I Could’ve Been a Scholarship Athlete

I was born about twenty years too early. Colleges are offering scholarships for esports. Video games! You can get an education for being good at games like League of Legends and Overwatch. Rebecca Heilweil of Wired writes:

Most parents dismiss video­games as a mind-dulling distraction from their kids’ studies. Little do they know all that button­­mashing could translate into a fat college fund. Over the past five years, esports have grown into an estimated $906 million industry, with recruiters, coaches, and dedicated arenas. Nearly 200 US colleges are offering around $15 million per year in scholarships for the esports elite, and university teams can earn millions more in tournament prizes. Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley is getting in on the market: PlayVS, a startup that organizes high school esports leagues, has raised $46 million from investors like Diddy and Adidas. Game recognize game.

My favorite infograhic from Wired? This one:

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My brother remembers me being quite good at Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. I could throw that speed ball by you. Ah, glory days.

Power Laces. Alright.

The last issue of Wired magazine had a nice spread on Nike’s Adapt BB, a self-lacing basketball shoe with plenty of smart technology. The shoe releases later this month on February 17, and you can own a pair for $350.

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Image via HYPEBEAST

After pairing your phone with your shoes, you can adjust the fit, switch between  presets, change the lights, and monitor your battery levels. The Adapt is equipped with Bluetooth technology and can be charged wirelessly via a Qi-like pad.

Marty wore the Nike Air 2015. We’re only a few years behind. The Adapt BB looks way better. This 2016 Wired feature tells how the HyperAdapt was first engineered, and has several great shots of a few members of the Nike design team and their work spaces.

With a couple of exceptions, I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes for years. My parents bought me these Air Max 2 CB 94s. Yes, I was a fan of Charles Barkley, who said “Any knucklehead can score.” I should’ve heeded what he said about rebounding.

I wear a size twelve. If you’re looking for ideas for what to get me for Christmas, the Adapt BBs will be out there.

What’s Your Favorite Board Game?

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Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

Shortly after 2019 rolled in, our family did a refresh around the house. We tackled a few long-neglected organizational projects, threw away a bunch of old papers, and redecorated areas that had grown stale. It was nice. Home suddenly felt a little more homey.

One of the decisions we made was to pull several of our board games out of a cabinet and move them into our children’s area in the living room. We put Guess Who?, Battleship, and Catch Phrase in a visible and accessible place, and placed Scrabble, Boggle, and others in another storage area nearby.

According to Rave Reviews, Scrabble, Monopoly, and Catan rank one, two, and three as the best board games of all time. Popular Mechanics released a list of fifty “best” new board games in December of 2018. The first three on the list: Root, Dinosaur Island, and Hardback. I had not heard of a single game on their entire list. Also, how many games released last year? How difficult was it to narrow this list to fifty?

We moved our board games into a prominent place in the house to increase the chances  we’d play them when our kids begged for screen time or if we needed an alternative to a movie.  I put a couple of classic pegboard games–the tricky triangle and tic-tac-toe–on our dining room table. I did so because I think these games are better ways to connect, to learn communication skills, to engage the mind, and to have fun. They also give us opportunities to teach moral lessons about such matters as fairness, being a good sport, healthy competition, emotional control and emotional intelligence.

I also thought it would provide something for us to do when we have guests.

So what’s your favorite board game? Or games?

The Restorative Power of Art

I’m reading Jeff Tweedy’s memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back Again) because of my decade long listenership to Wilco. The book was a Christmas gift. My fascination with the band began with a friend named Clint Newlan, who was a shift manager and fellow barista with me at Starbucks in 2005-2006. I saw a Wilco show with Clint at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on March 21, 2006, saw them again at Crossroads KC with my friend Mike Hibit on October 6, 2009, and then went to see them with Molly at Bass Concert Hall in Austin on October 1, 2017. I’m a fan.

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Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

In the book Tweedy comments on the purpose of art, and expands his thought by reflecting on art’s restorative power. He writes:

I think that may be the highest purpose of any work of art, to inspire someone else to save themselves through art. Creating creates creators. When I was in the hospital going through treatment for addiction and depression, they would have everyone in my group do art therapy. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen was watching a catatonic sixty-three-year-old woman who had been hooked on heroin for close to thirty years become human again by holding a pencil and being asked to draw. I’m an agnostic by nature, but seeing that made me believe in staying close to the notion of a creator. The one we identify with most easily by finding it in ourselves.

I think that is about right. Art puts us back together; creating heals, connecting us with something that is elemental to being human. Art is not a self-salvation project, as Tweedy suggests, but it does have restorative potential.

There is a theological dimension to Tweedy’s observation as well, one Christian theology affirms. The Apostle’s Creed begins with the words, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and when God gets around to creating humankind in Genesis 1:27, we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

While Tweedy is an agnostic, his impressions point him toward a truth that Christians agree with: “Creating creates creators.” Human beings, created in the image of their Maker, make.

The creative impulse is stamped upon us, and creativity takes many forms. When it finds outward expression it is not only revelatory of something within, but also something without–the existence of a Creator who first created, making creatures who then, in turn, create.

Book Notes and Kindle Deals

Today I went shopping at a local thrift shop and spent less than six bucks on five CDs, one DVD, and four books. My best find: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I paid fifty cents for a hardback edition of the best novel I read in 2017.

Earlier in the week, on another bookstore visit, I bought a signed and dedicated copy of William Brackney’s A Genetic History of Baptist Thought for nine dollars. Why was I excited about this one? It was dedicated to Herbert H. Reynolds, who was President of Baylor University from 1981 to 1995.

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The title page, with signature, dedication, and HHR stamp.

I just finished reviewing Amazon’s Kindle deals for the month of January, and have chosen to link those I find notable. I’ll offer a sentence or two on each selection.

This is one of my favorite novels, so at $3.99 as an eBook I think it’s a steal. I’d go so far as to recommend this one as an actual book for your shelves. Berry’s depiction of a barber in the small town of Port William, Kentucky shows the meaning of vocation, community, gentleness, love of the land, and simple faith.

These are both $1.99, and either could be used as a daily devotional resource. Merton and Lewis are both insightful and worth allowing into your thought-space on a regular basis.

Rutledge has a gift with words, and she is a fantastic preacher. I have many of her books on my shelves.

I haven’t read this book, but I love Fred Rogers.

Brennan Manning has taught me a tremendous amount about God’s grace, and this book is only $1.99. Manning makes it clear that God’s love for us is far grander than we’ve imagined and that it is for everyone, even you and me.

For about the first ten years of my marriage I made it a goal to read at least one book annually on how to be a better spouse. There is another book out there by Gary Thomas that is more about those who are not married but open to be married that is also on sale, which might be of interest to some.

This week I finished Jeff Tweedy’s memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). Tweedy is a singer/songwriter, and leads my favorite band, Wilco. I also finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s So Far So Good, her final collection of poems.

Happy reading!

The View of the Moment, or the Eternal

It is hard to judge the significance of our actions when so much of our life is mundane, repetitive, routine. We grow up, get educated, get a job, gain friendships, and go on with our days. Then we ask, “Is this it?”

This past week I listened to a friend who was reflecting on whether or not they were doing enough, whether they were settling, or if they should push, take risks, and do something big, whatever that might be. They wondered if they were missing out, whether or not they should be more like other friends in their same stage of life who had broken radically with their past, traveled the world, found employment in far off places, and appeared to be living a more exciting life. They wondered if that could be them, if those possibilities were open, or not.

These ponderings, and the longings associated with them, are both common and natural. It is good to be reflective and to ask if the path chosen is right, proper, and fitting. I thought every question, every thought being voiced by my friend was admirable and good, demonstrating self-awareness, humility, and an openness to change.

But to ask those questions, and to answer them well, another layer is needed. What is that layer?

It is easy to say, but hard to do.

We need evaluative criteria by which to judge the answers, to hold in check longings and desires which may only reflect our tendency to compare or our propensity for disquiet and restlessness, or, more darkly, our enviousness. There is a need for a sense not only of what is good, but what is good for me. Once we have established our criteria, we do the hard work of applying it to the life, circumstance, and the unique contours of the self, the person.

This isn’t easy to do. Why? Because we tend to judge our choices, and the choices of others, on the basis of a value set that has been determined by our time and place, what Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called a “contemporary” or “the moment.” Kierkegaard saw that we needed another vantage, “the Eternal,” to determine the significance of an action, a choice, a life, or an accomplishment.

The “view of the moment” is often what we utilize in making judgments. But those same moments, if eternally understood, may be far more significant than we have imagined.

In Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard writes:

By the help of a sense perception, a living generation often believes itself able to pass judgment on a past generation, because it misunderstood the Good. And it is even guilty of committing the same offense against a contemporary. And yet it is just in regard to his contemporary that a man should know whether he has the view of the moment, or the view of the Eternal. At some later date, it is no art to decorate the graves of the noble and to say, “If they had only lived now,” now–just as we are starting to do the same thing against a contemporary. For the difficulty and the test of what dwells in the one who judges is precisely–the contemporary. The view of the moment is the opinion which in an earthly and busy sense decides whether a man accomplishes anything or not. And in this sense, nothing in the world has ever been so completely lost as was Christianity at the time that Christ was crucified. And in the understanding of the moment, never in the world has anyone accomplished so little by the sacrifice of a consecrated life as did Jesus Christ. And yet in the same instant, eternally understood, He had accomplished all. For He did not foolishly judge by the result that was not yet there, or more rightly (for here is the conflict and battleground of the two interpretations of what is meant by “accomplishing”) the result was indeed there.

Kierkegaard understood that the full result of our actions, though “there,” may not be fully seen by us in our time or moment.

In our daily lives, our actions, choices, rhythms and routines may appear to us to be mundane, but eternally understood those same actions may be filled with an incomprehensible significance we can only partially imagine. We need a vision of the Good, and the perspective of the Eternal.

This realization is a step, but only a small one, toward being more present to the people and responsibilities you assume each day, for while it is only natural to wonder whether one is stewarding one’s life well, we should not miss the opportunity to live in view of the Eternal and the Good, that which will last and never pass away, the kingdom of God, which is near and at hand.

2019: The Year Ahead

One week ago today I visited Barnes & Noble and bought a Moleskine 2018-2019 daily planner. It was fifty percent off retail and my first major victory of the year, so I added it to my goals ex post facto: “Buy planner at discount.” That’s one way to keep your New Year’s Resolutions. Do, then record. Shoot, then aim.

I didn’t stop there, and I changed my methodology. I made forty goals. Some are very specific with measurable outcomes. Others are a trajectory. A few goals are continuations of a previous beginning; others are repeats of previous failures. As Bruce Lee said, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  Bruce Lee also said, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

After aiming, action.

Family Goals

I divide my goals up into categories. The first is family. Most are simple. I plan to go on a date with Molly once per month. We have set financial goals for savings this year (and strategies to reduce expenses), as well as ways to spend time together as a family, including trips to the local zoo, using gift cards for our meals out when we have them, and going camping. I have a big organizational goal to catalogue my library, systematize my paper and digital files, and make accessible the thousands of photographs dispersed across multiple hard drives. I am fairly organized, but there is more I can do.

We know we are getting things right when we have peace at home. Our relationships to one another, to money, to our possessions, to our community, and to the natural world all require attention, each in their own way. Each relationship has bearing on the others. Peace is not only the absence of conflict, but the presence of harmony, wholeness. That’s what we want at home.

Faith Goals

I am a Christian. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to grow, and growth involves change. There is a sense in which I will never fully arrive. The maturation process will be ongoing. But it is possible to mature. There is a process, and there is progress. It may not always be a straight line, but God brings about growth. Spiritual growth often involves three elements that I try to remember: Vision, Intention, and Means. See, decide, and do.

Philippians 2:12-13 is a helpful guide. Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God works in us, and we work our salvation out.

The inward changes God manifests in us take shape in our lives, and thus in the world, through obedience. Obedience isn’t such a nasty word when the one who commands is good, and the one who obeys freely wills to act, trust, and follow.

When we have a vision of who has God called us to be in Christ, we respond with an intention to follow (meaning, it is our sincere desire to become and do the things Jesus himself did and taught), and then we take up the means, or ways, God has made available to us, the same means Jesus himself utilized during his life, such as prayer, service, Bible study, solitude, silence, worship, fellowship, and others.

This year, our family has a specific target for financial stewardship as part of First Methodist Waco. Molly and I will make it a habit to read the Psalms together and pray daily. I’m reading through the Bible this year, learning to fast, teaching Sunday school, empowering others for leadership, and revisiting New Testament Greek (eek!).

I’ve shared with friends that I want to become wise, and I want to become a saint, and while I know I am a saint by virtue of my status in Christ, I want to reflect that reality more than I presently do, especially since I am cognizant there are times, moments, and maybe even prolonged interactions where I do not fulfill the calling I have as a disciple of Jesus. I want to be all God intends for me to be.

Fitness Goals

In our family we value strong, healthy bodies. In recent years we have learned about proper nutrition, wise food choices, and appropriate supplements, such as a daily multi-vitamin and Omega-3s. We’ve used Advocare products for a few years (and if you’d like to learn which ones and what we think, contact me). Have we always gotten it right? No! But have we learned? Yes.

I have set a target weight, an exercise routine, a specific number of race events I’d like to compete in this year, state parks I’d like to hike, and a way to approach playing basketball each week. My big goal in this area is fairly simple: have a healthy heart, working limbs, and the ability to enjoy time with my kids. I don’t have to be a bodybuilder, just sound and capable of fun.

Creative Goals

Every person is creative. Some of us are just more aware of it than others. I write, take photographs, and draw. Those activities require creativity. In order to be creative in those endeavors, I need to read, learn, and grow. I plan to read sixty five books this year, take courses at the local community college in art, blog routinely, participate in a photo challenge, and be more disciplined in how I structure my work hours.

I also plan to spend more time in the kitchen and learn how to cook a few (more) things, which means Molly will be my teacher. I’m looking ahead to 2020, when I’ll attend a writers conference. That’s a sentence I never imagined myself writing.

Community Goals

Lastly, I have community goals. I want to be a good neighbor and grow my friendships, so I’ll put together a few poker games, work with others around me to organize a few block parties, and continue coaching youth sports. I also plan to give blood (I do not enjoy needles), but it is something I want to do, partly to honor one of my grandparents, and partly because I can and because it is right. Molly and I also plan to routinely invite friends over for dinner, to open our home and practice hospitality.

What’s Success?

I review my goals daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually in various ways and to different degrees. If I accomplish all of my goals it will be borderline miraculous.

My greater hope is to become a better person. If I move marginally in that direction, that will be a win, and all praise, glory, and honor will be to God.

I’ve taken aim. It’s time for action.

2018: My Year in Reading

That’s right. It’s time, once again, for everybody to sit back, relax, and enjoy my annual recap of the year in reading. This is one of the most heralded, most anticipated, and most celebrated lists published so far this year. Aren’t you glad you are reading it?

By clicking this link you are “in,” cool, hip, groovy, rad, stylin’, profilin’, rockin’, rollin’, magnificent, stunning, fantastic, prodigious, marvelous, moving, clever, keen, acute, wise, bright, brainy, canny, crafty, angelic, cherubic, seraphic, beatific, saintly, and all that jazz. Right now, by reading this, you are better looking than you were a moment ago. You have a certain aura, a glow of awesomeness. You’ve leveled up and powered up, just by reading this. You should read everything I write (subscribe!).

Prepare to have your day brightened and your mind enlightened, your interest piqued and your sensibilities tweaked–guaranteed, or your money back.

How Many Books Did I Read This Year?

My love of literature increased this year. I set a modest goal this year to read fifty books, which I exceeded by a wide margin. I read ninety five books, and that’s not counting the comics (I started taking my kids to a comic book shop once a month as a family outing), graphic novels, and my (almost) daily sit down with the newspaper and the Psalms. I read a whole lot, more than I anticipated, and discovered new authors and new stories. You can browse what I read here. I made an addition to my media log this year and included movies and television series I watched, which I mainly streamed on Amazon Prime or checked out on DVD from the local library.

What Were My Favorite Books This Year?

I’ll begin with fiction, because fiction gave me the most joy. Ursula K. Le Guin died in 2018, and after reading about her life I checked out a collection of her essays, No Time to Spare, from the local library. Soon thereafter I was led to The Left Hand of Darkness and the first three books in her Earthsea cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore). Earthsea is a fantasy tale, set in a collection of islands, involving a vast and wide ocean, with plenty of wizardry. The first book was the one I found most striking, particularly in how Le Guin wrestles with human ambition and pride, our longing for greatness, and the shadows we cast.

P. D. James’ The Children of Men is another book I immensely enjoyed. Imagine a world that suddenly experiences a stoppage in births. Time passes, and there are no children. The death of the species can be seen in the near future, and while human beings hold out hope that a technological solution will be found, none is forthcoming. What would that world be like? And what would it be like if, suddenly, one woman was found to be pregnant, and a man of lapsed Christian faith found himself in the middle of it? How would he regard the event itself? How would he navigate the obvious political implications of such an event? Those questions are addressed in the novel.

I finished Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth series by reading A Column of Fire. Pillars remains one of my favorite works, with Prior Philip being one of my favorite characters. I discovered Joe Abercrombie’s work, another fantasy writer, whose Half a King, Half the World, and Half a War are all excellent for their character development and intrigue. There is a revelation in Abercrombie’s third book I suspected in the first, and when confirmed found very satisfying. I also read Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Willa Cather’s My Antonia’, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King.

In nonfiction, I read a great deal of political commentary. I’m trying to understand the moment, I guess. Amy Chua’s Political Tribes was insightful as was David Frum’s Trumpocracy. I enjoyed Russell Shorto’s Revolution Song as a creative work of history, and learned a great deal about the opioid epidemic by reading Sam Quinones’ Dreamland. One of the more interesting nonfiction books I read this year was by Bill and Rachel James called The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery. Yes, Bill James of baseball’s statistical revolution, and yes, together with his daughter they piece together a series of ax murders from the early 1900s that appear to be connected, then offer their best guess at who was behind them all.

In the area of personal development and self-improvement, I really enjoyed reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, Total Recall. Those who know me well know I love Arnold. Bodybuilding, movies, politics, and, believe it or not, there is a lot of practical wisdom in this book. I also enjoyed Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work!, Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art, and Damon Young’s The Art of Reading.

There is one last nonfiction book that stands out: Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, by Gregory Alan Thornbury. I didn’t know anything about Larry Norman, or at least I thought I didn’t, but through reading this book I was able to see his influence in the music I was familiar with, both in mainstream rock and in the Christian music industry. I spent time listening to his stuff on Spotify.

I read a lot of Christian literature this year, as I always do, consuming a lot of trade books and a few works of biblical and theological studies. I wrote short reviews of many of the Christian books I read on Amazon. The book that has remained with me most has been Ben Myers’ short book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, which I found to be brilliantly written, theologically insightful, and historically rich. I also enjoyed Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited for the very first time, Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, and Eugene Peterson’s collection of sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

Two works of theology stick out in my mind: Rene Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning and Beth Felker Jones’ Marks of His Wounds. James Bryan Smith’s The Magnificent Journey was a clearly written, encouraging read, and Gary Moon’s biography of Dallas Willard, Becoming Dallas Willard are two other books I am likely to return to in the years ahead.

Did You Hate Anything?

Yes. Yes I did.

Hate is probably too strong a word. This year I became a little better at putting down books that aren’t paying off. But there are a few I read cover to cover that I didn’t overwhelmingly enjoy: two books by N. T. Wright (God in Public and The Day the Revolution Began), Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway, and Dan Pink’s When. I also didn’t care much for Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life. Peterson is an interesting fellow and he is saying some things that I guess need to be said, but I think his popularity says more about the void of the moment than it does the profundity of his prose.

What Are you Reading Right Now?

I’m reading Andrew Delbanco‘s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. Next up will be Jeff Tweedy’s Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), a memoir of his life as a musician. Tweedy is most notable as the frontman for WILCO, my favorite band (“Dad Rock”). Beyond that, I have a couple of titles to read for review, and plenty of stuff I’ve yet to dig in to on my shelves at home. I also have a long list of titles I’ve bookmarked at the local library.

What Did I Learn From My Reading Experience This Year?

I gained two major insights. The first is that I deeply love fiction, and I have a surprising appreciation for fantasy literature. I’ve neglected fiction for too long, and I need to spend more time reading the great novels already resting on my shelves, waiting for me, calling to me.

The second insight is that I need to be more selective. Qoheleth tells us in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” There are so many books! What’s more, there are so many great ones! I do not have time to read them all. No one does. So I need to be choosy. I need to spend time reading Barth, Kierkegaard, and Augustine, not to mention Aquinas, Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare. I may read far fewer books this year, but come away far richer.

That’s my goal. I guess you’ll find out how I did next year, next edition, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?

The Magnificent Journey is Magnificent

One of my favorite books of this past year was The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom by James Bryan Smith. Journey is the second in Smith’s latest trilogy of books, preceded by The Magnificent Story (2017) and to be followed by The Magnificent Mission, releasing in fall of 2019.

The Magnificent Journey addresses a lack found often in Christian history, but particularly in our moment: among those professing faith in Jesus, too few embrace discipleship to Jesus, which is learning the way of life with Jesus. Smith uses the metaphor of journey to remind us that in the kingdom of God there is always a sense that we are on the move, keeping in step with Jesus as he calls to us, “Follow me!”

If Jesus is leading, then we are following. We are not “in charge.” Obedience is part of this way of life, and one of Jesus’ commands is to take up a cross. The Christian life, paradoxically, involves death to self in order to find life that lasts, a life fully alive to God. We must “surrender,” but not only once. Smith explains that surrender is not only an action taking place at conversion, but that surrender is also a way, a daily decision to yield oneself to God, to trust, and to follow.

Smith expands this idea to show that it is through surrender that we learn “to grow in the grace and knowledge of God.” In other words, by surrendering our faith grows. We learn, through experience, that God is good and can be trusted. This is not always easy.

Life involves suffering. Sometimes we experience tragedy. Smith is no stranger to this truth, and he tells of how God has used his own heartaches and heartbreaks in life for good. Smith does not minimize the magnitude of pain, nor deny the depth of our wounds, but instead points to Jesus and reminds us of the comfort found in worshiping a God who is well acquainted with grief, suffering, and death, yet who overcame those realities in the resurrection, and who promises us everlasting life.

The remainder of the book expands on this idea: that through surrender to Jesus we are led to experience life as God intended it for us. The way of surrender calls us to live our lives “from above,” or from the perspective and power of God and the everlasting kingdom. As we do so we learn to listen to God first (and, consequently, to others more carefully), to develop a deep, abiding trust by walking in faith, to live with hope, to demonstrate love, and to experience deep joy. Smith contends that this is the life God has for us. It is the life Jesus came to demonstrate for us, and to deliver to us. It is a life we receive through faith, by grace, so that God can use us for good.

Smith’s greatest authorial virtue is found in his gentle, pastoral style, with which he effectively conveys historical, biblical, and theological insight. Professor Smith has clearly spent time listening, observing, and tending to those around him, beginning with his family, church community, students, and those who share his cultural moment. He has identified many of the ideas that keep people from embracing God, from responding to the love of God extended to us through Jesus Christ. I have long admired this quality in Smith’s writing, speaking, and teaching ministry. Smith displays this virtue in this book.

Of all Smith’s books, this is my favorite thus far. I recommend it.

Putting Our Remarkable Minds to Use

It’s the job of art to free our minds, and the task of criticism to figure out what to do with that freedom. That everyone is a critic means, or should mean, that we are each of us capable of thinking against our prejudices, of balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, of sharpening our dulled and glutted senses and battling the intellectual inertia that surrounds us. We need to put our remarkable minds to use and pay our own experience the honor of taking it seriously.

– A. O. Wilson, Better Living Through Criticism, 12

This brings to recollection a recent conversation with a friend who said that listening to a sermon is one particular time during his week in which he brings the full measure of his mental focus to bear upon an occasion, an event, noticing every word, the tone, nuances, and inflection. He listens, deeply and carefully. The stakes are high. That is why, for him, it is so important that the sermon contain a thread he can follow, one he can learn from. In doing so, not only is he seeking to take the sermon and the person delivering the sermon seriously, he is also putting his mind to use and paying his own experience the honor of taking it seriously.

He’s engaged in criticism. Criticism notes what is lacking, but it also elevates what is worthy of attention, lest we miss it. It is possible to engage in the practice of criticism while being charitable, civil, and even kind. In other words, everyone can be a critic, and in some sense should be. But criticism must be accompanied by other virtues if it is to be Christian.

The sermon is art. So is the essay, the blog post, the photograph, maybe, also, the caption. The job of the sermon, as well as these other art forms, is not only to fill the mind or inform the soul, but to offer and invite us toward freedom–to think, to change, to grow. To be serious.

Once that freedom is received, what we do with that freedom is up to us. The possibilities begin when we put our remarkable minds to use, when we get serious.

I can think of no other subject about which we should be so serious, as well as so joyful, as that of contemplating God and the things of God.