My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

I hope everybody had a great Independence Day and holiday weekend! Insert obligatory “Can you believe the year’s half over? Where does the time go?” comment here.

If you didn’t guess I thought I’d share some of my favorite new albums that have come out in the first half of the year but I have to be honest: I’ve not been as diligent seeking out new music as I’ve been in years past. I mostly just listened to Bob Dylan for the first three months of the year but some artists I enjoy put out new material and there’s been a few discoveries.

The list in alphabetical order and a few thoughts on each:

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious? I used to listen to a lot of Andrew Bird in college and then I moved to California and listened to less Andrew Bird. This is a solid outing. The lyrics aren’t as inventive or experimental as previous albums which I think makes this album more approachable than others of his. Favorite Track: “Truth Lies Low”

Bifrost Arts, Lamentations: Simple Songs of Lament and Hope Vol. 1 Oh man! This album is so good. You’d think an album called “Lamentations” would be a major bummer, it’s not. I mean it’s not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination. Bifrost Arts is a collective a musicians that are writing songs for the church based heavily on psalm texts, ancient prayers, etc. Their albums feature chants, folk song, praise choruses. Favorite Track: “Wisdom and Grace (Psalm 90)”

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book I’ve been pretty enamored with Chance the Rapper’s music since seeing him kill it on SNL late last year. The mixtape he released earlier this year is easily my favorite album so far this year. There’s not a single track on the mixtape that isn’t amazing. Chance is honest and transparent but every lyric and note is dripping in joy. Also it may be the only secular album to sing about “The exalted Christ”. Tyler Huckabee wrote a must-read review of the album over at Gradient: Chance the Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’ is Exactly what 2016 Needed  Favorite Track: “Same Drugs”

The Gray Havens, Ghost of a King And my second favorite album. If the band name didn’t clue you in this music sounds like Tolkien wrote a pop Christian album. There’s only one track that feels like a misstep in its radio-friendliness except that it services the whole album by introducing a new musical theme. This a concept album that develops like symphony. Favorite Track: “At Last, The King”

Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle This is a very new album to me, I’ve only listened to it a handful of times since being turned on to it by NPR’s All Songs Considered mid-year wrap up of new albums. I like it a lot so far, it feels like a less polished Punch Brothers though the production quality and harmonies are top notch.

Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp I discovered this album from the same NPR show and have listened to several times over already. The synth pop has a 90’s vibe to it and the lead singer’s voice is super clear. There’s some fun jams here. I’m looking forward to spending more and more time with this one.

Kings Kaleidoscope, Beyond Control This was my most anticipated album of the year and I’m afraid it doesn’t match up to my expectations. But! That’s not to say it isn’t a good sophomore effort. Kings Kaleidoscope symphonic/indie/ska groves are second to none. You’d think a ten piece band would sound clutter but there’s not a false note on the album. My problem is with the lyrics – these songs are less congregational and more confessional so the lyrical polish from their first album is lacking.Favorite Track: “A Prayer (explicit)”

The artwork on Beyond Control is the best artwork though. How cool is this image?!

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger If you like Paul Simon’s music you’ll like this. I do and did. Favorite Track: “Wristband”

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool I’m not a good Radiohead fan. I like “Creep”, In Rainbows is my favorite of their albums, I’ve not listened to King of Limbs yet… I’m not sad enough to love Radiohead the way you’d think a guy of my pallet would so take this with a grain of salt: This is a great album, it sounds like Radiohead playing with the lushest of string arrangements which is a very good thing. Favorite Track: “Present Tense”

Zachary Bolen, 1001 Alyssa and I were talking about how we wished there was music that dealt with the reality of drama of ordinary life without being melodramatic and overwrought. Here is an emotionally honest, simple album doing does just that. Bolen is the lead singer of Citizens & Saints but this album forgoes their electronic sound in favor of classic acoustic rock. This is also not an overtly Christian album – though themes of grace and mercy lace throughout. Favorite Track: “Give It Time”

Here’s a playlist with two tracks from each album:

If you want to find some more good music you can check out the NPR show I mentioned here: Your Favorite New Musicians of 2016 (So Far). And if you’re looking for other good new music here’s Paste’s write up of new music so far this year: The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)


My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

White Privilege

A pastor and writer for the Gospel Coalition I greatly admire, Thabiti Anyabwile, wrote this* in a series of tweets Saturday night — which would have been Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday:

Tamir Rice would have been 14 today. Life cut way too short. Remembering the family in my prayer tonight. Hugging my son tighter tonight. Just left Toys R Us [with] my son. He had gift cards from his 9th [birthday]. He wanted to buy a Nerf Gun & Nerf bow. I let him. I thought VERY hard. While in the store and driving home, I kept asking myself, “Where can he play with these safely?” The only answer I have is “in the house.” I hate the notion that Titus’ boyhood play must be curtailed because of a society’s unjust judgment. But I love him too much to be blasé [about] it. I don’t want my son to love guns. We talk about it often as he just does what boys do. The reality is he cannot love guns safely. Love for guns is a right some people take for granted and others cherish and guard. It’s not a right that can be so treated by my son. For some he’s a menace on sight. He has no idea that’s how some see him. So his legal possession of a gun or play [with] toy makes him vulnerable. He’s not old enough to understand or negotiate this deadly vulnerability. But he should be able to play. Play should never be deadly. I’m not sure he’d be safer if I were outside playing [with] him. I’m a large man. Even unarmed, being large is justification for deadly force. It’s not difficult for me to imagine playing [with] him in our neighborhood and [one] or both being rolled up on, finding ourselves in a lethal [situation]. If it’s my son in crosshairs and things go bad, what would my son see? What would be the last image of his father? How would he cope? It just ain’t right. So we will play inside and he’ll wonder, “why not outside with more room?” I know it’s [because] there’s not much room outside. I let him buy the Nerf gun and bow. I hate the anxiety so he could be a boy. Being a boy is so precious to me. A gift I hope to guard and nourish. Okay. I’m done. Now to talk to God on behalf of Tamir Rice’s family, my son, and yours. Good night.

I will never have to worry about my sweet boy playing with a Nerf gun in the front yard. Atticus is too blonde, too blue eyed.

I see a plenty on social media about how White Privilege isn’t real, the media is biased, whatever. Or, more generously I guess, about how all of us are equal and we should just realize we’re all the same (cue Justin Timberlake) instead of focusing on race but here’s the deal: if all the studies, statistics, and stories from Black communities (and not to mention other non-Anglo communities) about White Privilege are wrong — they’re not but for the sake of argument let’s wonder if they are for a moment — and all the systemic benefits of being white (pay grade, police interaction, educational opportunities, etc) don’t actually exist White Privilege is still a thriving reality for one reason:

As a white person I get to choose when or when not to think about my race or the race of others. I can blindly assert that “we’re all equal” when we’re not.

I don’t ever have to consider what it means to be the father of a White boy playing with a Nerf gun in the front yard.

At the 2016 BET Awards last night Grey’s Anatomy — which I’ve seen now in completion twice — actor and equal rights activist, Jesse Williams, gavea powerful speech, which you can watch here.

A few choice quotes, the full transcript is here:

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.

Now… I got more y’all – yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12 year old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better than it is to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

And let’s get a couple things straight, just a little sidenote – the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.That’s not our job, alright – stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

Perhaps it would be better to weep with those who weep, stand with those who stand, fight injustice, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, maybe these instead of defending the high ground we sit on.

  • I gently edited Anyabwile’s quote for readability. Mostly just spelled out words the short hand used to get around Twitter’s 140 character count restriction.
White Privilege

How Do We Even Talk About This?

Disclaimer: The following is not meant as a philosophical argument but an emotional rant that’s been building in light of this past week (beginning 6/12/16). Also I’m excessively more sarcastic regarding certain presidential nominees than maybe necessary.

All week I’ve been looking for the words to say after the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and in response to how my friends, families, acquaintances are processing publicly on social media. I keep drawing blanks. Feel free to keep reading this or not, it isn’t particularly good.

I have obvious opinions about many of the talking points this week. I’ve written several times on this blog about gun control — I’ve since taken the posts down, if you’re interested in those posts though I still have them and you can email me at to get them; I’ve written about the Republican Candidate, Donald the Duck — and will write more today about him; I’ve regrettably written about the LGBT community — I’ve also taken down that post down. But I’m having trouble synthesizing the thoughts. Here’s some ramblings on each.

Quick Thoughts About Gun Control

It seems to me that perhaps our elected officials are listening and making an attempt. Even the twitteriest twatter tweeted he was taking a meeting with the NRA to discuss common sense gun control legislation. I’m personally in favor of broader strokes that protect the due process of individuals and yet is more thorough than what Blonald Blump is taking a meeting with the NRA for. But who am I to argue with him, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama?

I don’t plan on mentioning his name in this post. You’ll have to decipher my code, but if you listen to Drumph regularly enough you’re used to interpreting gibberish.

Quick Thoughts About Some Guy Named “DJ” (because if you omit his last name you have a little boy’s name from 1992 and it’s hard to take seriously a guy with a little boy’s name from 1992)

Speaking of the Presumptive If-You-Don’t-Laugh-You’ll-Get-An-Ulcer Candidate, this week he’s really doubled down on his attempts to dismantle the Bill of Rights – consistent with his whole campaign platform: “Screw the Constitution! Make America [WHITE] Again!”

  1. Freedom of Religion – If you deny the freedom of religious expression to one group you’re setting the precedent to deny it to any religious group. We Christian’s often complain about how persecuted we are (we’re not), as evidenced by movies like God’s Not Dead and its unfortunate sequel God’s Not Dead 2. But, we’re fine. We’re not even close to being persecuted. Saying we are is offensive to our Christian brothers and sisters who are actually persecuted and being martyred around the world. But if the extreme right, potential future President Derple Jay Tiddlywinks sets a legal precedent to restrict religious expression rights of a particular religious group then what happens to Christians when a future president on the extreme left of the political spectrum takes office? And why is that the reasoning that I have to use? Why can’t we just agree that it is diametrically opposed to the American Ideal as presented in the Constitution to restrict religious freedom and leave it at that? Why are our rights really only worth protecting for some and not all?
  2. Freedom of the Press – We’re going to ignore Clinton’s not very good journalistic engagement because unlike He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named she’s not hostilely attacking and restricting the press. Republican Presidential Candidate Cheese Puff actively denies access to his campaign from mainstream news sources like Daily Beast, Politico, and Buzzfeed. He added to the list this week The Washington Post for accurately reporting his propagation (the day after the massacre, sensitive timing) that President Obama was somehow involved in the shooting. Let’s not forget his many varied attacks on individual journalists (here’s looking at you Megyn Kelly — but not exclusively you either). He’s promised to “open up libel” laws. But screw the first amendment. Washington Post becomes umpteenth news outlet to get the Trump-access  stiff-arm
  3. Well Regulated Militia – Oh, and he tweeted that he’s meeting with NRA to discuss tighter gun restrictions: If you’re on the No Fly list or a Terror Watch list you can’t buy a gun, he’s suggesting. But when President Obama and Mrs. Clinton made literally the exact same suggestion they’re trying to take away our guns. So if we’re being consistent Republican Candidate These-Steaks-Are-So-Good-Really-They’re-Beautiful-You-Gotta-Taste-‘Em-They’re-The-Best-Steaks is also is trying to take away your Second Amendment Rights.

Ultimately, this Orangutan Orange Haired Buffoon is just that: a buffoon. What’s scary is the inconsistent outrage of those who support him. Where are the fear mongering memes when he actively opposes the First Amendment? Are those rights less important than gun rights? And when his messaging regarding gun control is the same as the Left’s where are the poorly photoshopped memes? Which Amendments are we okay with giving up next as long as we get to keep the Second? Are only Republicans allowed to challenge our interpretation of the Second Amendment? Perhaps short bursts on social media and blog posts from poets may not the best forums for civil discourse?  Maybe we should get coffee and talk about this?

Quick Thoughts About Offering Thoughts and Prayers to the LGBT Community

Here is where I’ve stumbled the hardest.

Four days after I saw someone’s Thoughts and Prayers for the LGBT community on Facebook I saw them posting a meme about the “Gay Agenda” and a Facebook memory mocking Caitlyn Jenner. Four Days.

I’ve also seen many gay friends post about their fear after this attack and pointing out that though what happened in Orlando is certainly a concentrated attack it is not an irregular attack on the LGBT community. I’ve also seen the same friends share about how hurt and angry they are by the people who would offer their Thoughts and Prayers to the LGBT community in one post and then talk about how Trans people wanting to use the public bathroom they identify with is an attempt at our children’s safety.

I understand where my friends are coming from. The insincerity of the grief expressed from my ilk has been disheartening, if not dangerous. I can’t imagine fearing for one’s safety and then seeing those who could turn the tide express their “grief” and then immediately returning to condemning you’re entire community. I’d be angry too.

As an Evangelical, I’m complicit in this and I am sorry. Far more deeply held than my conservative beliefs of human sexuality is my belief that all humans are created in the image of God and the senseless loss of any life is a tragedy without qualification. It is my understanding of the gospel narratives that Jesus greatly loves those who are on the margins of society. I am sorry if I have ever suggested otherwise. I am heartbroken by the lives that were ended because of bigotry, by the families who are torn apart by this tragedy, for the fear my friends have.

Ultimately my thoughts and prayers this week have been scattered and disjointed. I’ve been oscillating between extreme anger and heartache that yet again someone was legally able to purchase a gun and kill so many people. I still don’t know what to say. I’m praying that our government will do what is within their constitutional obligation to do and well regulate what needs to be well regulated instead of taking moments of silence and doing nothing. I am praying for the safety of my gay friends. I am praying that those who regularly employ hateful, fear mongering rhetoric will repent of their sin and seek to be reconciled to those they’ve hurt. And I’m praying that the families who are mourning the loss of a child from this tragedy and others attacks like it that target LGBT and minority communities will be comforted and protected.

How Do We Even Talk About This?

Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

It was good to be back in the saddle again — this past Sunday I was afforded the opportunity to guest worship lead at a church Alyssa and I visited a few weeks back. When we visited we were both impressed by how enthusiastically the congregation sang. So I was quite excited to be invited to offer some songs for us to sing together.

By the time my tenure at New Song ended the Inland Hills band had grown to a huge number, larger than any other team I’ve led before, but this past Sunday it was just my keyboard and I and the congregation singing some of my favorite songs. I’m a bit allergic to putting on a show, it makes me break out in a particularly itchy rash of pride, so it was nice being so low-key.

We sang some hymns I’ve not sung in a long time and we sang “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”. It was particularly nice to sing “We Will Feast…” as it was a song that I sang to the NSIH band as a gift at our last rehearsal and then again sang it at my last communion service at New Song. Singing it with a new congregation reminded me of the beautiful promise that one day we in Christ will all feast together at the table prepared for us in the house of God. Time and space and distance cannot break the bind of Christ’s body and blood as we gather to eat the bread and drink the wine.

This weekend at Doxa Fellowship in Woodstock, Illinois we sang the following songs:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – German Hymn
We Will Feast in the House of Zion – Sandra McCracken
Rock of Ages – Hymn, Augustus Toplady
How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
The Doxology – Hymn

Attached is a Spotify playlist with several different versions of these songs. Chance the Rapper included a version of “How Great” on his new mix-tape which I’ve added to this playlist and my arrangement of “Rock of Ages” favors the Brooks Ritter version included on the playlist.

If you enjoy any of these songs please support the artists and purchase the songs.


Both “Praise to the Lord,…” and “Rock of Ages” are favorite hymns and so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both:

Rock of Ages

In Numbers 20 the Israelites, having no water because — you know — they’re taking a casual forty-year hike in the desert, bring their complaints to Moses and his brother, Aaron, “If only we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt where we were slaves?!?! It was so much better then!!!” And God in His lovingkindness heard their complaint and told Moses to take his staff from the presence of God and to “ask this rock to give water and it will.” But Moses in his frustration with the people and in his sin took the staff and instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice.

Water gushed.

The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 10 says that rock struck was Christ:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

1st Corinthians 10.1-5 NIV

And David, as we read his story in the books of Samuel, was twice pursued by his enemies. First King Saul, fearing for his own power and wanting to maintain political prominence, chased David into the hills where he hid in the caves. And after his affair with Bathsheba, King David was again chased into the hills by his son Absalom who was attempting to usurp his father because of the damage wrought by David’s sin. David writes regularly in the psalms of God as a rock and his hiding place:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”

And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 32.3-7 NIV

“Rock of Ages” is a harrowing tune, my arrangement has some well placed minor chords to accentuate the lyrics. In it we sing of our inability to rescue ourselves, our helplessness, our nakedness and frailty. In singing this classic hymn by Augusts Toplady we join our cries for help to David’s in the caves as we’re each pursued by our shared enemy of sin and we join our complaints to those of the impatient Israelites wandering in the desert.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed
be of sin, the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

The church has been singing this hymn for good portion of the last millennium, it was written about four hundred years ago in Germany and was translated into English about two hundred years after that. With the opening verse singing, “All who hear now to his temple draw near, gladly forever adore Him” this song serves as a classic call to worship though ironically is largely based on the final psalm, Psalm 150 (and 103 — but we’re gonna ignore that for the sake of the argument I’m about to make because I’m a real serious scholar).

I’ve spent that past few years majoring in the psalms, at one point reading the whole psalter every month, and as I’ve mentioned before there’s no experience or emotion left out of the Psalms. The Psalms give voice to every cry and bandages every wound.

Beyond that though the Psalms reveal to us the arc of human experience with all of its achy joints and sleepy afternoons. If you take the thousand foot view of the book you’ll see that it is divided in to five difference books (significantly not unlike the Torah’s five books) and each of those books ends with exhortation to “Praise!” And the final book in the larger book of Psalms ends with, not insignificantly, five psalms of praise. Psalm 150 existing as the praise exclamation point.

By opening with “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” we begin with a call to praise and remember Psalm 150. The Psalms include of all our cave complaints, desert grumblings, our brokenness, our frailty, our nakedness, our helplessness and yet they end in praise. The Psalms teach us that the arc of humanity is not pain to pain but praise to praise.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 NIV

Zion National Park 017 Rock of Ages 2pan. June 8, 2007. Peter. Some Rights Reserved.
Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

All’s Quiet on the Mid-Western Front

Hampshire is impossibly quiet. There’s not enough traffic to drown out the stillness. You can hear birds chirping and I don’t want to say that I’ve had writer’s block because I’ve not but you can hear birds chirping and that’s wonderful.

In the immaculately mowed lawn — diagonal this week, thank you very much — a robin pecks the ground for worms, I imagine, and I’m not entirely certain what to write about. Which, again, is a lie because I’m writing more poetry than usual and I did write a post last week but it wasn’t very good and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. So instead I’ve sipped coffee on the porch counting robins.

I hope you haven’t missed my jumble thoughts on Stuff too much.

Since I’m being so honest today I’ll admit that writing this blog was the only thing I wasn’t worried about with moving, “Certainly, Tommy, you can wax poetic all day long. You’ll probably write an essay a day.” Or, so I thought. I assumed that blogging would be an anchor as my family and I were knocked about on the waves of change (and overwrought clichés).

All that stuff I was worried about is working itself out fine and I’m having trouble blogging. What kind of millennial am I?  But, again, things are working out fine. Atticus has made himself at home, Alyssa has too. I’m still reading my bible and praying as habitually as I was when I was paid to read my bible and pray — heck, I may finish my year long reading plan by summer’s end. I wrote another sad worship song. Poems are dumping out of my mind like… I had a simile I was going to use there and you’re welcome that I didn’t, proof that I’m a grown up. Or, at least growing up.

But I don’t know what to blog about. I mean, Donald Trump is still awful and grace is still amazing. I could write that again, I guess. I probably will in time. And the Spirit’s been teaching me something about joy but it feels cheap or impossible to capture that in prose, maybe when I get my sea legs back (because of the rollicking clichés). It seems that I really needed that weekly worship set as a prompt.

I’ve thought about blogging about the worship services we’ve attended but that isn’t fair. I don’t want to spoil the intention and prayerful planning of another worship leader. I don’t want to encroach on a service meant for a specific moment in a certain geography for a particular people be reviewing it. Certainly, criticism is good but I don’t need to be a critic and church isn’t a show.Also I’ve been saying “certainly” a lot lately. For example: Certainly there’s no need to be so judgmental, certainly God is doing good things.He does do good things, doesn’t He? Certainly.So I want to write about all the good things He’s doing like keeping the robin in the front yard whistling while it works for that worm.

Robin. May 7, 2014. Anna Hesser. Some Rights Reserved.


All’s Quiet on the Mid-Western Front

That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

I’ve never minded the mowing of lawns on Sunday
afternoons in a well worn pair of pants,
line after line – this week vertical and the next opposite –
a summer checkered board of wandering
thoughts going in circles and yellow dandelion
smudges on boots, beer in hand to admire the green

lawn like the altar of Ordinary Time bathed in swaths of green
felt banners at the baptismal font this Sunday
as the pastor read the story of Daniel in the lion’s
den and I dozed off dreaming of their hungry pants
and dripping teeth waiting to tear into the boy’s lack of wandering
curiosity and fleshy figure at the opposite

end of the cave. I have a sideways, opposite,
uneasy sort of feeling when my wife elbows me and my green
eyes search the sanctuary, wandering
from face to face to face of faithful Sunday
people in their dresses, jackets, pressed pants,
toothy smiles and my laces yellowed by dandelions.

I’ve always thought that dandelions
were the loveliest of weeds like the opposite
of those nasty sticker weeds that pierce my pants
when I sit in the green
lawn to enjoy the afternoon sun. Days
like this were meant so your mind could wander

to whatever your mind will wander
to as you twist off the heads of dandelions
and try and remember what the pastor said Sunday
but only ever able to remember the opposite
of whatever he said, scratching at the green
stains on your pants.

“As the deer panteth
for the water” I sing as I wander
forward to the altar arrayed in greenery –
tulips, daisies, a thorny crown, but no dandelions –
I take the bread and juice and walk back to the opposite
end of the room where I sit every Sunday.

And pants worn well with life and my dandelion
soles wander in horizontal patterns opposite
of the green tracks from last Sunday.


Pine Trees and Dandelions in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital. April-May 1890. Vincent van Gogh.


That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

Brussel Sprouts Taste Fine and 49 Other Things I’ve Learned in California

At the start of my twenties I decided I would commit this decade to learning everything I could. These ten years are to be learning, in the hopes I will become a life long learner. With the move back to Illinois barreling at us and this chapter of my life closing I thought I  would share some of what I’ve learned in the past four years in fortune cookie length. Fifty insights won’t even begin to cover all I’ve learned but it’s  a start.

1. God’s sovereignty is Cosmic Ease. Picture it: He makes his enemies his footstool. God lounges on His enemies. Certainly This is not beyond His purview.

2. Taste is subjective. Like whatever you like. Of course, that doesn’t make what you like good. It just means you like it and nobody can shame you for that. It actually might suck but get on with your bad self that Big Mac won’t eat itself.

3. My taste is not necessarily good.

4. Comic Sans and Papyrus are awful fonts. Bold text is meant to emphasize something not to make something more readable; so a Title should be bolded but not a Sub-Title and never the bulk text. Bright Red against a Bright Blue is garish and hard to read. A line of text, graphically speaking, should never have just one word on it or else it’s an Orphan or Widow. We read in chunks so it is better for text on a screen to be presented in a chunk. Everything should be in service to the “audience.”  you-are-now-thinking-in-comic-sans-78331-500-424.jpg

5. People are trying, give ‘em grace.

6. No one is exclusively their political issue.

7. There is no true Scotsman.

8. Reading a novel is never a waste of time. Watching a TV show might be, but damn, if it isn’t nice to crack open a beer and turn your brain off for an hour or ten.

9. It doesn’t necessarily have to be written and shared. It should probably be written though.

10. The Devil is in the details. Execute everything with precision. But if you flub a line or miss a note take heart because chances are the only people who noticed are You and you’re too hard on yourself, your wife who’s seen you naked and still loves you, God who loves sinners like you, and the Devil who’s a pissant anyways.

11. It was not necessarily better back in the day. Nostalgia for something that only existed on television or in your foggy memory is a poor substitute for hope.

12. Click tracks are for rehearsal. Turn the metronome off when live.

13. You are what you eat. If you want to play sick guitar solos: listen to and study sick guitar solos. If you want to write good poems: read and study good poems. If you want to be a Big Mac…

14. Words have meanings we didn’t decide. Use them well, use them carefully. We cannot arbitrarily say that when X has meant X for a millennium it now means Y. We’ve not been given the authority.

15.  Don’t be too impressed with yourself, the joke’s not as funny as you think.

16. The Bible is a fascinating and weird book. Much like its Subject it won’t do what we want it to do. It’s best to just go with the flow and trust the text. There’s no need to force it to be something it’s not, like Safe-For-the-Whole-Family.

17. The medium is the message.

18. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Less is always more. Just because you can play all the notes doesn’t mean you should. One perfect note in the Courts of the Lord is better than a thousand flashy notes elsewhere.

19. Drummers are not wild animals, they don’t belong in cages. If you love them set them free.

Two things that are manufactured exclusively for churches: plastic trees and drum shields.

20. Everything a human can feel is found in the Psalms. There our humanity is validated and our broken bones get set by a loving Healer.

21. Delete every “that”, it’s unnecessary.

22. Go slow. Giving things time and space to simmer usually reduces the superfluous details and makes the tasty bits tastier. This is true in music, writing, leadership. This is not true in relationships. I could respond to phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook messages, emails a bit quicker. So I’ve heard. But everywhere else slower is better. Why do today what could be put off to tomorrow*?

* Provided you actually do it tomorrow, of course.

23. It’s okay to be in a dark place, it’s not okay to be a jerk.

24. Nothing quite like getting in the pocket and grooving hard.

25. The three extra characters in “thanks” doesn’t save enough time to ever make “thx” appropriate when writing to a colleague nor does it justify the gradual detriment and erosion that kind of short hand has on the English language.

26. We need both the Law and the Gospel. If the Law never wounds us then how could the Gospel ever heal us? And if we don’t know where we erred how do we ever do better next time?

27. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. It’s better to be kind and Something than right but Nothing.

28. Kiss Alyssa then kiss Atticus then kiss Alyssa again. Rinse and repeat. Be late to work.

29. People don’t do what they’re told. They do what they love. If you want to change someone’s behavior you’re better off not changing what they do but changing their heart. And only God can do that. So how about you do you and let God do God?

30. Fewer people are out to get you than you’d like to believe.

31. “God helps those who help themselves” is a contemporary form of Semi-Pelagianism. Pelagius was a British monk who denied the doctrine of original sin. Pelagius affirmed that humans can be righteous by the exercising of their free will. Full Pelagianism is the belief that we choose God instead of God choosing us. Semi-Pelagianism is letting “God be our co-pilot” which the Roman Catholic Church condemned in 418 AD, a millennium and a half before it was a popular bumper sticker.

32. Brussel sprouts taste fine.

33. Genre only exists to make you spend your hard earned money. Don’t buy something simply because some white guy in a suit in a cubicle has decided it’s Christian. God’s Not Dead is hardly Christian. It’s hardly film. And don’t ignore something simply because some white guy in a suit in a cubicle has decided it isn’t for you. Grey’s Anatomy is great.

34. There’s no point in our going if God doesn’t go with us. Why even get out of bed? “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Exodus 33.15

35. Taylor Swift writes a fine song.

36. Just because you don’t think X means X doesn’t mean that X means Y. It most definitely means X.

37. Incurvatus in Se: “Scripture describes man as so curved in upon himself [Incurvatus in Se] that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself” (Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p.345, see also pp. 291-92)

38. Trust your mom.

39. Jack Daniels is not for sipping. How’d it take me that long to figure this out? If it’s the only alcohol available and you absolutely need to have a drink (you don’t) put some Dr. Pepper in it and be about your business. Do not sip. Better yet just drink water or milk.

40. The Pantoum is a form of poetry made up of quatrains where the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third line of the next. And it’s the best.

41. God knows the answer already and asks the question anyways. “But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Genesis 3.9

42. A Straw Man argument is an informal logical fallacy where someone gives the impression of refuting an opponents argument, when in fact they argument refuted was never advanced by said opponenet. First, Person One asserts X. Then Person Two argues against a superficially similar argument Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y was an argument against X. 

43. Social Media is the damp and moist environment where Straw Men, Ad Hominen, and other illogical fungi grows. Consider most posts about Millennials and President Obama.

44. A bad system is better than no system.

45. Everything can be better than it currently is.

46. Saying your sorry is not enough. Mean it. Make up for it. Set things right. Or, as my boy Daniel Tiger says… no, sings it: Saying I’m sorry is the first step, then how can I help?

47. Most people mean well.

48. Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right.

49. An average musician with a great character is better than a great musician with an average character.

50. The enemy of faith is not doubt but certainty.

Brussel Sprouts Taste Fine and 49 Other Things I’ve Learned in California