The Best Laid Plans

You know that old saying about the best laid plans? They go awry.

Boy, do they ever.

First of all, I knew the quote had to have come from somewhere, I just didn’t remember where. Most people seem to attribute it to John Steinbeck from his novella, “Of Mice and Men.” The line that he penned in there is, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But it seems that Steinbeck derived it from a poem entitled, “To a Mouse On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With the Plow,” written by a Scot named Robert Burns.” Steinbeck really paraphrased Burns’ words to make sense to his contemporaries. But, I digress.

This phrase just seems to become truer and truer as I get older. Maybe it’s that I’m not quite as resilient as I used to be. Maybe it’s that my tolerance for change and my ability to flex to it seems to be growing less and less. Whatever it is, those plans that have been laid just seem to be more and more elusive.

I have a friend who used to say often, “Embrace Plan B.” She is one of the sweetest people I know and one of the most optimistic as well. She is always fun to be around because things just seem to roll right off of her back. She never seems to let things get in the way, even if they’re inconvenient.

A few weeks ago, I had started planning a trip for my wife. We missed celebrating our 10 year anniversary because my mom was dying of cancer and my wife was about six months pregnant with our third child. So, cast away those thoughts of revisiting Bermuda, where we honeymooned. That was just the beginning of a few very tumultuous years for us. So, on the brink of celebrating our 14th year of marriage, I finally got around to thinking about something special.

Turns out that some mothers are not quite as comfortable jetting across the world while their kids are still young. So, we’ve moved on to Plan B.

Occasionally, I have to travel out of state for work. When I do, it ends up being on a Friday and Saturday. While it’s not the most ideal, it only happens a few times a year. When we knew that I was going to be traveling, my wife and I decided to have a date day to spend some time with each other while the kids were all in school. We were looking forward to it for a week.

When the day finally arrived for us to enjoy our “date day” together, my middle child comes walking down the stairs in the morning sounding like a seal as he coughed and coughed. He complained of a headache and a stomach ache. My wife and I looked at each other and it seemed that the inevitable solution was to keep him home from school and cancel our date day. So, that’s just what we did.

I guess the best parenting advice anyone could have given me would have been to hold on loosely to my plans and always have a back up. Kids have a way of throwing wrenches in plans, but if you go into parenthood expecting that, the pain of it just might be lessened.

My dad was always the one who struggled when something would get in the way of his plans. I used to see this on our road trips as a kid. He had a plan and nothing could get in the way of that. If it did, he wouldn’t be a happy camper. That’s probably why he needed my mom so much, she could always talk the situation down.

Unfortunately, I’m my father’s son when it comes to my plans.

But I’m reminded of Proverbs 19:21 which says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” I particularly like how the Message version paraphrases it, “We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that. Yes, Steinbeck and Burns were right, but just because plans go awry doesn’t mean that we don’t still continue to plan. It just means that we don’t get so bent out of shape when it comes to wrenches thrown in the gears of those plans. It also doesn’t mean that chaos ensues when our plans go awry. We need to trust that God is in control, that he is sovereign, and that his ways are not our ways.

I’ll keep laying my plans, I think I’ll just try to keep my fingers from keeping such a firm grip on them.

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Selling Yourself Short

esausoupThere are some stories that, no matter how many times you hear them, hit you every time. That’s the beauty of story, even when you fall in love with a story and know it like the back of your hand (what does that phrase really mean anyway?), you can still experience new discoveries when you pay attention.

The other day, I was reading the story of Isaac, the promised son of Abraham in the Bible. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. They seemed like the proverbial opposite brothers. One was smart, one was strong. One was loved by their mother, one was loved by their father. One was a homebody who stayed home, one was a rugged hunter who found his place in the wilderness.

One day, Jacob was home cooking some stew when Esau came in from being out in the woods. Esau had worked up quite an appetite being out in the fields, so he was hungry for just about anything. Well, the “anything” that he smelled was the stew that his brother was cooking on the stove, so he told his brother, “Hurry up, give me some of that stew. I’m famished.”

Sibling rivalry being as it is, Jacob wouldn’t simply give his brother some stew without anything in return. Instead, he thought of the best exchange that he could think of: his brother’s inheritance. I’m not sure if it seemed like a long shot when Jacob said it, but I imagine that he figured he would start the negotiations as high as possible.

Imagine his surprise when Esau agreed to it.

Yup, you read that right. Esau agreed to sell his birthright (his inheritance) to his brother in exchange for some food. Talk about hungry. Talk about impatient.

It’s easy to look at this story and think, “Wow, what an idiot!” We can quickly claim that we would NEVER do something like this…

And then…

We start to think about it a little.

How many times do I sell my birthright for something temporary and fleeting? How many times do I sacrifice what’s very good in order to have something that’s fleeting and mediocre?

When I really stop to think about the story, when I stop to examine myself and ask myself some serious questions, I begin to realize that I’m not as innocent as I might think that I am.

There have been plenty of times that I’ve chosen the simple and easy in exchange for what’s best. I choose the immediate rather than waiting for what I know is best. And all of a sudden, I’m not quite as saintly looking as I thought that I was.

While our culture emphasizes the immediate, good things (and great things) rarely come so immediately. Anything worth working for is worth waiting for. Anything that can come so immediately can most likely be taken away just as immediately as well.

Next time that I eat stew, I think this lesson will hit me even harder.

Everybody’s Got A Story

There’s a little town just north of where I live that considers itself the “center of the universe.” I’m not quite sure exactly how it acquired that moniker, but it’s been there for much longer than I’ve been around. It’s a little college town and even has that quaint small town feel about its center. Little “Mom and Pop” grocery stores and restaurants, warm and friendly people. In some ways, it reminds me of where we used to live in Asheville, North Carolina, except on a much smaller scale.

Of course, the smaller the town, the more likely things that are different will stand out.

In this little town, there is a man who rides a bicycle and always wears a little tutu. I’ve never met him, only seen him as he rides by. Never had the chance to talk with him. Never even had the chance to find out much about him.

At least, not until the other day.

I go to Goodwill…..a lot. The people who frequent Goodwill may only be paralleled in curiosity by those who frequent WalMart. People watching can be a spectacular event when going to either place. But beyond just the people watching amusement, there are stories to be heard if you listen….okay, if you eavesdrop.

The other day I was in the Goodwill in this small little town. I was minding my own business, looking through books and music. I was feeling pretty good as I had found a Carpenters record, a memory of my childhood and yet another memento of my mom.

As I stood at the register, waiting to pay, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation that was going on between the cashier and the woman who was in line right in front of me.

I’m not sure what had happened before I got there, but the woman in line in front of me seemed agitated at some of the clientele of Goodwill (kind of ironic since she was no peach herself, but I digress). She was asking why a certain person couldn’t be banned from the store. I looked around to see if I could figure out exactly who she was talking about, to no avail.

As she continued to talk to the cashier, the conversation turned towards this cross-dressing man. All at once, the woman just started saying all kinds of things about him. She started making a lot of judgmental statements about the man and then the cashier said, “Do you know his story?” The woman said, “He’s a weirdo, that’s what I know.” I wish that I could have seen a picture of my face at that moment, because I’m not usually shocked, but I think that statement caught me off guard.

The cashier went on to tell the woman that the man’s son had been killed and his son was gay. Now, I’m not sure whether one had anything to do with the other.  From the way that the cashier said it, it certainly seemed like there was a connection, but that’s speculation.  Anyway, this man’s attire was meant as a statement about his son.  Not sure whether it was meant to draw attention to him so that he could tell his story or what, but again, there was some connection between one thing and the other.

All at once, my heart broke, for both the man who had lost his son and for the woman who was standing in line right in front of me.

Now, I have thoughts and opinions about things like sexuality and cross-dressing, but I also realize that we all have our experiences, our stories, and I usually try to listen to those rather than pass judgment. We have all been impacted and affected by the things that we go through, our losses, our failures, our defeats, our victories, our gains. While I might not agree with someone and their choices, it seems only fair to give their story a hearing.

As I walked out the store, I wondered to myself what would happen if that woman in front of me ever ran into the cross-dressing, bike-riding man. What would she say to him? Would she simply cast judgment? Would she ask him about his story?

The thing is, I could easily see myself doing the same thing as that woman. I am judgmental. I do jump to conclusions. I do look at a book and judge it by its cover rather than opening it up to see what’s really inside.

I’m quick and easy to do it to other people, but how angry do I get when someone does the very same thing to me. How frustrating it is when, before words have even escaped my mouth, someone already knows what they think about me.

Yes, it takes time to find out someone’s story, but maybe that’s what someone really needs, someone to just listen and hear them.

It seems like I learned a valuable lesson, and next time that I’m in the “center of the universe,” maybe I’ll look for a man on a bike wearing a tutu. If I run into him, maybe I’ll have the courage to ask him about his story. Maybe I’ll find out that there’s so much more beneath the surface than fits in the nice and neat little box that I’ve made for myself.

Kept For Jesus – A Book Review

kept for jesusIf you are a follower of Christ, you will most likely wrestle with many different questions along your spiritual journey. Was Jesus really fully human and fully God? Did Adam and Eve really live? Was Mary truly a virgin? The list could go on and on. We live in an age of skepticism, so it seems natural for us to have some amount of skepticism about issues that seem impossible to us.

One question that will most likely plague every believer at some point in their life has to do with eternal security. Is it really possible that once a person is saved they are always saved? Is it possible to lose your salvation once you have professed faith in Jesus Christ?

While many have tackled this subject in the past, Sam Storms does a masterful job of writing a book that is effective and accessible for a wide array of readers. Coming from a Reformed perspective, Storms presents his argument in favor of the belief that a person is “once saved, always saved.” Storms sets out to convince those who hold to an Arminian or antinomian viewpoint that the Reformed viewpoint is the correct one. He also sets out to deepen the reader’s confidence in the supremacy of God and his preserving grace.

As Storms takes the reader through this issue, he presents the various arguments against eternal security. These arguments come in the form of verses in the Bible that both Arminians and antinomians use for support. Along with those arguments, he presents the Reformed view and gives his rationale for why it’s the right approach.

Storms offers up an example of a fictitious character named Charley who seems to have made an outward and public profession of Christ as Lord and Savior. After some time of seemingly walking with Christ, Charley steps away from his beliefs and his changed life. The question presented, “Is Charley saved?” A valid question, and as I mentioned, most likely a question that many have wrestled with, especially if they have had a personal experience similar to this, either themselves or someone they love.

From the outset, Storms makes it clear what he believes. He believes that salvation does not come about because of our works or because we have earned it. Salvation simply comes because God is gracious and he offered up his Son as a sacrifice for the sins of those who repent and confess him as Lord and Savior. He believes that those who put faith in Jesus Christ are given to Jesus, given before even time began. He also believes that while we are not saved by our good works, those good works are evidence of the fact that we have been saved.

While Storms has a definite bias and opinion in the matter, he doesn’t present it in an arrogant manner. He presents the various sides and explains why he thinks his view makes the most sense in light of the various Scripture passages that he shares. He even ends the book dealing with some of the problem passages in Scripture which seem to contradict the idea of “once saved, always saved.” He readily admits that he continues to have struggles with some of the passages yet reminds the reader that it’s important to look at Scripture in context with itself and not isolate passages for our own advantage.

“Kept For Jesus” is an encouraging book for those who have struggled with doubts about whether or not they are truly saved. It’s a great resource as well for those who find themselves counseling individuals who struggle with the idea as well. I highly recommend it for your bookshelf to refer back to again and again.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from NetGalley.com. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Further Thoughts on DeflateGate

deflategateYesterday, I posted some thoughts on the latest scandal to entrench the New England Patriots after their trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts this past Sunday. Their win resulted in an AFC Championship and a chance to meet the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl in a few weeks (read the post here).

As this story spreads like wildfire in the media, less than two weeks before the “Big Dance,” the old adage of “innocent until proven guilty” does not seem to apply. Whether we like it or not, circumstantial (if it truly is simply that) evidence generally casts a negative light regardless if it is simply circumstantial and untrue. People cast their judgment based on what perceptions are.

Let’s face it, outside of New England and the occasional bandwagon fan, the rest of the country has a deep hatred for the Patriots. They aren’t big fans of the Brady/Belichick combination. More than once I’ve had friends call Belichick “Darth Hoodie.” Brady hasn’t endeared himself to the average football fan by acting like the pretty boy whiner that he has a tendency of being. Add to that the past history of indiscretions and cheating while videotaping other teams’ signals (see here), this certainly doesn’t add to the legacy of a team that has put together some quality wins.

Now, regardless of what the outcome is and even if another scapegoat comes forward, the games that the Patriots play will be marred. Sports fans saw the same thing with Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. Even if there’s only suspicion and no proof, especially in the case of the Patriots, if you’ve done it before, you’ll probably do it again.

There are still big questions to be answered, especially in light of the stringent process by which balls are checked prior to the game. Who deflated them? Did the referees, who were touching the balls after every play, not notice a difference between the balls that the Colts were using and the balls that the Patriots were using? How was it possible to pull this off and who was responsible? Was Belichick responsible? If he was, what will happen to him? Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com said, “It’s about the integrity of the sport and the arrogance of a football coach who, if guilty, has once again shown that he thinks he is bigger than the game.”

To be honest, these and many other questions may never be answered. If they aren’t answered, and even if they are and the Patriots are found to be innocent, this still casts a long shadow over the Patriots-Colts game and also the impending Super Bowl.

The other day, when my boys came home from school, I asked them if they had heard any of their friends talking about the Patriots at school. Living in Redskins land where we do, I expected that there would be plenty of talk of the indiscretions of the hated Patriots.

To my surprise, neither of them said that they had heard anything. Maybe people don’t care or maybe they weren’t paying attention. Either way, I told them what had happened and what the news stories were saying. It seemed like a good opportunity to talk a little bit about integrity with them, especially when it came to doing the right thing and not cheating.

A few minutes after we had talked, my younger son said, “Why would such a good team have to cheat, Daddy?” I thought to myself, “This kid’s starting to get it” and I was thankful.

I hope that somehow, someway, they find out that something else happened to these balls. Of course, it’s a little more than circumstantial to say that 11 of 12 balls were underinflated. But still, it would be nice if they could be innocent until proven guilty. It would be nice to find out that somehow, the massive temperature drop during the game resulted in a massive pressure reduction in the air pressure within the balls. But I’m not going to hold my breath. I am, after all, a New England fan, and cynicism runs in our veins!

Cheaters Never Win?

patriots deflated ballsThere are two things in my life that I’ve really never been able to stomach very well: bullies and cheaters.

I was a bigger kid when I was younger, so I didn’t get bullied around very much, but I bore witness to bullying here and there. I was generally the kid who would befriend the kid who was being bullied. I just never liked to see kids who were a little different get bullied by other kids. Occasionally, I was made fun of for something or other like my clothes or my hair or my ears. I just tried to never let it get to me.

As far removed as I am from my childhood, it hasn’t changed my view of bullies. In fact, I think God’s taught me an awful lot about the need to find out the back story of someone before I really think I can understand why they are as they are and why they do what they do.

Cheaters are a different story and before I come across sounding “holier than thou” let me say that I am not without sin in this case. Although I can only count the times on one hand, there have been times when I have cheated. So, my frustration with cheaters could be a frustration at myself for those times.

But the cheating that I am talking about now pertains to sports.

In light of the recent allegations and investigations into the New England Patriots, I’m feeling incredibly conflicted. As a New England boy, I’ve rooted for the Patriots for a number of years. I haven’t been a fair-weather fan, liking them only when they play well. So, it troubles me greatly that their success might be attributed in any way at all with cheating.

Let’s face it, when you rise above others, you will have haters. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong. You may be doing everything above board and be completely above reproach and still garner your fair share of haters, but that knowledge should drive you to operate even more in zone of “above reproach.”

More and more news will be shared in the days to come about what the finding of the NFL investigation into the Patriots’ deflated balls in this past Sunday’s 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. But it’s frustrating to think that a team that you root for, YOUR team broke the rules.

No, it’s nothing new. During baseball season the headlines will inevitably break to another player using illegal substances to their advantage. Even in the world of NASCAR, there are stories of alterations to cars to make them more aerodynamically efficient in order to win. When it comes to sports, it seems that the rules were meant to be stretched, at best, and broken, at worst.

But why? Why has this become the norm?

Yes, we talk about cheating in sports here, but it extends so much further than this. When President Obama was elected and the names of his potential cabinet members were made public, conservatives everywhere were crying “foul” because of the numbers of them who had not paid taxes in years. Of course, what would have happened had those same conservatives been questioned about their own taxes.

It’s a frustrating world when everywhere you look you see cheaters. Sports. Politics. Education. Everywhere.

But we need to live differently. We need to be different. We need to be the exception to the rule. We need to live above reproach. We need to do our best to not all into the flow of the stream.

All of this news of deflated balls sours my mood towards the Super Bowl. How do I root for a team that breaks the rules? Can I, in good conscience, still root for them? Like any other kind of cheating, there’s a breach of trust that takes place. No matter how far you come from an incident, there will always be that doubt in the back of your mind that says, “They’ve done it before, are they doing it again?”

I’ve got to spend some time thinking and doing some soul-searching about this. No one’s perfect, no one is immune to the temptations of this world. But giving in to those temptations is another story all together. Right now, I can only change myself and I need to make sure that I don’t cheat. What to do with the cheaters that I’ve been rooting for is something I’ll think long and hard about.

While I get the idea of the old adage that “Cheaters never win,” it seems that the Patriots have proven that the contrary may be true.

You’ve Got A Friend?

Kerry and TaylorA few weeks ago, the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satire newspaper in Paris were attacked by terrorists. The terrorists went on a rampage, eventually killing more than a dozen people resulting in a heightened state of terror in the city of Paris and causing many to question the extent to which freedom of expression can go.

In the aftermath of the attack, a rally held in support of the city and those who had lost their lives drew more than 1.5 million people. The rally was attended by many world leaders from Germany, Spain, England, Palestine, Israel, and other countries, all of whom had come to show their support and to display a sense of solidarity against a war on terror that continues to be more and more complicated every day. While many countries were in attendance, one country was noticeably absent…..the United States.

For whatever reason, the United States didn’t feel that the attendance of its key leaders was necessary at this rally. Instead, they sent their condolences and remained absent…..until…

Until the criticisms started to fly.

Once the criticisms started to fly, it seems that the leaders began to second guess themselves. Understandable considering the circumstances. Forgivable? Certainly…..until…

Until they decided how they were going to make up for it. And how they were going to make amends? By sending Secretary of State John Kerry with his friend James Taylor to sing and, in the words of Kerry, to, “share a hug with all of Paris.” So, of course, how fitting that Taylor would sing his popular song, “You’ve Got A Friend.”

Really? Someone thought this was a good idea?

We miss an important rally to show our support for and send someone over to sing a song?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like James Taylor. I like “You’ve Got A Friend.” But was it really appropriate to send him over to try to address a blatant mistake we had made?

I’ve only been to Europe once in my life, and it was for a very brief time. While there, it seemed fairly evident that the people were not big fans of the United States. Not the first time that I had heard that but certainly the first time that I had experienced it.

Frankly, I’m not sure that our little effort to make up for our absence helped to change the hearts of anyone who already didn’t like us. But maybe it’s just me.

What do you think?

Dare You To Move

dare you to moveThis past Sunday, I shared with my church a story from Exodus where Moses wants God’s assurance that he will be with him and the Israelites. He’s had an interesting time of leading the people of Israel on their journey through the wilderness. While communing with God in the chapter previous, the people of God get restless and ask Aaron to make something that they can worship. The end result is a golden calf.

In a very human moment, Moses comes down from his mountaintop experience with God to this idolatry taking place at the bottom of the mountain. In his anger, Moses takes the two stone tablets that God gave to him (yes, THOSE two stone tablets) and smashes them on the ground. He’s frustrated (to put it mildly) and he’s tired of these people who hardly seem like stellar examples of God’s chosen ones.

He tells God that he wants to know who is going with him on the rest of the journey. He wants God to assure him that his presence will be not just with him, Moses, but with all of the people. He wants some more details for the journey, but he’s got to settle for God’s promise of his presence and peace.

Moses resumes the journey and God is with the people of Israel.

I often wonder about our journeys and our plans, those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. We say that we want to put God first in our decisions and our plans, but sometimes we have a strange way of showing that. There are many times that we will go through and make all of our plans and then ask God to bless them. We can accomplish an awful lot in our own strength without really having to rely on God.

At the same time, there are times that we can couch our laziness or complacency in spiritual language.

Maybe you’ve heard it before or even used excuses yourself.

“Let me pray about it.”

“I’m seeking the Lord’s will.”

“I’m waiting for the Lord to speak to me.”

The list goes on and on. We can come up with all sorts of excuses for inaction, excuses for keeping us sitting on the couch and not moving. I don’t have enough money. It’s too risky. I don’t have time. I’ve got more important things to do. I don’t know enough about it.

We need to be careful not to over-spiritualize our decisions and suddenly let our spirituality lead us to inaction. It’s easy to say that we are praying over something or considering it, but we had better make sure that we’re really doing it rather than using it as an excuse to stay in our comfortable little world where we are protected, safe, and sound from change and other unwanted circumstances.

Sometimes, actually oftentimes, God calls us out of our comfort zones. He doesn’t call us to what is safe and convenient. Do we really expect that our faith will grow when we can work out everything on our own, when we don’t need to rely on God?

The safest place in the world isn’t necessarily in God’s will, it might be dangerous or scary, but in the midst of those circumstances, we’ve got the safest companion.

What’s God calling you to do? Where’s he calling you to step out in faith? Are you following him into unchartered territory or making spiritual excuses as to why not to go?

To be honest, I’ll confess that I’m still being worked on (or over, depending on how you look at it) in this area. I like comfort and safety. I like my creature comforts and the benefits of the First World in which I live. I’ve had friends who have abandoned those comforts to follow God into the Third World. They’ve sacrificed everything and I admire them. While I’ve had my fair share of sacrifices, I don’t want to rest on the laurels of yesterday while God may be calling me to something more challenging today.

It’s a constant struggle in which I continue to grow. Doing my best to not over-spiritualize the circumstances and situation. Doing all that I can to make sure that obedience wins out over comfort.

I’m a work in progress!

Power Traps

Bob McDonnellIt’s getting to the point that I’ve begun to wonder if there is anyone in government that’s NOT corrupt.

Living in Virginia, news hit last week about the verdict in the corruption trial of former governor, Bob McDonnell. Since the judge handed down the verdict of a 2 year sentence to the former governor, much has been written about the trial and the judge’s leniency in his judgment. During the trial, many had come out to speak on behalf of McDonnell as character witnesses.

Now, I’m far from perfect. While I don’t know if I would echo the words of the Apostle Paul and state that I am the “chief of sinners,” I can certainly share the spotlight as one who has been saved by grace. My life has not been without mistake, error, and sin. I am grateful for the grace of God and for the forgiveness that I receive through Christ.

McDonnell is spoken to have been an up-and-comer in the world of politics with many expecting great things of him as he was seemingly on his way up the political ladder. So, in many ways, his story is a tragedy, at least that’s the way that I see it. To be honest, it scares me a little bit.

You see, I have seen too many times in my short life how power has a tendency to corrupt. Power has a way of blinding us to truth and reason. It can seemingly make us think that we are invincible, untouchable, and completely immune to the corruption which eventually leads to our demise. That seems to be the nature of power. It can never satisfy, we always want more. In some ways, we might consider it like a drug.

Power scares me because I know my own tendencies. I know my own propensity towards thinking that I am above the law, that I can remain stealth in my bad behavior. I know my own tendency to never be satisfied with what I have, never finding true contentment in stuff when the stuff becomes the end rather than the means.

I begin to wonder whether any smart, self-respecting person would (or should, for that matter) consider running for political office. Ironically, there are some denominations and occupations that require people to pass psychological evaluations prior to entering into them. I wonder whether or not the same can be said of elected office. Frankly, I wonder if some who occupy these positions would even be able to pass these evaluations, or if these evaluations would indicate some amount of potential for future corruption that would unravel their worlds.

What is it about political office that has this power and offers this power? It would be naïve of me to think that this power was endemic to political office, it can easily be said to exist with any position where power is duly distributed. It just seems that the corruption that results is more pronounced within the political system.

In some ways, it becomes even more troubling when I see someone who seemed so winsome, likeable, and respected as McDonnell. It’s one thing when a person seems squirrelly or corrupt from the beginning, but when a person seems like an “average Joe” and they succumb to this corruption, it hits closer to home, making me realize just how powerfully one can be brought down with the temptations that seem so prevalent with certain positions.

I’m glad that politics have never been a draw for me. There are some who feel that being part of a pastor’s family means living under a microscope and feeling constantly scrutinized. Thankfully, my family has never really felt that (I’ve also never been a lead pastor, so that could change should my call lead in that direction someday). I would much rather be part of a pastor’s family than a politician’s family.

My heart breaks for McDonnell, his wife, and his children. I can’t imagine the emotions and feelings that have accompanied this trial and sentencing. Trying to dig out from underneath it to find normalcy may prove to be a daunting task. If good men and women can easily be taken down by the power that takes hold and corrupts, what kind of a system is being propagated and perpetuated by our political system? Is there hope for survival of any with a healthy amount of moral fiber and conviction in a political world that seems so destitute, corrupt, and ruthless?

Open the Gates

2015-01-04 14.56.14Call it the letdown of the holidays. Call it the pent up emotion of the past four years. Call it simple nostalgia working its magic on one who’s a closet sap. Whatever you call it, I have to confess, something happened to me this weekend.

As a child of the 70s, I grew up on vinyl records and 8 track tapes. Vinyl has made a major comeback, but 8 tracks met their demise and haven’t reared their ugly heads since. Not sure who thought of that technology to begin with, but listening to 2 songs at once (unintentionally) was probably not the best end result for what they had expected.

I grew up in a split level house, meaning you come into the front door and can either go upstairs or downstairs. Up the stairs was the living room, an open and spacious room with cathedral ceilings. The faux beams on the ceiling were actually made from Styrofoam, at least that’s what I think they were made of.

A lot happened in that room. As big as it was, it’s a bit ironic that the Christmas tree my parents chose for there was a three foot fake, plastic tree which sat upon a cedar chest that held quilts, blankets, and a sundry of other stuff.

The piano that I grew up playing was in that room, decorated with little nic nacs and ornaments that my mom had acquired over the years. It was still in pristine shape when my parents got rid of it. In all of the 36 years that my parents were in that house, I think they only were on the third generation of furniture in that room. If my mom had had her way, she would probably have had the original furniture; that would have meant she had taken care of it well enough that it didn’t wear out.

In the corner, by the railing next to the drop off that led to the front door, was the stereo. I only remember 2 or 3 of those as well. Mom didn’t like to part with things, not because she grew attached to them, but simply because she was a child of the Depression who cared for things as if you could never replace them. In fact, her family probably never had the money to even consider replacing some of the extraneous stuff that people acquire.

The stereo wasn’t anything special, not even a brand name that I can recall, maybe a Soundesign or something like that. The stereo wasn’t so much the point as was the music that was played upon it. I remember a lot of Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and the Carpenters. There were some Christian records by family friends and some obscure performers of the 70s.

I remember so much about sitting in that room, taking in the sounds that Mom would play on that stereo until I began to find some sounds of my own. I remember Christmas mornings with Evie’s “Come On, Ring Those Bells” playing in the background. I remember rainy days and Mondays when I would listen to Karen Carpenter sing about those very two things. When I was homesick in college, I asked Mom to send me a tape of the Carpenters. I think the snap, crackle, and pop of the record’s recording was enough to assuage my aching heart.

Over the years I’ve maintained a healthy little collection of records, nothing compared to the 2000 plus CDs that I have, but enough to not give up hope that I would one day have a turntable upon which to spin these records again.

Through 3 states and nearly 14 years, I’ve carried these records and turntables. Not exactly the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness into the Promised Land, but a journey nonetheless.

While visiting family in Connecticut, my wife discovered some of the record albums from her own childhood and all of a sudden, the impetus to find out how to make this happen became greater for me. I’d put it off before, maybe thinking that my wife wouldn’t be as supportive of the idea. Maybe, now that she had her own little store of nostalgia, she would be more supportive than I thought.

I took to the internet to do what cheapskates like me do best: find a deal!

And find a deal I did.

Just like those credit card commercials from a few years ago, what I found was priceless. Sure, there was a dollar amount associated with the receiver that I bought from a friend, but it was almost like I had purchased a time machine. Just call me “Marty McFly!”

Instantly, I was transported back to that living room, hearing the same sounds. I was fairly unprepared for just how it would hit me. Tears were coming to my eyes and it was hard for me to really understand why. Like I said at the beginning, you might just call it the culmination of the last few years and the last few weeks. The holidays can have that kind of nostalgic affect on me.

So, there I sat, in my own version of a Man Cave, listening to vinyl on my “new” record player and receiver. I couldn’t just do it randomly though. What good DJ (or former DJ) would ever consider randomly picking albums to play.

At first, it was only one song at a time:

Steve Winwood’s “When You See a Chance”

Star Wars “Main Title Theme” (at the request of my middle child)

But then, I had to listen to whole sides:

Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisted” Side 1 (to which my middle child announced to his friend, “This is Bob Dylan” [this writer wipes tear from eye]

Dan Fogelberg’s “Souvenirs” Side 1

Petra’s “Washes Whiter Than” Side 2

And so began my journey into further nostalgia. Here’s to more Sunday afternoons listening to those snaps, crackles, and pops!