Peace In The Waiting(?)

Many of you have reached out to us lately asking not only how we’re doing but what’s next for the Thomas Ten. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s comforting to know that people care. And, to be honest, we still don’t know what’s next. We’ve had several dreams sprout without taking root. We’ve become closely acquainted with life’s waiting room.

If you’re unfamiliar with our situation, here’s a summary: After resigning from ministry, I am seeking employment. I’ve applied to well over 150 jobs so far and yet I’m still searching. This in and of itself is frustrating enough. But on top of that, our house is for sale. We’ve had a ton of showings but no offers. Double Frustration. It’s sort of like Double Dutch but a lot less fun.

Our faith gives us the perspective of knowing that God is working in and through this for our good (Romans 8:28), but here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve come to wonder why it is that some verses, though true, don’t seem to have the desired affect to those in the midst of struggle. In fact, delivering some verses to someone in the midst of struggle may result in disdain rather than comfort. How can this be?

Though well-intentioned, telling something in a dark night for the soul, “God moves in mysterious ways” may deserve a raspberry more than a “Thank you dear brother.” Let me try to explain:  sometimes verses like  Romans 8:28 feel more to me to be more “rear-view mirror” verses than a headlights in the storm. I know it is true but sometimes verses like this only find their significance once you’ve stumbled through the shadowy valley and are finally able to see a bit more of God’s perspective. In the meantime,  the verse is true but not entirely helpful. In the midst of struggle, I don’t just need to know that it will be OK in the future, I need to know that I’m not alone in the meantime and that sometimes, the best thing to do is to wait faithfully because I have no idea how this is going to turn out, even if you tell me it’s going to be for my good. So you telling me it will be good someday may not be the help you intended.

It’s like holding to a pre-tribulation interpretation of Revelation in which you argue that, John, writing from Patmos to Christians in the midst of persecution that’s it’s OK because God will someday in the future rescue another set of Christians from persecution. It just doesn’t entirely make sense. But I digress.

I’ve had lots of time to wonder how to try and find peace in the waiting. As such, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  [4]There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5]God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6]The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7]The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. [8]Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. [9]He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. [10] “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” [11]The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:10a, “Be still, and know that I am God” is one of the best known phrases of Christianese and it has come to mean a lot to me over the past few months. However, to carry its full weight, it must be understood in context. We don’t know the specifics of this Psalm other than it was set to music and likely sung in some form of Gathered Worship and that it heavily implies that its singers were accustomed to lives of struggle.

The song opens with encouragement in the midst of tumult: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

God is present in our trouble. In. Our. Trouble. God is with us,

  • though earth gives way,
  • though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
  • though its waters roar and foam,
  • though the mountains tremble at its swelling

God’s presence does not always make the trouble go away. But it does mean we react differently: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear. In fact, we may have to wait for God to actually deliver us. After pondering the beauty and security of God’s city, the Psalmist says in 46:5c: “God will help her when morning dawns.” But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? How long until dawn? Sometimes we will have to wait.

Be still and know that He is God. He is with us, therefore we will not fear even though things suck. Even though we can’t see a way through and even though dawn’s morning light seems like it will never come. He is with us and somehow, that is enough. His presence comforts us even when He is not flexing His muscles. Even when His help has not yet come. Somehow, the Psalmist tells us, somehow, God’s presence in the midst of our struggle should be enough.

I think that Jesus draws directly on Psalm 46 in the midst of a very real storm. Consider Mark 4:35-41:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” [36] And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. [37] And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. [38] But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [39] And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. [40] He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” [41] And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jesus’ pals, highly experienced fishermen encountered a storm which caused them fear. The boat was taking in water and these men, who likely spent quite a bit of time roughing their share of storms woke Jesus up and asked why it seemed like He didn’t care that they were going to drown?!?!

This is one of my favorite scenes in Scripture. Where is Jesus during this life-threatening storm? Asleep on a cushion! They had to wake Him up to inform Him of the danger. I sort of picture Jesus (but not in too much detail because I don’t want to break any of the Commandments) wiping the sleep from His eyes and sort of groggily mumbling to the storm: “Peace! Be Still.” Then, as He becomes more awake, He also becomes more animated as He turns to the disciples in frustration: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear . . .

“Why are you so afraid?” God is your refuge and strength. He is present with you in trouble. Don’t you get it?! I’m right here with you. You’re afraid because you don’t believe . . .

I’ve often wondered what the disciples should have done. Should they have diligently emptied the boat as it took on water? Should they have simply pointed the boat and sailed through the storm? Have a snack? Snuggle up next to Jesus and go to sleep? I don’t know, but Jesus seems to say: “I’m right here with you and that is enough.”

This lesson is not easily learned. Please pray for us as we try to connect our heads (knowing that He is with us and that is enough) to our hearts (knowing that He is with us and that is enough).

the Weekly Town Crier

TownCrierAnd then they lived happily ever after. Except there was this pesky little feeling that they were missing something, they had forgotten something. One night, as sleep evaded them, they whispered to one another: we forgot to check the Weekly Town Crier . . .

This is where I collect links of varying degrees of interest for various reasons.

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Paste‘s list of “8 Beer Hacks.”

ViewErnest Hemingway‘s life through his mementos.”

See images from visual artist Eduardo Terrazas‘ first solo exhibition in the UK.

Read as Paste argues: “Anthony Bourdain Is Still the Best Critic We Got”. Thoughts?

See photos of “people devoured by nature”.

Browse a visual list of “The 50 best-selling albums ever”.

Take “a look at Taco Bell’s first alcohol menu”.

Read Salon‘s profile of Memphis’ Lucero in honor of their terrific new album All A Man Should Do.

R.I.P. Phyllis Tickle.

R.I.P. Yogi Berra.

R.I.P. Jackie Collins.

Read as Drowned in Sound considers “the Ineffable Joy of Pop” as they talk with Carly Rae Jepsen.

Read as Ryan Adams talks about his album of Taylor Swift covers.

See the art of 10 serial killers.

See “Kintsugi, The Japanese Art of Fixing Broken Pottery With Gold.”

Browse as the Huffington Post makes their picks for Fall book releases.

Read Pitchfork‘s report of the posthumous release of “Over 40 Rare Instrumentals” by Dilla.

See the “New Caption That Works for All New Yorker Cartoons.”

Ever wonder why you can’t print without color ink?

Listen to Johann Johannssen‘s score for the film Sicario at Noisey.

Browse Paste‘s list of “7 Hotels for Artists and Art Lovers.”

Read reports that Kenny Rogers will quit touring.

Browse as the Orange County Register picks their favorite surfing books.

Read as the Guardian examines “the history of feuds between pop stars and the press.”

Read as Rolling Stone talks to Kurt Vile about his fantastic new album: ‘B’lieve I’m Goin Down…

Read as Kim Gordon interviews Kurt Vile.

Morrissey has released his debut novel and the reviews are not good: “It is an unpolished turd, the stale excrement of Morrissey’s imagination.”

Read as the Guardian examines John Peel’s lasting musical influence.

Read as Ivan and Alyosha pick their favorite music to listen to while touring.

Read the New York Timesreport that Ta-Nehisi Coates will write a Black Panther comic for Marvel.

Read as Literary Hub considers the convergence of books and music festivals.

Read as the AV Club considers the history of music bootlegging and browse as they make 15 “essential” picks.

Why Aren’t We More Troubled By Christianity?

downloadFor the past nine months, I have been wandering in my own sort of desert. Yes, I live in Phoenix, but that’s not what I mean. I have given the bulk of my professional career to what many call “vocational ministry.” I have served in some sort of paid capacity in three different churches in three different states and my two-fold theme has remained the same:

  1. No matter where you find yourself in your faith journey, may you be drawn closer to Jesus.
  2. Equip God’s people to do God’s work.

You might summarize this as helping people “love God and love people” and, though this can take on many different looks, it is more than enough to keep any local church busy until Kingdom Come. Literally.

Nine months ago, I resigned from ministry for personal reasons. The ensuing time has given me a different perspective on the Church in America and what we do and what we don’t do. Did you ever watch the show Monk, about an OCD private investigator played by Tony Shalhoub? There would often be a scene in which the police would be fumbling about the crime scene and Monk would enter the building and almost immediately see things the police didn’t. I know, I know, it’s a tired plot device used by Psych and countless others, but indulge me for a moment.

These private investigators enter the crime scene with a different perspective than the police. They are asking questions the police might not be asking. The past nine months out of vocational ministry have prompted me  to ask questions, not just about how I am doing in ministry or how our local church is doing but how are WE  are doing. By this, I mean the royal “we”, “the” Evangelical Church in America. And I’m left with more questions and concerns than ever.

One of the questions that has haunted me recently is why “we” are not more troubled by Christianity. David Dark has superbly summarized this question in The Sacredness of Questioning Everything:

Will we let the double-edged indictments of the scriptures cut us to the quick, creating problems in the lives we are living? Or will we enlist the words to serve only in our projects of self-congratulation, skipping the bits that question our beliefs and practices? Will we read the Bible only to reaffirm our beliefs and practices?

I worry that much of what passes for Christianity in America simply uses the Bible for affirmation and self-congratulation. Instead of submitting ourselves to the Spirit’s questioning of our lives, we use the Bible to simply affirm what we’re already doing.

How else can we explain the complacency of so many professing Christians? How else can we explain the prevalence of poverty in our midst; our acceptance of and participation in injustice? “Worship” gatherings that resemble rock concerts more than worship? Local churches who spend more money on buildings than widows and orphans? So many professing Christians chasing the American Dream of upward mobility and Suburban stability? How else could we be so sure that God supports our political agenda except that we’ve stopped listening?

The list goes on and is equally directed at me. I include myself in tis indictment. But it is an indictment nonetheless. There is certainly assurance to be found in following Jesus. But what if we’re sure about the wrong things? The message of Jesus should cause us to question ourselves more than we do. It should cause us to squirm and perhaps sweat a bit. Though there are many angles through which to view this issue, I want to focus today on the broad notion of social justice.

After all, Jesus is pretty clear about what He expects of His people: love people, even (especially?) your enemies. Share your stuff. Practice forgiveness and practice reconciliation. Look out for those who can’t look out for themselves, especially children. If you say you love Jesus, do these things. It’s that simple. And yet, for some reason, we believe it is not. We say it’s more complicated than that with the result that we do very little except assure others that God is on our side.

How well are “we” doing at the things Jesus says mark His people? Are we pursuing peace through meekness? Are we sacrificially caring for others, even those we don’t like? Are we pursuing reconciliation or taking partisan sides?

Francis of Assisi is credited with trolling Reformed Christians with the saying (even though it is likely he never said any such thing):

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

My Reformed friends immediately point out that the Gospel is “good news” and that it must be articulated in words or it is not the Gospel. Yeah, yeah, I get it. But Francis is certainly in line with Jesus Himself who told us to live lives of light so that those around us might glorify God (Matthew 5:16) and I worry that, while we argue about the articulation of the Good News of Jesus, we fail at its demonstration. We argue with one another’s proclamation while few of us actually do anything with it. Why else is the call to live “radical” lives for Jesus so prominent except that we are simply swallowed by the mundane and even vain expressions of faith in commercialism masked with spirituality?

When we sit under God’s Word rather than over it, we should be deeply unsettled. We should be willing to question our lives. Do they match Jesus’ descriptions of His people? More and more, I’m worried that my life does not. More and more, I’m worried that we have lost our witness in America simply because we don’t do the things that are expected of us (no, our actions do not merit our salvation but they are certainly not negotiable).

And I am not alone. Lest you think I’m just alarmistly promoting a “social gospel,” Stephen Colbert calls us to the carpet quite directly:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

How in the world can we write off such sentiments so quickly? Do we have the ears to hear what Jesus expects? How in the world can we pursue lives of comfort when Jesus calls us to sacrifice?

I am convicted that it’s been far too long since I’ve been deeply unsettled by the call of Jesus to give up everything (maybe even literally) and follow Him. Truth be told, our lives are our primary apologetic. We can use words, but if we don’t live it, we must question whether or not we actually believe what we’re saying. Can we say we love Jesus and not love others?

Lord, wake us from our slumber. Remind us once again that forgiveness breeds forgiveness. Convict us once more that they will know we are yours, not by our political affiliation or the family-friendly movies we watch and “uplifting” radio we listen to but by our love.

Unsettle us. And move us to action.

There is work to be done.




the Weekly Town Crier

YeOldeTownCrierSometimes . . . well, you know . . . OK, maybe not.

Welcome to the Weekly Town Crier, a (mostly) weekly post in which I reproduce for you links that, for one reason or another caught my interest this past week. Hopefully they will interest you as well.

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

See Classic Green Army Figures Practicing Yoga Instead Of Holding Guns.

See a collection of a journalist’s four-year journey to chronicle India’s disappearing stepwells.

R.I.P. Wes Craven.

R.I.P. Oliver Sacks.

R.I.P. Dean Jones.

NOT R.I.P. Charlie Watts.

Read as Aquarium Drunkard interviews Yo La Tengo about their new covers album, Stuff Like That There.

Play an Iron Maiden video game in preparation of their new album.

See the “Tesla” watch.

Read Salon‘s pice on the “insipid” VMAs: “There is nothing so tame and boring as someone hungrily shoving their edginess in our faces…”

Read Time’s article: “Canadians Are Cutting $20 Bills in Half to Make Two $10s”.

Read Consequence of Sounds report that “David Bowie to write songs for SpongeBob Squarepants musical”.

Read about the shoes banned by the NBA.

Read as NPR’s Good Listener explores the relationship between music fans and their favorite bands’ side projects.

Speaking of side projects, read Paste‘s report that Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes just released an album with hers, Thunderbitch.

Read Outside’s report that President Obama will appear on “Bear Grylls” to highlight climate change.

See “Centuries-Old Woodblock Prints” updated as GIFs.

Read this piece arguing: “Buying organic veggies at the supermarket is a waste of money.” Thoughts?

Read as Paste wonders why Hulu thinks they can charge more for an inferior service. Thoughts? Do you use Hulu?

Read the profile of the “The homeless man who turned his life around by offering book reviews instead of begging.”

Read as the Atlantic asks: “Is Gentrification a Human-Rights Violation?”

Read as Paste laments the current state of country music: “The Ladies Used to Love Outlaws, Now The Ladies Are Outlaws”

Customize your space with huge Lego blocks for adults.

Read FACT‘s report that Panasonic is reviving the classic Technics turntable.

See Slate‘s map wondering: “If every state had an official word, what would it be?”

Watch “Watch ants weirdly circle an iPhone when it rings.”

Read Vox‘ piece: Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets.”

Watch Jimmy Kimmel Explain the Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj Feud Using Emoji.”

Ever wonder what it might be like if Batman fronted a metal band?

Read what it might mean if the sound of chewing bothers you.

Read Pitchfork’s report that Neko Case is set to release a career-spanning box set.

Read as Cat Power discusses her role in the new Janis Joplin film.

Read as “Keith Richards calls Metallica and Black Sabbath rock music’s “great jokes”

YOLO, So Carpe Diem

yawp-walt-whitmanOne of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society. In fact, in High School and slightly thereafter, some friends and I had our own version (of the group, not the movie) called Demented Sparrows.

We sought to live poetically. Not that we rhymed everything or spoke in iambic pentameter. We believed in the power of ideas and words as their trojan horses. We believed that there could be beauty in the mundane and that good writing flowed most easily from the pursuit of life in all its forms. We would have adventures and get together to write, read and share poetry. We even published a few ‘zines of poetry that we gave away. Maybe I’ll write more about all of that some other time.

The only thing many people remember about Dead Poets Society (besides a literary Patch Adams) is the phrase “carpe diem.” If not, watch this scene:

Many people know and even claim to live by the phrase “Carpe Diem” or “seize the day.” What’s interesting to me is that different generations often try to put their own spin on such passed-along sentiments. Culture works in part when we appropriate traditions and update them.

And now the Tumblr generation has tried to make Carpe Diem their own, re-branding it at YOLO. I confess that my finger is no longer on the popular culture pulse and I had to do some Urban Dictionary sleuthing the first time I saw “YOLO”. In case you’re like I was and are not familiar with the phrase, it stands for “You Only Live Once.”

One might be tempted to view YOLO and Carpe Diem as synonyms. In fact, this seems to be the sentiment held by many who cry YOLO while taking unnecessary risk. After all, both reflect on the fleeting nature of life and how life should then be lived. But the proof is in the pudding and the Tumblr generation is not eating the same pudding as people who understand “Carpe Diem.” Simply put, the two phrases do not mean the same thing. In fact, they seem to work against one another while both playing off of the same sentiment.

All one has to do is look at the popular usage of each phrase to see that they actually work against one another. YOLO is most widely used as an excuse to do stupid and/or dangerous things without thinking through their consequences. It is often used as an excuse to flout rules or expectations, to sneak into a bar instead of doing your homework. It is sometimes used apologetically to explain negative consequences that could have (should have) been avoided. It’s a brush-off of consequences.

Carpe Diem, on the other hand, is the constant reminder that death is around the corner, so “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” This phrase is often used in association with giving extra effort to something, to setting one’s self apart from the crowd, to finding meaning in a fleeting life.

Carpe Diem seeks to make the most of life while YOLO flits it away.

I’m not saying we should live timid lives. Quite the opposite. But the difference between Carpe Diem and YOLO is that YOLO flagrantly disregards the value of life for the sake of an immediate experience while Carpe Diem makes the most of the moment precisely because life is valuable. Carpe Diem forces us to wrestle with the value of every decision while YOLO devalues our decision-making process.

While all of this may sound like semantics, with eight kids, it is something I think quite a bit about. I want my kids to make the most of life. I want them to be adventurers. I want to go out of their way to make a difference.

Yes, we only live once. So we should seize the day in the pursuit of love, of beauty, of adventure. We only live once so seize the day while you still can.


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?