Ten Years in the Same Place

Gibsons Pentagon 2008 editToday marks my ten year anniversary in Virginia. Like so many anniversaries, I can’t believe that it’s been that long because it doesn’t seem as if a full decade has gone by since we moved here.

At the same time, as I look back over the past ten years, more has happened than I could have ever imagined. If someone had told me ten years ago all that would transpire in the years to follow, I think that I may have tried to alter the future in whatever means possible.

In these 10 years, the following has occurred:

– I started and finished my Master’s of Divinity

– My wife and I had another son

– My wife and I had a daughter

– My mom died after a six month battle with cancer

– My dad died twenty-one months after my mother

– I was involved with a difficult church transition

– I transferred my ordination into the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church)

Those are just the big picture highlights. If I really stopped to document everything, it would be a bit overwhelming.

I’m certainly not the person that I was when I arrived here ten years ago. I have been given the gift of a whole lot of people who have taken time and invested in me. I have been blessed with great friends, great neighbors, great co-workers, and a great church family.

I’ve not always done things well or right, but I am grateful for the grace shown to me by God and by so many others. I’m glad that people did not let their first impression of me drive them completely away. I’m grateful for second chances.

I need to be honest and say that I’ve felt a rumbling within me lately. I’m not sure for what though. The only thing that I can say is that it’s for whatever is next. Something is waiting right around the corner, and I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about what it could be. I don’t want to move from where I am, physically at least. I feel like I have invested much and I’m just beginning to see some of the fruit of the investments and labor.

I’m not sure how much more patience I’ve gained in the last ten years. If anything, my patience has grown a little as my understanding has grown a lot. That’s kind of humbling because my understanding is still not nearly what I think it should be. But it’s in the journey that we are changed and transformed. Change and transformation takes longer in some of us than in others.

In the words of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I’m grateful for all the people who have come across my path over these last ten years especially,. I’m expectant to see what happens over the next ten years.

 

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Listen to the Voice of Experience

u2 songs of experienceU2 has been doing what they do for a long time. Now they’ve finally released their follow-up to 2014’s Songs of Innocence with their 14th studio album Songs of Experience.

To be honest, I previewed it online and thought, “Meh!” In those brief excerpts, my first impression was not very favorable, there was nothing that grabbed me, nothing that stood out and said, “You need to listen to this!” But it’s U2! This is the band that has reinvented itself over and over again and I can’t think of a better name for this latest offering of theirs than Songs of Experience.

I remember the Fall of my freshman year of college when Achtung Baby came out. It was a little hard to take at first. It seemed like such a leap from The Joshua Tree that I wasn’t completely convinced. As much as I can be a change junkie, more often than not, I can be a creature of habit who loves the comfort of those warm and familiar things, like a band who knows how to ride a winning formula.

But I listened to it, then I listened to it again, and I kept listening to it over and over again. In fact, between Achtung Baby and Metallica’s black album, the sonic world of my first semester of college was filled. I could have been complete with just those two albums alone (but there was more).

Songs of Experience, like its predecessor was an album that needed repeat listening for me. I wasn’t fully convinced. As I listened, I was reminded of a scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus. The main character has just been told by his wife that she is pregnant. He is imagining all of his dreams drifting out the window with this sudden change in his life. His wife is upset at his less than enthusiastic response to this news. After a moment, he recounts the story of his introduction to John Coltrane after a recommendation from the guy at the record store. After his initial listening, he hated the album, but he listened to it again. Then he listened to it again and again and again until he couldn’t stop. In that moment he realized that he had fallen in love with the music of John Coltrane. He tells his wife that learning about her pregnancy will be like falling in love with John Coltrane all over again.

I kind of feel like this is a similar experience with U2. Listening to this album, I mean really listening to it and digesting it, picking it apart, spending time with it, wallowing in it, and hearing every word and every note. It is like falling in love with U2 all over again.

Bono was involved in a bicycle accident in 2014. After the accident, he embraced the challenge shared by poet, Brendan Kennelly, that if you really want to get to the heart of writing, you need to write as if you’re dead, writing retrospectively and introspectively. When you factor that in with the political landscape after the election of Donald Trump and the consideration that U2 recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of their album The Joshua Tree, Songs of Experience feels almost like an honest and reflective journal entry.  This album is an intimate and introspective exploration, asking more questions than offering answers. It doesn’t feel preachy, which I think Bono has been accused of in the past, it feels more like advice offered from the experience of mistakes and even regret.

Like the album cover from their last offering, this one offers a more intimate connection to the band. The cover of their last album, Songs of Innocence, showed the band’s drummer, Larry Mullen, Jr., hugging his shirtless son around the waist as if he was pleading with him not to leave his innocence behind. The cover of Songs of Experience depicts Bono’s son and Edge’s daughter (the latter donning the soldier helmet from their Best of 1980-1990 album). They stand there on the cover barefoot, hand in hand, dressed in black. It’s almost a paradox in a picture, the juxtaposition of youth and experience shrouded in black as if they are marking the death of something. Ready for the battle with life that is ahead of them.

The songs:

– “Love Is All We Have Left” – Bono sings, “Love is all we have left” to begin the album. It acts as a Call to Worship of sorts, inviting the listener into the liturgy of the next hour as U2 engages them with their thoughts on the state of things. The double negative that, “this is no time not to be alive.” Defiance against improbable odds, against death itself, love will carry us.

– “Lights of Home” – “I shouldn’t be here ‘cause I should be dead” referring to his bike accident that sidelined him; asking Jesus if he’s still his friend; launches right into this uptown, driving song. “I believe my best days are ahead.” It ends with Bono singing, “Free yourself to be yourself.” A reminder of where we can go to find hope, in the eyes of those we love, there we find the hope to push on. We move forward as we remember where we’ve been.

– “You’re the Best Thing About Me” – Bono makes reference to not only the band’s past album, “Boy,” but also himself as he explains more of the album’s title, saying that he is no longer who he used to be. Paying homage to those around him who have helped him become who he is today, those whom he loves and who have loved him. It’s a humble statement of acknowledgement that we become better by the people with whom we surround ourselves.

– “Get Out of Your Own Way” – Listening to the interview that Bono and The Edge did with Howard Stern, Bono talks about how he wrote this song for his daughter. It’s a love letter from a father who is offering words of wisdom as much to himself as he is to his daughter. He is offering to her from his own experience. The end transitions into “American Soul” with words that play on the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the arrogant, the superstars, the filthy rich. Tongue firmly planted in cheek.

– “American Soul” – “Blessed are the bullies for one day they’ll have to stand up to themselves. Blessed are the liars for the truth can be awkward.” This song continues where the previous one left off with the alternative Beatitudes. Appropriate considering who this song is to: America. This could easily have come from All That You Can’t Leave Behind or How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Bono says this is a love letter to America who is. “still inventing and reinventing itself.” It feels like he is lamenting what America has become, painting a picture of what it was, at least in his mind. It’s a sound of drum and bass, a though that offers grace, a dream the whole world owns, it’s not a fantasy but a call to action. America is rock and roll. Having lived through the political turmoil in Ireland, this is not just facsimile, this is personal.

– “Summer of Love” – With the subtle nod to the 60s and even The Beach Boys, it seems that Bono is using slight of hand even as he sings, “I’ve been thinking ‘bout the west coast, not the one that everyone knows.” It’s a nod to the Syrian refugees who were leaving everything behind and believing, hoping, that their best days were ahead of them, something Bono wishes for himself elsewhere on this album. “When all is lost we find out what remains.” It feels a little like a sequel to “Walk On” when he sang of all that you can’t leave behind and then proceeded to encourage his listener to leave it behind.

– “Red Flag Day” – This one feels a little like early U2, like Boy and October, especially on the chorus with the backing vocals repeating “Red flag day.” The Edge’s guitar has that post-punk feel to it just like their early stuff. It speaks of the turbulence and uncertainty of where we are going. Meeting where the waves are breaking, that place that feels at one moment calm and safe and the next it knocks you off your feet. But we’re doing it together, we aren’t alone, and we step into it doing our best to not let fear drive us, or our fear of fear hold us back. Inspiring and encouraging himself as much as he is the one to whom he is writing.

– “The Showman (Little More Better)” – What’s it like to get up in front of thousands upon thousands of people and bear your soul? A love letter to anyone who falls for a performer, Bono and U2 included. He admits that you probably shouldn’t listen to performers when they aren’t singing. After all, “I lie for a living, I love to let on but you make it true when you sing along.” It’s cheeky but it’s the audience that makes him look a little more better rather than just a pompous and egotistic artist.

– “The Little Things That Give You Away” – “It’s the little things that give you away, your big mouth in the way.” A confession of sorts, that sometimes I’m full of anger, grieving, far from believing and realizing that the end us not near, it’s here. But he never stays there, it’s only sometimes, it’s temporary, but it happens nonetheless.

– “Landlady” – A love letter to his wife, Ali, Bono writes of how he is better with her. In his effort to avoid too much sentimentality, his terminology may be lost. I’m not sure what wife would like to be called a landlady considering that most people’s experience with landladies (or lords) have probably not been the most favorable. I get what he’s saying though, she’s kept him stable and sheltered, especially in those moments of instability.

– “The Blackout” – As soon as the bass kicks in with the drums in the beginning of this song, it feels almost like you’ve stepped back in time. This one feels like it could have come straight from Pop or Zooropa. It’s a political statement about where we are. With lines like, “Democracy is flat on its back” and, “A big mouth says the people they don’t want to be free” Bono is calling his listeners to adjust their eyes to the darkness, to begin to see. In that adjustment, things become clearer. As Bono writes, “It’s in the dark is where we really see ourselves, where we find out who we are, when we’re left with nothing.”

– “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” – It’s safe to say that love seems to be not only one of the biggest topics on this album but in U2’s entire catalogue. Again sharing his own experience with the next generation, assuring them that, “If I could I would come too, but the path is made by you.” These songs are letters to sons and daughters, as Bono admits, telling them to lean into love. Love will propel you, even acting as a bulldozer, strongly moving everything and anything that gets in its way. Idealistic? Yes. Hopeful? Even more so!

– “13 “There Is A Light)” – This is where the regular version of the album ends and it acts as a Benediction, closing the album in a very similar way that it was opened. It completes the liturgy with the admission that it is a song for someone like him. There is hope, you might not see it, but it is there. Things may not turn out the way that you thought they would, but you don’t let the light go out just because you encounter the darkness. Keep pressing on with love because love makes the difference.

The Deluxe Edition:

– “Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix)” – This is from the film Mandela: Walk of Freedom. It was a film about a man who showed his ability to endure, to fight, to walk in the ordinary of the day. Mandela showed his ability to walk in this ordinary love, especially having been imprisoned for 27 years. Can you handle the day in and day out of love, the common ordinary occurrences that happen after the honeymoon? Bono asks the question of himself, of those he loves. Are we tough enough? As an extra track, this fits well.

– “Book of Your Heart” – The experience of marriage, moving beyond just the vows and the contract. “There is a cost to the pledges made in young love but in the end the cost is never high enough, is it?” Bono asks. In an age and era where commitment means little, where marriage seems to be as expendable as a commitment to brand loyalty, this offers hope that in the mundane of life, things can still be sustained even if it’s not easy.

– “Lights of Home (St. Peter’s String Version)” – The addition of strings.

– “You’re The Best Thing About Me (U2 VS KYGO)” – Nice remix.

Bono writes towards the end of the liner notes, “I wanted to take my skin off. Performing is always a striptease but in writing you uncover stuff you didn’t know you were wearing.” He continues, “At the far end of experience, through wisdom, we hope to recover innocence.” Here is a man who is self-aware. Listening to the interview with Howard Stern, Bono expresses his dissatisfaction with his singing in some of the best music U2 has had to offer. While some may be sick of the swag with which Bono carries himself, he never seems to come across as self-righteous, at least to me, and these songs reveal a man who has come to a midway point in his life. He is looking behind and looking ahead and sharing his humble gleanings.

After my countless listening of Songs of Experience, I feel more connected to these recordings than I did with my initial listening. Isn’t that the way of relationship, though? We dig intimately deeper into another human being, we expose ourselves, revealing the good with the bad, the beautiful with the raw, and we connect.

In a world where connection seems to be confused with something that we can do digitally, I’m glad that U2 has embraced the idea of pulling songs together with cohesion and intentionality rather than simply seeking out a hit. This is a record that invites multiple listening. As someone who doesn’t always impress or astound in my initial meetings and encounters with people, I’m grateful for the grace of those 2nd and 3rd meetings and encounters. That same grace should be extended to these songs. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Wounds Are Where Light Enters – A Book Review

Wounds Are Where Light EntersWalter Wangerin’s newest book “Wounds Are Where Light Enters” contains personal stories. He shares stories about his family, his childhood, his ministry, and so much more. Wangerin seems to be an artist as much as a writer. Of course, some don’t see the two as mutually exclusive anyway, but Wangerin tells his stories with inspiration and appeal.

This book is full of stories that run the gamut. Some will warm your heart and others will break your heart. Wangerin writes of a widower who has holed himself in his house with little to no contact to the outside world. He writes of his experience as a pastor in an urban setting where a self-appointed neighborhood watch dog questioned him, “Why you walkin’ my streets?” Wangerin had to convince the watch dog that he was indeed a pastor of the church down the street.

Wangerin tells the story of Diane who was sexually abused by her father. It’s one of the stories in this book that kept me riveted and broke my heart at the same time. Wangerin has a way of drawing his reader in, making them part of the story as he tells it from his vantage point. His ability to translate emotion and communicate in a way that connects and moves his read is impressive.

He tells the story of Junie Piper whom he visits in prison. After numerous visits where it doesn’t seem as if Wangerin is getting through to him, he receives a collect phone call. On the other end of that phone call is Piper who simply says, “I love you” to Wangerin. After hanging up the phone, Wangerin wept and knew that he had encountered Jesus in that man.

If someone were to ask me what this book was about or how to categorize it, I would have a hard time. Wisdom literature is probably what I would say, my best descriptor. But it felt like so much more than that. It was inspiration. It was wisdom. It was conviction. It was preaching. It was evangelizing. It was all of these things and more, in the best way possible.

Wangerin doesn’t convey a distorted image of himself, only showing the good. He is honest and transparent, even about his faults and mistakes. Some of the stories he shares about his own parenting were, to me, among the most powerful in this book considering the stage of life in which I find myself. Knowing that others have gone before me and made similar mistakes to my own is a comfort.

While I had heard of Walter Wangerin, Jr. before, this was the first of his books that I read. I’ve had his books “The Book of God” and “The Book of the Dun Cow” for about a year. I expect that they will be moved to the top of my reading pile now that I’ve experienced him as a writer.

If you want inspiration and stories with heart, consider “Wounds Are Where Light Enters.”

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

Passing Hope

Monday 12.04James Taylor famously quipped, “The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.” Much better to enjoy the passing of time than regretting it, I guess.

I go through seasons of reflection and introspection, sometimes it’s dependent on circumstances, other times it’s dependent on the literal seasons of the year. It seems that the approach of the Christmas season makes me notoriously reflective. It hasn’t hurt that I’ve experienced some loss recently as well as observed the losses of others all around me.

Entering into the Advent season, I’ve never been a traditionalist in the sense that the four themes of Advent always seem to get jumbled in my mind. Part of that might be my aversion to be told what to do while the bigger part of it may very well be my own affinity for falling into repetitive traps that suck the significance and meaning out of seemingly poignant experiences and traditions.

Hope. Joy. Peace. Love.

While I’ve avoided the prescriptive approach to these themes, my preparation this year has me second-guessing that approach, or anti-approach. It seems to me that hope is the logical and, dare I say, perfectly appropriate theme to begin Advent.

It’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to lean on false hope. Finding hope with staying power is more elusive and difficult. Where the people of God were at the time of the birth of Christ was a place of desperation, where hope had become elusive, maybe even completely lost and abandoned. The silence of God has a way of doing that to us, removing our hope.

But I learned a new word last week, a word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien years ago called eucatastrophe. It’s defined as a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending. I wonder if the significance and poignancy of a eucatastrophe is made greater based on the length of time that has built up before it finally arrives.

If the eucatastrophe Jesus’ first arrival on Earth was significant after God’s centuries of silence, I can’t help but wonder how much more significant Jesus’ return will be after God’s millennia of silence.

But hope is found before the eucatastrophe ever comes. In fact, hope builds in the anticipation and the waiting for the resolution and the happy ending. Without that building anticipation, hope can’t exist. Without the tension of conflict and the longing for anticipation, hope cannot exist.

Ironically, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” The why of our lives gives us hope we need to endure the how of our lives. Hope propels us, it sustains us, but it’s not just any hope, it needs to be permanent hope, long-lasting hope, everlasting hope.

So, that’s the question that I pose as I enter into this season of Advent. Where do I find hope? Where am I looking for hope?

I know that I need hope but I fear that my impatience for it can drive me to settle for cheap alternatives and substitutes. Hope can sustain us through our impatience but it can also be diminished if our impatience gets the better of us.

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating, of hope, joy, peace, and love. As I enter into it, my prayer is that my desire for resolution will not be too quickly quenched by cheap alternatives of hope but that instead, I find hope in the one place that this season is really all about.

 

Why I Didn’t Rebel – A Book Review

why i didn't rebelA good percentage of Christian parents wonder what will happen once their children grow up and leave the house. Some of them worry that regardless of how well they have done in raising their children, there is the inevitability of rebellion of some kind or another. Is it as inevitable as some parents think? Is this kind of defeatist mentality destined to become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Can rebellion be avoided?

Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach addresses these questions and more in her book, “Why I Didn’t Rebel.” As a young adult who has managed to avoid rebellion, she writes from her own experience and shares not only that experience but the experiences of others, both good and bad. Lindenbach mixes her experiences, the experiences of others, and the insights of some professionals as well as she tries to disprove that rebellion is as inevitable as many have made it out to be.

From the start, Lindenbach defines rebellion as not necessarily rebellion against parents or earthly authority but against God. She says that questioning authority is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s where that questioning leads people that’s important. In her own experience, that questioning led her to come to her own conclusions in a healthy and constructive manner.

Much of what Lindenbach shares in “Why I Didn’t Rebel” is about contrasts. She shares some extreme cases that have resulted in wayward children. When rules are embraced over reasons, children have rebelled. Reasons encourage growth and personal responsibility versus rules simply mandating behavior. This kind of behavior management is about performance rather than heart.

Lindenbach shares that communication is essential as well. Opening lines of communication between parents and children is essential. The intention of that communication needs to be about getting to know your children rather than simply getting information from them. When parents create space for their kids to share openly without fear of repercussion, the likelihood of rebellion was diminished.

Healthy and reasonable expectation setting was also important to Lindenbach and many of those whose experiences she shares. A willingness of parents to admit not only their own faults and imperfections but also the faults and imperfections of their children was important to avoid rebellion. Parents who had unreasonable expectations for their children would often raise children whose own self-awareness was so skewed that rebellion seemed inevitable as well.

It’s hard to refute the logical way that Lindenbach shares her information. Multiple times while reading “Why I Didn’t Rebel” I felt as if she was oversimplifying things. After all, Lindenbach is writing from her own experience of being raised as a child, not from raising children of her own. It’s easy to retrospectively look back and speculate on the reasons and rationale for why a child turned out the way that they did. It’s a completely different thing to speak from the experience of having raised children who didn’t rebel.

It would have added a different perspective to this book had Lindenbach’s own parents offered some insights along the way. Although her mom is an author and blogger herself, she shares no insights in the book. While Lindenbach may have avoided adding her mom’s voice in order to establish herself, I think her mom’s voice may have added validity to the opinions and views that she shares throughout this book.

That’s not to say that “Why I Didn’t Rebel” isn’t worth the read. I thought it was worth the read. Lindenbach’s voice is not the only one shared here, as mentioned before. She offers insights from others who have and who have not rebelled. She also offers the insights from psychologists and others who had a professional perspective.

A lot of what Lindenbach shares in “Why I Didn’t Rebel” aligns with the research done by the Fuller Youth Institute that led to the Sticky Faith movement. That bodes well for “Why I Didn’t Rebel.” In some ways, “Why I Didn’t Rebel” felt like a more organic version of “Sticky Faith.”

For anyone seeking to steer around the rebellion that may seem inevitable for their children, “Why I Didn’t Rebel” is worth the read. Lindenbach does adequate research and presents enough practical experience of her own and her peers to prove that rebellion may be much more avoidable than they have believed.

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

Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?

Capital Gaines – A Book Review

capital gainesChip Gaines is one half of the husband and wife team starring in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. For anyone who has seen the show before, the personalities of both Chip and his wife, Joanna, are on full display. Joanna is the calculating, strategic, and organized one while Chip has more of a tendency to fly by the seat of his pants. The combination of their personalities has led to the success of their business and their show, Fixer Upper.

In Capital Gaines, Chip gives his reader a window into who he is and shares some of how he’s become the person that he is today. Gaines shares his successes and his failures. He’s incredibly honest about his shortcomings and shares times when things could have gone significantly different than they did.

He tells of the origin of the wishbone scar on his forehead and how the event that caused it changed him and the decisions that he made for the future. He tells of the significant people who have shaped and formed his way of thinking, his work ethic, and his overall outlook on life. All the while he reminds the reader that he doesn’t believe in accidents, seeing God’s hand in many of the situations that he has experienced in his life.

Gaines highlights some of the differences between him and his wife, Joanna. His love for her and his family is especially evident throughout this book. In fact, towards the end of the book, he shares that he and Joanna are calling it quits with their show, Fixer Upper, after the fifth season. They want to spend more time devoted to their family, something I see as admirable.

As Chip Gaines shares the stories of his life and experience, he gives the reader the sense that he’s someone they could easily befriend. You almost feel as if you’re sitting on the porch of his Waco, Texas farm, sharing a beer or two with him as he spins his tales.

It’s easy to get a glimpse of Chip Gaines on Fixer Upper and imagine that he’s just the joker/cut-up of a guy who’s always looking for a laugh and who hardly takes himself or anyone else too seriously. While that’s a part of who he is, the wisdom that he shares throughout this book far exceeds what would be expected of the “class clown.” I particularly appreciated his chapter on creating a “team of rivals” as well as the chapter on being the “runway” for people who you lead and train.

Considering the political climate of the United States, Gaines’ chapter on creating a team of rivals should be required for anyone who runs for political office, who posts on social media, and who basically has any kind of interaction with another human being on a regular basis. He vies for working side by side rather than limiting our conversations to Twitter and other social media, for it’s there that we get to know each other and understand each other better. He shares that, “There is no chance for any of us to see eye to eye if we are unwilling to even look in each other’s direction.” He goes so far as to say that the broad and oversimplified strokes with which we paint perfect stranger is just plain ignorant. If people could stop and take to heart most of what he’s written here, I think we’d be a whole lot better off.

Gaines also shares about those who have acted as “runways” in his life, training him up and being examples of hard work for him. His desire is to be the same for everyone else in his life. He shares stories of training up employees through baptism of fire, saying that their learning will be far more significant and permanent because they had to figure things out for themselves rather than having him walk them through things one step at a time.

It took me a day to read this book. It was a fast and easy read, but so well worth it. Chip Gaines seems like an all around fun guy to hang around and definitely someone that you would want in your corner to challenge you, train you, and encourage you. The depth of who he is as a person comes through in Capital Gaines, he can go from making you laugh to challenging your way of thinking in his winsome and delightful manner.

If you want to understand Chip Gaines a little more than you can by simply watching Fixer Upper, pick up a copy of this book. You won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time at all, and you might just learn something from the insights that Gaines has shared here.

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

Killing Spiders

kill the spiderWhat happens when we know that something is wrong in our life, something that needs change? We see the evidence of it throughout our lives, in our habits, in our relationships, in the nuances of how we go about living day to day. We begin to clean up the evidence of what’s wrong and never really go to find the source of it. It’s like a spider, we see the spider webs throughout the house, we clean the webs in order to make the house look tidy again, but that doesn’t remedy the problem. If we really want to get rid of the spider webs for good, we’ve got to kill the spider; otherwise, we’re just doing cursory work.

In his book, “Kill the Spider,” Carlos Whittaker tells his own story of getting to the heart of the issues that he faced in his life. His marriage was falling apart, he was losing his family, and he realized that he wasn’t fully convinced of the convictions upon which he had staked his life. He needed to find, identify, and kill the spider that was wreaking havoc on his life.

“Kill the Spider” is an autobiographical wisdom book. Whittaker shares his story with raw and deep details. He holds back on revealing everything, but it’s hard to read this book without feeling his feelings, thinking his thoughts, and perhaps even finding yourself identifying similar experiences in your own life. What Whittaker doesn’t capture with literary eloquence or powerful prose he makes up for with intense and reflective sharing of what he went through.

Whittaker journals his experience of losing his faith and finding it again in a week-long intense counseling retreat. He offers his insights into how he was able to push past the cobwebs and do the hard work of identifying the spider that was ruining his life. He never claims that answers are simple, easy, or quick. The old adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” proves true here when considering the amount of time it took Whittaker to get to the place from which he couldn’t escape on his own. In fact, he points out, although he was able to come to grips with the reality of identifying his spider, he wasn’t able to kill it on his own. The only one who could was Jesus.

Whittaker is no theologian, just a simple storyteller. This book is just the chronicle of someone who hits rock bottom and discovers an approach to getting back to the top again. Whittaker shares helpful insights from the Bible and even shares prayers that have been helpful for him. Whittaker was not able to come to grips with the heart of his problem until he was willing to get real and honest with himself. He shares the steps that brought him to that place.

“Kill the Spider” was a fast read. I finished it in just a few days. Whittaker’s ability to tell a story drew me back to the book and I found myself wanting to know just how he came out of the pit in which he found himself. Some might not appreciate the rawness with which Whittaker shares in the book. His cursing was most likely used to emphasize just how low he found himself and how raw he had become, and although they did not deter me, there are some who will close the book when they read those words.

If you’ve been struggling in your life to get to the heart of the things that have been bringing you down, “Kill the Spider” may be a helpful book for you. The way that Whittaker crafts and tells his story alone is a compelling enough reason to pick up this book and read it.

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

Who’s in your tree?

kids in a treeAt a retreat that I am attending for the next few days, one of the presenters asked a question that stirred something within me. He asked, “Who’s in your tree?” By that, he means, who are your friends, who is encouraging you?

So many pastors and church planters have little to no friends. Some of it has to do with trust while part of it also has to do with time. Our society as a whole doesn’t do well in seeking to create margin in our lives, pastors can be equal opportunity culprits of this as well.

After being asked the question and then reflecting on it, I was so incredibly blessed that I didn’t have to think too hard to name the exact people who are in my tree. There are two specific friends who I have known for about half of my life. Although we don’t see each other regularly, we keep in touch via phone and text. I know that they are always there and available for me should I need them in a moment’s notice. I’m pretty sure that they could say the same thing about me.

Beyond those two, I have a few other friends who I feel equally confident about. We don’t have any regularly scheduled connection point (although, maybe we should), but I know that they have my back and they know I’ve got their back. We are there for each other.

Life can be isolating at times, busy schedules for myself and for my family can easily crowd out time for soul care and emotional nurturing. I realized during my sabbatical last year how important Sabbath rest and recharge is for my life. I know that I need to fiercely guard it, even from people who I care about. Those times make me better for the times that I am “On” for everyone around me.

I’m grateful to have a tree that’s full. Even in pondering the question, I realized that although I’ve got people who have got my back, I need to figure out a way to be more intentional and regular with them. Chances are, if I’m feeling the pull to create those connections that they are as well.

Choosing Donald Trump by Stephen Mansfield

choosing donald trumpAlthough I am a white male who considers himself to be an evangelical, I did not count myself among the 81% of white evangelicals in America who voted for Donald Trump. In the months leading up to the election and the months immediately following it, I have read and heard the vitriolic remarks and comments of my brothers and sisters who also found themselves at odds with this 81% of the evangelical world.

Although I did not cast my vote for Donald Trump, I was sympathetic towards those who felt trapped, stuck even, at the choices that they were given in the 2016 election. So often, I heard people express the old adage to “pick your poison” as they were not thrilled or even moderately content with any of the choices that had been laid out for them in the voting booth for this election.

When I was given the opportunity to read and review Stephen Mansfield’s latest book, “Choosing Donald Trump,” I was reluctant. The last thing that I wanted to read was an apologetic as to why Donald Trump was the right man for the job, or even worse, “God’s man” for the job.

But that was not the intent of Mansfield in writing this book. In fact, he writes with intent to come up with answers for himself, to have a better understanding of why such a large portion of evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump. In the introduction of the book, he says that the book is not a biography or an electoral history. He writes, “It is instead about the faith that has shaped Donald Trump, about the religious factors that played a role in his election, about what religious conservatives have risked in supporting Donald Trump, and about what religion may mean in a Trump administration.” He goes on to say that the Trump presidency may be “among the most religiously decisive in American history.”

Although Mansfield claims this book isn’t a biography, he gives enough of a picture into Donald Trump’s background that the early part of the book feels like it is. As I read about his upbringing, his family history, and all that he went through, I found myself having compassion for this loud-mouthed, unorthodox president. Over and over again, I found myself nodding my head, not in agreement but in understanding, as the puzzle pieces began to take shape to show the picture of the man that Donald Trump is today.

Mansfield walks through the connections that Donald Trump had with pastors such as Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White. He spoke to the fears and frustration that existed within so many conservative evangelicals in the United States and their discontent with the direction of the country over the eight years of the Obama administration. As he described the background of Donald Trump, the two defining terms that he used for him, coming straight from Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, were “king” and “killer.” Everything that Donald Trump stepped into was stepped into with one intent: to win.

It was that ruthless, cutthroat passion for winning that drew so many to Donald Trump, especially considering that they had been losing for so many years before the election of 2016. Even though the morality and ethics of Donald Trump were questionable, even standing in opposition to their own, “The would support even a man life Donald Trump if it meant reclaiming their country.”

Mansfield also spends a chapter each on two of Trump’s adversaries, Obama and Clinton. Here again, he uses the country’s experience of both of these to explain why so many who voted for Trump were led there. In matters of faith, Obama was inconsistent and Clinton was unclear. Mansfield gives examples of both and shows why so many felt that another 4 or 8 years in the hands of a liberal president would just be more of the same from the perspective of religious rights and freedom.

Mansfield does not promote the stance to support Trump out of fear and worry, he simply unearths it through his interviews and research. His own views may be expressed better in his chapters on the art of prophetic distance, of which there are two. Through the experiences of Billy Graham and some of his early mistakes with politicians as well as the apprehensive stance of pastors like Paul Marc Goulet of the International Church of Las Vegas, Mansfield explains the need for clergy to maintain a prophetic distance between themselves and every politician. While many have seen Trump as another example of the biblical King Cyrus, an immoral man used by God, aligning one’s self with someone of the like is not a favorable approach.

Mansfield ends his book with an appendix called “Donald Trump In His Own Words.” Within this appendix are the transcripts of two speeches that Trump gave, one at the National Prayer Breakfast shortly after taking office and one at Great Faith Ministries Church in Detroit, Michigan two months before the election. Mansfield’s aim in providing the reader with the entire transcript of these speeches is for the reader to read for himself the words that Trump spoke. Too often, we hear only soundbites on the news, these transcripts give the reader the opportunity to read the entirety of Trump’s words.

“Choosing Donald Trump” may not appeal to everyone. There are some who have already made up their minds about Donald Trump and had their minds made up even before he took office. There are others who may still be struggling to understand just how so many white evangelicals with high moral and ethical standards could choose a man like Donald Trump. Regardless of where you are coming from, “Choosing Donald Trump” is a worthwhile read if you are seeking to understand a little bit more about the man, Donald Trump, and a little bit more as to why so many felt he was the best candidate to take the Oval Office.

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