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.

drum_copy1.jpg
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

Top 10 Steps To Being The Best You Now!

1. After I finish my prayer and study when I begin writing I create a playlist that covers the themes and pop culture references I make. I quite like this particular playlist, there’s some really great tunes on it. I’m particularly fond of the two Derek Webb songs (New Law and Spirit vs The Kick Drum), the Bob Dylan tune (Lay Down Your Weary Tune). But, there’s one tune, “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” by The Flaming Lips that teases out the sin-sickness in our hearts in a funny sort-of-way.

3. If you’re interested in learning more about “Law and Gospel” here is a list of books that I think are fantastic and will help you breathe a little easier:

4. It is easy to think of faith as a work we do to curry favor with God. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “All you have to do is have faith and God will…” or, more menancingly (and sadly I’ve actually heard this), “God didn’t do that because you didn’t have enough faith…” There’s that tricky Mr. Law coming and redefining what “faith” means. Did you notice the cause and effect clauses in those statements: “If I have X {faith} then Y {God will heal/bless/endorse my campaign}.” But, that’s not what faith is:

Schaeffer Faith Quote

This picture was originally shared by Crossway Publishing and I saw it serendipitously after church while I was scrolling through my FaceBook feed.

5. I read this poem in the March 2015 issue of Poetry magazine, and it’s stayed with me since.

Bible Study
TONY HOAGLAND

Who would have imagined that I would have to go
a million miles away from the place where I was born
to find people who would love me?
And that I would go that distance and that I would find those people?

In the dream JoAnne was showing me how much arm to amputate
if your hand gets trapped in the gears of the machine;
if you acted fast, she said, you could save everything above the wrist.
You want to keep a really sharp blade close by, she said.

Now I raised that hand to scratch one of those nasty little
scabs on the back of my head, and we sit outside and watch
the sun go down, inflamed as an appendicitis
over western Illinois – which then subsides and cools into a smooth gray sea.

Who knows, this might be the last good night of summer.
My broken nose is forming an idea of what’s for supper.
Hard to believe that death is just around the corner.
What kind of idiot would thnk he even ahd a destiny?

I was on the road for so long by myself,
I took to reading motel Bibles just for company.
Lying on the chintz bedspread before going to sleep,
still feeling the motion of the car inside my body,
I thought some wrongness in my self had made me that alone.

And God said, You are worth more to me
than one hundred sparrows.
And when I read that, I wept.
And God said, Whom have I blessed more than I have blessed you?

And I looked at the mini bar
and the bad abstract hotel art on the wall
and the dark TV set watching like a deacon.

And God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing.

[Source: Poetry (March 2015).]

6. So often I am tempted to avoid the bad things that I’ve done and that I do. I actively avoid my failures. I present the best me availble to myself, to the world at large, and – worst of all – to God. I hide the ugly and unpleasent parts of me. But St. Augustine has this other wonderful Latin phrase, “Felix Culpa,” which means: “O Happy Fault.” It comes from a Catholic mass that when translated reads: “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.”

Stephen Colbert, to honor his new Late Show starting tomorrow, in a recent and heartbreaking interview with Joel Lovell at GQ describes “Felix Culpa” this way:

“Our first night professionally onstage,” he [Stephen Colbert] said, the longtime Second City director Jeff Michalski told them that the most important lesson he could pass on to them was this: “You have to learn to love the bomb.”

“It took me a long time to really understand what that meant,” Colbert said. “It wasn’t ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer.” (You’re welcome, Dune nerds.) – The Late, Great Stephen Colbert by Joel Lovell; GQ Magazine

7. There is a good-hearted, well intentioned tendency to preach behavior modification methods (Law) to ourselves in the hope that we’ll become more Sanctified (the process of becmoing more Christ-like) and better behaved people. Which, again, is counter-intuitive.

Over the past year or so I’ve been trying to articulate what the role of Justification (our standing with God) and the grace of the cross are in the Sanctification process. I’ve not been successful then I came upon this quote by Lutheran theologian, Gerhard Forde, in my research for this past week’s sermon that articulates it, in my opinion, perfectly:

Santification is the art of getting used to our justification.

8. Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”

rembrandt-return-of-the-prodigal-son1

9. I read this on Twitter the other day, I forget who tweeted it:

Build a man a fire and he’s warm for the night, set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.

There’s this idea that if we preach too much grace than it’ll become lisence for sin. So we preach to ourselves behavior modification (seven steps to blah blah blah) because if you give a man a fish – grace – he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish – law – he’ll eat forever. All Law. We begin to trust the Law to do what it is not capable of doing. The Law is not capable of producing what it instructs, only grace can… BUT! BUT! IF YOU PREACH TOO MUCH GOSPEL PEOPLE WILL KEEP ACCEPTING HANDOUTS!

Paul heard that too, his response, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6.1-2)” and “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2.20)

We wrongly assume Jesus is our Co-Pilot and that we’re still the one’s doing the living. But us Christians have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live but he lives in us! As we walk, by faith, with the Spirit we won’t gratify the desires of our flesh.

Walking by the Spirit is a much different process than sin management; one looks like Beholding the Lamb of God who “takes away the sins of the world! and the other looks suspiciously like navel gazing.

10. At the conclussion of the sermon we were comissioned to “love one another” by way of Les Misérables to reinforce that message:

Top 10 Steps To Being The Best You Now!

The Glorious “And Yet!” of God

When I spend time away from the gospel narratives I form an image of Christ with my third eye’s lens smothered in Vaseline. I consider his kindness to hurting people and his love for broken people; in my mind he’s docile and gentle. I’ll pay lip service to how wild and unsafe he is per Mr. Beaver’s reasoning but my image is more white-tail deer standing majestically in a harvested corn field than prowling lion. But when I reread the gospels I am reminded of Christ’s severity and fierceness.

Attachment-1

I read the Gospel of Luke last week. Jesus is kind, hospitable, and loving but he is also divisive, hard, and demanding. There were times as I read where I cowered from what Christ preached. “Take up your cross…,” “Let the dead bury the dead…,” Ah what?

If the Bible offends us the problem isn’t the Bible, and if it doesn’t offend we’re reading it wrong.

Constantly in the gospels Jesus can be found turning up the heat until it is unbearable. It’s easy not to steal, just don’t take someone else’s stuff. But Jesus ups the ante: It’s not just wrong to steal, it’s as egregious of an offense to covet. The best way to not commit adultery? Keep your hands to yourself. But Jesus goes even further, keep your eyes to yourself. In fact, you’d be better off just plucking out your eyes. White lies? Damnable. I never killed nobody, except according to Christ’s standards I’ve got blood stained hands. Jesus at one point commands anyone who will hear to be:

…Perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5.7

And he says all that in the same sermon.

About four years ago the Holy Spirit began me on a path of discovering and learning about a fascinating theological concept: “Law and Gospel.” I’m a novice in my understanding and the following are novice thoughts. So, if I misrepresent or am in error have grace and gently guide me in the right direction.

Let’s define some terms:

Law: The easiest way to understand the law is whenever you come across a command to “Do” or “Be.” The Law has three purposes 1) It is a curse to law-breakers. 2) B.asic I.nstructions B.efore L.eaving E.arth; a good, the best, way to live your life. 3) The ideal standard of righteousness that God accepts.

Gospel: The quickest way to understand the gospel is the word, “Done.” It is Christ’s work on the cross that gives life to those that are dead. The Gospel is unmerited favor.

You and me? We love The Law. We roll up our sleeves and Git ‘Er Done. We’re self made men; we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps; we earned this with our own blood, sweat, and tears; we got dirt underneath our nails; we don’t need no charity; in seven easy steps we can be the best us now.

But let us consider the classic hymn “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon:

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

In our mundane lives of work and play it’s easy to begin thinking we’re alright. “I’m not so bad,” we tell ourselves, “I don’t smoke, cuss, or chew. And I don’t go with girls that do.” We begin to think we’re doing just fine. As Mr. Simon sings, we think we’re headed in the right direction but we’re not.

The nearer we think we get to fulfilling the law the further away we are from satisfying Christ’s impossible words.

Reading the Gospel of Luke I realized: I’m not ok.

The Law shines a spotlight on my heart and the zipper of the well behaved monster I dress up as shows. I read Jesus’ teaching and am crushed. In light of what Jesus says I am a fraud. I don’t love my enemies, I won’t sell all that I have and give it to the poor, my cross sits in a shed until a more convenient time.

Martin Luther writes:

The Law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death, and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The fatuous idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, nor to quench the smoking flax, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives.

1e1d81a6c073a4319f29a528e087d3e4And yet, oh the glorious “And yet!” of God, when I am devastated by my inability to meet my own, let alone God’s, standard the Spirit rushes in, lifts my head, and fixes my eyes on the cross. There hanging on the tree Christ says: “It is finished.” He didn’t come to abolish The Law, he fulfills it. On the cross when we’re adulterous, envious shrifts Christ is faithful and generous. When we hate our enemies, Christ dies for his.

The Gospel is not an invitation to try harder. The Gospel is what happens when we come to the end of our trying as failures. Christ didn’t die to make us more decent. He bore our sin and our death instead of us and he rose from the grave conquering all of our lawlessness. And we have been bound to him in death and raised with him to life. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the tomb now dwells in us. Our sins – my sins! – are no longer credited as ours – mine! – instead Christ’s righteousness is.

The Glorious “And Yet!” of God