I’ve been debating about how to use this space, social media, or a potential newsletter. I’ve grown less fond of social media, a newsletter feels a bit too far, and this has been my internet blogging home for the last 15 years—so here we are.
Looking at the last entry, it’s been a minute.
I’m going to share more snippets than long-form pieces for a while, and try to reclaim a habit here that is less dopamine and algorithm-driven than other places.
Below is a list of books that I shared with a friend recently. Many of them I have been chewing on for quite some time.
More to come!
Mark Sayer’s new book
Happy New Year!
As the last six months have entailed hundreds of hours on zoom calls, I spent the last two weeks away from screens as much as possible. I wanted to join the end of year post crowd and couldn’t bring myself to it—so here is an edition of Rabbit Trails to kick off the new year! I’m hopeful for more scheduled writing this year (at least it’s something I wrote on my goals sheet!).
I’m sharing some memories and some hopes in this one. As always, thanks for reading.
§ In the middle of quarantine, a family friend gifted me the opportunity to spend a morning looking through their late father’s pastoral library to see what might be of interest or aid in my studies. If you’re a book lover, this is the stuff dreams are made of. This man was influential in my teenage years, and someone I respected highly. Getting to spend a morning in his study was a quiet and special time after months with little alone time. I spent hours turning pages from hundreds of mid-twentieth century (and earlier!) works.
I came across a pre-Message paraphrase of the New Testament by JB Phillips in those shelves that I have really enjoyed as a weekly read. Some of you might be familiar with it, but it was new to me.
The church I grew up in held a generation of godly men who impacted my life in countless ways. They modeled the family of God in their lives, and in their deaths. I’ve written about several of them here, here, and here.
§ For the bulk of 2020, our public discourse lamented what freedoms we lost in daily life. The forced stillness at times was maddening. But the sheer volume of time with my family has been priceless. There are hundreds of little moments that have buoyed my heart with gratitude for the gift seeing my children process life without cynicism or skepticism. They have yet to learn to protect themselves from being hurt, and so they love freely. Getting to see this (and be the recipient of it) has brought the resolution between my wife and I that this is the year we talk back to our cynicism and be people of hope. Life beats you up, and through relationships, miscommunications, and hurt you learn to guard yourself in a way that suspect things rather than celebrates them. I’m done with that mess, it’s no way to live.
I can’t think of cynicism without thinking of this quote from Zack Eswine.
§ At the end of last summer, I preached a few messages out of Paul’s pastoral prayers centered around how we respond to life out of who we are. Therefore who the Christian is continually becoming shapes the way we respond to life. I’ve blended some thoughts from those messages here as I’ve continued to mull over the topic this fall.
Time and again, when Paul prays for the churches in the New Testament, he is praying that these Christians grow into maturity, becoming a certain kind of person. It’s the kind of person who engages and responds to the hardships of life with patience, endurance, and joy—because they do not lose sight of the true story they are in, and who they belong to.
Now we are in the new year, and whatever bump the holidays gave us as a break from zoom calls, carpool lines, commutes, packing lunches, working overtime, spending another day alone, or wondering if we’re making the right choice with who we visit and when—we are not in a different situation that we were a months ago. Many are just more resigned to the tiredness.
As there are faces from our church that I have not been able to see in person for months, I have been asking friends on social media how I might pray for them. There has been a consistent thread of overwhelm in my DM’s. I was reminded by a friend this week of Bilbo’s words—that we feel thin, “like butter scraped over too much bread.“ How then do we head into another week, another month, another news cycle, or another quarantine?
We do it a day at a time, by becoming the kind of person who engages and responds to the hardships of life with patience, endurance, and joy—because we do not lose sight of the true story we are in, and who we belong to.
For months we have been asking the question: “What do we do?” while the world is changing around us, and we need to be asking ourselves and each other: “What kind of people do we need to become?”
The picture here is not a hyper-vigilant disciple, but a non-anxious and present-minded follower of Jesus, who has grace for themselves (and others) in the midst of immense pain, suffering, and loss. As these disciples, we are able to have grace for ourselves and others when we put our trust in things that now prove fruitless for the long haul. It is to actively shape our lives with the knowledge that we are called to be a certain type of person who does certain types of things regardless of what the world does around us.
Which starts with an honest look at the kind of person you’re becoming right now.
Since college I’ve come back to a quote by a 20th century monk named Thomas Merton:
“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.”
At the turn of the new year, how much of a solid answer do you have about what is standing between who you are and who you want to be? What is between you and the person God is calling you to become?
Do you know what kind of person He is calling you to be?
One of my favorite authors puts it very simply, you are an ongoing process of change until the day you die, and give back the breath God gave you.
Every day you make choices, and those choices change you.
Are you honoring God with those choices or are you simply surviving another day?
You need hope to survive, and I think many people’s hope has been spread over too much bread, and the cynicism of our culture is keeping us thin.
Technology has been a blessing and an all too convenient distraction this last year. We can order our food, deliver anything needed to our house or a friend – and at any point we find reality too hard to bear, we can dive into a new show for as long as it takes to dull the edge of our overwhelm.
Which is in many ways, no rest at all, merely escapism.
It is the formative aspects of life that we need to tend to, with the patience of a gardner working the soil of our hearts. As a Christian in our cultural moment, you are going to have to develop the discipline to treat that which has been sold to you as a savior from your boredom as a tool for your maturity. What I mean is, technology is not neutral, and we have trusted it to deliver us from ourselves and distract us from pain—but that leads to deformation from the image of our Maker, not transformation of our minds. We have to reclaim our use of technology as a tool for our growth in Christ—and stop looking into the glowing rectangle to deliver us from a moment of discomfort, silence, or boredom. It is these moments throughout our days that we need to be able to hear the voice of God. You need to create pockets of silence in your life, not eliminate them.
Perhaps now is the time to audit your app usage, screen time, tv intake, and nominal habits that eat up your attention and your days bite size chunks at a time. I don’t think the issue is that we are binging shows for hours on end during the workday. I think the issue is that we give the quiet moments of our lives to swiping screens for limited connection and dopamine hits—all of which form us into a certain kind of person because they are repetitive habits. These distractions feed you false stories of the good life, not the true story that you are a part of.
Christian, you need to be reminded—on repeat—who you belong to when your hope is thin.
Then remind others.
What if you created pockets of silence in your life instead of drowning them all out?
This is my year, and you’re welcome to join: Talking back to cynicism and fighting to feed hope in silence each day.
It is not an issue of who you will be, it is an issue of who you are becoming right now.
§ Things I came across in 2020 that I really enjoyed:
- Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs. The last four pages have haunted and helped me for months. We engage with voices from the past (break bread with them) and then have to sort ourselves in light of their ideas. In doing this, we become people of thicker character who respect the past by owning their part in the present and near future. It’s a great read.
- The Screen Time Widget on your IPhone. #9 on this list. Real time accountability every time you open your phone. Try it for a week.
- Focus@Will. It’s a subscription based pomodoro timer meets customizable music app. Since college I’ve listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to write papers. This has melded a few things into one helpful time blocking work app.
- Gentle & Lowly AUDIOBOOK by Dane Ortlund. Listen, if you don’t know about this book – buy it. Once you read it, then listen to it as read by the author. This book is one you buy and re-read yearly. Plus, the audio book is ~$10 as I type this. Read the book, also listen to it.
§ If you’re still reading this, we’re mid-year in our TVCI programs. This means that I get to re-read a few books each year – and one that I am discussing with friends this next month is a book I quoted earlier in this post. It’s on my short list of important hurt-so-good-make-you-think-about-your-life books, and you should give it a shot. It’s Who God Says You Are by Klyne Snodgrass. I’ve posted a bunch of quotes from him here and other places.
Here’s the table of contents:
Happy New Year, friends! We have much to be thankful for, and may your hope deepen as you look to Jesus.
The last few years I have been in a bit of a conundrum about what to do with things I come across that are quick quotes, photos, or snippets of material. Usually it’s not enough for a long form post, or it’s the day after I publish a Rabbit Trail and it goes into the black hole of the Notes app on my phone. Also, for those of you who are email subscribers to this blog, I don’t want to fill your inbox with every paragraph that I think worth sharing. So, I’m trying something new and have created a micro.blog to house quotes, paragraphs, and photos of things that I find interesting and want to share. There are a few reasons behind this for me (I am admittedly following suit behind a professor who I read on matters of habit and formation)—and here are a few hopes:
- To share content and reclaim time from paying attention to how the content is received. I can admit the dopamine hit of likes, views, hearts, and favorites is a tricky thing to steward. I want to share things and let it sit on its own, not feel like I get rewarded for someone else’s work because of an algorithm and my neurobiology. That means these posts automatically are cross-posted to my Twitter profile, and I am making a deal with myself to check it once a week or so (read: maybe 2 weeks). Instagram will be a place either to share Rabbit Trails, happenings within TVCI, or something that just seems too good to pass up sharing—all within set days/limits thanks to Freedom App.
- To curate my inputs more effectively. While being home during COVID, I welcomed social media back into my daily routine in order to keep up with people who I could not see day to day, and I am feeling the pull of the phone too much while I’m in the house with my family. I’m also feeling inundated with media due to a bit of doomscrolling.
- To focus on my PhD reading which is coming like the boulder behind Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- To push interactions to phone calls and emails rather than DM’s. Pastoring in COVID and with diminished embodied interaction means that every inbox I have is being utilized, and trying to maintain messages across 5 platforms is tricky. Hopefully this will help move things toward the main avenues of communication and increase the quality of it.
I’m calling this resource the B-Sides, where you might find odds and ends that interest you. It’s linked here, and in the menu bar up top for quick reference. I think one can subscribe via RSS (if that is a thing you still do?). I’ll try it through the summer and we’ll see how we do.
It’s the end of May, and I didn’t get to writing a Rabbit Trails last month. I actually haven’t gotten to a lot of things the last two months, which might be something you can relate to. There have been a list of things I normally can cross of my list, but it seems like my mental margin has been through a roller coaster while sheltering-in-place with my family. This last week our church launched landing page for TVC, and I wrote an article talking about the exhausting reality of COVID-19. As we make sense of our current experience and make choices for the coming year, I believe we’ll need to understand our bodies, acknowledge how our actions shape who we become, and find hope beyond returning to normalcy. A key part of this is moving from asking the question, “What do we do now?” to ask, “What kind of person do I need to become for what is ahead?” You can read why here.
Below are some thoughts and items from the last few months. Perhaps one will spark your imagination and lead you down a trail of you own. Enjoy.
§ Receiving Zacchaeus
During breakfast one morning recently my oldest two and I listened to God’s Big Story about how Jesus loved Zacchaeus. It was during the podcast where I started thinking about what isn’t mentioned in the text, about what happened when Zacchaeus made good on what he promised to do. I think about tax collectors, used by Rome, shamed by their own people, perhaps even shamed by themselves for the pleasure and stigma of the money they took.
Then I thought about Zacchaeus, able to meet the eyes of people around him because of the lightness of heart he had with Jesus. I saw him knocking on doors and handing over leather bags of coins before eyes full of judgement, fear, and suspicion. A trick, this is, what game is he at? Am I in trouble with Rome? What is this man doing? This is more than I owe.
And Zacchaeus, free because Jesus loved him, making amends from a wealth of joy. A joy that brought endurance through slammed doors, scorn, and disbelief as he made the wrong he had done become right.
I wonder how many doors he had to knock on, and what the gossip was in town that day.
“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
How easy it is to grow weary in doing good, to falter in joy when faced with disapproving eyes. I wonder how his change of heart was received by those who allowed him no room to be other than he was before today.
How easy it is to grow weary in change, when our desire to be more today than yesterday is met with the record of who we were versus who we hope to become. I feel at one time both the man on the doorstep wanting to pay back more than what I owe, and the hand receiving actions I doubt based on memory alone.
Paul’s words settle my heart, as I look to give and receive grace as I have been given:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
§Gentle and Lowly
Dane Ortlund’s work, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers has received an immense amount of attention sense it was published. All of it is well deserved. There are plenty of reviews you can read about the book, there is even a two week podcast of 3-4 minute meditations on topics from the book.
I have greatly benefitted from reading this work, and it is one that I am reading slowly on purpose—because the truth therein is antithetical to the false stories I tell myself about Jesus. I am reading slowly in hopes that I believe the true stories Jesus tells about Jesus.
For the Christian in quarantine, frustrated with all in and outside of their control, fighting through waning patience and fraying self-control, Ortlund writes, “Your salvation is not a matter of a saving formula, but a saving person.” (91) This work is set to acquaint you with your Savior as he is in heart: gentle and lowly, a friend of sinners.
I’m 1/2 way through this book, and it is a treasure. Grab yourself a copy.
§ Scott Erickson
AKA Scott the Painter on Instagram. Here is his website.
I started following Scott’s work over the last year, and am thankful for his art. Spend a few minutes and look at his catalog. Here are a few pieces.
I’m deep into summer Church History PhD reading, (which means I could use your prayers!) and am reading a lot of things outside of the norm. Here are a few things I am into on the side:
- Cal Newport & The Deep Reset
- Alan Jacobs & Thinking during Covidtide
- Gregg Allison on The Holy Spirit
- Gilles Emery on The Trinity
- UPDATE: Bluey, a show I wrote about recently, won an Emmy. The Kings love Bluey!
- My new friend: Libby. Having a library card (yes, they do still exist) during Covidtide has helped as this free audiobook platform has brought some great fiction into my ears as I clean up legos and wash dishes.
Before the book made its way into the world, she asked a few friends to consider writing poems based on portions of Scripture for a collection given to those who pre-ordered her work.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Mark 10, and then writing the poem found below. Lore was kind enough to let us share them publicly after the book released earlier this year, so I thought I’d leave it here. She also asked each of us to record the work, which you can listen to me read the poem below here.
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13–16 ESV)
How young were you
when another broke trust
you felt the fool
and learned to guard off hurt
How old did you grow
when invited again
to depend upon another
and guided by memory
you withheld love?
How alone did you feel
when discipled by man
you distrusted the Maker
and believed him no better
than those who failed you first?
How childish it sounds
since you’ve learned the world
could His love be altogether different
and better than you’ve known
at the hands of others?
Now become young again
not of age, but of heart
feel the Maker’s touch
and restore hope’s stolen youth
heeding his true invitation:
How welcome you are!
push past the hurried and harried
hear the Maker’s words
all is yours in the Son
Let the children come.
When the family watches tv, we’re trying to make it a practice of all watching together, laughing together, and enjoying each other’s company. Carly and I have been talking about a show that we found on Disney+ called Bluey, an Australian produced cartoon about a family of blue heelers: Mum, Dad, Bingo and Bluey.
Here’s the thing – the show is really good. The family laughs, plays, and treats each other with kindness, dignity, and respect—which are three foundational words in our home. The creators have said, “The main thing we want to do is not go for a cheap joke…there is definitely slapstick humor in the show, but never at the expensive of the characters. We are really trying to keep the integrity of ‘this is what your parents are like’ and ‘this is what you are really like.”
While making dinner recently I was trying to describe a scene that I watched with the kids, and my wife put her finger on what makes the show so distinct from other things we’ve seen—it’s the dad, Bandit. “Yes!” I said, “you nailed it. It’s the dad.”
He’s an incredibly loveable and loving presence, playful and serious, tender and teasing. In loads of shows with a minimal family plot line, or an absent/oaf/inept father – Bluey presents a dad that loves his girls, owns his mistakes, apologizes to his children, takes himself less seriously, and does it all with a great accent.
Below is the scene I was trying to describe to my wife, I felt like it was the perfect representation of the joy of being out in public with young kids and having to burn time you didn’t account for. They’re picking up takeaway, but the spring rolls aren’t ready. Dad calls Mum, says they’re going to wait for them, Mum asks if he just wants to come home and Dad confidently says, no, we’re fine. It’s just five minutes.
A lot can happen in five minutes.
Here is a compilation of scenes from the season:
§ Instagram, Augustine, and the Self.
The last few weeks I have been following the instagram account of a public speaker named Collin Kartchner who enters into middle and high schools to teach students about the danger of social media. Collin consistently shares DM’s from students at the schools he speaks at, where he pulls back the curtain on the actual cost of these free accounts: the vying for attention, exposure to pornography, and the dehumanizing effects of these technologies on young minds who are trying to form their identities as persons. Here are a few of the posts:
These middle and high schoolers are dealing with figuring themselves out in the middle of an onslaught of access, a buffet of distraction that hacks their dopamine driven desires and robs them of a shot at real life. It’s the trojan gift of progress through technology that we are offering our children, whose frontal lobes have another decade before maturity: the ability to try and have their needs met through connection on a screen.
The issue here is identity and desire. I need to know that I am loved, and I want to know that someone loves me. The core of this desire is to know that I am loved by my Maker, and the frustration of this desire is that I look for this love from the made. This ambition to be loved, devolves into, as James K.A. Smith puts it, “that our goal is to be noticed or to win, or both-we are actually lowering our sights. We are aiming low. The arc of our ambition hugs the earth, and we expect to find fulfillment from people looking at us, from beating everybody else in this competition for attention. But what happens when their attention turns away, fleeting as it is? What happens after you get the grass garland, the medal, the scholarship, the promotion? How many “likes” is enough? How many followers will make you feel valued?
What if you’re wired not to be “liked” but to be loved, and not by many but by One?” (On the Road with Augustine, p.83)
Smith’s question is the correct one. When we let micro-bursts of affirmation enter our days through followers, likes, approval, dopamine, refresh, scroll, post, click, comments and the like, this is an addictive stream of noise in what is meant to be a quiet space: your mind before God.
If your mind is never quiet, and your heart is ever-looking for affirmation in the wrong place, you cannot know yourself. How could you? All you know is the mediated you, because to have a self is to hold space internally to differentiate yourself from the glow and the noise beckoning at your thumbs.
And how do you know yourself? Klyne Snodgrass tells us that, “you are the result of your mind, your internal self-interpreting, self-directing memory. Something internal gathers all other factors, filters them, interprets them, and uses them to direct life. Humans are the only self-interpreting animal, and identity is very much about memory. Without memory there would be no identity. But it is not just memory; identity is an internal ordering and synthesizing process framed by memory, and this internal ordering even chooses in part what will be remembered. Identity is not comprised just of all the boundaries, relations, and commitments; it is the result of our ability to think about ourselves, to be self-aware and to analyze our own thoughts and actions. At bottom identity is the internal me censoring, filtering, valuing, synthesizing, and interpreting how I stand with regard to all the realities of my life. What gets in, what gets valued as good, what is given importance and attached to, what receives commitment, what gets rejected or denied-even if true-and what has such force it cannot be ignored? What do I really care about, like, and dislike, and why? Identity is the result of the thinking me that interprets and concentrates my life and character.” (Who God Says You Are, p.19)
I find Collin’s work so interesting because these teens are all asking the same questions you and I have been trying to figure out, and we think we are doing better with it than they are because we are older. We’re not. Can you remember the strong emotions you felt during middle and high school? The sense of self that wasn’t fully formed, and that looked for meaning and acceptance in whatever you were good at or who would accept you? Can you imagine having the added social pressure of a smartphone added to that? How do you ever have the space to develop your self-interpreting, self-reflecting memory that helps makes sense of the world if you are making sense of the world through the responses of others to trivial things and you can’t sit still for five minutes without finding your phone your hand again? Endless exploration of meaningless content is idling the mind at the expense of settling the heart.
Technology is not neutral, and it offers a false story as the answer to your deepest need, which is to be loved by your Maker. Is there space in your life to be “the thinking me that interprets and concentrates my life and character”?
Later in his book, Smith says, “Late capitalism is the age in which everyone has a computer in their pocket and a gaping hole where a father should be.” (p.195)
This comes from his chapter on fatherhood, but we can easily recognize the true gaping hole is where our union with God should be, through friendship with God in Christ. Smith describes the ambition of friendship with God (which we were all made for) as “the only ambition that comes with security, with a rest from the anxiety of every other ambition. Because all other ambitions are fragile, fraught. The attention of others is fickle. Domination of others is always temporary; you can’t win forever (just ask Rocky) Attainment is a goddess who quickly turns a cold shoulder. To aspire to friendship with God, however, is an ambition for something you could never lose. It is to get attention from someone who sees you and knows you and will never stop loving you. In short, it’s the opposite of fickle human attention, which is temporal and temperamental. God’s attention is not predicated on your performance. You don’t have to catch God’s notice with your display. He’s not a father you have to shock in order to jar his attention away from the game, crying out, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ God’s attention is a place where you can find rest and where, ‘in the father’s lap,’ as Augustine later puts it, you don’t have to be worried about getting attention from anyone else. You can rest.” (p.88-89)
It may seem trite to say it, but you can put your phone down. Technology is not neutral, and it tells a persuasive false story. Social media is in big business to monetize your attention through the deception of meaningful connection. You live with more ambient and available noise than any point in history, and it is vital that you reclaim your self before God. You can’t keep fire in your pocket and not get burned. Affirmation won’t answer the deeper question, and it takes quiet to hear the still, small voice of God.
- I really enjoyed this piece from Alan Jacobs on Reading Paul.
- My dear friend, Lore Ferguson Wilbert, just released her first book and I am so proud of her!
Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, made its way into the world this month. I read a portion during the writing process, and am eager to read the entire finished product. From following the release and chatter since, you should buy the book now.
- If you follow me on instagram, you might have noticed that I have a reoccuring story series entitled, Sunday Night Proverbs with (George) Herbert. It’s my way of spreading really old english proverbs into the ether of social media. Here’s a little FYI that I am starting a new series of Life Lessons from (John) Hannah, one of my favorite DTS Professors. You can look for those sometime mid to late week each week if things are manageable. Below are two examples of each.
Thanks for reading! If these are helpful, or there are topics you’d like to hear more about, head to the contact page and drop me a line.