Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Blog

Barrelling Forward

What happens when you commit yourself to an 800 word newsletter/podcast to be released three times each month?

Nothing much else.

As I announced back in April elsewhere and on this blog in June, I’ve started a thrice monthly publication aimed at pastors and those who care for pastors. Greatheart’s Table, as it is named, has received a modest reception. Numbers are really hard to get or understand. But it’s pretty clear heavy hitters like Joel Osteen or Brene Brown have nothing to fear from this, the new kid on the block.

Neverthess the response I have received has been sufficiently fulfilling to keep me plugging away. One listener said,

“I listen and have friends who listen. We talk about it. They look forward to it and I think it has been one of the things that has helped my friend process his grief from a super bad church situation. He said he looks forward to each episode.”

Another commented,

“Stumbling across your writing has been a tremendous blessing.”

A surprising volume of positive input has come from non-pastors. Apparently, Greatheart’s Table touches on realities felt by engineers, teachers, and others as well as pastors.

But it has required focus. I’ve published nearly 15,000 words in the past six months, all on Greatheart’s Table. Other projects—such as the nearly completed memoir (a story I really want to tell), essays on corporal punishment, on the audience of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, on rethinking the meaning of headship, and the long dreamed of book on the intersection between pastoral ministry and sanctification—these all sit on the bench. I don’t know how to summon them into the game as long as Greatheart’s Table is barreling forward and as long as I have a congregation wanting me to be their pastor. I hope to figure that out. (Though I cannot help but note that the metaphor of “barrelling forward” has somewhat concerning connections with Niagra Falls.)

If you’ve been wondering whether I’ve died, retired, or run away to farm okra in Michigan, I’ve done none of that (though the okra farm sounds fun). I’m slogging away and spreading my thoughts elsewhere.

I’d be encouraged if you join me there for this part of my journey.

For a general introduction to Greatheart’s Table you can go here.

Subscribe to the newsletter here.

The podcast, whose content is identical to the newsletter, is available at all the usual podcast outlets such as Apple, Spotify, Google, and Amazon – or by searching for “Greatheart’s Table.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts and its Kin

I once birthed a blog called Somber and Dull.

I described it as an online journal, a collection point for my random thoughts. For a long time it satisfied my growing impulse to write. I’m proud of what appeared there – from what felt like a lonely critical take on Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer to a preliminary development of my fundamental understanding of a Christian’s personal role in God’s sanctifying work which I came to understand as “standing in the way of grace.”

Years passed, and my baby Somber and Dull grew up to become

As pretentious as that sounded, it was the way to go, I was told, if I were to get more serious about my writing. By then I was writing not only for the blog but also for other projects for which I had dreams of publishing. I’m a slow writer, a ponderous one, so as more projects clamored for attention, others, like this blog, received less.

And then the unthinkable happened. A publisher agreed to publish the book I had christened Something Worth Living For.

Suddenly all my attention bore down on getting that book out there before the world. Projects related to drawing attention to the book spun off from that. As a result, this blog became the largely neglected child.

Now that the book is out there, what is next? The book has not vaulted me to fame, and publishers are not beating down my door to see what else I have in my back pocket. Though I might have worthy projects in mind and a proven track record of being able to execute those projects, as long as I’m an obscure, unknown (and uncontroversial), small church pastor in Florida publishers remain uninterested.

Which, I’ve decided, is fine. I get it.

So what’s up currently? In March of this year, in conversation with a variety of friends, a new “child” was birthed. It is a combination newsletter/podcast for “pastors and those who care for them,” called Greatheart’s Table.

My intention with this is to be a voice of encouragement for pastors, that they might take heart and press on. This is something of a test, a running a flag up the pole to see if any who do not know me have interest in what I have to say. Early feedback suggests that though the posts are written for pastors, non-pastors are benefiting as well. I have committed to producing three posts each month for a year before reevaluating it. I am proud of Greatheart’s Table, to be honest. I invite you to subscribe to either the print newsletter or the podcast on any platform like Apple or Spotify.

In addition to Greatheart’s Table, I’ve been encouraged to write for publication an essay on the intended audience for the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as I reject, with good support, the popular notion that it was written primarily for children. I’ve written a longer essay on the stunningly wrong and harmful way Christians use the Bible to justify spanking their children which needs, I and some others think, wider attention for the sake of confused parents and battered children. I have another book largely complete, and one or two in my head.

And I have a day job (and a moonlighting gig).

Though has been neglected, it is not forgotten. In addition to occasional content of a general interest, I will try to post updates here on what my various other “children” are doing. Thanks for hanging around for the ride. It has been the readers of this blog who pushed and urged me to write more (a fact noted in the acknowledgements of Something Worth Living For) and so my relative absence here is the fruit of your encouragement. My appreciation is deep.

Missing Your Blog

I received a terse but kind text on Tuesday of this week:

“Missing your blog.”


I miss it, too.

So it may seem a curiosity that I have neglected it for so long.

It’s not for lack of material. Like most I have takes on Pressing Matters of Great Importance, like Tiger King (DID Carol kill her husband and feed him to her cats?). I have ideas on how preachers should preach when the congregation is at home in their pajamas. And I have thoughts on deeper things that are not culturally urgent such as living without fear or taking vows of celibacy. I have pieces in the queue that are funny, or try to be, and some that challenge (perhaps unwisely) conventional wisdom. Not all of this should be published, but I’d like to get some of these, at least, out there to be seen. So, yes, I, too, am missing the blog.

Apart from the current challenge of pastoring a church that cannot meet, my blog writing has been curtailed for a number of reasons. First, the little time I do have each day to give to writing has continued to be drained by The Book. I completed the first complete draft of Something Worth Living For in December. January was spent re-working the text for the publisher. Then time was spent with an editor going over it once again. All the while, I’ve directed time toward gaining endorsements and other such marketing efforts. I mistakingly thought that once I was done I was done. Just this morning, fifteen minutes of my writing time was spent corresponding with Christian Focus Publications as we continue to tweak the sub-title.

But now, most of that is behind me. And yet, that has left me flopping on the deck like a fish out of water. Someone I greatly respect asked me, “So what is your next book going to be?” Wait, should there be a next book? And so I sit, pondering, sketching, thinking, and not writing. Which of my five or six ideas have potential, both of sustaining my interest and capturing the interest of a publisher? (The latter being an especially relevant question since I only have a small number of blog subscribers, not quite 500 followers on Twitter, and only a handful who find me interesting on Instagram, the metrics that make most publishers sit up and take notice.) Will anything so capture me that I’m willing to shut off other pursuits to focus on that one alone for the year or two it would take to do the writing?

And then there is my desire to improve my writing. As I write, I was supposed to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending the now postponed Festival of Faith and Writing. There I was to have participated in a workshop focused on writing a personal essay, a genre of great interest to me, with Meghan O’Gieblyn, an award-winning practitioner of the craft. The essay I was to have submitted for that workshop I have continued to write even though there is now no where to submit it.

And that is part of the problem as well. I am a ponderous reviser. I envy writers who seem to form a finished product in their brain which then flows from their fingers through the keyboard and out to the waiting eyes of their insatiable readers. In contrast, I am working on the tenth or eleventh revision of my unneeded essay. I now thoroughly hate it and need to lay it aside until I can like it again. It’s getting closer, but the hours I have spent, while good in sharpening my thought, and possibly (though this close to it I can’t see it) improving my writing, those were hours I could have given to the blog.

And finally it’s hard to take up the blog and build any sense of expectation in my readers when I know that I will fail you again. This blog will for the near future, at least, be a fill-in-the-gap space, which seems a paltry payment to readers who have, like my recent correspondent, encouraged me so much. You are not unappreciated. A paragraph in the acknowledgments of Something Worth Living For (look for it around November!) says, “For years faithful readers of my blog have urged me to write more.” This blog has been the genesis of much, including a book! I hope to, at least in the next few months, repay you with more frequent infrequent visits. For I miss it, too.

The Preacher Is Out In

For a man who wants to maintain a blog, who believes that this is part of his calling, and who actually enjoys (mostly) doing so, five months between posts seems to belie it all. Nevertheless, as has often been pleaded to my patient and faithful readers, life has intercepted these desires.

Lack of presence does not reflect lack of concern. The things I write about matter to me. This blog’s tag line (a reference to Cornelius Plantiga, Jr.’s book, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be) comes from a deep place in my heart. The things I see and often experience are far from what I want to see. Many feel a deep dis-ease that cries out for some orientation toward hope. I want to point, as far as I am able, in the direction where I sense such hope lies. I want to be a part of shaping a vision for the way things are to be.

My goal in these posts is to share my heart with clarity and with brevity. I value your time as well as your attention and so most posts will hover around 500 words. If I can honor Strunk and White’s challenging rule #17 (“Omit needless words.”) all the better. And if I can do this with a sense of joy and fun along the way, then that is a small step, at least, toward the way things are supposed to be.

All has not been inactivity these few months. I have continued to generate ideas, some of which will be developed and published (and some of which will be unceremoniously buried). I have in process two longer and larger projects of serialized content that I’m looking forward to releasing when I think they are ready. I hope you stay around to read, to react, and to pass what is valuable on to others. All of this is a great encouragement to me.

Stranger in These Parts

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

Though I host this blog, all would be justified in addressing me in this way these days. Yes, I am ‘from’ here, but as any can see, I’ve been mostly an absent presence. Life is my excuse. But there are deeper reasons. Writing, as much as I want to do it, is hard. And like many things that are good but hard, I often shrink from it.

Steven Pressfield in The War of Art personifies this tendency as ‘The Resistance’ and challenges writers and other creators to fight against it. The most often suggested weapon against The Resistance is to set designated writing times. I set them, and then ignore them. The Resistance wins.

We all have a God given impulse to create. I sometimes express this impulse by working with words and sometimes by working with wood. When I work with wood the created thing exists in my mind before I touch the first piece of wood. As I build it, it grows and changes but the end result is generally close to what I saw in my head. My best writing occurs in the same way. The idea forms in my head before a word is typed. The writing is hard – words I think are a more difficult medium for me than wood. But eventually, what I have at the end is what first existed in my head.

But that does not come easily for me because I do not write enough, and I do not write enough because I blow through my designated writing times.

There are much better thinkers, much better observers of human nature, and much better processors of cultural events than I. But only I have my point of view and my particular voice. And to the degree that my point of view and voice resonate with others (though only a few, a happy few, my band of brothers) I’ll keep pounding away at the resistance.

I don’t like being a stranger in these parts.

Slightly Alive

Contrary to what you might have imagined, this blog is not dead. At least not all dead. If it were all dead there would be nothing left to do but to go through its clothes and look for loose change. As it is, it is only mostly dead, which we all know means slightly alive. And we hope, soon, that it will be again fully alive.

Life for its author has taken on a busy-ness that cannot be averted, delayed, suppressed, or avoided. This has left little room for ruminating much less for writing. So, don’t change the channel or unplug your set. We will in due time return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming.

Thanks for your patience.

The Best of 2016

The Eagles and The Beatles and Chicago and Frankie Valli can get by with “Greatest Hits” albums because they in fact had sufficient “hits” from which to choose. Other bands can only release “Best of” albums, choosing favorites regardless of whether any were hits or not.

One of my favorites.

This post is a “Best of” listing. I’m at best a local band with a small, but quality, following.

That said, how can I choose even the best among the 70 posts of 2016? There are a couple of paths open to me.

If I were to base my choice upon those posts most viewed, the following three emerge.

  • A Lot of Jesus” – in which I muse on the importance of maintaining the regular practice of worship even on Christmas, especially in a year that has been hard.
  • A Bonhoeffer Bio Worth Reading” – a review of Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory and some reflections on what the church today can learn from Bonheoffer’s struggles in Nazi Germany.
  • The Post-Election Church” – written before the results of the 2016 presidential election and published the day after, considering the fact that the church’s essential calling and vision is unaffected regardless of who would win.

However, that method is somewhat skewed. I’ve found that if I refer to a post on FaceBook, those who at least click into the post rises astronomically. If in addition it’s the least bit controversial, it rockets to the top.

If, on the other hand, I were to choose the ones that I was most proud of, the ones I felt were the most important, I’d draw your attention to those below. This is kind of like picking one’s favorite child. But these are ones whose ideas continue to float around in my mind. I think they are important.

  • Possession or Profession?” – I really am not taking on R. C. Sproul here, but rather a stream of thought in which his words have been placed. HOW we hold onto the assurance of salvation is such an important consideration and often mishandled.
  • How to Experience Awe and Intimacy with God” – I really don’t want a career as an iconoclast, but after the post that referenced Dr. Sproul, I reviewed Tim Keller’s book on prayer. As much as I’ve benefited from Keller over the years, this book was a disappointment.
  • God Is Faithful” – The final post in my series on David’ Crum’s book Knocking on Heaven’s Door includes some personal correspondence with the author that I’ve been thinking about ever since. The entire series on that book was important to me.
  • A Lot of Jesus” – I would add this to my list because of how much of my heart’s desire is in it. Maybe that is why it’s received so many views.

If you missed any of these along the way, I invite you to check them out.

I may never have sufficient attention to put together a “Greatest Hits” album. Nevertheless, I’m proud of my “Best of.”

Blogging Unfashionably, 2016

If I were to get serious about launching that career as a hip hop artist, my decision to do so would no doubt coincide with the time that hip hop would begin to slide into the sunset as a passé genre. I’m perennially late to the party.

So, this year, as I decided to focus more on my blog and be serious about it, I’m being told that blogging is fading from its novel perch. Of course, it’s clear that fashion has never quite been my thing. I wear Birkenstocks and I’m never quite sure whether I’m to wear them with socks or without and whether the socks should be white or black. So I’m probably the last to be concerned whether blogging is fashionable.

And yet, I do care about being read, and so I am grateful, deeply so, to those who have read this blog over the past year and encouraged me in significant ways along the way. I’m especially grateful to you who have taken the time to join the conversation in the comments section, and those who have insured the viability of the blog through your financial contributions.

At this time last year, I determined to re-boot what was then called “Somber and Dull.” In 2015 I had only posted 15 times, and not at all since May. Some of those posts were important ones, expressing things I needed to say, things I wanted others to hear. But the inconsistency was frustrating for readers and for me.
By contrast, in 2016, since the re-launch, I have published 70 posts, slightly less than my goal of two/week, but clearly a clip greater than the previous year. Given my life situation, that’s not bad.

Those of you who have followed this for a while are aware that the site transitioned recently into the narcissistically and pragmatically named Since then, the site has experienced more visitors than ever before. I’m grateful in this for you readers who have pushed this site to others.

Although life sometimes causes the rate of posting to slow or threatens to shut it down altogether, I’ll continue plugging away. Upcoming in 2017, if able and God is willing, you can expect, among other things:

  • some insight into why and what other people read.
  • a reflection on the nature of ‘blessing’ and why the Aaronic benediction from the book of Numbers should be so precious to Christians.
  • a walk-through of a book or two, including Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (appropriate for a site with a tag line like this one).
  • a review of the movie Silence along with other movies and books as they strike my fancy (I’m open to suggestions).

I’m sure along the way there will be rants and raves and reviews all aimed at considering the way life is supposed to be.

Thanks for tagging along. Hang around and I’ll keep writing and probably not find the time for that hip hop career after all.

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