In Honor of Our 29th Anniversary…

…Future Me is setting the DeLorean dashboard destination time to Dec 24 1987 (PM) 3:30.

There are 29 things I’d like to communicate to Past Me to save from myself. While I don’t need to get Tracy to the Sigma Pi Orchid Ball on time so our daughters can be born or anything like that, there are a few things that might save a bit of hassle. So, cue Huey Lewis & the News “Back in Time” and know that the two fiery tire tracks have sent me to the Hoover Square 6 Theaters parking lot…

29. Turn off the television in the background when you’re proposing in about half an hour. While it’s a cute story having George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” MTV video providing the soundtrack to that moment, maybe have a better sense of decorum.

28. Use the phrase “I don’t have a particular preference, so choose the one you like the best and I’ll be happy” rather than “I don’t care” when choosing bath towels and place settings and groom’s cakes and such. Fiances apparently think your words mean specific things.

27. Look at the puppy’s feet when choosing the cutest one at the humane society. She’s gonna grow into them. Also, don’t take your secretary’s word for it when she told the clerk it was a boy, and even though the paperwork says “male” she’s gonna roll over a few days later and you won’t have girl dog named Buford.

26. Even if you and your 38-weeks pregnant wife are tired, go ahead and put gas in the car the night before so you won’t have to do it at 3AM when her contractions are four minutes apart.

25. Maybe keep the thoughts on how tired and uncomfortable you are in the labor room to yourself. Also, after 18 hours, your comments on the machine’s measurement of the contractions’ intensity or lack of cable sports channels aren’t really appreciated, either.

24. Labor & delivery is a surgical procedure. People will give you a romantic notion of how beautiful it is but they’re all pumping sunshine. The wonder comes when the nurses hand you a cleaned-up burrito-wrapped baby and you feel like your heart will explode when they put them in your arms.

23. Measuring the nursery wallpaper border incorrectly results in a smooshed teddy bear in one corner. You aren’t good at math. Let her handle that.

22. All those things you talked about at the top of Reunion Tower in Dallas about what our ministry life would be like? You were pooling ignorance.

21. Your first home will have so much life because all the Campus Life students that come over all the time. Remind them that ONLY when front curtains are open they’re welcome to come in without knocking. If you aren’t clear on that, well, it can be embarrassing for both newlyweds and students.

20. Trust your wife more early on in spiritual decision-making. Remember when you fasted for lunch for a week before making one major decision and when you told her your thoughts, she said, “I’ve known that for a week. I’ve just been waiting on you to get there because I didn’t want to influence your thinking.” She’s got a good feel for that stuff and it’ll save you a lot of hassle if you trust her.

19. Oh, yeah. Don’t listen to those well-meaning folks in church circles who tell you what your life should be like about praying together and giving you horrible devotional books for couples. Find your own rhythm and ignore their insights. It’ll save you both a lot of false guilt.

18. Dinner/bath/bedtime with toddlers is among the greatest times you will have. Don’t let punk rock you think otherwise.

17. Spoiler alert: Auburn is going to win the national championship in your lifetime. That will save you a lot of emotional disappointment from 1988-2009 wondering if the football gods are gonna answer that little prayer for your East Alabama college.

16. Leaving a ministry of students you love to go to seminary will be one of the hardest things you will ever do.

15. So will holding down three jobs and going to seminary with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. You will be exhausted most of that time but it’ll be well worth it.

14. It won’t get easier when you leave another group of students who endeared themselves to you to move across town. Those kids will change your life and ministry for the better. It’ll seem like you were there forever, but only a little over a year.

13. You’re going to see it all in ministry leaders you serve with: extreme legalism, financial mismanagement, sexual misconduct, philosophic differences, et al. Some you will handle better than others, but try to be more focused on Him. You will be hurt more deeply than you know by people who you think should know better. Thinking they’ll always be Spirit-led is an unrealistic expectation.

12. People will have strong opinions about you and your ministry, and they will somehow feel free to voice them in front of your wife and kids. A lot. Try to do a better job of shielding them from that because it will have longer lasting hurtful effects on them. You will get over them more easily because you develop a thicker skin. They will have a much tougher time.

11. Be a better student of your wife. There are some things you shouldn’t have to wait nearly three decades to discover. Hint: She’s an artist. Give her the space and freedom to develop that. How you missed that is beyond Future Me.

10. You’re going to love traveling the world. I know it’s the late 80’s but you’re gonna walk in Red Square. You’ll see Beirut. You’ll visit countries that aren’t even countries yet. You’ll walk in the Taj Mahal. You’ll also see the dark side of those places. Not bad for a kid that hasn’t been north of Nashville yet.

9. When the old dog starts to show age, get the apprentice so the old dog can show them to ropes. Your wife and daughters will be dog people, as we know that cats are the official pet of Hell.

8. You won’t regret being intentional about making memories with your family. Pike’s Peak. Lake Pend Oreille. New York City. Disney. San Francisco. Gulf Shores. And when you’re in those moments, be IN those moments. They will invent the Internet (don’t ask) and you’ll be able to work from anywhere. Don’t.

7. Hanging with your adult daughters as friends is so much fun. There are upsides and downsides to getting married young and having children young…but one major upside is being young enough to travel and hang out with them. The hard work of parenting children tends to pay off when you enjoy them so much as adults.

6. Everybody says to remember that your wife will be with you after the kids move out and to develop your marriage relationship all along the way. Take that seriously, because learning to date and such is more difficult in the Empty Nest than you think. So much happens in 22 years of child raising that you can lose focus. Again. Don’t.

5. You’re going to get a doctorate in 2020. It’ll be your wife’s idea, and it’ll set the stage for the last third of your life. Listen to her a lot sooner and maybe you’d be getting it next year instead of being only a third of the way through.

4. Pay attention when people ask you what you’d do if you weren’t in full-time ministry, because you’ll wind up doing that very thing when you aren’t. Again, be a better student of your wife. She was intuitive about these things and tried to tell you but you weren’t as active a listener as you could’ve been.

3. You will love living downtown and the new friends you make will become some of the best friends you’ve ever had, even though you’ve only lived here a little over a year.

2. Just so you know, your wife will still be striking with her beauty. You’ll think you’ve never seen anything more beautiful when she walked the aisle on your wedding day, but that woman will walk across a room in sweatpants and carrying laundry and she’ll take your breath away. She won’t even be trying and be stunning.

1.  You will be loved more than you have loved. I wish I could tell you differently. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago, and she’s still here and still enjoying the adventure. You will laugh a lot. You will smile at the future together. It will be an adventure. But you definitely get the better end of the deal, Holmes.

Well, the DeLorean’s “present time” setting is for Jul 16 2017 (am) 9:50 so that’s all your going to get.

One last thing: Tell her happy anniversary first thing every morning on this date. It’s the best decision you ever made.

*fiery tire tracks outside the Hoover Square Six Theater after 1.21 gigawatts hit the flux capacitor

** DeLorean flashes into view on Commerce Street in Dallas in front of Mitchell Lofts.

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A Great Group Question for the 4th

Our “posse” (Tom’s word for our family-like gathering) connects weekly at some randomly chosen (re: best bang-for-the-buck happy hour) neighborhood establishment. We catch up. We shoot the excrement. We tell stories. We laugh a lot.

My contribution is the conversation starting question if too much mundane was in our week or there’s a lag in storytelling or too much Trump talk. Sometimes they’re deep (“How does your significant other make you better?”). Sometimes not (“Your Favorite TV show as a kid…Go!”). It’s a gift. Questions requiring controversial and playful subjectivity work best.

Anyway, since many of us will be gathering in groups for the Independence Day holiday, I thought I’d provide a themed conversation jump-start for all of us.

The question before us today is, “Top 20 Greatest All-American Music Groups.” The caveats are as follows: They have to be a “group,” so obvious great solo acts like Elvis, Michael Jackson or Bob Dylan are not allowed. Second, every member must be an American, so acts like Fleetwood Mac are verboten. Third, your favorite group might not be the best group, so you’d better be prepared to make a case if you fire off Van Halen in your top 20.

Here’s mine:

1 & 1A: The Beach Boys, The Eagles–These bands have it all: recognizability, critical acclaim & longevity. I’d give the nod to The Beach Boys for the ability to sing along with. Best song: California Girls, Life in the Fast Lane.

2: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band–Best song: Born to be Wild.

3: Credence Clearwater Revival–Best song: Fortunate Son

4: The Ramones–Don’t tell me they’re ranked too high here. They changed everything. Innovative and influential. Best song: Blitzkrieg Bop.

5: The Jackson Five–say what you want about Michael Jackson’s solo world, but as a group, they were amazing. Best song: A-B-C 1-2-3.

6: Nirvana–again, another band that changed everything. Best song: Come As You Are.

7: The Supremes–really tough call here with so many personnel changes, but no matter the original lineup carries enough weight, IMHO. Best song: You Can’t Hurry Love.

8: The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Much like the Boss, most people associate him as a solo, but he, too, had a band. Best song: All Along the Watchtower.

9: Simon & Garfunkel–hesitant to put a duo in here, but a duo is a band and they are big time. Best song: Mrs. Robinson.

10: The Grateful Dead–Another tough call as they don’t really have full-blow recongnizability but they are uniquely American, for sure. Best song: Truckin.’

11: Public Enemy–Maybe they should be ranked a bit higher but their political leanings alienated a lot of folks, even if they made them more endearing to me. Best song: Fight the Power.

12: The Doors–A little inaccessible to the masses but really, really good band. Best song: Light My Fire.

13: R.E.M.quite possibly the most under-appreciated band on the list. Best song: Radio Free Europe.

14: The White Stripes–again, another duo, but Jack White needs to be on this list somewhere and this is my favorite of his bands. Best song: Hotel Yorba.

15: Aerosmith–longevity works for them here, for sure. I still think their earlier stuff is awesome. Best song: Same Old Song and Dance.

16: N.W.A.–I would’ve loved to see what would’ve happened if they’d been able to avoid the trappings and pitfalls associated with their success. Best song: (tie) Straight Outta Compton, F**k tha Police.

17: The Talking Heads–maybe video actually hurt this band because their music gets obscured by their presentation. Best song: Life During Wartime.

18: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers–I’ve seen him live so many times and when he just plays the hits it takes two hours. Again, most people associate him as a solo act but they are a band. Best song: Swingin’.

19: Pearl Jam–they’re not missing a beat as they get older. Best song: Alive.

20: Lynyrd Skynyrd–close call here with them & ZZ Top for the last slot, but Sweet Home Alabama & Free Bird trump LaGrange & Gimme All Your Lovin’.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): The Byrds, Run-DMC, X, Cheap Trick, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Pretenders, Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Kiss, Blondie, Bill Haley & the Comets, Black Flag, The Everly Brothers, Metallica, Parliament Funkadelic, the Velvet Underground, Guns N Roses.

 

There’s mine…who are yours?

 

The Recalibration of Brent McKinney

Apps were involved. Spreadsheets, too. Scales. Blood work & physician check-ins. Workout charts. Diet plans. I was on it.

Dropped forty pounds in six months back in 2012.

High-fives and compliments all around.

What no one knew was that my goal was fifty pounds. Those last ten are still with me.

It isn’t like I forgot all the principles involved in losing weight that all ultimately boil down to “eat better and exercise more.” I just started shrugging my shoulders and enjoying consistent cheats.

Getting serious about losing those last ten doesn’t require new information or new apps or better scales or a new doctor/nutritionist. I just need to get serious about all that again. Recalibrate.

The dictionary describes recalibration “to calibrate again.” It defines calibrate this way: “correlate the readings of (an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument’s accuracy. adjust (experimental results) to take external factors into account or to allow comparison with other data.”

And on my spiritual pursuit of the last year, it isn’t like I learned a whole lot of new things about myself or God on my trip from professional pastor to full-time school teacher. It really was adjusting the experimental results and comparing the data to make sure the readings were accurate.

Since several of you have asked me to tell you what I learned about myself and God during this time, well, I wish I could say it was a time of new learning and mystical insights, but it is really just recalibration…but here they are nonetheless:

God is a God of the eleventh-hour. He doesn’t give me much more than a flashlight for the footpath. As much as I’d love floodlights and a GPS, God has me waking up, trusting Him and doing the next thing. After about a year of that and a raised eyebrow that any prayers would be answered, He’s all, “Here ya go. Now you have it.”

God moves me from theorist to practitioner. I spent years talking about living a life on mission, loving God, and loving neighbors…all the while having fits and starts that never really went anywhere. Now, well, it’s an hourly reality.

My vision was too small. Look. We all know the little “c” church in the U.S. is in (depending on the stats you accept) deep trouble or long-term malaise. I am a change agent. It’s deep in my bones. One of my professors calls it a “holy dissatisfaction with the status quo.” I’ve been barking about this and trying to affect change in congregations I worked for…when what I need to be doing is prepping students to fix it on a much larger scale. If you want large-scale change, the academy is where those discussions start and become implemented and change agents gather there. So, let’s dance and you folks better buckle up…my edge is back in spades.

The little “c” church better get it together. Diving into the job search again, and seeing about 30 churches up close as a graduate teaching assistant in the seminary residency class, let me see just how resistant they are to change. It was funny to see a job I applied for open again eight months later, and they posted the same job description and process that caused them to be looking to fill that role after only eight months. Don’t even get me started on the number of churches who can’t articulate their plan for discipleship or design systems to create them. The number of pastors who would leave their job if they could make the same pay doing something else would startle you. Now I have research and stats to back these things up. Youth ministries hold a mirror up to these things. Again, buckle up babies. My dissertation is shaping up to be a Molotov cocktail.

I had a narrow view of my gift. I had a very particular view of my teaching gift and how it should be used. What this means is that I’d seen it normally gravitate to pastoral roles in a little “c” church. A gift like that can be equally effective, if not moreso, in a high-school public classroom even (especially?) if it isn’t overt.

My spiritual life is better since I’m not in church leadership. I can’t explain this really, but it was a pleasant surprise. After 28 years of serving a church, it was pretty nice to hear a sermon rather than prepare three lessons a week. It was nice to enjoy a service instead of critique it for the Monday morning review. It was nice to participate in the Lord’s Supper without having to refill trays with tiny plastic cups and juice. I took a little break from larger gatherings, too, which was incredibly life-giving. My small group, my bible study group of expats, my seminary profs, and some new sermon podcasts kept me in check during the break. But I gotta say the rhythms of the rank and file are a good fit for me in this life station.

God speaks to me through His Word and His people. Still no audible voices or burning bushes or writing on the wall for me…and it wasn’t for lack of asking for them. I always feel like those would be faster and easier so I ask for them. Instead, my answers come from listening to others and their insights. This is why staying in community during my self-imposed exile is valuable. I spent more time over tables, adult beverages, and other conversations for the express purpose of wanting to hear from Him through His people. He didn’t disappoint, as insights and encouragement were steady in the process.

My wife is a great teammate. She puts up with a lot of nonsense being married to me, that’s for sure. But she gets it. Sell a house and move downtown? Okay. Have a small freak out over the lack of clarity? “I’m not worried. It’ll all come together.” Get bent out of shape because churches do and say dumb things in interview processes? “Maybe this isn’t the thing for you anymore.” Decide to take a break from large church gatherings? “Maybe this is what you need for now.” Start the last half of you life as a first-year high school teacher? “See? I told you it would all come together.” I gotta say that decision to ask her to marry me back in 1987 was a good one, and I’m really glad she said yes and stuck around. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago.

 

So, that’s it, kids.

It isn’t rocket science. It isn’t new insight. Just a recalibration…but to get things working right sometimes that’s what’s gotta happen.

I’m glad it did…and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

Plot Twist!

A funny thing happened on the journey between who I used to be and who I’m becoming. Lemme back up for those of you new to the story.

This all started a little over a year ago. I was feeling antsy professionally…and in my experience that meant that significant changes were afoot.  So, I decided to pursue my doctorate and give myself five years to figure it all out. That process necessitated some soul-searching.

The short version is that Tracy and I discovered a lot about ourselves (with the help of some professionals and some friends, and some professionals who have since become friends)…which mostly started with the ideas that neither of us were being who we were created to be or doing work that aligned with who we are and what we’re about. Translation: I needed to walk away from a job that I enjoyed (both the people and the work) and take a blind leap of faith into the next thing. I’d done that a couple of times before and things turned out well, so why not?

So, we sold the home and moved downtown to a loft to figure things out…as one does, right? No plan. Just trust God and do the next thing.

Which, in my mind, meant searching for a full-time job in a church amidst a smorgasbord of reading and classwork for the dissertation. I’d done that before, too. Web sites. Resumes/cover letters. An hour a day…ish. Reading: 2-4 hours a day…ish. Writing as needed. Hanging out on our cool roof watching cool sunsets and thinking deep thoughts: A half-hour to an hour a day…ish…

…which is as romantic as it sounds…

…for about two months.

Then you begin to doubt in the darkness what was told to you in the light. The rejections from churches were fast & furious and rarely explained (unless you were too old, then they thought they’d encourage you by saying, “you’re perfect for the job…just older than our committee wants.”–FYI: this is in no way encouraging). The bank account is dwindling no matter how responsible you’re being. You’re back at square one once or twice a week with no job, no prospects except the resumes you sent that day and a pile of reading to do and papers to write.

So, you now try to trust God, do the next thing, and try some new things.

So, to put a tourniquet on the bank account I started substitute teaching in addition the being a graduate teaching assistant at the seminary. I quickly got tired of “independent study” (read: give them laptops and they quietly surf) and started asking teachers for the lessons a day in advance and I’d teach. Word got around to the staff that you didn’t have to lose a day of instruction and I became a “preferred substitute,” meaning I worked every day at the same high school.

Flash back: When people used to ask me what I’d do if I weren’t working full-time for a church…I’d shrug and say, “I dunno. Probably teach high school English. Maybe coach baseball.”

Flash forward: The leadership and staff at the high school campus in Deep Ellum was encouraging me to get the necessary certification to work there. “You just fit our culture,” they said. “You have the part of teachers that we can’t teach,” they said.

And, last Friday I went through the final part of the interview process–a demonstration teaching session. I figured they’d watch/grade, communicate to the main office, and I’d know in a week or two if I’d made the cut.

Turns out, I waited 20 minutes, they offered me a job. 24 hours later the papers were signed, sealed and delivered.

Starting July 24, I’ll be teaching high school juniors at Uplift Luna High School. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

And, over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about all the lessons I learned in the process. But know that over the next few months, I’ll be hounding a lot of you to load my classroom up with all the Post-It notes and notepads and staplers and pens and pencils and paper your company uses for promotional purposes…

…because I intend to maximize the benefits of who I was for the person I’m becoming–which begins with getting my new students the tools they’ll need to become who they’re created to be. That’s what I’ve always done, when you think about it. That hasn’t changed. It won’t change, I don’t think. Nonetheless,

Here’s to new beginnings…

It’s A Long Road Up to Recovery From Here, A Long Way Back to the Line…

A lot of social media highlighted how uncomfortable 2016 was in the big-picture sense.

I’m far afield from humanity on this. There were deaths of people who wrote books I didn’t read, performed music I didn’t listen to, made movies I didn’t watch, and athletes whose prime preceded my understanding. There were political events that my GenX cynicism of institutions and politicians protected me from experiencing the vitriol others seem to have. There were heartbreaking world events but I remember Live Aid, so each year brings those, too…your heart just breaks for different tribes. So in the big-picture of things 2016 seemed like a pretty normal year to me.

For me, 2016 deviated from the script in that it treated me like a parent treats their graduating senior in late July before heading off to college. Every little thing became a life lesson to cram into my head before it was too late.  I responded in kind to 2016 like by taking the path of least resistance by nodding politely like I’m really interested and taking it all in.

Like doting parents, the reality is 2016 was right and I digested them once I got some distance between me & them. Here are a few of the ways:

My spiritual gift is teaching and I need to be using it. I’ve never been more convinced…and after not using it consistently for over five years, well, it’s high time to get back to that.

I’m not as good a student of my wife as I thought I was. The majority of that story is hers to tell so you’ll have to get her version. The bottom line is that while I was aware she’s an artist, I should’ve put two and two together sooner and recognized our suburban lifestyle was choking her. Our eclectic neighborhood has the crazy diversity where a 10-minute walk can provide interactions with a homeless person, a Ferrari owner, a band member, and a school teacher. I have gone more than a week not using a car. This new lifestyle fits us, man.

My identity was WAY too tied in to my profession. A quarter-century of pastoring provided recognition I embraced. “Doctoral student” is only part-time. “Teaching Assistant” is only part-time. “Substitute teacher” is only part-time. Don’t get me wrong. They’re all legit and keep most of the bill collectors at bay. My point is that pastoring, while somewhat embarrassing to bring up in some circles, opened a lot of doors and gave pats on the back in the circles I used to run in. Not so much anymore. It still stings when I apply for church jobs I feel may be perfect fits and my resume isn’t good enough. Seriously? I thought I was good at my job all that time. Maybe not. See what I mean about my identity tied to my job now?

God uses imperfect people to teach me. I’m not gonna go into it because it’s bad form to pull back the curtain on how church sausage is made. Suffice to say that some hard lessons were learned that came through people who I’m better off removing from my phone contacts and Facebook feeds. Sometimes I don’t like knowing what I know…especially when I know I’m right.

Different expressions of church life are okay. Granted, I have strong opinions about the role of the local church body and how to go about executing that role. I’ve been pretty judgmental on the local church (for the first time in our lives Tracy and I went to Sunday gatherings as visitors) and how they go about their business. Truth is they all have their place in God’s economy and need to go about their business in the way their leadership senses God pushing them. While I’m still frustrated by what I see out there in our Tribe’s business I need to give a bit more grace…even if I can’t find a comfy fit.

I need to get my edge back. Someone I admire told me over libations that I’m at my best when I challenge the status quo…and then punctuated that by saying that God wired me that way and I was bordering on disobedience because he “hadn’t seen that fire” in me for about six years. He said he didn’t want middle age to take away that “Clash, Ramones & Social Distortion” edge that “evangelicals need now more than ever.” He’s right. You know it. I know it.

So, buckle up, 2017. Let’s dance.

 

Happy Suvitsef, Everybody!

In many parts of the world, the day after Christmas is referred to as Boxing Day–a day in which the social order is reversed. The working class gets celebrated with tips/gifts. Some in the military switch ranks for the day. Some have public celebrations where the working class leads parades.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to reverse the order of Festivus on the day after it, and declare that it shall henceforth be known as Suvitsef…a day in which we celebrate the Airing of Commendation followed by Repose of the Humble.

It is in that spirit that I offer equal time today for my Airing of Commendations!

Kudos to my wife of 28 years. She’s more beautiful to me now than ever before, and embraces the peculiar adventure of life I drag her through with grace and a smile. We might not have any idea what we’re doing here in midlife, but we’re doing it together. Lesser women would’ve been gone long ago.

Kudos to my daughters. I’m smitten with their wild differences and devastated by their similarities. They are truly smart, beautiful and unique. I couldn’t be prouder of them if I tried. “Love” just scratches the surface of my feelings toward them.

Kudos to the Creator for inventing dogs, far and away the greatest animal on the planet.

Kudos to Deep Ellum for welcoming all comers, especially the missus and I. We found our fit here in the most eclectic neighborhood in Dallas, and this place is lifegiving.

Kudos to the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, X, Fear, Black Flag, R.E.M., the Talking Heads and Frank Turner for providing the soundtracks that help me get through tough times…and celebrate some good ones.

Kudos to some folks at Dallas Seminary who are part of the LEAD weekend. They helped me and the missus discover some things about ourselves that will give the last half of our lives true meaning and such. Not to get all sappy about it, Dr. Hillman and Bill Hendricks, even though we’re broke, we’re bohemian happy and smiling at the future.

Kudos to Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, David Fitch, Mike Frost, Charlie Ridenour & Barry Jones for beating the drum of incarnational ministry. It’s flipped our lives upside down–which it’s supposed to do (which is why so many like the idea but truly fear executing, hence will never do it)–and I can only hope all your influence in these areas will get our Tribe seriously neighboring, third spacing and getting the heck out of the church walls for Kingdom influence. Now if we can just get congregations to execute instead of lip-servicing.

Kudos to Peticolas and Lagavulin. You know why.

Kudos to my hetero life mates. I have few friends I can depend on to call me out or build me up when I need either but you guys seem to find that balance every time.

Kudos to all the readers here at The Diner. I’ve been here posting thoughts since 2003 (I can’t believe I used to blog daily) and you’ve been here reading the things I write only to get the clutter out of my brain so I can get stuff done. But for some reason an inordinate amount of you keep coming back…so thanks for that!

Now, for all of you gathered around the Suvitsef Cairn, it’s your turn…

Happy Festivus, Everyone!

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As you all know, December 23 is the official date of Festivus…the holiday–invented by Frank Costanza–for the rest of us. So gather round the Festivus Pole after dinner for the annual Airing of Grievances! The one chance you have to tell people how they have let you down…so gather ’round the Festivus Pole and enjoy:

My neighbors who fail to clean up after their pets, especially in public parks or on the private property of others.

Anyone who drives in the left lane while people pass them on their right.

Posting on social media any of the following: allusions to your love/need for coffee and/or chocolate, photos of your food, anything political designed to persuade others.

Pitbull. Seriously. How is he a thing?

Texting while driving. Seriously. Stop it.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sure, they get some inductees right but how in the world are Abba, The Bee Gees, Electric Light Orchestra and the Crickets in and bands like Motorhead, the Pixies, The Cure, Tina Turner, The Smiths and the Replacements (I’d love to see X, the most underrated band in the history of ever, voted in) not in?

I’ve got three for pastors: First, if you used your pulpit in 2016–where you should’ve been preaching Christ–for endorsing a political candidate, shame on your for making your highest calling the lowest form of alliance. Second, if you’d leave your job to do anything else making the same amount of money, do that thing right now–you’re not doing any favors for yourself or those you serve. Third, quoting yourself on social media–stop worrying about building your brand and expanding your platform.

Any college football team that gives star players slap-on-the-wrist punishments for things normal people would go to jail for, well, you know who you are: almost all of them.

Star Wars ain’t that great, world. It’s time somebody said it.

2016. Don’t let the door hit ‘cha where the good Lord split ‘cha on the way out, okay?

Alright, my 10 are done…your turn, patrons!

 

2016 Advent Ramblings: Urgency and Understatements

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Urgency = “Importance requiring swift action.”

Understatement = “The presentation of something as being smaller, or worse, or less important than it actually is.”

“Brent, we need to go to the hospital…

…Right…

…NOW!”

Let me back up.

It was 1991 and Tracy was a couple of weeks in front of the due date for Kid1. We’d just spent Labor Day with her folks eating BBQ and deflecting a barrage of jokes about going into labor on Labor Day. We were tired so we decided to skip making sure we had enough gas in the tank even though the dashboard gas pump was on.

Before bedtime, I’d told her not to wake me up with jokes about being in labor on Labor Day because I had a busy work day ahead and wanted to get rest. Since about week 36 she’d been sleeping in our den on the most comfortable couch we ever owned since we had a full-sized bed at the time as well as a full-sized Black Lab at that time. Don’t judge me or us.

Anyway, Tracy woke me up on Labor Day +1 at 2am with the quote above. Water broken. Contractions timed. Doctors had contacted. My heart rate went from resting to 120-ish faster than any other time in my life.

The word I’m looking for is URGENCY.

She told me I had enough time to get gas for the car while waiting on the doctor to call back with further instructions. Did that and apparently the guy with 16 years of college the seemed to think that contractions starting at about three minutes apart meant to get to the hospital with…

…the word I’m looking for is…

…URGENCY.

We ran red lights. We broke speed limits. We got there in record time.

Now, we’d had well over seven months to prepare for this. From the pregnancy test to telling the family to baby showers to cravings to name choosing sessions to packing a bag to breathing classes and the whole deal, well, we were just going about our lives. Going to jobs. Eating dinner. Going on dates. Visiting family. All that stuff. Even though we knew the baby would be here mid-Septemberish, we were living our lives waiting for the imminent, inevitable life-altering event.

But then the contractions started and things got fast and chaotic and real…and after that trip to the hospital Tracy and I were more than just Tracy and I (and well, Buford the Black Lab).

That sense of urgency is how I think of Mary and Joseph and the no room for them at the inn and in that stable around back on that night we all read about. I don’t envision that event like the “silent night/holy night/all is calm” nonsense with cattle being all silent and halos around babies and beautifully smiling Mary and Joseph. I have no idea how that picture came from a reading of Luke 2.

Verse 7 gives us an incredible understatement: She gave birth.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a labor & delivery situation, but when the day starts after about two hours of sleep and water breaking and fast and chaos and all that…followed by 18 hours of labor and delivery, well, yes…my wife gave birth. She was a mixture of sweat and surgical procedure and pain and beauty and exhausted smile and wanting sustenance beyond ice chips. The contractions started and things got fast and chaotic and real. That backstory about a maiden giving birth gave Mary a lot to think about.

Then in verse 9, we see the shepherds, who, if my research is correct, are teenagers. Likely some young women among them. Unclean by religious standards. Just going about their business of wrangling and protecting the animals at night who get interrupted by…

…A heavenly host of singing angels.

See, I’ve heard that song “Angels We Have Heard On High” sung a lot around this time of year. Usually some large choir with majestic sound in a big opera house elongating the “In Excelsis Deo” chorus. But that’s not how I understand that song. Nope. Not at all.

The event being described was urgent. Fast. Chaos. A word from God after 400 years of silence? Are you kidding? A punk band singing it is how it should be done. May I recommend the band Bad Religion and their version of it? Go ahead. I’ll wait:

Or, if you’re more into alternative college rock sound, how about Lost and Found on their Christmas album? Go ahead. I’ll wait.

These are just a couple of ways this song should be sung, man. Fast. Loud. Lotta motion. Unbridled joy. Silent? All is calm? Not a chance.

They know Israel’s seven centuries of waiting is over. Even better, the four centuries where no prophetic word from God had happened is over. The silence is broken. The Messiah has come. The hope has turned to reality. The imminent, inevitable event has happened. And, oh, by the way, you’ll find him a couple of miles away in a manger.

Another understatement: “Let’s go see this event…”

They have news. Good news. For all the world. This despised class of young people had some information they needed to communicate…and I’m guessing the angels assumed they’d be taking a field trip since they gave specific instructions on precisely how they’d know they found the right baby. The word I’m looking for is urgency.

They had to go roughly 2-3 miles and I can’t imagine that it was a quiet stroll. If you have ever worked with young people who are excited, well, quiet and stroll aren’t really a part of that equation. My guess is they covered that distance in a half-hour at most, rolling through town with abandon trying to find the location. The word I’m looking for is urgency.

Another understatement: “When they saw him, they related what they had been told…”

Again, the word I’m looking for is URGENCY.

Lotta motion. Lotta noise.  Busting in on an exhausted teenage mom. Talking over one another with their own version of the story…

…of angels…

…of songs…

…of Messiah.

Which, I’m sure gave Mary another reminder that she’s not crazy no matter what the townspeople think. Virgin birth. She knows what she knows but she likely was aware that folks weren’t buying her version of what she knows. She treasures these words in her heart. Teenagers get each other.

And then one final understatement: The shepherds went back. Glorifying and praising God for what they had seen and heard.

My guess is that you can’t go back and tend sheep the same way you did a few hours ago. The world looks different now. Feels different now. The world is different now. God became a person and moved into the neighborhood.

Silence becomes urgent.

Understatements become reality.

Ponder this in your heart…because we all have to go back and tend our sheep. And if we are living our lives the same way we were before we experienced the fast, loud, chaos of God moving into our neighborhood…

…we miss what it means to truly live while in the now and not yet. There will be another fast and furious and chaotic and imminent and inevitable life-altering event. And that in and of itself is an understatement.

2016 Advent Ramblings: May As Well Enjoy The View

*Just idle ramblings on stuff I’m reading for Advent this year. Today, I read Isaiah 9.

 

“If you’re gonna have an evil lair, better make sure it has a view.”
–a member of Easy Company, as quoted in HBO’s WWII miniseries Band of Brothers

“The people walking in darkness will see a great light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness. You have enlarged the nation; you give them great joy. They rejoice in your presence as harvesters rejoice; as warriors celebrate when they divide up the plunder. For their oppressive yoke and the club that strikes the shoulders, the cudgel of the oppressor uses on them, you have shattered as in the day of Midian’s defeat. Indeed, every boot that marches and shakes the earth and every garment dragged through blood is used as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His dominion will be vast and he will bring immeasurable prosperity. He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom, establishing it and strengthening it by promoting justice and fairness, from this time forward and forevermore.”
–Isaiah 9: 1-8

I have to admit I’m a sucker for the Band of Brothers mini-series. It’s an automatic stop-down anytime I channel surf.

For the uninitiated, it’s the story of paratroopers in WWII, Easy Company, and their journey from training to V-E Day. After a grueling boot camp designed to create elite soldiers they were eventually dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day, and not a lot went right. On the fly, one of the men who would eventually lead the company designed a strategy to secure their location…and those maneuvers at Market Garden are studied at West Point to this day.

Then came the Battle of the Bulge. Survival was the end game for them. Stay put while surrounded and hold their position. Brutally bitter Belgian cold. Digging foxholes in a forest. Every night as sitting ducks hoping enemy shells didn’t score a direct hit. Supplies never got there. Many died. Eventually, allied troops got through and Easy Company went on the offensive.

Then a campaign in Holland as the war turned. They discovered and liberated concentration camps.

The end-game of the war required securing Nazi locations, one of which was Hitler’s mountain retreat in Austria. Easy Company was put in charge of that operation. A group of men who had been through it all…the absolute worst of the European theater…discovered the wine cellar. Contents: the finest whiskey and wine from all over the world, and more than Easy Company could drink. They took what they wanted and then shared the spoils with the other companies. The warriors divided the spoils.

The mini-series depicted the men on an observation deck from the lair. That’s where the line about an evil lair having a great view came from, but can you imagine? Months before you are in a forest, sitting ducks, nearing starvation and frostbite if not dying from war…

…how sweet must that celebration have been?

When you’re in that forest hoping to survive, fighting back fear. Don’t you think it would be a different enjoyment of a fine wine in that backdrop rather than if you’d simply flown to a mountaintop hotel and had a glass on vacation?

Isaiah 9 paints that picture in my way of thinking. There are people in darkness. Their land has been overrun. Their culture has been denigrated. Their God has been mocked. They have homes that don’t feel like homes. And this goes on for generations. And generations. And generations. And generations. And generations.I imagine grandparents whispering into the next generation’s ears, “Someday…”

Someday, the light will come. God will rescue us. Maybe today…

…maybe not…

…but be on the lookout.

Fight your battles every day in case He doesn’t show. But He’s coming. Maybe today. Maybe not. But we will be faithful today. Me and my house will, anyway. This military leader will put the boot on the throat of the enemy. Their cloaks will be dragged in the mud and blood. He will give us back our nation. Past that, He will be God Himself. He will give us peace, now and forever. Good times are ahead. We win.

And we will enjoy it like fine wine from an observation deck on an mountaintop on a cool, sunny day.

Maybe today…

…maybe not.

But, be on the lookout. He will come. We will wait. Even if it’s freezing. Even if we can’t go on the offensive. Even if we run out of supplies. Even if we are being shelled. Even if some of our buddies are killed by trees falling or bullets or friendly fire. He will come.

Those whispers are true for us even if we are a bit more comfy than Israel was. Those whispers are true even if our freezing is cured with socks and a blanket. Even if we’re stuck between where we are and where we want to go. Even if our loss of supplies is metaphorical while we know where our next 1,000 meals are coming from. Even if the oppression of our brothers and sisters are headlines that overwelm us because we can’t protect them all.

He will come.
Somehow.
Someway.
He will come.

God will show up. Even though it’s dark out. Arise. Shine.

Taste the wine. Enjoy the view. Even if, for today, it’s all in your imagination. Taste the wine. Enjoy the view. Like warriors dividing the spoils

The darkness we are in will eventually make the reality that much more sweet.

2016 Advent Ramblings: All That’s Left To Do Is Live

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*Just idle ramblings on stuff I’m reading for Advent this year. I read Isaiah 7 today…

“You can get so confused, that you’ll start in to race, down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace, and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space…

…headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…

…Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.”

–Dr. Seuss, in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

“And it feels, and it feels like
Heaven’s so far away
And it feels, yeah it feels like
The world has grown cold
Now that you’ve gone away”

–The Offspring, from “Gone Away”

In the late 8th century B.C., the king of Judah had to make deal. See, Israel and Syria banded together to stand against the threatening Assyrians and were planning to take over Judah as part of that plan. Fighting for the survival of his country, Ahaz wanted to send cash (and lots of it) to the Assyrians for protection.

Spoiler alert: Dealing with an enemy that has the leverage is like living with a rattlesnake. Eventually it will bite. You don’t know when. In the interim between the deal and the bite, fear gripped Ahaz and his people. The Bible describes it as “the hearts of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”

Enter Isaiah with a message from God. The prophet let Ahaz know that Israel and Syria wouldn’t be an issue for Judah…and side note, if you trust God on this, your nation will survive. If you go about it another way (like cash and lots of it) things will not end well. Spoiler alert: Ahaz spent the cash and lots of it.

The rattlesnake would bite and things would get dark within decades. God, however, offers comfort that Ahaz’ decision wouldn’t be the end of Israel: “Behold, a maiden will be with child and bear a son, and she will can His name Immanuel.” The bottom line: Things will get tough and stay tough for a long while, but somewhere down the line, God will deliver His people.

Then the clock started counting down on Judah…and the clock on their dark, long “waiting place” would begin.

Far be it for me to disagree a bit with Dr. Seuss, but the waiting place doesn’t have to be “a most useless place.” You can get a lot done at the bus stop or train station. A trip to the mailbox can bring all sorts of surprises (Christmas cards, anyone? Wedding invitations, anyone?). A ringing phone can change life as you know it. New snow always looks good to me. The “yes” or “no” is a revelation. A cancer patient’s new head of hair is pretty great, too.

All of Dr. Seuss’ instances of people just waiting assumes passivity…but there’s active hope built right in. You believe the bus or train will take you where you want to go. That the mailman will bring the mail. Folks will call. Winter will come. You will get your questions answered. Your hair will grow.

See, there’s a lot you can do while you wait. Around 150 years after Ahaz’ deal, the prophet Jeremiah wound up in the midst of the darkness after the fall of Jerusalem. He wrote these words to tell them during their exile: “Build houses and live, and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

In short: live well while you wait…even if it feels like God isn’t with you, well, your feelings are lying to you. They’ll do that here and again. “Immanuel” means “God with us” after all. Remember that when your feelings lie to you.

I’d be lying if I said I felt like God is with me right now. I’m in a season of waiting myself. Granted it hasn’t been some 700 years of waiting…it’s only been about six months. I don’t seem to have bus fare or plane tickets. The mail has been discouraging (got no less than four rejections for jobs on Friday alone). The phone isn’t ringing. Winter isn’t even really winter here in Dallas. There have been plenty of “no” answers and a dearth of “yes.” My hair is growing even if it seems like my hairline recedes at a noticeable rate.

Nobody seems to think I can be a good pastor these days. Nobody seems to think I can be a good teacher these days…at least on a full-time basis. I’m still waiting on what God wants me to do vocationally while I am quite clear on my calling (there is a difference).

It feels like God is so far away.

My feelings are lying.

And I will choose to live in my mini-darkness. I will love my wife well. I will enjoy my family and friends and dogs. I will embrace the Kingdom glimpses in my neighborhood and work days. I will enjoy good books and see movies and watch football. I will grade master’s level papers. I will eat good food and enjoy good drinks and time around tables. I will enjoy good sunsets from my roof and crane my neck to see other little glimpses of Him in the everyday interim.

Because my feelings of divine abandonment and personal inadequacy and the myriad of pity-party inducing emotions are lying to me.

Waiting is not useless. God is with me.

I want that to be enough…