Thanks, Coach. (An Open Letter to Andy Kennedy)

It was a heck of a ride Continue reading

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On Lent…

What I’m giving up… Continue reading

May It Last…

Herein I reflect upon The Avett Brothers.

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I Built a Table

I built a table. It’s not a very good table, but it seems sturdy, and it was pretty cheap, so I did it.

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A Thought…

it me, guy who remembers he has a blog! I always want to write more. I probably won’t, at least not here, but here’s something that happened today.

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Oh Say Can You See…

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I’ve been watching the news and watching sports and I’m frustrated with the way we talk to, or maybe more accurately at, each other. I don’t know what to do about that, and I feel pretty helpless. I don’t want to add to the noise, because there’s a lot of it. But here are my thoughts in list form:

  1. My opinion doesn’t matter. I’m just some guy who’s a big sports fan and occasionally writes down incoherent thoughts. If, by some odd chance you read this and either get mad or think I said something smart, remember that my opinion is irrelevant. I’m writing this out because writing helps me to process things, and I want to process them in a gracious and Christlike way that sees others – especially those who don’t look or think like I do – as image bearers of God.
  2. I like the NFL and the NBA. There are probably not many things that could happen that would change that. Guys expressing opinions I don’t like is not a thing that would make me not watch.
  3. I have no problem with peaceful protests. I struggle with this idea that kneeling/locking arms/raising a fist for the National Anthem is somehow “the wrong way” to protest. I think if you protest “the right way,” then you’re not actually protesting.
  4. I don’t understand what it’s like to be black in America. I will never understand that. I will not try to tell a black person, or anyone else really, how they should experience things. I want to be able to listen without an agenda – even if I can’t fully understand, I want to hear it.
  5. I don’t fully understand police brutality. I do understand not all – in fact, not most – police officers are bad. I understand the vast majority of them are guys who are just trying to do what’s right in a very, very difficult job.
  6. I’m not mad at Colin Kaepernick, I just don’t think he’s a very good quarterback. Well, a pro quarterback. Dude was must see TV in college.
  7. I am thankful for America, but I don’t understand what it’s like to be so invested in it that I feel the need to dehumanize someone/a group of people who are protesting the National Anthem. Not liking the protest is fine. Comparing people – human beings – quietly and (in my estimation) sincerely exercising their right to free speech and free expression to dogs is not, especially if you’ve gone out of your way to humanize white supremacists. To be sure, my problem is not humanizing white supremacists, but dehumanizing anthem protestors.
  8. I’ve never understood why we play the National Anthem before sporting events anyway. It’s fine. Like I said, I’m thankful for the United States and it’s great to be reminded of that.
  9. I have, for a few years now, struggled with putting my hand over my heart or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. My thought process on this confuses me, but part of what it comes down to is trying to figure out how “I pledge allegiance to the flag” and “You shall have no other gods before me” mesh. It’s a longer discussion. We can talk about it.
  10. I feel like saying “stick to sports” is just another way of saying “you exist for my entertainment, so shut up and play.” People are people. Just because someone plays a sport I like or plays for a team I really care about doesn’t mean they agree with me on everything.
  11. This whole “I miss when sports weren’t political” thing is ridiculous. Sports have always been political. It’s just that sometimes we approve of the cause, and sometimes we don’t. Jack Johnson vs. The Great White Hope was political. Jackie Robinson was political. You can make the case even the Fab Five was political. Team USA defeating Russia in whatever hockey game that was was political. We made Tim Tebow political.
  12. There are way more important things happening nationally and internationally. I put an embarrassing amount of time into Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4, but I don’t know how video-game-surviving-nuclear-apocalypse skills translate into real life nuclear apocalypse survival.
  13. At this point, I think people across the board are just looking for reasons to be mad. I don’t want to be mad, and I’m again seriously considering a prolonged social media break. We probably all need one.

Again, I’m just a dude who occasionally writes things down. I don’t have any answers. I do sincerely want to be able to listen and to view things the way Jesus views them and to love others the way He did.

Smartphones (Probably) Aren’t Killing Your Kid

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

That’s quite the headline. And it’s a good article in The Atlantic that you should read. I’m looking forward to reading the author’s (Jean M. Twenge) forthcoming book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us if for no other reason than I’m a sucker for a title that takes up three lines on a page.

The argument is simple, though – since 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, teen suicide rates have gone up. Teen social activity has gone down. The key moment, she argues, occurred in 2012 – the year American smartphone usage surpassed 50%.

There is a lot in the article – it’s the cover story of the September issue of The Atlantic. It’s well researched. Other people have questioned her research methods and asked some questions that, at least in the article, she glossed over. Those are valid concerns, but I’ll let other people ask those questions. My primary concern is this: what is our response as Christians? Most of the reaction I’ve seen as this article has gone viral (and there’s a certain irony that shouldn’t be lost on us that an article about how our smartphones are killing us has gone viral) has been panic. Outrage bloggers have picked it up and run with it. People who were already anti-kids having smartphones were vindicated, and people who generally praise technological advances have been relatively silent (this is purely anecdotal).

The most consistent questions I seem to get asked as a student pastor have to do with technology. What’s the youth group’s technology policy? At what age should I give my kid a phone? We’re concerned our kids spend too much time on their phones – what do we do? The question behind the questions, I think, is “how in the world do we disciple our kids in this ever complicated digital age?” And I don’t intend for this to be a defense of all things technological. We shape our technology, and our technology shapes us. There’s no doubt about that.

The good news is that while smartphones make the issue a bit more complicated, it’s actually not a new issue at all. The problem with an article like this, and Twenge may go into more detail in her book than the Atlantic article allowed her to, is that it seems to ignore a bunch of other factors. Yes, 2012 may be the moment American smartphone usage surpassed 50%, but what are some other factors? What’s happening in the economy? What’s happening in our schools? Are there any trends besides, or maybe in addition to, smartphones that might be influencing our kids? What do these trends – loneliness, suicide rates, etc. look like in other age groups? And, at least for Christian parents, there’s a glaring angle missing.

John Calvin called our hearts “idol factories.” And while smartphones themselves may be idols, I think the real heart of the issue so to speak is the access our smartphones give us to our idols. And that’s not just for our teens! It’s true of every age group. Our deepest desires are still to be fully known and fully loved. Smartphones haven’t changed that. They may have exacerbated it, but they haven’t changed it, and the good news is that our idols, not our smartphones, are killing us.

It’s good news because it’s an age old problem, with a tried and tested solution. It’s not an easy solution, nor is it necessarily an efficient one, but the answer is being parents. Deuteronomy 6 establishes our responsibility to our kids – teach God’s commands to our children. Talk of them when we sit at home, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. Bind them as signs on our hands and write them on the doorposts of our home. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our phones can give us opportunities to do just that, from the things we read to the ways we interact with people.

Our responses are almost always extreme. We see things happening and we either run away from them completely or dive in without looking. Neither one of these are particularly healthy. As parents, the responsibility is to help disciple our kids to understand how to glorify God in an increasingly digital world. That requires a lot of things – discernment and grace being among the most important. In 1 Chronicles 12, we learn of the men of Issachar – men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. They understood the world they lived in. They knew God and the promises He had made to His people. And they knew what Israel should do in light of these things.

That’s our call as parents, pastors, siblings, friends…whatever our role may be. Understand the times. Understand your kids. Remember the promises of God, and remember the things He has told us. We are created in His image, and among the biggest implications of that is we are made for relationships. Karl Barth said Christians should hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but to always interpret the newspaper through what we read in the bible. This is as true as it has ever been!

But it’s also a call to grace. We have to admit that we don’t fully understand this world – it changed so drastically and so rapidly total understanding would be nearly impossible. We also have to understand that our kids don’t know any different – I’m in the generation that saw the Internet first start to be as widely accessible as it is, and I remember the awful dial-up modem sound, but I also hardly remember the pre-online world. People just a few years older than me do, and people just a few years younger than me don’t remember it at all. It changed (or at least seemed to) that quickly, and we barely had time to understand how this technology was shaping us. So we have to be gracious with ourselves, to admit what we don’t know and to admit when we’re wrong, and we have to be gracious with our kids. Yes, they will at times seem like entitled brats when it comes to phones and tablets and whatever else, but we’re all entitled brats. That’s why sanctification is as beautiful as it is – as entitled brat adults raise entitled brat kids, Jesus is working through it and making us a little less entitled and a little less…brattish?

And so we come back to the question – how do we disciple our kids in the digital age? With discernment. With grace. Lots of grace. Let us see the good things about our kids, and let us see the ways phones enhance those and help our kids thrive. Let us understand, at the same time, their sinful nature and be honest about the ways phones tempt them. Let us take seriously the God given positions of authority and humbly pursue the most Christ honoring ways of exercising those. There will be times when that means taking phones. Guidelines will have to be set and enforced. There will be levels of maturity that will be expected. These are for our good and theirs, but we have to remember that kids don’t need friends in the digital world, they need guides. If we’re giving our kids smartphones and then sending them out into the world saying “good luck,” we’ve already lost the battle, and you don’t need an Atlantic piece or a research project to tell you that.

And read! Read a lot. There are a lot of great Christian authors studying this stuff, and they’re writing really good books about it. Here are some I would suggest starting with:

The Next Story, Tim Challies
The Tech Wise Family, Andy Crouch
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke

The reality is we live in a world where smartphones exist, and they’re only going to get smarter. If we’re not preparing our kids for that, someone else is.

Wrestling is dumb

Before this gets too far along, I know pro wrestling is scripted. I know that, above all else, it is entertainment, and in that sense, is not a true “sport.” So I’m not the middle aged guy standing up in a high school gym and telling an indie wrestler “It’s still real to me, dammit!” That’s not me. I also know that I’m 30, almost 31, and I should probably just give it up. But I don’t think that’s me, either.

I’ve always been drawn to it, though. I’ve always hooked on to the guys who were telling what I thought was my story. I remember when, as a seventh grader who felt like an absolute loner, I saw Sting for the first time. Besides just looking really freaking cool, I could relate – all of Sting’s friends turned on him and he was fighting, alone, against a gang of bullies. Sure, I liked a lot of other guys – Rey Mysterio, Jr. always put on great matches, Goldberg was a sight to behold, and Chris Jericho was the kind of annoying brat that made watching TV fun. And fun it was – until Sting showed up. Then I locked in. It was more than just fun, it was more than pro wrestling. It felt like someone understood my life and was attempting to explain it, even if it was beefed up, dressed in black spandex and white face paint, and carrying a black baseball bat.

Yeah, it sounds kind of lame, but I was in 7th grade. What else was I supposed to do?

I quit watching wrestling around the time WCW folded, which was April of 2001. I loosely paid attention, but the Monday Night Wars were over, the Attitude Era of WWF safely behind us, and I was growing up. But somewhere around 2010, I got sucked back in, and shortly after that, I met another guy who was telling my story.

Daniel Bryan wasn’t anything special. He was an average guy who didn’t have the look of anybody else on the WWE roster. But the dude could wrestle and the dude connected with the fans. That’s one of the cool things about pro wrestling – it gives people the chance to connect with their favorites. And for whatever reason, I connected with Daniel Bryan, especially his run up to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.

Every so often, pro wrestling stories intersect with real life, and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Bryan. He was the classic underdog – the on screen characters Triple H and Stephanie McMahon didn’t want him to succeed, so they threw roadblock after roadblock at him. But you also got the sense that the people who made the decisions behind the scenes didn’t want him to succeed, either. He didn’t have the look. He wasn’t a big powerful guy. He wasn’t particularly great cutting a promo. But he was one of us. And so we cheered him and cheered him and cheered him until the cheers couldn’t be ignored anymore. We’ve all been there – we feel like we’ve had teachers, or bosses, or people in other influential positions who didn’t want us to succeed. Stone Cold probably made that storyline famous, but there were a lot of us who didn’t want to respond by beating everyone up and drinking beer. We wanted to respond simply by just doing what we loved and doing it well.

And so, at Wrestlemania XXX, in front of 90,000 people, he held the championship belts high above his head. We chanted “YES! YES! YES!” along with him.

And now, it’s over.

Shortly after winning the title, he got hurt. And he stayed hurt, so he had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He tried to come back, and he did, winning the Intercontinental Championship.  But that was short lived, and finally, this year, he had to retire. Forever.

The news hit me hard, in much the same way I expect Peyton Manning’s inevitable announcement will hit me. It hit me the same way that losing Michael Scott and the rest of the crew from The Office hit me, and the way that the ending of Parks and Recreation hit me. Daniel Bryan is, in a lot of ways, a hero to me. I may be done with wrestling after this.

A lot of people have written better thoughts about this than me. No one will read this, and that’s fine. It’s just my voice, shouting into the silence, saying that yeah, wrestling is dumb and scripted. But Daniel Bryan is proof it’s not fake, and I think it’s safe to say the business is forever changed because he was in it. Yeah, it’s dumb and scripted, but I felt a connection with The American Dragon.

Thanks for the memories, Daniel. And we’ll always have New Orleans.

Me and My Bronco, Pt. 2 – She’s Finally Home

So it’s been a while – almost 4 months!

In case you forgot (and realistically you did, because I never write here), on June 21 I bought a Bronco. 1989, Eddie Bauer edition, and the exact same color scheme as the one I drove in high school. I bought it for next to nothing because there was a strong potential we would have to replace the engine in it. There was a part on the engine that had gone bad, and the fix ranged from simply replacing the part to replacing the whole engine.

Four months later, she has a new engine, a new fuel system, new brakes, and some other stuff that I don’t know how to explain. But most importantly, she’s finally sitting in my garage!

There’s still work to be done – the seatbelts have to be replaced (they’re already on their way), the door locks need to be fixed, the windows don’t work (all 3 of them have something wrong with them, ranging from not working at all to only rolling down but not up…), the gear shift indicator is broken (I literally have to stop and say “park, reverse, neutral, drive” as I shift in and out of gears) before I can move on to the strictly “fun” stuff (ideas including a new, possibly custom built, center console, new sound equipment, and other stuff of the sort) – but I’ve really enjoyed getting in it and messing around with it. I, who have no experience working on cars whatsoever, have already managed to pull the dashboard trim out to just the instrument panel and diagnosed what’s wrong with the gear shift indicator.

And all of that is not even to mention how much fun she is to drive!

My main concern at this point is naming her. I keep sticking with “November Blue” for a few reasons – one, she’s blue. Two, it’s an ode to one of my favorite Avett Brothers songs. Three, it took us almost to November to get her. But I’m still thinking on it.

And finally, some long awaited pictures (though if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen them. I’ll probably post more pictures of this truck than my kids, when they finally come).

One with the top off, because that's the way you're meant to ride in October in Mississippi.

One with the top off, because that’s the way you’re meant to ride in October in Mississippi.

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Front shot...the hood needs a good cleaning.

Front shot…the hood needs a good cleaning.

I think this is her best angle

I think this is her best angle

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33″ Cooper Discoverer SST’s

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Me and My Bronco, pt. 1 – Getting Reacquainted

My junior year of high school, my dad got me a 1991 Ford Bronco.  I drove her through my freshman year of college, then got rid of her because of some electrical problems and gas mileage.  Driving that thing between Jackson and Oxford was rough.  She was an Eddie Bauer edition, navy blue with a khaki stripe across the bottom and matching top.  I loved that truck as much as any vehicle I’ve ever owned, and the moment we got rid of her, I vowed I’d get another one.  That was somewhere around 2003-2004.  I wasn’t sure when or how, but I vowed I would get another one.

Last Sunday, June 21, 2015, I took a major step towards fulfilling that vow.  I found a 1989 Ford Bronco on Craigslist, and I pulled the trigger on buying her.  She cost $2,500, and we bought it knowing it was going to be a bit of a project.  She’s an Eddie Bauer edition, navy blue with a khaki stripe across the bottom and matching top.  Nostalgia definitely played a part in buying it, and it was a decently sized gamble on buying her.  The seller included in the ad that her harmonic balancer was going to need to be replaced, and a mechanic friend said that could either be an easy fix or necessitated an engine replacement.

Come to find out, she needs a new engine.

So, at this point, it’s kind of wait and see.  Our budget for the fix up job is $2,000, and obviously a new engine will eat up a huge chunk of that.  I’m pretty confident that she’ll fetch at least what we paid for her if the rest of the job turns out to be more expensive, but I figured I’d record the chronicles here because I want something to write about and I want to track my progress as I try my hand at some mild auto restoration.  If the engine works out, a lot of work will need to be done on the interior, but nothing a person who can follow instructions can’t handle (I hope).  She’ll also need a good cleaning and buffing – if I can get that navy blue to shine again, she’s going to be a beautiful truck.  And even if this one doesn’t work out, I’ll find another one.  The time has come to be back in a Bronco, and I can’t wait for it to finally be here.

My only regret so far is that I don’t have any pictures to show for it.  The body is in great shape, she’s sitting on 33″ mud tires (Cooper SSTs), and has nerf bars under the doors.  Unfortunately, that’s about all she has going for her.  The headliner is hanging pretty low, the windows don’t roll up and down right all the time, one of the arm rests on the door is totally chewed up, and you can’t tell what gear she’s in because the orange indicator thing is out.  And the whole engine thing.

Whatever the decision we make on her is, I want to keep a running log of what’s going on.  I’m definitely an amateur at this, but it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.  So consider this chapter in the new story of me and my Bronco.

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