The Prayer Of The Ugh-Churched

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned against You in my heart and thoughts. I have grown discontent in my journey towards You. I love you still and seek You fervently. In fact, this love for You and desire to grow more like You has fanned the flames of frustration. I want more than church programs. I want the church to live like family. I want to be challenged to grow more dependent on You, not on gifted teachers. I want to be equipped rather than rely on someone else for my spiritual development and I want to be engaged rather than entertained.

Many Christians say they want “real” and “authentic” community but the very structures we adopt for the local church tend emphasize intellectual growth over relationships. We have classes to teach people how  to live in community but we don’t actually expect anyone to be in such a community. In fact, we’re a bit taken aback when we do see it.

When we say “doing life together”, it usually means superimposing some sort of academic study on to people who may or may not actually grow the most from academic study. We approach the Christian life as if we were simply disciplined enough, everything would be better. We academetize everything to the point that we discourage people who have no business being discouraged about following Jesus. It’s great if you can tell me the declentions of a Greek verb but I’d rather know you were trying to love those in your path as best you can. We make people who don’t like to read books read books other than the Bible so that they will understand the Bible better. And if they won’t even pretend to like to read to appease their leaders, they are deemed as somehow less spiritual and not “leader material”. We ask people to take time away from their families so we can tell them to love their families better. We ask people to meet with other Christians to learn how to talk to people who aren’t Christians. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m sorry but if we can’t talk to our neighbor about everyday life, we’re not going to talk to them about Jesus. And if that’s the only think we ever talk to them about we’re just going to seem weird and they’re going to think that we view them as a project rather than a friend.

We use verses out of context to promote our own agendas like the (hopefully) well-intentioned pastor using Hebrews 10:25‘s admonition to not neglect gathering together with other believers to say that you have to be at every worship service (I’d be happy to elaborate on this at some point, but for now, I’ll say that I’m pretty sure that the writer to the Hebrews did not mean that we should attend a production once a week where we passively listen to a speaker tell us for 45 minutes how to live while a band urges us to sing along to their performance.). We draw lines in the sand that don’t need to be drawn and we call it “inerrancy” (the Bible was not given to tell us the age of the earth and to believe in an old earth does not mean not believing the rest of the Bible). We major on the minors and wrongly divide (I have not applied to several churches because they require someone who believes a Pre-Trib/Pre-Mil eschatology. Yes, I think eschatology is important. No, I don’t think this is something to divide over).

Father, protect me that my frustration does not sprout into bitterness. Surround me with people who want more.

Help us, Father to own our weaknesses rather than pretending they don’t exist. Help us to to find a better way forward instead of retreading the same well-intentioned but dead-end paths. Surround me with people who believe that the church is neither a building and who believe that worship is not an event and certainly not a performance. Lead me to people who believe that growth occurs primarily in community and understand that you can’t program real community. Lead me to people who believe that growing in discipleship is not necessarily the same thing as growing in knowledge about the Bible, though the two are often deeply intertwined.

Father, help us to move beyond cliché understandings of words like “authentic” and “organic”. Fill my heart with love and patience. Teach me as a leader to equip others rather than make them rely on me. Please deepen my own love, not only for You but for your your people. May I come to understand my faith, not as an add-on but as a marinade for life.

May my frustration be an instrument of healing for others. May I never lead out of opposition but from joyful obedience. May my love for you increase and may I become more dependent on You. Grant me wisdom, fill me with joy, lead me to serve and surround me with others who want the same.

Amen.

 

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI don’t know about you but I love spicy artichoke jalapeño dip. I mean, with some wavy potato chips or the thicker plain chips. Not the thin ones because the dip is too thick for those sissy chips. No sissy chips up in he-yah. Know what I mean, Vern?

Man, sometimes it just hits the spot if you know what I mean. No? Well, you really should try some.

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Harper Lee.

R.I.P. Umberto Eco.

R.I.P. Samuel Willenberg, “the last known survivor of the Nazi death camp Treblinka.”

R.I.P. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

R.I.P. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

R.I.P. First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Browse the lineup for this year’s Pitchfork music festival.

Browse Phoenix New Times‘ list of “Arizona’s 30 Most Influential Musicians.”

Learn about caffeinated toothpaste.

Read about Sub Pop Records offering “college scholarships to ‘losers’ and ‘art-enthused misfits'”.

Read as Smithsonian considers “How the Phonograph Changed Music Forever”.

Read as Salon argues: “Stop buying old Bob Dylan albums: “Every time somebody buys a reissue, they’re just taking money away from new musicians”. But I like Bob Dylan and new music . . .

Watch a “1970 documentary about Hunter S. Thompson‘s run for mayor of Aspen”.

  • Read as The Washington Post opines: “If only Hunter S. Thompson could have lived to take on this election”.

Browse as NPR’s Jazz Night In America considers the history of “Jazz slang”.

Read as The Washington Post considers three cocktails that “pair perfectly with classic literature”.

Read USA Today‘s profile of Mavis Staples.

Browse as The Guardian compares streaming services.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “10 Essential Short Story Collections”.

Read as The Guardian considers: “Slave to the algorithm? How music fans can reclaim their playlists from Spotify“.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports that a “Fall Coachella Festival” is imminent.

Read reports that Apple is implementing a trade-in program for iPhones.

Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that new printed city guides for vinyl are being made available for select cities.

Read The Atlantic‘s report on the return of Planet Earth.

Ever wonder why you sometimes feel “phantom phone vibrations”?

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Long Before Jack Daniels, George Washington Was a Whiskey Tycoon.”

Read as Gillian Anderson talks about Dave Grohl‘s X-Files cameo and how it came to be.

Read as AV Club urges us to reconsider “the grim and gritty Dark Age of superhero comics.”

Read Live For Live Music‘s report: “The Leaked Tracklisting For The National‘s Extensive Grateful Dead Tribute Is Incredible”.

Hear “a giant 800-track alt/indie-focused 90’s playlist in chronological order”.

Read about the new vinyl-pressing plant promising tw0-week turnaround.

Read CNN‘s report: “Beyoncé offered security for concert by Louis Farrakhan“.

Browse as Consequence of Sound considers “Which Artists Are Still Holding Out on Streaming”.

Browse “Relevant”‘s list of “8 Biographies Everyone Should Read”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Pixar Made an App That Helps the Blind Experience Movies”.

Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “Discogs sold 6.6 million records in 2015”.

Watch Bill Gates DJ on Jimmy Fallon.

See shoes that grow with you.

Read “Relevant”‘s piece: “Justin Bieber: Without God I’d Be a Terrible Person”.

Listen as the BBC discusses poetry form.

Read as Lucinda Williams discusses her discography with Spin.

Browse Flavorwire‘s picks for “The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in March”.

Ever wonder: “How Does ‘A Wrinkle in Time‘ Look on a Map?”

Read Paste‘s: “4 Questions for Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver”.

A New Year, A New Me (?)

1388095921000-new-yearsNew Year’s.
Birthdays.

New Year’s.
Birthdays.

New Year’s.
Birthdays.

New Year’s.
Birthdays.

New Year’s.
Birthdays.

New Year’s.

New Year’s.

New Year’s.

New Year’s. Well, here we are once again. The oddest holiday of all. A one-second holiday. The one where we all pretend we’re ecstatic that the calendar has turned in on itself once again and here we are to repeat the whole thing yet once again. And again. And (hopefully?) agai.

One second we’re old. The next we’re new again. We’ve shed our psychological skin and embraced a new beginning. Or the monkey on our back has added a few pounds and feels just a bit heavier as we face the prospect of carrying it around for another trip around the sun.

We celebrate the passing of time because we’ve survived. Some of it felt like it was in our control (even though most of it didn’t). There’s no reason we should have survived this year’s lap of a giant 1,000/hour spinning marble around a flaming ball of explosive gases, held in place by a rock finding its identity in spinning around us as we spin around the ball of fire.

As the years swallow themselves, we remember those who didn’t survive this year’s cruise around the sun. We know that one day, maybe soon, most definitely sooner than we’d like, we will join them in jettisoning this spinning ball.

As we lap the sun once again, we are torn. Should we celebrate our survival or mourn those whose time ended? Can you do both? Can you do both without guilt?  Isn’t curious that so many of our celebrations are about nothing more than the fact that we survived another year?

And yet with each Birthday. With each trip around the sun. With each New Year, we instinctively cling to the hope that things will can get better. Things will get better.Things have to get better. They just have to because I can’t keep on like this. Not another year.

I don’t know how you understand these annual rites of passage but I can’t help but interpret them through the Biblical Story. We celebrate the passing of each year with resolutions for the same reason we mythologize the Phoenix rising from the ashes: we believe in redemption. We long for restoration. Something deep inside us, un/happy as we might be, feels like we were created for more. So much more. This just quite doesn’t seem like all of this creation business has lived up to its potential. Things just aren’t quite as they should be.

We celebrate the passing of another year with hopes to do better knowing that we won’t. Believing that maybe we can’t. Maybe the set of chemicals injected into us by our parents and theirs before have simply determined how each year, each month, each day will play itself out. But I don’t think so.

Because God Himself entered in to human history. The Eternal stepped in to time. The Perfect into the imperfect. Trusting God fully; wholly; completely, in every way. In ways I could never. In ways I would never. Even to the end. Unto the end. Through it all. Even to death. Death on a cross. Through the grave and into Intercession.

My faith in Jesus reminds me that, left to myself, relying on my own devices, I won’t do any better with this coming year than I did the last. I can make all of the resolutions I want and more but I won’t keep them unless I want to and I won’t want to unless my heart itself changes and I won’t ever want to unless something (SomeOne) outside of me acts on my behalf.

My faith in Jesus provides each year, each moment, with purpose. The passing of each year throws me to the floor with gratefulness. I know I cannot do it without Jesus because I’ve had more than enough chances to prove otherwise and each time I end up with nowhere to go but to Him.

I know that some of you have views on Jesus than I do. I’m not here to argue with you. I just want you to know that, in spite of the way many Christians express themselves politically or culturally, or artistically, or in-person, our story is one of death and renewal. Our God died in our place so that we might live.

The passing of each year brings us to the end of ourselves once again. As we optimistically bear weights we’re not sure we can bear, we are reminded that God bears our burdens so that following Him (this year and the next, and the next, etc.) might bring relief to our souls. Could this be the year we’re anxious for nothing? Could this be when we finally learn to be calm in the storm? The Foundation is there, but will we stand on it or lose our grip?

The passing of this year and every year reminds the Christian that we cannot face what’s next on our own. And thankfully, we don’t have to.

What does the new year mean to you?

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI think you know what I mean. I think you know what I really mean. Well, actually. Hold on there a minute. I haven’t said anything yet for you to even know what I could mean. Much less what I really mean.

So I suppose I should come up with something really clever to say here. Something about how the Weekly Town Crier is where I collect links of varying levels of interest and pas them along to you for your interest in the interesting links.

Enjoy.

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of the year.

Read NPR’s piece: “Learning Soft Skills In Childhood Can Prevent Harder Problems Later.”

Now you can have a robot act as maid of honour at your wedding.”

Read as Salon considers “How the Samurai warrior inspired the Jedi Knights.”

Read as Sojourners considers “‘Firefly‘ and the Dignity of Humanity.”

Read an account of “Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Routine.”

Read as NPR considers “The Neuroscience Of Musical Perception.”

Watch as The Atlantic considers “Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive?”

Read as The Atlantic considers the public zoning backlash against small community libraries.

Read as Consequence of Sound‘s catches up with Henry Rollins.

  • See Henry Rollins build and destroy a gingerbread house.

Read as Mother Jones considers Pete Seeger‘s FBI file.

Read as T Bone Burnett considers “Our culture loves music. Too bad our economy doesn’t value it” for The Washington Post.

Read as No Depression asks: “How Did You Find Your Favorite Albums This Year?”

See the “Secret catalog of gadgets police and feds can use to spy on your cellphone.”

Read as the Atlantic considers “Machines That Can See Depression on a Person’s Face.”

Read The Creator‘s Project‘s piece: “The Art of Reflection Within the Rothko Chapel.”

Read about “The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy.”

Read as The Guardian considers “Hidden gems of 2015: great records you may have missed.”

Read as KJZZ considers the “Mixed Reactions To Anheuser-Busch’s Plans To Buy Four Peaks Brewing Company.”

Read as Rolling Stone considers the impact of the Grateful Dead‘s farewell shows.

Read Okay Player‘s piece: “Killer Mike, Big Boi + More Will Testify On Hip Hop’s Behalf In Front Of The Supreme Court Today.”

Browse The Washington Post‘s ranking of the country’s best “food cities.”

See Shane McGowan’s new teeth.

See someone “Pouring a Thermos of Hot Tea at -40°C Near the Arctic Circle.”

See the card that caused Steve Harvey’s worst nightmare.

Browse “A Beginner’s Guide To Frank Zappa“.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Lenny Kravitz is being accused of illegal dentistry in the Bahamas.

Read about many Muslim women asking non-Muslim women not to wear the hajib “in the name of interfaith solidarity.”

Read Noisey‘s interview with “The Founder of ‘Yeezianity’, The First Religion Based Onn Kanye West“.

Meet the finalists who could design the Obama Presidential Center.”

Read CNN‘s report: “Vatican paper says ‘The Force Awakens’ is not evil enough”.

Fueling the rumors that Apple is ditching the 3.5mm headjack, read Hypebeast‘s report: “Apple is Developing its Own High Quality Audio Format.”

Read Rolling Stone‘s article: “Cheap Trick‘s Bun E. Carlos on Possible Rock Hall Reunion: Any friendship we had went away when I had to file a federal lawsuit,” says drummer.”

Read as Christianity Today considers “Why We Get Religious About ‘Star Wars’.

Read The New York Times’ article: “New Novel From Jonathan Safran Foer Coming in September.”

Read “The Story Behind The Famous Portrait of André The Giant Clutching A Beer Can.”

Read CNN‘s piece about companies with “mandatory” vacation policies.

Read Noisey‘s report about the “rebirth” of CBGBs . . . as a NJ airport restaurant.

Browse Pixar color palettes.

Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Leon Bridges.

Read about the new “451” internet error code for internet censorship.

Read The Stranger‘s piece: “How Christianity Infiltrated Seattle Music with a Little Help from Mars Hill Church and the City Council.”

Read as Noisey considers the rise and fall of Ozzy Osbourne.

Read as The Washington Post considers “Why it’s a good sign if you curse a lot.”

Read Amazon one-star reviews of some of the year’s biggest albums.

See bonsai skulls.

Browse Flavorwires‘s picks for the best literary criticism of 2015.

Read as Christopher Hitchens considers George Orwell.

Read as AV Club considers the year in band names.

Read as Literary Hub considers how “White Christmas” started the trend of popular Christmas songs.

Browse this list of “The Most Googled Artists of 2015”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Sultan of Brunei Has Literally Outlawed Christmas.”

Read The Washington Post‘s piece: “My husband read to me while I was sick. It changed our marriage.”

Watch as The Atlantic asks what you wish you had learned in college but didn’t.

See a fountain in China made from 10,000 toilets.

Read as Techly considers “Five Things You Don’t Know About Beer (But Probably Should).”

Go with Fast Company into the secretive world of Freemasonry in this photo essay.

Read the Washington Post‘s report that “The Republican debate stage could shrink considerably next month” based on new rules.

Watch Steve Harvey announce the wrong winner for the Miss Universe pageant.

Watch what could happen to your body if you drank 10 cans of Coke every day. Please don’t drink 10 cans of soda every day.

See “inflatable hotel rooms.”

Read Outside magazine’s ode to the VW Vanagon.

Since we no longer live in a culture in which people own important albums, you will soon be able to stream The Beatles‘ catalog.

Poor Nicholas Cage has been forced to return his T-Rex skull.

See the decaying church building repurposed as an artsy skate park.

Read as Slate considers the impact of “bro country”.

Read about how Facebook helped solve the riddle of an ancient artifact.

Read as Salon considers the possibility of an R.E.M. reunion.

Read about U2‘s Bono buying the Eagles of Death Metal new phones to replace the ones they lost in the Paris attacks.

Inside (Out) the Christian Life, Sadness and Depression

45173My family and I love most of the Pixar movies. We haven’t seen The Good Dinosaur yet, but Inside Out was no exception.

Inside Out tells the story of 11-year old Riley and her family as they move from the midwest to San Francisco. But there’s a catch. Most of the movie takes place inside Riley’s head and the main characters are five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

I don’t want to drop too many spoilers but let’s just say that the plot takes a twist when Joy tries to prevent Sadness from having too much influence over Riley. In fact, much of the conflict revolves around Joy trying to limit Sadness’ influence.

The assumption, of course, is that it is “better” to be happy than sad. So much so that Joy is willing to pursue this agenda even at the cost of betraying Sadness, generally belittling her and suggesting that Sadness has little to offer and generally made things worse. The optimal state, according to Joy and many of us is happiness.

Most of us would probably agree. We would say that we would rather be happy than sad. After all, Americans have dedicated our country to “the pursuit of happiness.” We deserve to be happy, right? Happiness means that things are better.

And it seems that much of this mindset has found its way into “American Christianity” (moralistic therapeutic deism). Whether it’s Joel Osteen telling us that we deserve our “best life now” because we’re children of God or local megachurches promising people they can “win at life,” much of “American Christianity” seems barely one-step removed from simply wanting to make people feel good about themselves.  Our worship gatherings resemble rock concerts and our preachers mimic self-help snakeoil-men.

But, of course, one of the things that makes Inside Out brilliant is that everyone, including Joy, is forced to not only accept Sadness but cherish her. Because, they realize that, without sadness, empathy is next to impossible. Without sadness, happiness is simply a hollow masking over of the circumstances. Without sadness, we’re willing to make harmful choices to keep up the thrill of “happiness”. We may not long for sadness but we cannot truly grow without it.

I wonder, then, why so little of “Christian worship” welcomes sadness into the chorus. After all, isn’t our “worship music” supposed to be an extension and elevation of the everyday? Then why is it all in major keys? Life is not always joyful and triumphant. Sometimes you feel as though you’ve been kicked one too many times and you’re just not sure you’ll get up this time and you just need to sing, “How long do I have to wait patiently for you, God?”  Where are the songs that acknowledge that God’s help may not come until the morning (Psalm 46:5) and the sun feels as though it’s barely set.

We have equated worship with a positive emotional response because we have come to understand that faith in Jesus is ultimately about making us happy. We have signposts everywhere telling us that we’re on the wrong path. But it’s so smooth and everyone else is on it. You really want me to go through that narrow gate that hardly anyone else is going through to that really difficult looking path (Matthew 7:13-14)?

But a faith that serves primarily to make its holder happy is not a faith that will stand the storm (Matthew 7:24-27). We even have “Christian counseling” movements that tell people that their depression/anxiety, etc. is a result of sin. And they’re simply compounding sin if they take medication to deal with their already sinful sin of disbelief that God’s Word is not somehow sufficient to deal with their unrepented sin which caused their depression in the first place.

We have pushed sadness and depression and anxiety and frustration beyond the city gates because they just bring us down, man. But following Jesus is so beautiful because it envelops all of life. Of course there is a place for sadness and of course Jesus can see us through it because He himself wept (John 11:35). Jesus could have simply told his friends that “God works in mysterious ways” and that He was working even this difficult situation for their good and rebuke the sadness. But He didn’t. He wept. Because sadness is real and must be accepted because it gives depth, it makes us richer, it brings us closer, it gives us empathy and shows us the true value of happiness when it comes. It also reminds us that it’s not realistic or healthy to expect to be happy all of the time.

I’m not sure what it looks like but I want a Christianity that’s ministry to me when I’m sad is not just to point out the reasons I should be happy or to rebuke for the reasons I’m not. There may certainly be times when rebuke is necessary but I wonder how much richer our faith would be if we were simply willing to meet with people in their sadness and sit with them? What if more of our songs, sermons and gathered worship helped us understand sadness and depression rather than try to give us tips to avoid them?

Maybe it means writing more worship songs in minor keys? Maybe it means simply reading more of the Psalms together? Maybe it means more preachers admitting that following Jesus is sometimes really difficult and it will not always feel like our “best life now”? Maybe it means recognizing that there are parts of the Bible that we’d rather skip over? Maybe it means that it won’t be until we values the lows as much as the highs that our faith truly means anything in the everyday?

Am I the only one who feels like “American Christianity” deserves the Flanders stereotype? I guess if I am, I’ve got issues other than depression to work through. But if I’m not, I wonder why so many churches seem to take the same approach. I’d love your thoughts.

In the meantime, here’s a unique take on a “Christian classic”:


Is Pastoral Aspiration Permanent? What Happens If It’s Not?

a-preacher-in-blackI used to be a pastor. Generally speaking, it was something I loved doing. I was exhilerated when, through my equipping, believers began to not only take responsibility for their own spiritual well-being but also for those around them (Ephesians 4:11-13; Galatians 6:1-2, etc.). I love teaching, preaching, discipleship, counseling and leadership development. In many ways, it was my dream job and I’d love to do it again some day. But after ten years of pouring out our lives for others, our church’s needs shifting from visionary to implementation and some major family changes, I resigned.

I would not say that I had reached “burnout” (a topic I’d like to write more about soon, especially considering the stigma of spiritual failure and the spiritual machismo surrounding the idea. But more on that later.). In fact, part of the reason I resigned when I did was to protect myself and my church family from burnout. There were, of course, many factors that led to the decision to resign but they may all be summed up simply by saying that I didn’t want to elder at that time in my life.

This isn’t something many pastors talk about. In fact, you’re led to believe that your’e somehow selfish or that your faith must be in question if you entertain the idea. But I think it is something Paul himself understood deeply. When introducing the characteristics of spiritual leaders (overseer, elder, bishop, pastor, etc.) Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer.”

A lot of time is often spent on the idea of “aspiring” to the office of elder when men go through whatever their local church’s process to become an elder might be. A lot of time is spent talking about the difficulties that lie ahead; almost trying to talk the potential elder out of it. Are you sure? And this is good. There might sometimes be people who, though they might possess the right characteristics, simply don’t want to serve as an elder in a local church. Someone taking on the task of caring for other people’s souls should do so wide-eyed and they should certainly want to do it because, though incredibly rewarding, it can also be incredibly difficult.

What seems to be discussed less is the question of whether or not this aspiration is permanent? Just because someone had that aspiration at one point in their life, is it simply assumed that they want to continue indefinitely? Is this something that should be gauged at regular intervals and if so, how? Some churches impose “term limits” on their elders and have a rotating board of elders but I’m not sure that designated periods of time are necessarily the best option.

Complicating the issue is the fact that this “aspiration” is certainly tied to one’s spiritual health, but it is not correct to simply say that if someone does not wish to serve as an elder then their spirituality is not healthy. And yet, there is a sense of guilt often experienced by those who realize that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to serve at that time of life.

I wish I had some practical answers to wrap up with but I don’t. These are issues I’ve been wrestling with for over a year now. What I have concluded is that, in many cases, we need to be more sensitive to those in leadership. It is a very difficult thing when your job is tied to your spirituality. It can be really hard when your job is to care for people who will often criticize the way you try to serve them. How can we make sure that our leaders are there because they want to be?

What if it were as simple as our leaders being approachable and open and people treating them as real people; with care? What if it were as simple as our leaders being humble enough to realize that there might be seasons to leadership and the best way to lead is sometimes to get out of the way? We need to make it easier for those in spiritual to be real people.

I don’t regret my decision to resign and I think it was the right time to resign when I did. But after nearly a year away from vocational ministry, the call to serve in that capacity is returning and I’m trying to make sense of it all. In some ways after this break, I “aspire” to serve more than ever. But what about those who are struggling? How can we be sensitive to those who may be second-guessing? How can we encourage those to stay who should and give freedom to those who realize that it is not their time in life to serve in that capacity?

I’d love your thoughts.

 

the Weekly Town Crier

Town Crier

Yeah, whatever, nevermind. Where is my mind?

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read the New York Times‘ piece “Independent Musicians Find Unexpected Rewards in Streaming.”

Watch Keith Richards Teach Matt Sweeney Some Acoustic Licks” at Stereogum.

Watch a Japanese Kokeshi Doll Emerge From a Spinning Block of Wood” at Colossus.

R.I.P. Joe Moss, manager of the Smiths and Johnny Marr.

See “Dually Sinister and Playful Solarplate Etchings by Jaco Putker”.

Read Time‘s tips: “How to Avoid Having Your Posts Show Up in Facebook’s New Public Search”

Browse Consequence of Sound‘s “Brief History of Prince the Weirdo”.

Read as Clickhole asks “How Many Of These Hayao Miyazaki Films Have You Seen?”

See the “new Super Mario Bros. speedrun record.”

Read Slate‘s piece finding that “Highly Religious People See Little Conflict With Science”.

Read Smithsonian‘s piece finding that “27 Percent of U.S. Adults Didn’t Read a Single Book Last Year.”

Read about the upcoming tour of Andy Kaufman and Redd Foxx holograms.

Read Uncut‘s piece: “The story of Television, by Richard Lloyd”.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Anthony Bourdain to open giant Blade Runner-themed food market in New York City”.

Browse CNN‘s collection of “7 terrifying airplane seat patents.”

Read Vox‘ piece: “The philosophical problem of killing baby Hitler, explained.”

Read AV Club‘s report: “Wes Anderson would like to make a horror movie”.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports “Maynard James Keenan wants nothing to do with Tool, or their fans” and Phoenix New Times‘ report: “Maynard James Keenan Has Two Things On His Mind: Puscifer and Wine. Tool Fans Will Just Have To Wait“. Also Read NME‘s piece: “Tool frontman labels band’s own fans as ‘insufferable retards.’ And don’t forget Keenan’s response to the hoopla surrounding his original remarks: “Our core fanbase aren’t fanatics. They’re music lovers & artists & good people. Its the fanatics that are insufferable,” Maynard James Keenan says.”

See “Newly Digitized ‘Phenakistoscope’ Animations That Pre-Date GIFs by Over 150 Years”.

Read KTAR‘s report that Phoenix has been named one of the top pizza cities in the country.

Ever wonder “What Happens When Your ‘Jeopardy!’ Response Goes Viral.”

Read as Aquarium Drunkard interviews Phil Cook.

Read as Paste reports that “Ballast Point is Going Public”.

Read as NPR considers the enduring appeal of Dungeons and Dragons after 40 years.

Watch free documentaries.

Read/Listen as NPR wonders “Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?” and read as the Atlantic wonders “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?

Browse “Augustine’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers”.

Read Food and Wine‘s report that Canada has a burger stuffed with peanut butter cups.

Read “A Deeper Look Into The Life Of Mansa Musa – The Richest Human Being Who Ever Lived.”

Read Wall Street Journal‘s piece “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”

The Keurig of Home Brewing Batches Craft Beer at the Push of a Button.”

Take “A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day.”

Listen as Terry Gross talks to Carrie Brownstein about her new memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. Also read Noisey‘s interview and read Spin‘s interview.

See a $39,000 knife.

Read Stereogum‘s interview with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar. Also read amNewYork‘s interview.

Read as the Daily Beast speaks with Ta-Nehisi Coates on “Why Whites Like His Writing”

Read as the Los Angeles Review of Books interviews Stephen King.

Read PopMatters‘ interview with Kurt Vile.

Read/Listen as Gloria Steinem speaks with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

Read about the French vending machine that will print you a short story.

Read Relix‘ interview with Jason Isbell or read The Planet Weekly‘s interview.

Read/Listen as NPR talks with Elvis Costello about his new memoir Unfaithful Music And Disappearing Ink.

Read as James Franco speaks with Variety about adapting William Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury for the screen.

Read Rolling Stone‘s report that Phil Collins is unretiring.

Read Paste‘s report of the new (unauthorized) Beastie Boys musical, Licensed to Ill.

Read BoingBoing‘s piece: “The more unequal your society is, the more your laws will favor the rich.”

Read Steve Martin‘s picks for “5-10-15-20” (featuring “people talking about the music that made an impact on them throughout their lives, five years at a time”).

Read Hi Fructose‘s profile of Mark Mothersbaugh.

Read as Consequence of Sound’s report: “Study suggests Spotify doesn’t have a negative impact on record sales.

Read as Richard Mouw considers the ever-growing Christian opposition to Halloween.

Watch the trailer for the upcoming Dave Navarro documentary detailing the murder of the Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist’s mother.

Read FACT’s report “Jimi Hendrix’s London home to open as museum.”

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Digable Planets are reuniting for a Seattle show.

Browse “the 9 rarest plants in the world.”

Read The Guardian‘s profile of Mark Hogancamp, subject of the fabulous documentary Marwencol.

Read Hypebeast‘s report: “Apple Records Largest Profits in Corporate History.”

Read as NPR considers Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism.

Read about the Hatian roots of zombie myths.

Read Salon‘s report about Katy Perry campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

See a “floating” record player.

Read about the Japanese manga series revolving around a cast on unemployed men who decide to become great housekeepers to attract women. The series was pulled by the author after several men complained.

Read about the sock company making a point about differences through mismatched socks.

Read as Techly wonders if the music you listen to is having long-term effects on your brain.

Read a profile of the “hyena men” of Nigeria.

Watch an animated Bill Murray interview from 1988.

Read The Guardian‘s report that Anonymous plans to release the names of approximately 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members.

Read The Stranger‘s interview with Richard Bishop about the reissue of Sun City Girls’ class Torch of the Mystics.

Read this report that Goonies 2 has been confirmed, including the full original cast.

the Weekly Town Crier

Town CrierI’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure
Waitress comes over
Nobody in the place but me and her

It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around
She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

She looks at me, says, “I’d bring you some
But we’re out of ’m, you picked the wrong time to come”
Then she says, “I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!”
I say, “I would if I could, but
I don’t do sketches from memory.

Welcome to the Weekly Town Crier. A weekly world wide web page where I gather links of interest for your interest. Please show your interest by browsing.

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

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read as Quora wonders “Why Do Car Buffs Dislike Tesla?”

Read as Ozy considers the cost of weddings: “the more you spend, the shorter your marriage is.”

Read as CNN wonders about “How to think straight in the age of information overload” and why so many smart people wear the same outfit every day.

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Columbus Day Is Now Indigenous People’s Day in Seattle And Minneapolis.”

Read as the New Yorker considers Max Richter’s new eight-hour album: Sleep.

Browse Paste‘s list of “10 Hip-Hop Albums For People Who Don’t Like Hip-Hop.”

See “Gorgeous animated pixel-art depicting everyday Japan.”

Read The Art of Manliness‘ piece “The Lost Art of Cheap Recreation.”

Read as the AV Club reports: “Joss Whedon made more money from Dr. Horrible than the first Avengers.”

Read Pitchfork‘s report that “St. Vincent Working at New Dallas Restaurant.”

R.I.PThe Stooges‘ Steve Mackay.

See The World’s Largest Man-Made Wave.

Read Atlas Obscura‘s piece about “The Doomed Effort To Make Videos Go Vinyl.”

Read as Slate wonders how to “Become More Articulate in Everyday Speech?”

Read as The Atlantic considers: “The Cheapest Generation Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.”

Read The Daily Beast‘s piece: “Lou Reed “was a monster”

Read Fast Company‘s piece: “Getting More Done At Work Won’t Make You As Happy As Just Working Less.”

Read as First Things considers whatever happened to liturgy in gathered worship.

Read as American Songwriter considers “Lucero’s Never-Ending Tour.”

Read the New York Times‘ report that “Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Is Found.”

Read IFL Science‘s report: “Study Claims People Who Like Their Coffee Black Are More Likely To Have Psychopathic Tendencies.”

See “A fully transparent solar cell that could make every window and screen a power source.”

Read as The Atlantic considers “Twilight of the Headbangers How long can the legends of heavy metal keep on rocking?”

See a “Bicycle That Lets you Play Records On Its Wheels.”

Read as Draft Magazine considers “Why the DOJ is investigating AB InBev” (SPOILER: It’s their war on “craft” beer).

Read Stereogum‘s report that Urban Outfitters will now carry cassettes.

Watch/read as AZ Central considers the “Day of the Dead” ritual.

See tattoos made from one continuous line.

Watch First Teaser for Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas” at Paste.

Read about the move “to put DRM in JPEGs.”

ReadRelevant”‘s piece: “Playboy’s Move Away From Nudity Is Actually a Bad Sign.”

Help your kids discover punk music with this new new children’s book.

Watch Natalie Prass cover Slayer.

Read as the Guardian profiles Kristin Hersh’s new book on Vic Chesnutt: Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.

Browse this list of “The ten best rock docs of all time.”

Browse this list of “must-read books by musicians.”

Read/Listen as NPR’s Fresh Air talks to Berke Breathed about the return of Bloom County.

Browse as Pigeons and Planes makes their picks for “2015’s top indie music labels.”

Read/Listen as NPR‘s All Songs Considered profiles Elvis Costello’s memoir: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

Read as Paste profiles singer/songwriter Josh Ritter.

Browse years and years and years’ worth of KMart muzak.

Browse “a primer to the works of Flannery O’Connor.”

Read ABC‘s report that Phil Collins‘ “autobiography will be published in October 2016.”

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 tells them that it’s OK, don’t worry 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).

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.