in God’s family for sinners. I have come to bring God’s lost children home. You should be happy instead of furious! To the “sinners,” he says: You have always felt judged and pushed aside and marginalized and taken advantage of and unappreciated and used as political pawns, you who feel like you have no place in society: come, find your true home. Your true family. Your true identity.

Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who loses 1 of 100 sheep (verses 3-7). He drops everything until he recovers the lost sheep and asks his friends and family to rejoice with him. Jesus switches the analogy in verses 8-10. A woman loses 1 of 10 silver coins, turning her house upside down until she finds it, asking friends and family to rejoice with her. Jesus once again switches analogies, this time with the tale of two brothers (11-32).

I’m not going to break down all of this last section, except to point out that, in the established context, the point is not to primarily associate ourselves with the younger brother as a picture of redemption, though it is certainly and beautifully that. The point is that the religious people should be rejoicing that Jesus has come to bring home the lost children of God. Instead, they rest in their religious position as their security and become furious that these “sinners” don’t belong in God’s family without meeting God’s standards (which, of course, they themselves dot and cross every day).

You can almost hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice to the Pharisees and scribes as he equates them with the older brother who was furious at his brother’s return. After all, he had stayed and done every obligation the way it was obligated to be done. How dare the father welcome back this vagabond. Jesus implores with them: these people, God’s children, who were once far off are now with us! They were once enemies and now their family! Pick up a cup, drink, rejoice! This is a family celebration!

Many evangelicals know enough about grace to know, of course, that we cannot earn our way into God’s family. It cannot be merited. That’s why it’s called grace. And yet, we are somehow unable to be extend that same grace (to be gracious) to those still outside of God’s family.

Culturally, many American Evangelicals are more like the Pharisees and scribes than we’d like to admit. Instead of extending “good news” to those we perceive to be “sinners”, we bludgeon them with judgment. We berate them for not living according to God’s standards and we exclude them because they are not like us. In the context of Jesus’ illustrations, it’s as if the shepherd went out and threw rocks at the lost sheep, kicking him for being lost.

I’m not saying that Christians should not have a voice in the public square. Nor am I saying that we should turn a blind eye to society’s evils or that we should somehow pretend that there is no such thing as sin or right and wrong. But I am saying that, far too often, we are not “Good News People”. We lead with critique rather than love. We follow-up with judgment rather than service.

I know you’re not supposed to point out a critique without also offering a solution but I certainly don’t have anything figured out. I am troubled by the fact that the sinners loved to be around Jesus and couldn’t stand to be around the religious folk. Some how, some way, Jesus was able to bring people to a realization of their sin without them ever questioning that He was for them. I wonder what this implies for the Church in America’s relationship with the surrounding culture. Are we perceived as being for our society or are we known by what we’re against? How can we hold true to God’s Word without being jerks? How can we hold fast to virtue without being self-righteous and judgmental? How can we be “Good News People” in a world filled with bad news?

I worry that we’ve forgotten that Jesus exposed and dealt with sin in loving ways while we expose and deal with sin in shouts of judgment and exclusion. I worry that we’ve forgotten that Jesus’ harshest condemnations of sin were actually for religious hypocrisy and that he came to bring good news.

What might it look like for a Christian culture in America that sacrificed itself for the good of others? What might change if we were known for being for others rather than against them? Maybe we might have the chance to be heard?

the Weekly Town Crier

YeOldeTownCrierBuy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Rolling Stone‘s list of the “100 Greatest Songwriters of All-Time.”

Read Paste‘s report that Sesame Street will head to HBO in the Fall.

Read as Rolling Stone wonders: “Is Apple Taking Over the Music Business?”

Read as NPR’s “the Good Listener” asks: “Are Tall People Obligated To Stand In The Back At Concerts?”

Browse as R.E.M.’s “Michael Stipe lists his 10 favourite books”.

Browse Paste‘s list of “Five Band Photo Cliches”.

Browse as: “Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood reveals his current favourite album, book and video game”.

R.I.P. Bob Johnston: “Producer for Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash“.

R.I.P. Pink Floyd.

R.I.P. Yvonne Craig, television’s Batgirl.

See “A Ziggurat of Mirrors”.

Read Alternative Press‘ report that “the Crow” re-make will happen.

Read as NME considers the biggest talking points from Morrissey’s recent Larry King interview.

Read as AV Club considers the world of professional wrestling.

Read Paste‘s report that “Tracy Morgan Will Return to Host SNL in First Post-Accident Performance”.

Browse as the Guardian makes their picks for “The 100 best novels written in English”.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report that Flight of the Conchords are writing a movie and planning a tour.

See Banksy’s “Disney-Trolling pop-up Theme Park”.

Read this piece wondering: “As humans, we have an urge to explore. So, where to next?”

Read as Politico considers: “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election”.

Have you tried “The breakfast beer of champions”?

Read as Stephen Colbert says: “‘I Am Here to Know God, Love God, Serve God’.

Read as: “Jeff Tweedy talks Wilco, Star Wars and Bob Dylan”.

Now you can buy a “record label in a box“.

See Mumford and Sons re-make themselves as a ’90’s boy band, “Mumtown”.

Read as the Atlantic considers “The Unlikely Reanimation of H.P. Lovecraft“.

Read about “bicycle desks”.

Read Uncut‘s piece: “Joy Division: “We didn’t know Ian Curtis was approaching his breaking point”

Read about the “Origin Story of the Iconic Carlton Dance from Fresh Prince”.

Read as “Jane’s Addiction Break Down ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’ Track by Track” for Rolling Stone where Dave Navarro says: “”The Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, Bauhaus, Van Halen and Rush were all part of our sound,” and Perry Farrell giggles: “”If you ask me, I think it’s one of the greatest records of all time.”

 

Art Is A (Necessary) Luxury

IMG_6362I’ve got a sketchbook that’s found itself a special place in my heart. It’s not a particularly special sketchbook except for the fact that I’ve place a stretch of weird tin-fin-foil-duct-tape that my son Danny received for his birthday across the front of it.

I know this is an odd observation. But  it’s been with me for at least several months now which has got to count for something. It’s been responsible for pieces like this and this and this and this and this . . . (you get the idea, weird doodles one guy makes so he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.)

It’s been a great sketchbook and I’ve really appreciated it. But there are only a few pages left so I know by experience that I’ll be lucky to get one more piece (by my own subjectivity) out of this particular sketchbook.

I know that in a few days, I won’t have this sketchbook anymore, so I’m in the midst of a weird grieving process that will likely only make sense to those who weirdly attach themselves to inanimate objects.. I go through the same thing every time I finish I finish a writing journal (I prefer Moleskine Classic if you’d like to buy me one) as well (though I don’t “journal” in the traditional sense).

This has set me to thinking (as many things do).

I am under no illusions of grandeur (at least in this area of life). I am not a particularly meaningful artist in the grand scheme of the universe. But art is very meaningful to me. I understand that I have been given just enough artistic ability that I am continually frustrated by normal suburban life but not enough that I will make a living selling my art. And I am OK with that. But I’ve been thinking a lot about a couple of ideas lately:

Art is a luxury (Art always costs):

For purposes of today’s conversation, we’re going to simply define art as:

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination

I’m thinking of a broad spectrum of things. Things like dance, painting, music, poetry, drawing, Andy Kaufman, writing, knitting, sculpting, theater, and the like. I’m thinking of such a broad spectrum, 01) because they all fit the definition: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, and, 02) because they all cost. You cannot participate in these activities without giving something in exchange. Like a sort of modern alchemy’s equivalent exchange.

I was made keenly aware of this fact the other day as someone who is currently between opportunities. As you may know, I dabble a bit in the doodlings (sample my dabbles here or here). I prefer Staedtler pigment liner markers and my 0.8mm marker went dry on me in the middle of a doodle dabbling. Ever the Proverbs 31 woman, my wife had a Michael‘s coupon. But that didn’t change the fact that I’m currently unemployed and (even more than normal) every cent counts. I had to stop and think about how we were going to pay for the marker.

Art always costs. I have a friend who sits inside a closet after his family goes to bed so he doesn’t wake them while he practices guitar or writes songs. Art is a luxury because it always requires something from the practitioner. Whether it be the cost of an item, the time taken from some other task, art costs, which means that many view it as prohibitive.

Art is necessary:

Art may be a luxury, but unlike caviar, art is necessary. I can only speak from the microcosm of my own existence but I know that, for me, practicing creativity has helped me through some of my most difficult times. There is a therapeutic (and/or cathartic) value to externally expressing one’s self in a creative venture. It forces you to either take your mind off of something that’s bothering you (hopefully then being able to return to that vexing issue later with more clarity and calmness) or to work through the issue in some sort of external manner, forcing you to consider the issue issue in different ways.

But art is not only necessary because of its internal personal benefits. Art gives us the unique opportunity to see the world the way others see it. It broadens our thinking in often challenging ways. Art can soothe or stir. Art can critique or celebrate. Art can gives us windows into complex issues and help us understand one another in deeper ways.

The Faith-Art Connection

My faith teaches me that I should be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8) and that I should give sacrificially, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35), considering others more significant than myself (Philippians 2). In other words, sacrifice is at the center of my religion.

My faith also teaches me that I have nothing to prove. Because of Jesus, I have all of the love and acceptance I could ever hope for (and more). When God the Father looks at me, He says “this is my child in whom I am well pleased”. I am able to work from my identity rather than for my identity. My being produces my doing.

This may seem initially unrelated to topics of art, but for me, it is integrally related. I have known many artistic people over the years and many of them view their art as a way to give their lives meaning. They find their identity in their art (in their doing) and therefore, by necessity, they are also tied to the continual pursuit of approval. I don’t know about you, but when I am seeking the approval of others, I take fewer chances. I’m more likely to find a winning formula and stick to it.

It is not necessary or helpful to believe that every single piece of art we produce will be a sea change. But art is always tied to creativity and creativity naturally pursues growth. Most artists mature over the course of their careers. But this always means that there were evolutions in their style and approach. And this means that they had to be willing to change. And this means that they had to be willing to take a risk. And this means that they had to be willing to fail.

The freedom to fail does not come easily.

I have scrapped many, many pieces of art. And that’s OK. It does not mean that I’m a failure. I have also let people see pieces I probably should have kept to myself. This also does not mean that I’m a failure but it does mean that lots of people know that I’m open to failure. The freedom to fail can only come when our identity is not tied to the task at hand. If my self-worth comes from my art, I will not take chances because I can’t risk my identity. The freedom to fail only comes when our doing flows from our being and our being (our identity) is tied to something greater than ourselves. Something not shakeable by our failures or successes.

Art requires vulnerability.

Putting a piece of creativity out into any sort of public sphere (sharing it with anyone) always requires vulnerability because it always involves the possibility of exposing more than you’d wished and that it will bring criticism.

Since art is often the expression of something deep, it requires vulnerability to share it. But sharing our creative expressions also means that we are aware that others may not like it or may not “get it”. Once again, if I find my identity in my doings, in my art, then I will either not take risks with my creativity or I will now share them with anyone.

Those With the Least to Lose Have the Most to Give, or, Those With The Least to Prove Should Take More Risks

It pains my heart to know that some of the worst “art” in recent generations has been produced by Christians. This pains my heart because this has not always been the case. Some of the best art the world has ever known has been produced by Christians. I believe that Christians should be at the forefront of every artistic endeavor. We have the freedom to fail because our worth comes from Jesus! We have the security to be vulnerable because we live to give rather than to receive.

It’s time for Christians to once again value art as more than propaganda. Go, create something today and share it with others.

The Weekly Town Crier

YeOldeTownCrierYes it’s been a while. I’ve had a lot going on, OK.

If you’re not familiar with the concept; I collect and post links that, for whatever reason, caught my interest. You browse said links and we all find enlightenment. Or something like that.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read about Apple’s possible entry into the wireless market.

See a portrait of Putin by a Ukrainian artist from 5,000 shell casings from the separatist east.

Ever wonder why coffee makes you poop?

Ever wonder why your pee (may or may not) smell like Asparagus?

Ever wonder why you have to poop at bookstores (apparently this is a real thing)?

Ever wonder if you could make money selling your poop (apparently this is also a real thing)?

Read about the pop-up Pantone cafe offering Pantone coordinated snacks.

See the Runcible, a new minimalist cell phone that wants to be an heirloom piece.

Read about “The Origin Of “Piss Poor” And Other Popular Sayings”.

See how creepy the Teletubbies can be in a Joy Division video mashup.

Read the Atlantic‘s piece: “The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay.”

Read about the Canadian who set the “Beer Mile World Record,” eh.

Read about the guy who refuses to mow his lawn, saying: “Instead of putting nature in its place, we need to find our place in nature.”

Read Paste‘s report that Bill Murray is confirmed to make a cameo appearance in the new Ghostbusters reboot.

R.I.P. author and critic Alan Cheuse.

R.I.P. Rowdy Roddy Piper.

R.I.P. Columbia House.

Browse pianist/composer Dustin O’Halloran‘s list of influential albums.

Read as David Byrne calls for more transparency from the music streaming business at the New York Times.

Read about the hitchhiking robot who made it all over Europe but was killed in America.

Have you heard the mysteriously released Nirvana demo material? Thoughts?

Read Fact‘s report that the soundtracks to David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me will be made available on vinyl.

Read Paste‘s report that William Shakespeare smoked marijuana.

Read FACT‘s report that David Lynch is set to record the new season of Twin Peaks as one continuous movie and then edit into episodes.

Watch the new Homestar Runner short: “Flash is Dead”.

Read about Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio’s plan for a movie adaptation of The Devil in the White City.

Read Salon‘s piece: “David Foster Wallace is long gone, but Bret Easton Ellis is keeping the feud alive”.

Read the Atlantic‘s piece pondering “Why the pressure to achieve academically is an impediment to the learning process.”

Read Flavorwire‘s report that Showtime is set to “Adapt Patti Smith Memoir ‘Just Kids’ Into Miniseries.”

Read Paste‘s report: “Netflix Acquires Mascots, Christopher Guest‘s Mockumentary.

See everyday objects re-made with human guts.

Read as the AV Club wonders why “Why 35 screenwriters worked on The Flintstones movie” and it still stunk.

As many people reflect on a year without Robin Williams, read Time‘s piece: “Why the Funniest People Are Sometimes the Saddest”

Has the tomb of Nefertiti finally been found?

Browse “Relevant”‘s list of 10 Fall television shows to be excited about.

Read about Seattle’s move to tax firearms and ammunition.

Read as NPR wonders: “Would Voters Entrust The White House To An Atheist?”

Read the NY Post‘s report that the Mets have already begun selling playoff tickets. Too soon?

Read as “Michael Jordan says There’s ‘No Question’ He Could Have Beaten LeBron James One-On-One.” Thoughts?

Read an interview with the 19-year old Fall Out Boy fan who stood between police and Ferguson protesters.

Browse NME‘s list of “30 Of The Greatest Ever Second Albums .”

Read reports that Steven Spielberg has coaxed Gene Wilder from retirement.

Read Paste‘s report that Winona Ryder has confirmed that Beetlejuice 2 is “in the works”.

Learn these “9 Habits of People Who Are Always on Time”.

Find out “What Your Name Says About You”.

Browse Mental Floss‘ list of “15 Movies That Were Turned Into TV Shows”.

Read PRI‘s piece: “What happens when the dictionary is just a website?”

Read Entertainment Weekly‘s piece: “Fox confirms ‘X-Files‘ reboot talks”.

See “The Stunning Geography of Incarceration”.

Read The Atlantic‘s piece: “Essential Oils Might Be the New Antibiotics”.

Browse Paste‘s list of “7 Sorely Missed Cereals from the Early ‘90s”.

Read about the gals from Broad City telling the gals from Sleater-Kinney: “We Wouldn’t Be Heare Without You”.

Listen as NPR’s All Things Considered previewed 2015’s jazz scene with Christian McBride.

Download two high-quality, recent Chris Forsyth shows.

Read Paste‘s report that “Thom Yorke Will Compose Music for Broadway Production Old Times”.

Browse Phoenix New Times’ list of the “10 Coolest Churches in Metro Phoenix”.

Read about the five-year old who received an invoice for missing a friend’s birthday party.

Read FACT‘s report: “Kurt Cobain solo album set for November release”.

Are Russia and Nato ‘actively preparing for war’?

Browse Paste‘s list of “The 10 Biggest Rebrands of 2014”.

Read as the Atlantic wonders why so many of us hate talking on the phone.

In the world of mathematical tiling, news doesn’t come bigger than this.

Browse Flavorwire‘s list of “50 Books Guaranteed to Make You More Interesting”.

Browse BoingBoing‘s “Great list of classic ambient albums.”

Ever Wonder “Why didn’t people smile in old photos?

Faith Anchors the Soul

2014-09-20 14.18.09I have come to believe that the search for “identity” is one of the key issues facing us all. By “identity,” I mean more than simply your name, rank and serial number, though that’s as deeply as many of us think on this key issue. Instead, I’m referring to how we understand ourselves and present ourselves to others. I’m talking about where we find our worth and our security. I’m talking about self-knowledge and security.

Our sense of identity is uniquely tied to what we do. In fact, many of us (unconsciously or not) find our identity in our jobs. Don’t believe me? Think about just about any time you’ve met someone new. After the exchange of names, what’s the usual first question?What do you do? 

Of course this is understandable. Our jobs are where we spend the most time and we rely on them for income, and by extension, stability. It is understandable but it is not healthy. When we find our identity in what we do, we find ourselves in the never-ending pursuit of working for our identity rather than from our identity and thus we rarely find true security. We will feel more valuable, we will have more worth (literally and figuratively) when we get that promotion or that other job. And when the work is not fulfilling, we are not fulfilled. We never truly find out who we are because we are looking for that in moving targets.

Unemployment is a special kind of hell in the midst of this essential conversation. I have applied to over 125 jobs across multiple states. I’m currently receiving 2-3 rejections daily. Every time I see someone I know, they ask about the job search; an unintentionally cruel reminder that I have been unable to find work. They mean well. But the question stings and, when repeated hundreds of times, can cause one to question their identity.

There are mornings when I second-guess the decisions that led to this point. I could have stuck out that situation but should I have? What am I doing with my life? What do I want to do? Does it matter what I want to do? Why can’t I get a job? How many no’s can a person receive without taking it personally? Am I not worth hiring? What am I worth? How do I know? Will I be happier when I find a job? How do I remind myself that I am not what I do, when all I can think about is wanting to do something?

This is why the issue of identity is so important and why my faith in Jesus is so essential. I have a tattoo on the underside of my left arm which depicts an anchor amidst a storm with the words: “Faith anchors the soul.” This is a personal reflection on Hebrews 6:13-20 which reminds us that our hope in Jesus serves as an anchor for the soul.

I don’t know how you deal with struggles or your personal faith journey but I know that, without my faith in Jesus, I would have had a nervous breakdown by now. The heart of following Jesus is not the politicians we vote for, the radio we listen to, the things we boycott, or the issues we oppose. It is that our very identity is changed and it is secure. In spite of our circumstances and in spite of us.

When the Holy Spirit brings someone to faith, a mysterious thing happens. We are somehow united to Jesus so that what’s true of the Savior is true of His people. We are transferred from the “domain of darkness” into Jesus’ kingdom, in whom we have “redemption and the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). “He who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf so that we could become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are united with Jesus in His death to sin and resurrection unto newness of life (Romans 6) and we are “seated with Him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2) even now.

But, our union with Jesus means more than just getting in to heaven when I die. It has drastic implications for life here and now. I don’t have to find a job to be worth something (though I would like to find a job). Yes, I find my “identity” in something outside of myself, but instead of something like a job which ebbs and flows, my identity is anchored and becomes my anchor.

Over the past couple of years, I have meditated more on one scene of Scripture than any other. Do you remember the scene where Jesus goes out to the Jordan to be baptized by his crazy revival preaching, bug-eating cousin (found in Matthew 3 , Mark 1 and Luke 3)? As Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove and a voice comes from the heavens saying: “This is my Son in whom I am well-pleased.” Curiously enough, Jesus is immediately sent into the wilderness where Satan immediately attacks Jesus’ identity: if you really are who you say you are. . . but that’s a study for another day.

I know that, while we feel like our house will never sell, while it seems like I will never find a job, I know that I already have all of the comfort, security, belonging, and love that I could ever hope for because my identity is God’s child. He is pleased with me even when I am not pleased with my circumstances. I don’t have to work for acceptance because I am accepted by God. This is good news indeed.

I may not see the light through the clouds yet, and the waves don’t seem to yet but I have an anchor in the midst of the storm. This is good news indeed. This is how, even in the midst of life’s storms, we can “be still” and know that He is G0d (Psalm 46). I simply pray that these storms cause me to hold on tighter to my anchor.

Rent a Preacher

pulpitThis might not make sense unless you’ve been in “vocational ministry” in some capacity (and even then it might not and that’s OK), but, after 10 years of full-time pastoring with no break, it was important for Kristi and I to have an undetermined amount of time during which “ministry” as a profession was completely off of the table.

This led Kristi and I to prayerfully resign from ministry in January, 2015. After of eight months out of ministry as a profession, I have begun to miss parts of my former life as a pastor. Though I do not see myself returning to vocational ministry at the moment, I do feel like God has gifted and compelled me to publicly share God’s Word with others.  And, honestly, after eight months, I miss preaching.

Since Kristi and I are in a time of transition, it’s a perfect time to make myself available for pulpit-supply.

If you are a pastor: Would you like a pulpit breakDo you have a Sunday on your calendar you just can’t fill (I’m better than nothing!)? Would you like your congregation to hear the same thing you’ve been saying but from someone else?

If you are not a pastorDo you know a pastor who might like to have someone preach one Sunday?

Contrary to popular opinion, I am not too much of a loony. For proof, you can hear some of my former sermons here.

I am also available to speak at conferences, camps, quinceaneras. I also do weddings, vow renewals, (and funerals).

To schedule a speaking engagement, please e-mail me to schedule a speaking engagement.

If you’re interested in booking the Thomas Ten to promote foster care/adoption at your event, please e-mail us to schedule a speaking engagement.

 

What If Stability Is Not the Goal?

il_fullxfull.265505392I want to share something something that, due to our current circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. (I know that I’ve said this before but it bears repeating because so much opinion is presented as dogma, especially on the internets. I process things with other people, sometimes verbally, sometimes through writing. I ponder something for a while and then put it out for feedback. This provides other viewpoints and different angles and allows me to (hopefully) come to a better conclusion.

The difficulty with this, of course is that I sometimes put out not-yet-fully-formed ideas which people perceive as more fully formed than intended. Processing together requires the humility to listen before speaking and then speak for the good of others rather than the pride of being right.).

Speaking of our current circumstances, as we try to sell our house and find employment, we are in the uncomfortable position of asking lots of prickly questions. What do I want to do when I grow up? Is it wrong to want to love your job? Are Christians obliged to pursue employment that results in the betterment of society? Is it worth it to live in a house that requires I spend the bulk of my time away from my family? What should we want out of life? What’s best for our kids? What does the Good News of Jesus have to say about the so-called ‘American Dream’? Is it selfish to want to love where you live? I’m no “Millennial”, but what if I don’t want a “work/life balance”‘ How can I teach my children that there is MORE to life than the daily grind and “working for the weekend”How can I best teach my children to take chances?

There’s a lot here that I’d like to write about. But today I want to focus on something else. There’s a way of thinking, often associated with the Boomer Generation (often in reaction to their experiences with war and their family’s fairly recent experience with the Great Depression) that keeps speaking in to my family’s current circumstances. It asks: Why don’t you just go get a decent job, work your way up and provide stability for your family?

You see the issue, of course.

IF this line of thinking is followed, then it doesn’t matter if you love where you live or what you do. That’s not the point. The point is stability. No sudden movements. The path of least resistance. And the point of parenting is certainly not to encourage risk-taking of any sort.

As we seem stuck at this crossroad, much pondering has been done.

I hear and appreciate the voices calling for stability. I mean, I’ve got eight kids, for crying out loud! One of the foremost considerations during this time of turmoil is what’s best for our kids.

But I wonder. Is stability really the goal of life? Have Christians been promised stability or is it the touchdown of the American Dream?

It might not be wrong to long for some stability in life. But I wonder if those times shouldn’t be for rest rather than the goal of life. In other words, what are the implications when stability is our goal in life? I’m not sure stability always leads to stagnation but the very pursuit of trying to remove turmoil from life (thus becoming “stable”), certainly for me at least, has concerning implications.

When the goal of work becomes to provide stability, what we’re really saying is that the family has a regular, stable income and schedule. Not only do I not think this is the goal of vocation (though it is a necessary blessing of work), I think that it can be dangerous to the soul.

Our version of “stability” usually also means “comfortable.” The point of work (as many believe) is to provide a comfortable life for you and your family. But I’m just not comfortable saying that the point of work (or, extrapolated out, life for that matter) is to be comfortable (see what I did there?).

Comfort breeds complacency because we most grow when we’re most challenged.

Striving to remove the challenges of life (in our case, significant and simultaneous career and home changes) simply atrophies our soul’s growth. We may form healthy patterns of repetition when stability is our goal but we won’t be stretched.

Seeking stability means that you’ve got to attach on to something tightly. The American Dream version is to attach yourself to a solid job and a quiet suburb. These things will provide the life you need. But the Christian must, by definition, attach themselves to something different.

Our stability does not come from our circumstances.

In fact, it often comes in spite of our circumstances. 

I keep finding myself meditating on Psalm 46. The one with the famous saying: “Be still, and know that I am God.” While purveyors of Crafty Christian Crap post it on pictures of waves and sell it to us as a heartwarming sentiment, I am frightened by this command.

Think about the context of God’s command (it is not a suggestion) to “Be still” and know that He alone “is God”. The earth is giving way. Mountains are trembling into roaring oceans. Nations rage and kingdoms totter. These are not stable times and these are not comfortable circumstances. And yet, God does not say He will calm the seas (which He does at another time) or pacify the turmoil. He speaks to us in the uncertainties and says: “Be still”.

He reminds us that He is “our refuge and strength” and “a very present help in trouble”. He doesn’t promise to make the trouble go away. He promises to be with us in the midst of it. He promises to be our stability even when our circumstances boil with uncertainty. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t take the right job to provide stability for my family (for the record, the right option to provide that stability has not yet presented itself) but I do think it’s worth considering what’s really best for our family. I don’t want to raise children to are afraid to take risks in life and pursue what they love.

As Kristi and I wait for what’s next, I keep thinking about rock balancing. Even if you don’t practice rock balancing, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures. Amazing people balance rocks on one another in sometimes astounding ways. Many of these could be knocked over by a strong breeze. But what if the point was never for them to be stable but beautifully balanced for that moment in time?

We certainly appreciate your prayers as we we try to sell our house and find the right job. And, if anything, pray for my wife. Her husband thinks way too much about things.

 

It Was The Prime Of Our Discontent

amazon-prime-day-1Unless you live in North Korea, you probably knew that Amazon, (the giant on-line retailer) celebrated their 20th anniversary by throwing themselves a party with, what they proclaimed would be “more deals than Black Friday”. Apparently, this was such a big deal that WalMart (the giant, giant retailer) wanted to celebrate Amazon’s birthday by also offering discounts!

One of the most notable things that has made this a cultural moment rather than just another sale was the immediate blowback against the products Amazon chose to discount. And yet, the site’s sales soared. So, we all complained about what was being discounted and yet still ended up buying more! I do wish I had known about the “Beard Growther” on Prime Day, but I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t see a single thing I needed.

Of course, “Prime Day” was first and foremost a way for the company to push Prime memberships and only secondarily a real sale. And yet, the loudest thing about Prime Day were the complaints.

I wonder what this says of us as a culture? A business has no obligation to discount its merchandise. Especially when sales remain strong. So, when a company does decide to discount merchandise, there is always a financial reason. They need to move certain merchandise, clear certain inventory, etc. When Amazon discounts merchandise, it does so for itself, not the consumer. Amazon said it would have more deals than Black Friday. Apparently, they did, because their sales topped Black Friday. And our response is to complain that they didn’t have what I wanted at a cheaper price.

What Prime Day forces us to consider is that we are selfish creatures who feel entitled to more. Amazon may have gotten people’s hopes up with the hype, but that’s good business, not false advertising. We, who were owed nothing, complain that we didn’t get what we wanted. We truly are the culture who, hours after getting up from a meal with family celebrating all we are thankful for, will trample one another at WalMart to get more cheap crap.

Content hearts don’t complain.

We who love and follow Jesus must be keenly aware (2 Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:1-4) that we are marinating in a cultural stew of consumerism that places self at the center of the universe. How else could someone like Joel Osteen pass off as a Christian? The man literally teaches that we should have our “Best Life Now,” which Jesus says is actually a sign of judgment rather than favor. But I digress.

Why is contentment so difficult?

I would wager that most of the people who read my posts (if there are any?) live pretty comfortable lives. You may live in a smaller house than someone else. You may drive an older car than someone you know. You may not eat out at restaurants as often as that friend of yours or have the new appliances like your neighbor. But we are among the wealthiest population the world has ever known. Most of us may not have private jets or yachts, so we tell ourselves we aren’t rich, but that’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Try telling a subsistence farmer with no electricity that you’re not rich.

Consumerism idolizes the self.

Contentment is so difficult because everywhere we turn, we are told that we deserve more, we deserve better, cheaper, faster! One of advertising’s key functions is to create discontent in self-image so that the product in question can fill that void. And, even we Christians who owe everything to grace (Ephesians 2) believe these lies from time to time. We believe that life (or Amazon) somehow us us special treatment. Could be because we let people like Joel Osteen tell us: ““God wants to give you your own house. God has a big dream for your life” (page 35, Your Best Life Now). Osteen has allowed consumerism to color his view of our relationship with God. We know we are loved because of more stuff. We feel secure because we have a firm grip on our stuff and we feel better about ourselves when we get more stuff and since it’s all about me, I will complain that Amazon didn’t discount the right items. The items I wanted.

But what if we already have all of the love, acceptance we could ever hope for and that our identity is not found in what we do or what we own. What if, in Jesus, because of Who He is and what He has done, we don’t need stuff to find identity? What do I have to complain about? Because of the Spirit’s work uniting Believers to Jesus (Romans 6), the Father says that I am His beloved child in whom He is well pleased (Matthew 3:13-17)! Because of Jesus’ continued work of interceding for His people (Romans 8:34), we can know that our seat (our “position” // our “identity”) is in the heavenly places with Jesus and because of Jesus, it is secure (Ephesians 2:6), in spite of us!

What a great opportunity Prime Day turned out to be to examine our hearts. Do you feel entitled to anything? What? Why? What do we really deserve and for what should we be thankful? How might thankfulness change the way we live?

What Can the Church Learn From the Grateful Dead?

grateful-deadRegardless of what you think of them as a band, you can’t deny the Grateful Dead‘s indelible mark on popular culture, especially in light of the band’s 50th anniversary/farewell “Fare Thee Well” concerts.

Never has a band succeeded so well at making themselves more than a band. They filled stadiums for years, encouraging fans to tape, trade and even give away their shows. They revolutionized business dealings for musicians and have their own Ben and Jerry’s flavor. I even got married in a Cherry Jerry Garcia tie I bought at Mervyn’s. Don’t judge. And that stupid little dancing bear seems ubiquitous.

As the band says it is done, many are considering what it all meant, if anything. Some, like Huffpo‘s Mike Edison argue: “Never Has a Band Had Such Contempt for Their Fans“, while others (like me) have argued that the Grateful Dead are “America’s Band”. But, for many, the band’s legacy is a muddy conversation.

Once, in my sheltered, sometimes unintentionally legalistic Evangelical youth, I went on a summer field trip with the church group to the Phoenix TBN studios. A cameraman in a Grateful Dead shirt gave us the tour and I remember being appalled that a “Christian” organization would allow an employee to wear a shirt by such a pagan band, especially one with skeletons on it. Of course, in hindsight, I should have been appalled that my church group was visiting TBN, but you live and learn, right?

As years and experience have colored perspective, the Dead have become one of my favorite bands. I’ve thought a lot about what the American Church might learn from these “Entrepreneurial Hippies”. This might seem a bit odd; I mean, after all, shouldn’t the Church stay away from sinners like the Dead and their black market traveling circus? But really, is asking what the Church can learn from the Grateful Dead any more odd than asking what Corporate Leadership lessons we can learn from Jesus? It’s just a different perspective. And, I think, a valuable one to consider.

So, what might the Church (particularly the “American” Church, of which I am a part). I think the legacy of the Grateful Dead carries with it at least three important things for the American Church to consider.

  • They Weren’t Interested In Simply Repeating the Accepted Norms

The band seems to have understood fairly on that the key to their success did not lie in the traditional, record sales, radio play model. The band consolidated many of their business dealings early on and relied on their live performances as the foundation of their growth. Further bucking the accepted way of doing things, the band not only encouraged fans to tape and trade the live performances but to give them away. Understanding that they did not have traditional commercial appeal, the band instead created their own business model.

I bring this up because, at least for the Evangelical wing of the Church family in America, we’ve come to accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as “this is the way it should be done”.

Perhaps it’s not necessary, but let me preface this next section by saying that I love God’s people. I value gathering with them. I have given most of my professional life to serving the Church. Any concerns I might have are spoken as a family member to family.

Over the past months, I have had the privilege to visit lots of different Evangelical churches on Sunday mornings. Though it has been a terrific experience to be able to worship with so many different groups of believers, one thread has tugged at my thoughts during my travels: most Evangelical worship gatherings are pretty much the same thing.

We’ve simply accepted the 60-90 minute, Sunday morning, two songs, announcements, sermon, two songs, go get your kids model as the way things should be done. At least that’s what it seems like. Though the music may be different (loud band in bright lights or organ lady in a flowery dress), the decor may vary, the style of speech and depth of the sermon may vary, but we’re all pretty much doing different versions of the same thing.

I worry that we forget that we are part of an Ancient family, and for most of our history, our public worship did not look like it does now. We are quick to view history through a short lens when asking how (or even why) we should do things.

Nearly everyone I talk to says that the current model of the American Church has done a less-than-stellar job at doing our one main task: to make, mature and multiply disciples. And yet, we are all doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results than the church down the road doing the exact same thing.

In order for the Church to flourish in consumeristic America, we are going to have to let go of the idolatry of our model and learn to take chances without branding risk takers as heretics or simply write them off as “emergent”. I’m not questioning Orthodox theology, here, but I am concerned with just how similar and bland and interchangeable we all seem to think Sunday (and church life) should be.

  • They Built Their Reputation On Community

The Grateful Dead understood that the vitality of their business model hinged on creating community rather than simply consumers. Though I guess you could argue that, as a business, the Dead were interested in creating a community of consumers, I think the point is that they understood that they needed repeat customers who would be loyal to a fault and evangelize to a fault.

They created a place of belonging for many people who had not ever experienced a truly welcoming community. Yes, there were of course bad apples in the Deadhead community, but by and large, the stories are of welcoming, accepting and dedicated people, bound together by a common community that happened to center around a band.

I worry that the current American Church model, by default lends itself more towards creating consumers than it does community. We arrange ourselves as a passive audience on Sundays and many churches quite openly tie their view of success or failure to how many people are in the audience each week.

Very little of the current church model in America lends itself to an active faith lived out in community. And hence, very little of our current model emphasizes the necessity of Believers taking responsibility for their own faith. The church must take seriously Paul’s admonition that leaders have been given to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13) rather than perpetuating the myth of the “sacred profession” held by pastors. Deadheads understood that if they’re community was going to be sustainable, they had to make it so. The band could not do all the work of creating a self-sustaining, traveling community, nor is it what they were called to do. They were simply facilitators.

We have tried to appropriate so much of the way we do things from the business world that, of course we believe that success is based purely on numbers. But the Dead showed us that a loyal community is the real goal. Consumers will come and go. But community is something different and it is sorely lacking in many of our outposts.

  • They Were Not Afraid To Fail

One of the greatest criticisms of the Grateful Dead is that they, by all accounts, were a hit or miss live affair. Whey they were on, everyone understood why they were there. But when they swung and missed, everyone was thankful for the accompanying community because it wasn’t necessarily the success of that night’s show holding them together.

And yet, how often I hear pastors prepping themselves to believe that every week is the most important message their church will hear. If they happen to have an off Sunday, their egos are deflated and the success of the entire mission is questioned. Somehow, we who find our breath in God’s grace have lost the ability to fail. We have turned the Sunday morning into a performance with such pressure that many churches have countdown clocks right on the wall, the lighting is on point and God forbid the slide person miss a cue. When something does “go wrong” on a Sunday, we fret, frown and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we should strive for excellence in our public worship. But it is not a performance. It’s not a big deal if I forget my place in a sermon, if the guitar player misses a chord change or the slide person misses a cue. Those things matter when it’s a performance and when you’re creating consumers. They matter and we should try to avoid mistakes, but they’re not a big deal when you’re after real community. If you’re unwilling to fail, you won’t take chances and when you won’t take chances, everyone ends up doing the same thing.

What if you already had all of the love, acceptance and grace you could ever hope for and more? Would you be willing to take chances that might lead to failure? Would you be able to model grace in mistakes rather than striving to portray a perfect performer? What if we really believed that our worth is not based on our performance?

It’s beautiful to know that there are so many valuable lessons for us to learn in such unlikely places. For the health of the church, let’s humbly consider what’s valid, what’s not (even if I’ve written it) and continue to strive for a more genuine faith.