My Mother, the Singer

Come to think of it, my mother is a singer. I never thought of her as such since she is not a performer. She never sang solo (that I recall) nor ever sang the special music in church. But I have many memories of Mama singing.

She sang to me at bedtime. I recall her belting out Amazing Grace or Victory in Jesus, two hymns I’d frequently request. The other nighttime staple was I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded. Apparently, the connection between the last two songs is blood: Jesus’ redeeming blood and the carnage caused by that oh-so-innocent Miss Effie. Well, she got what was coming to her.

I understand why she sang the hymns to me—for the same reason I sing Amazing Grace, Abide With Me, Holy Holy Holy, and A Mighty Fortress is our God with my children. Hymns are perfectly designed to transmit the great truths of the faith, especially to children. As an adult I am thankful for a collection of songs that exalt God, the kind of songs we sang over and over, the kind of songs I’ll still sing in fifty years, the king of songs that are suited for a deathbed. Hymns remind us of the permanent things. Mama taught me these as she tucked me in at night.

I’m not quite sure I understand why she sang me the song about Miss Effie’s capricious shooting habits, though I suspect it was for the same reason that my son sometimes goes around the house singing White Lightning by George Jones. Why do I sing a song about bootleg moonshine to my young children? Well, because my mama sang to me about murder, and apples, as they say, don’t fall far from trees. Besides, these songs are fun and lighthearted, and Mama has always been fun and lighthearted. That’s why she sang so much.

We spent a fair amount of time in the car as kids going to and from school, making grocery store runs, attending other activities, and all that. Mama always played music and sang along. I specifically remember her playing Wilson Phillips (Hold On), Michael W. Smith (Friends are Friends Forever, Go West Young Man), and Amy Grant (Baby, Baby). I have vague memories of Vince Gill, but I’m unsure if that is because we listened to his music or because Mom was mad at him for the Amy Grant affair. Later, she moved on to an obsession with Toby Keith until he got too vulgar for her taste, before finally settling in as a Taylor Swift fangirl. She even has a T-Swift hoodie.

I don’t say we share a taste in music—you won’t find Swift on my playlist anywhere—but we do share a taste for music, and I, like my mother, love to sing, but will never perform, as I have a face made for radio and a voice made for books. Nevertheless, like my mother, I am always singing around the house and I present as evidence of my eclectic preferences the music scraps my children occasionally blurt out: Hit me with your best shot (da nuh da nuh), Oh, give me what I want, what I really really want, If you want it, you can have it.

Apparently, these are the songs I sing when playing cards, another thing Mama taught me to do, again, because it is fun. As a family we made up songs to go along with card playing, including one to jinx—or as Mom would say, to “put the wammy on”—whoever was leading in Regression, which is the Baptist name for the card game Oh Hell! (we Baptists don’t cuss unless a Methodist catches us in the liquor store).

Of course, not everything in life can be fun. Close to twenty years ago Mama’s feet started hurting, and she was later diagnosed with neuropathy. From the best I can tell, neuropathy feels like a thousand tiny mice stabbing you in the feet with two thousand tiny swords, while simultaneously setting your foot on fire like the tiny arsonists they are. If that were not bad enough, Mom is terrified of mice! She rarely gets a good, full night’s sleep because those blasted rodents are nocturnal, and her feet can predict coming rain with more accuracy than any local news Doppler radar—and rain brings pain. As anyone who has missed a night’s sleep can attest, it messes with you. When you miss a couple of decades of nights’ sleep, it really messes with you. Mama has had a number of other health issues that can one way or another be traced back to her feet.

Yet, she still sings.

True singing—not performance art, but true out-of-the-heart-the-mouth-speaketh type singing—is rooted in contentment and gratitude. My mother has a lot she could complain about if whining was her nature. She could be bitter, she could be angry, and she could play Oh Hell! instead of Regression. But she comes from better stock than that (you really should meet my grandmother). She has suffered neuropathy with grace and gratitude. She knows how to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18).

I heard a friend say a while back that contentment is holding your hands open and gladly accepting whatever the Lord puts in them or takes from them. The Apostle Paul said that he learned the secret to being content; he could get through any situation, good or bad, with the strength of Jesus. Not his own strength, but that of Christ. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh and Mama was given a thousand sword-wielding mice. The Word of God to both of them is this:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9

When Jesus is enough for us—his strength, his power, his grace—we are content and thankful. For what do we have that is not a gift? Contented hearts sing. They sing of this grace. Some might even call it Amazing Grace

Mama knows the tune and sings it in the key of G, for gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We love you!


Picking up the blue spoon

This morning, my almost-3-year-old daughter sat at the table in full rebellion against breakfast. After an hour she was eating at a pace of one cocoa puff per five minutes. I was in and out of the room attending to the day’s tasks so it caught be by surprise she had still not finished her breakfast. The bowl of yogurt she had specifically requested (!) remained untouched. I instructed her, warned her, and informed her of the consequences of disobedience.

Though she did not technically disobey—she was eating, albeit one tiny cocoa puff at a time—she was being stubborn. Now, this was not the type of stubbornness that a child picks up from the playground or catches like a nasty cold from someone else’s sick kid. No, this stubbornness is more honest. It is the type that is brewed for ages and passed down for generations. She is, after all, a Burns, and we do Olympic-level stubbornness. One day, when this trait manifests itself as rock-solid steadfastness in the cause of righteousness I will be grateful. But today it was just plain old hard-heartedness. Her ears were heavy. She was playing dress-up as the Lady Folly, refusing to heed the words of Mother Wisdom: eat your breakfast.

My sweet little girl had a command from her father, one which was within her means to do. She had been given a gift (breakfast), a task (to eat), and the tools to accomplish the task (a spoon the color of her choosing: blue). The only thing preventing her finishing breakfast was her stubborn heart. My first response was to match her stubbornness, and to meet it with a demand reinforced by the full weight of the spank spoon. She could do it and, by golly, she was gunna. 

I felt my blood-pressure rise. We were headed for a showdown, and I refuse to lose a showdown (see, I told you she got it honest). But then the Gospel smacked me upside the head, Leroy Jethro Gibbs-style.

I was not relating to my daughter the way my Father relates to me. 

Sure, he gives commands. He also gives gifts, tasks, and tools. In his generosity and kindness he gives me everything I need to obey, yet often I still hard-heartedly disobey. In those moments, the last thing I want is for God to drop the hammer and make me obey. I shudder at the thought of a showdown with God. Instead, my Father meets my resistance with patience. He stoops and gives more grace. Sure, he makes me obey, but he does so by helping me obey. By teaching me to obey. 

So I stooped. I walked over to the table, picked up her spoon, and fed her the yogurt. I helped her obey. No one yelled, no one cried, no one got spanked. She polished off the remaining cocoa puffs and we went happily about our morning. 

The rest of the day I didn’t do anything more important than imitating my Father by picking up that blue spoon. 

Favorite books of 2016

I’m a sucker for end-of-the-year-favorites lists. Yesterday, I gave a sampler of my seven favorite albums I listened to in 2016. Today I offer seven books I enjoyed reading. These books were not all published in 2016, nor are they necessarily the best books I read this year. Rather, for one reason or another, these are the ones I enjoyed or appreciated the most. Except for the first title, they are in no particular order. 

The Supper of the Lamb (Robert Farrah Capon). It might seem odd that a cookbook from the 1960s would be my favorite book of the year. That is, until you read Capon’s culinary reflection. Using one recipe—”lamb for eight persons four times”—as the organizing rubric for the book, Capon goes about his business of cooking up the world for our delight. Like Chesterton, he helps us truly see the world for what it actually is: a great wonder. Capon is funny, poignant, playful, and convicting in a way only an Episcopal-priest-turned-New-York-Times-food-columnist could be. And he has a chapter on cutting an onion that is one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve read. 

“Between the onion and the parsley, therefore, I shall give the summation of my case for paying attention. Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral. Or how much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the inside of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful. I am sure that he was a stalwart enough lover of things to pay no attention at all to her nagging; but how wonderful it would have been if he had known what we know now about his dawdling. He could have silenced her with the greatest riposte of all time: Don’t bother me; I am creating the possibility of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.”

The Things of Earth (Joe Rigney). As someone once described it, this is the book for those who are drawn to John Piper’s vision of Christian Hedonism, but also like their beer and bacon. Rigney shows that those whose minds are set on the things above, where Christ is, are awfully concerned about earthly things—family, vocations, food, play—and rightly so. He helps us see that our enjoyment of God’s good gifts is not cause for low-grade guilt, but actually please the Father. 

“To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, “Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?” Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that someday we may ride bareback, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shinning and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else—since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him.”

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson). Gilead is a long letter from Reverend John Ames, an aging Congregationalist pastor, to his young son. The story is engaging, but the real gift is Robinson’s wordcraft. She develops small town Gilead, Iowa into a character unto itself, and is a master of description. For example,

“There is one photograph of my grandfather around the house somewhere, taken in his old age, that might help you understand why I thought this way. It is a good likeness. It shows a wild-haired, one-eyed, scrawny old fellow with a crooked beard, like a paintbrush left to dry with lacquer in it, staring down the camera as if it had accused him of something terrible very suddenly, and he is still thinking how to reply and keeping the question at bay with the sheer ferocity of that stare. Of course there is guilt enough in the best life to account for a look like that.”

Knowing Christ (Mark Jones). A friend gave me this book last year when we were in the States, and I am so thankful he did. I read Knowing Christ devotionally one chapter a day along with my Bible reading. Jones displayed gems of Puritan wisdom regarding the doctrine of the person of Christ. The best compliment I can pay to the book is that it helped me love and treasure Jesus more. (Bonus points for Jones becoming the king of theology Twitter during this year’s evangelical Trinity controversy). 

“We may please God simply because Jesus pleased him first by his willing and acceptable death on the cross.” 


“As believers we should comfort ourselves that Christ did not return to the Father alone, but as the captain of our salvation who enables us to share in his glory.” 

The Second Forgetting (Benjamin T. Mast). The Second Forgetting applies the Gospel to those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia—the patients and their caregivers. I bought the book after a family member was diagnosed with dementia. Mast, a professor of brain sciences at the University of Lousville and an elder at his local church, weaves clinical science with practical theology to offer hope and counsel to those fighting one of our world’s most cruel diseases. 

“Alzheimer’s strips away our worldly identity, but a person is valuable for who they are, not simply for what they can contribute. We are more than the sum of our memories. Even when we have nothing left to offer others, we still have value to God, and nothing can change that.”

Blood-Bought World (Toby J. Sumpter). This book is a rollicking in-your-face call for Christians to cast aside the fig leaves—respectability, comfort, fear, and other idols—that shield us from the real Jesus, the one who claims all authority in heaven and on earth. Sumpter envisions a bold church, “full of people who don’t give a damn about the fleeting pleasures of this life.” But first, we must grasp what made Jesus so killable. Sumpter, who blogs at Having Two Legs, has become one of my favorite writers this year. He consistently punches hard when he ought to punch, and writes with grace-drenched mercy when that is called for. 

“But what God has in mind is the complete renovation of the world… Jesus claimed all authority in heaven and on earth. He claimed all of it, and sent His apostles to announce that claim in the words of the gospel and to enact it with water, bread, and wine, with His full authority. That’s what evangelism is: Hello, World: Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it. The real faith, once delivered to the saints, is driven by the Spirit of Jesus, a wild, rambunctious, healing force set on the redemption of the world. Men who know this Jesus have no patience for a polite social club with religious jargon.”

Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl (Cheston Hervey and Darren Doane). We dinner-read this book back in the spring. My four-year-old son was fascinated by this dragon hunt tale. I include it here not because it was so much better than some other books I read this year, but because I had so much fun with it with my son. Doane is a filmmaker (Collision, The Free Speech Apocalypse, They Grow up Fast), and the film version of this story should be released in 2017. “Kill the Dragon, get the girl”—it’s the story of the whole Bible in six words. 

“A deep, dragon voice spoke. “And in the end, I ended up just like you. My legs, taken. Crawling around on my belly. Who is the one that deserves pity in this story? I’ll take more than your legs this time, you pathetic cripple. I’ll take your all. And this time, there’s no one here to help you—not even a bus full of mewling children. YOU belong to ME.”

What were your favorite books of 2016?

Favorite Music of 2016

One of the best decisions I made in 2016 for our family was re-subscribing to Spotify Premium. Our home is happier when we have music playing—it’s hard to have a bad attitude while singing. For us it’s worth every penny to have unlimited access to a wide variety of music. 

We are humans; were made to sing. 

I looked back over my Spotify playlists to pick out my favorite albums from 2016. These albums were not necessarily released in 2016, but are albums that I especially enjoyed this year. Here they are in no particular order. 

The Burning Edge of Dawn (Andrew Peterson). Peterson knows how to tell stories and can flat our write songs. For this 2015 release he went into the studio with just one song written and finished the rest while recording. Peterson’s knack for stirring up wonder and the imagination make for delightful listening. Some of my favorite lyrics from the album:

Someday the truth’s gonna lay us bare

We’re gonna raise a glass to the past and say

It’s only when the straight line breaks and heals a little crooked

That you ever see the grace

Well I had to find a better place; maybe the bend in the river’s the only way. 

We Will Survive

The Narrative (Sho Baraka). The Narrative is a tour of history and social consciousness blended with jazz, soul, funk, and hip hop. Musically, I really enjoyed his use of horns throughout the album. Lyrically, I appreciated how he tackled tough subjects, like race, without reverting to standard tropes. A few of my favorite lyrics:

Don’t marry her if you don’t plan to bury her

If you sweep her off her feet then learn how to carry her.

—Fathers, 2004


I hated the police until a brother got robbed

I hated welfare until a brother lost his job

When I’m a work, I watch my pockets for them corporate thugs

When I’m at home, I watch my back for those crips and bloods

If my words bring conviction, let’s call it context

I’m realizin’ life is pretty complex.

—Piano Break, 33 A.D.

And Glory Shone Around (The Rose Ensemble). This is a Christmas album for those tired of trite and trivial holiday fare. As the album’s subtitle states, it is a collection of early American carols, country dances, southern harmony hymns, and shaker spirital songs. Featuring familiar carols as well as unfamiliar tunes, And Glory Shone Around transports you to a different era, adding depth and new flavor to your holiday music. 

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness and lend us thy aid.

Star in the east, our horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant redeemer was laid.

—Star in the East (American shape-note hymn)

Stories We Had Forgotten (The Ekklesia Band). Stories is a collection of old hymns that took me back to Sunday night services at my childhood Baptist church. Unlike some other recent old-hymns-to-new-music projects, this album featured mostly hymns I grew up singing a lot, adding a nostalgic appeal. 

He breaks the power of canceled sin,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean,

His blood availed for me.

—O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

The Ology (Sovereign Grace Music). The Ology is the soundtrack to the systematic-theology-for-kids book of the same name. Our family has enjoyed both the book and the music. The album teaches rich theology to kids (and adults!) through fun, engaging, and stylistically diverse music. My son’s favorite is The Scariest Song:

What’s the scariest of woes? Some say snakes and some say spiders 

What strikes terror to your toes? Some say floods and some say fires 

Some say dentist drills or creepy clowns, climbing up or falling down 

But I’ll tell you what’s the scariest around 

Sin–it’s the scariest, Sin hurts everyone 

Sin–how it hides in us, It’s all the wrong we’ve done 

It separates us from our God behind these prison walls 

Oh, sin is the scariest of all.

Glory to the Holy One (Jeff Lippencott and R.C. Sproul). Subtitled, Sacred Music for the People of God, this is an album of high church choral music. I love it as background, bedtime, or Sunday-morning-getting-ready-for-church music. The title track captures the glory of Isaiah’s vision of God:

Seated on the heav’nly throne 

Above all mortal view 

The King supreme in glory sat 

Bathed in resplendent hue

“Holy, Holy, Holy” 

Cried the seraph throng 

Glory to the Holy One 

Join in heaven’s song
—Glory to the Holy One

Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story (Alan Jackson). I listened to this monster 59-track anthology on a cross-country road trip in November. Living so far away, I love music that takes me back to my roots and reminds me of home. Alan Jackson does that just as well as anyone. 

It was just an old hand-me-down Ford

With three-speed on the column and a dent in the door

A young boy two hands on the wheel

I can’t replace the way it made me feel

And I would press that clutch

And I would keep it right

And he’d say, a little slower son you’re doing just fine

Just a dirt road with trash on each side

But I was Mario Andretti

When Daddy let me drive

—Drive (For Daddy Gene)

What were your favorite albums to listen to in 2016?

Say No! to a 2017 Bible-reading plan (maybe)

Now is the time of year when the internet fills us up with advice on new year’s resolutions and whatnot. Many Christian websites will publish Bible reading plans—checkboxes, charts, apps, and calendars. The Bible in year, the Bible in two years, the New Testament in 90 days, and so on.

So I rise to say, somewhat sheepishly, but nevertheless plainly: don’t. Don’t sign up for the plan, don’t print out the chart, don’t put yourself on the hook to constantly feel either guilty or proud. 

Of course, let me say—and this is the sheepish part—maybe. Perhaps the detailed plans, the high direction, the system all works very well for you. Good on you, keep at it, and I tip my hat. 

But for some of us, let’s say for quirks in the old personality, the timestamped reading plans become rude taskmasters. We serve the plan rather than the plan serving us. What is meant to discipline us toward God and his Word ends up driving us away instead. 

For some of you it’s time to ditch the yearly Bible reading plan. You don’t need a schedule, you need a habit. You don’t need a detailed, prepared itinerary, you need a road going in the right direction—you might walk slowly, you might run fast, you might even take a detour or two nearby, or you might slip up and forget to travel one day. But you always come back to the road. And since you are not in a hurry and you’re going in the right direction, you never feel guilty about not keeping up.

I gave up on yearly Bible reading plans two years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about it. My Bible reading had become rushed and, often, joyless. I was tired of the low-grade guilt that permeated my spiritual life. Guilt that I missed some days and didn’t feel like doubling down to catch up. Guilt that I was just reading to check the box for that day. I also needed to escape the prideful contentment of feeling extra holy simply because I managed to run a good stretch of reading the appropriate number of chapters each day. 

The yearly Bible reading plans became law to me. But unlike God’s law, which shows us our sinfulness and leads us to Christ, my self-made law simply showed me my sinfulness and left me there. It led me to despair—or pride. 

I needed a Bible reading strategy that both regularly got me into God’s Word each day and took the pressure off of trying to finish something in a certain amount of time. I needed something that actually helped me focus on God and his Word and enjoy both.

It turns out that I didn’t need a new plan so much as new habits. Habits don’t have finish lines; you do not give expiration dates to good habits. Rather, you persist in them for a lifetime. 

And so I created my Bible Reading For Life Plan, something I could roll with for decades. It is nothing innovative or revolutionary. It is boringly normal, and probably resembles many of the popular yearly plans, with the exception that I have no deadlines, no charts, and no checkboxes. 

Here it is: Each day my default reading is a Psalm, a chapter in Proverbs, and however much I feel like reading that day in the Old or New Testament book that I’m currently reading—sometimes that’s one chapter and other times it is four or five. I alternate between Old and New Testament books and flip back to the beginning of Psalms and Proverbs when I get to the end of those. 

Such a plan gives me great flexibility. I can read faster or slower, more chapters or less. I can go on detours to chase a curiosity and then come back to the old standard. I’m never left wondering what book I should read next, nor am I so locked in that I cannot get a change of scenery, if necessary. If it’s Christmas and I want to flip over to Luke 2, I do. Or if I’m trudging through some genealogies in Chronicles, but my soul is thirsting for some casket-proof Gospel from the letters of Paul, I pull up a chair in Romans. Or maybe I was just in a hurry that day so I only read a Psalm. Those days I guiltlessly, purposefully go off track. But because I have a habit, it’s easy to get back on track. 

Such a plan also takes the pressure off. I never feel behind because I don’t have any deadlines. The finish line is death; I’m gonna read the Bible till I die. But I’m not trying to read it so many times. Rather, I’m trying to read it consistently and joyfully. And taking away the rush and the low-grade guilt leads me to greater joy in reading the Bible. 

The potential downside is that I don’t read as many books of the Bible. This is because indwelling sin and outside distractions make it easy to slip into just reading one chapter each day for the current Old or New Testament book, and also because I have chosen to emphasize two books: Psalms and Proverbs. The poetry, prayers, and praise of the Psalms is particularly helpful for me to read repeatedly, while I need all the practical wisdom I can get out of Proverbs. Those two books in particular have become great and trusted friends over the last two years. 

So if you happen to share my personality quirks and find all the charts and checkboxes pulling the rug out from under your Bible-reading joy, I invite you to ditch all the recommended plans and pick up a sustainable Bible reading habit that only ends when you die. 

Happy Birthday, Rachel

At 8:42 Monday morning our daughter Rachel completed what Chesterton called the supreme adventure of life—she was born. Why does Chesterton call birth the supreme adventure of man? From chapter 13 of Heretics:

“When we are born we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out upon us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairytale.” 

Just like in a good fairytale, Rachel left the only world she had ever known. Her mother’s womb was her Shire, her London. But by forces of deep magic she was thrust into an enchanted tunnel, a warp zone of sorts, and through many tribulations landed in a new world. Here she was told she belonged to a family and was sent into their home to learn their ways, to speak their language, to sing their songs, to worship their God, and to make a life during the days allotted to her before passing through a greater tribulation to a greater world beyond. She chose none of this, and how she deals with it all is what makes it an adventure.

Like any good fairytale, this world into which Rachel has been born has its share of dragons. Our family alone provides enough to overcome: the sin-dragons of her older siblings, of her parents, not to mention her own little sin nature she  brought along with her.

Then there is the world without. She has the misfortune of being born in 2016, the year of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and rogue clowns—but I repeat myself. To the south the battle against ISIS rages on. A bloodily coup was waged a few blocks from where I sit just a few months ago. Back in the States we’ve lost the ability to tell girls from boys, and grown men fancy it a civil right to tinkle one stall over from little girls not much older than Rachel. And if you refuse to stand in rapt applause of such progress you will meet the gentle acquaintance of what one writer has called the Tolerance Buzzsaw.

Chesterton was right. Simply being born turns out to be quite the adventure, with danger on every side and glory just over the next horizon. Life is full of light and darkness, good and evil, known and unknown. Rachel did not choose this world, this family, or these dragons. No, she will inherit them all without ever being asked once for her opinion or preference. It’s the not choosing part that Chesterton insists makes birth the supreme adventure. So we all have to make do with whatever the Lord gives to us, and the question of the ages is will we be faithful?

In many ways the future looks bleak for a girl born in 2016. Our culture is barreling downhill at 90 mph, a cliff just ahead, and has, with great self-aggrandizement, cut the brake lines because stop and go are so binary, man. Although we self-identify as coming to gentle curbside stop, the reality is that we are going over the edge. To certain university professors and journalists the freefall might seem fun at first, but the law of gravity—bigoted Enlightenment holdover that it is—demands that we crash, and hard. That is, we cannot continue in this way forever. Self-contradictions tethered to vapor, as it turns out, cannot bear the weight of a civilization.

This brings me to another shiny pearl of Chestertonian wisdom:

“The one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God’s paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle – and not lose it.”

Not only do fairytales have their share of dragons, but they also have their heroes, their dragon-slayers. Riders on white horses, swords dipped in blood, and laughter in the face of evil.

Rachel has been born into the One True Fairytale, and the current chapter has us walking through dark forests. We see shadows and hear the pattering of chasing hooves. But ours is a losing battle that we cannot lose. For the Dragon-Slayer has already put the blade to the neck of that ancient serpent. His heel is bruised, but snakeskull is crushed. We have a Hero and we have a hope.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”—John 1:5

So I congratulate Rachel on her great achievement: she was born. I welcome her into our wild, rollicking, surprising, stupefying, dangerous, sorrowful, delightful world.

I pray that she would be a true child of our mother Sarah: that she would do good and not fear anything that is frightful. That while loving this world she would look to a better country, a heavenly one. That she would laugh at the days to come. For all good fairytales end happily ever after.

Happy Birthday, Rachel.  


Enough for my vote

I cast my vote in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary via email yesterday. Because when you consider the polar opposite amounts of competence and corruption in our current government, exercising your civic duty with the same communication mode that all your dad’s friends use to forward around conspiracy theories and bad jokes just seems like the secure way to go. I’m sure [cough, cough] that my vote will be counted. At least I tried.

To be clear, I would not count the email with the subject Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: DEMOCRATS MURDERED ANTONIN SCALIA as one of those conspiracy theories. I’d file that one as Within The Realm of Reasonable Possibilities. Is it really that hard to believe that they would murder in the pursuit of their cause? For decades they’ve been actively encouraging the killing of millions of defenseless babies in pursuit of their sexual jollies. Why not Scalia, too?

And that brings us back to Saturday’s presidential primary. Who do you trust to nominate someone like Scalia to the Supreme Court? Who has the guts for that type of fight—because he’s going to have to fight both the Democrats and the weak-stomached Republicans. Speaking of weak-stomached Republicans, just asking these questions assumes that the GOP Senate will not fold up like origami elephant for the rest of Obama’s term. That is a BIG assumption.

This leads to another question. Who is not like those weak-stomached Republicans, who bend whichever way the Washington political class tells them to? That leaves Cruz and Trump. If you read my satire piece yesterday, then you’ll see why I can’t vote Trump. It turns out that once your scratch past most of Trump’s bluster, he is too much like the rest of the GOP establishment class—amoral, self-interested, and all-to-willing to compromise on core principles.

So I cast my lot with Cruz. I still had to hold my nose at a few things, most notably his awkward pauses and squinting. I also don’t care for his inflated defense budget or his bad habit of putting a red, white, and blue veneer on Christianity. But overall, I think he is the best guy left. He’s a proven conservative, undeniably pro-life, has a brilliant legal mind, is a constitutionalist, has a tolerable foreign policy, and will drive progressives batty. In this field, that’s enough for my vote.

But nobody in Washington likes him; he’s a nasty guy! The fact that people in Washington do not like Ted Cruz is at the top of my list of reasons of why I do like Ted Cruz.

What about the other guys? I’ll try to sum up the other candidates in a few sentences each, which should make it obvious why I don’t think they are up for being president.

Ben Carson—I’m not sure if he is running for president of the United States or of Mars. He always seems to be unaware of what’s going on around him, occasionally bringing his attention back to earth to make another bad joke about not getting enough speaking time during the debates. He’s a nice guy, with some good ideas, and will make a great surgeon general.

Marco Rubio—Honestly, I wanted to devote a whole post to the baffling question of why people fawn over Rubio. Of course, the answer is that he is young, ethnic, handsome, and has a cool last name. He’s the Republican Obama. Never mind that he is a people-pleaser who changes his positions on key issues so that the Important People will like him. Never mind that he is rehashing old George W. nation-building foreign policies—you know, the kind that led to ISIS; the kind that will get us into another war to overthrow a leader, this time in Syria. Never mind the lame tagline, “A New American Century.” And never mind that he wants to conscript your daughters for war.

Jeb!—”Geez, I mean, come on guys.” That’s really all I hear from Jeb! He really should replace the exclamation point and be Jeb:/ He’s a big lump of boring. And he’ll be open borders and open war. I’m fascinated by the Bush family. But no thanks, not again.

John Kasich—John Kasich is like a televangelist. He’s full of smiles and positive vibes and we-can-do-this! platitudes. And all the while he’s taking your money and spending it elsewhere. Kasich is a Government Believer; this is a time for a skeptic, someone recognizes the limits of what a government is able to do.

Tomorrow my fellow South Carolinians will go to the polls to do their part in selecting the next president. I’m hoping everyone wakes up from their Trump-drunk stupor, but I’m not counting on it. People are angry—and rightfully so—and Trump personifies their anger. Unfortunately, he does not personify our ideals. Still, South Carolina will probably vote Trump.

And that makes about as much sense as trusting your email ballot will be counted.

Upstate Christians back Trump

GREENVILLE, SC—An upstate coalition of conservative Christians has announced its endorsement of Donald J. Trump in Saturday’s GOP presidential primary. The group, which has often maligned Barack Obama’s lack of pre-presidential experience, points to Mr. Trump’s proven record as a reality-television star as evidence of his readiness to carry the country’s nuclear codes.

Upstate Christians are known as family-values voters. Appearing on ABC’s The View, Mr. Trump solidified his family-values bona fides, valuing his daughter so much that he noted, “if Ivanka was not my daughter, I’d be dating her.”

Perhaps most appealing to Upstate constituents is Mr. Trump’s politically-incorrect, tell-it-like-it-is speaking style. Jimmie Darnell, a deacon at Muddy River Baptist Church, noted,” we are plain tired of the Washington ‘stablishment and their slippery, divided tongues.”

Just a few years ago, before talking like a conservative in order to run as a Republican for president, Mr. Trump “told it like it was “ about his abortion views. On a national news broadcast, Mr. Trump said he supported the legality of partial birth abortion. To say it politically incorrect—as Upstate Christians insist—Mr. Trump, as a sane adult and speaking publicly of his own volition, stated that he supported the practice of taking a developed baby partially out of the womb, stabbing it with a pair of long surgical scissors, and then sucking the baby’s brains out with a vacuum.

“We’re gonna make America great again!,” exclaimed Pastor Clint Judson. The babies could not be reached for comment.

Darnell, also a small-business owner, lauded Mr. Trump as a “businessman who knows how to get things done,” and drew special attention to Mr. Trump’s nuanced and finely tuned trade policy with Mexico. “We’ll tell them to go f#<& themselves,” Mr. Trump outlined in a policy speech in New Hampshire recently.

Mr. Trump’s business acumen is perhaps best seen in the diversity of the businesses he own. For example, if elected, Mr. Trump would be the first U.S. president to own a strip club at the exact moment he puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office. “Don’t worry, we’re far enough from DC that the lightning won’t strike us,” joked Darnell.

Endorsing Mr. Trump, a noted eminent domain enthusiast, unites this Christian coalition with Knox White Republicans living in Greenville’s West End who specialize in stealing other people’s property to build uppity boutiques for Yankee housewives.

Mr. Trump, though he has offered little in the way of substantial ideas during his campaign, has assured the American public that he has the “best guys” who’ll make “great deals.” Mr. Trump’s lawyers are heralded as examples of the candidate’s “best guys.” For example, these lawyers helped him file for divorce from his second wife (the one he met at church and subsequently slept with while married to his first wife), just days shy of their prenuptial agreement’s expiration date. He then leaked the news to a New York newspaper and left a copy of the morning paper on his wife’s bed, which is how she learned that her marriage was over. “Flawlessly executed,” said Rev. Judson. “I mean, I’m not sayin’ I agree with it, just that it was pretty savvy. We need somebody like that dealing with Putin.”

“Plus, the way I figure it,” Rev. Judson went on the explain, “it takes a mighty religious man to find his next wife at church.”

Muddy River Baptist Church recently set a church record by giving $1300 to the annual international offering, showing, in Mr. Darnell’s words, “MRBC’s commitment to the nations of our world.” He then went on to tout the nuance and precision of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, which the candidate thus summarized at a rally last week, “we’ll bomb the sh*t out of them.”

“In the end, we need a candidate who can make America great again,” said Judson. “We need someone who can reverse ObamaCare, for example.”

Clearly, the one GOP candidate who has come out in favor of universal government-paid-for health care is the man to reverse President Obama’s health-care-for-all initiative.

The coalition is expecting the philandering, baby-murder supporting, property-stealing, strip clubbing reality-TV star to unite the party and usher in a new golden age of Reaganism.

“God bless America,” Judson added.

[File under Satire]





Dancing at a royal ball

God is telling a story. He is telling the one True Myth, the one true Fairy Tale, the one true Epic Poem. We are his characters.

Life full of scenes. Millions of scenes. Your scenes. My scenes.

Most are incredibly boring—brushing teeth, buying groceries, changing diapers. Some are incredibly moving—old married couple holding hands, military dad surprising his family returning from the frontline, mom comforting teenage daughter after her first breakup. Some scenes are passionate—making love, protesting injustice, crisis prayer. Some are horrific—car accidents, abortion, war. Some are heroic—lifeguard pulling kid out of the pool in time, firemen running into the World Trade Center, your kid standing up to the class bully.

But most of life’s scenes are of an everyday-normal quality, which sadly makes them ripe to be scenes of shame.

Scene: Fussy. Scene: Complaining. Scene: Angry.

Yesterday morning my 18-month old daughter came up to me in the kitchen while I was trying to finish washing breakfast dishes and make coffee. Her outstretched arms told me she wanted to be picked up. The day before I had read these words from Joe Rigney:

“My one-year old walks up to me wth arms outstretched. I can see it in his eyes. He is searching for something: approval, affirmation, acceptance. The kind that only a father can give. He is hungry for a father’s love, for the Father’s love. 

Either the laughter in my eyes, the smile on my face, and the strength and tenderness of my arms will tell the truth about God, or their absence will blaspheme the Father of lights. 

My son is reaching for me, and looking for God. 

My son, the theologian.”

I am guilty. I have blasphemed the Father of lights almost everyday this past week. Right after breakfast. “Just a minute, sweetheart.” “I can’t pick you up right now.” “Can’t you see I’m doing the dishes and I need both hands.” “Why can’t you just go play?!” “Stop screaming!”

I thought about the above passage from Rigney’s The Things of Earth. I thought about an N.D. Wilson talk I listened to a month ago, the one about life being full of scenes. I decided to make this one count.

If the heavenly host were going to tune in to this part of the story, if they were looking in at my scene at 8:30 a.m., in my kitchen, on a random Thursday in January, then they were going to see a father pick up his daughter, hold her close, and dance.

In that moment we were a King and a Princess dancing at a royal ball. We were practicing the night before prom. We were at her wedding reception. She was a Great Lady and I her long-adored aging father. I sang the music and led the dance. We twirled. She giggled. I teared up. We both rejoiced. I dipped her at the end and gave her the biggest kiss of the day.

And….cut. The moment lasted just a minute. She then went to play with her brother. I finished the dishes. But it was just about the best 60 seconds of my week.

On to my next scene. And yours.

And such were some of you

So almost every time I post something I wake up the next morning and remember something I meant to add to the post or wish I would have written. Such is the case with yesterday’s review of The Free Speech Apocalypse and I am glad of it because it gives me the opportunity to expand on the left-out idea a bit more today.

One of the reasons I suggested for why you should see the film is because it shows in live action and colorful language the great Gospel need of our day. I mentioned that what we see in the film is Romans 1 type of hard-hearted, high-handed sin.

It is at this point that we should all remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “and such were some of you.”

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11

We are all sinners. The militant Pride marcher and the Sunday School teacher. We were all, at one point, dead in our trespasses and sins. We were all children of wrath. Some of us manifested our sinfulness in many high-handed and perverted ways. For others of us, that high-handed sin existed in us in seed form and would have grown into full, horrible bloom had God not intervened, had grace not interrupted our lives. But all of us started in the same sinful, sinking boat.

So the difference between Christians and the free speech-hating intolerista sexual revolutionaries is that we Christians have received the gifts of repentance and faith. And since we did nothing to earn or deserve such gifts we should feel not one ounce proud of having received them. We make no pats to our own backs.

Rather, we hope and desire for all the poor souls to get off the sinking ship, to receive with gladness the gift of salvation, to join in the song of the redeemed. We welcome them all by the blood of Jesus.