Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: The Five

The Five (S1:E3)

I’ve been up to some funny business (more on that another day) and so have not been able to give the blog the attention it deserves. However, I have been collecting noteworthy items for this episode of The Five. I hope they interest you.

1.I’ve had the privilege of knowing some really good preachers and others who struggle in the pulpit. But one thing I respect in those I’ve known is that when they step into the pulpit, they are bringing the fruit of their own interactions with God and his word, prepared especially for their own sheep.

Apparently, that is not the universal experience. Scot McKnight’s challenge to pastors to preach their sermons and not someone else’s is important for what it says about what happens in that time when preachers speak to the people God has gathered for them.

To preach a sermon that is not yours is to create an image of yourself that is not truthful. . . . A sermon is a specific pastor’s engagement with a specific congregation. No one else can do this.

2.I’ve thought a lot the past several years about the power of myth – the stories a culture tells itself in order to justify its actions or simplify its motives. We have many civic myths, such as every military action being one in which our military is protecting our freedoms. The church has its myths as well, among them being the unquestioned nobility of the missionary and his labor. Mythical thinking is not always truthful and honest. This article reviews a book by Kathryn Long which revisits and evaluates the martyrdom of Jim Eliot and his associates. The story itself is a sacrosanct hero narrative among evangelicals, but like most stories, most myths, is more complex than it first appears.

Complexities like these don’t pack the same emotional punch as clear stories of missionary heroism. They do, however, give us a fuller understanding of how the world works. In her epilogue, Long points out a key theme in Elisabeth Elliot’s 1966 missionary novel, No Graven Image. Her young, idealistic heroine discovers that there is much more to missionary work than audiences at home realize.

3.I’m sorry that these articles are behind the Christianity Today paywall, but that can’t be helped.

I’ve mentioned in these pages the question of lament and its proper place on the tongue of the Christian. A helpful voice in these matters is Todd Billings, a theologian at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan and a cancer survivor. His book Rejoicing in Lament has been helpful to many. Some of the themes of that book are addressed in his article “Can Anger at God Be Righteous?”

“In addition to our confession, thanks, and praise, our covenant Lord calls us to bring our hopelessness, anger, fear, and bitterness before him. In his love, the Lord calls us to trust him enough to wrestle with his promises. In order to grow up into our identity in Christ, we need to join the psalmists in rejoicing, lamenting, and crying out to the Lord in a myriad of ways.

4.Rachel Held Evens has been a force in the American Christian world for some time. Suddenly and tragically less than two weeks ago, she died. She was only 37, leaving behind a husband, two small children, and a confused community trying to understand her appeal and impact.

Already, those assessments have themselves proven divisive. That is a shame. Agree with her or disagree, she raised questions that need to be raised and held up a mirror to the church in which we could see how others see us. Such is not always easy, but it is always necessary.

Ed Stetzer’s tribute to her in Christianity Today replaces an earlier one which CT put up and then, under criticism, took down. Stetzer does not overlook the controversy that swirled around RHE, but touches upon an aspect of that controversy which I’ve seen mentioned in numerous places.

But even amidst conflict (that was often quite personal, in that it mattered personally to both of us), she never stopped engaging directly. The effort that it takes to deal with people one-on-one is tremendous, and she did not run from it.

To engage, even to differ, personally, may be something that we cannot afford to lose.

5.To divide a room quickly, introduce the subject of immigration. I can think of few topics on which people feel so strongly while at the same time knowing so little about than immigration.

Unless it is guns. Or abortion. Or race.

Okay, so there are a lot of them.

But this one is helped by a recent article in The Atlantic. David Frum brings some helpful data and history to the subject that gets beyond the emotive soundbites that are the norm. The issue has frustrated me over the years because politicians have not wanted to address it sanely. A wall is not a solution, it is a symbol, Frum points out. And symbols are powerful when there are no reasonable solutions being proposed.

If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.

I may or may not agree with his conclusions, but at least his presentation is absent the polarizing rhetoric of the Twitter or TV news bite. Worth reading.

The Five (S1:E2)

Here are (five) more things that have captured my attention recently. This is the second installment (“E2”) of these during this first year, or season (“S1”). Let me know what you think!

1.As I’ve said before, one of the ‘funnest’ items in my Twitter feed is that of the dictionary people Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster). Here they team up with a comedian to explore the complexities of the English language – in this case what’s up with ‘one’ and ‘won’ and, well, other weirdness. Watch it here.

2.On a far more serious note, Scott Maxwell, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote a very touching piece about his father’s dementia. A deeply human reflection.

My father was once president of the North Carolina Bar Association. He volunteer coached a high school swim team for nearly 30 years, winning five state championships and coaching all three of his children along the way. He was the chairman of the local homeless shelter, head of the arts council and mentor to students at Duke University School of Law.
But right now, all he wants to do is look for squirrels.
Squirrels make him happy.

3.The Christian Century recently posted a portion of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s memoir in which he reflects on the nature of grief, spawned by the death of his son. This is worth reading by those struggling with grief, those who think they someday might, or those who deal with those in grief. That is, by all of us.

Grief, I have come to think, is wanting the death or destruction of the loved one to be undone, while at the same time knowing it cannot be undone. Grief is wanting the loved one back when one knows he can’t come back. Tears and agitation are typical expressions of grief, but they are not the thing itself. My grief was wanting intensely for Eric to be alive when I knew that could not be.

4.The world of young adult fiction is varied, popular, and strangely devoid of religion. Interesting thoughts by YA author Donna Freitas,“Is Any Topic Off Limits When You Write for Teenagers? Maybe Just One.”

“The world of Y.A. is an activist one — an ideal sphere in which to interrupt the toxic religion-speak and attitudes that dominate our politics and culture at the moment, and to model the kind of spiritual longing so many young adults harbor, often secretly. Like me, they learn to be ashamed of it.”

5.Three of the above four items might be behind a paywall. I’m hoping not and I know to come across such things is frustrating in a world where we are used to so much on the internet being free.

And yet, as I type I’m drinking a cappuccino that I, not surprisingly, had to pay for. The coffee shop in which I’m drinking it makes a good one (Thank you, BrickHouse Coffee and Kitchen!) but I’m afraid were I and others not paying they would not exist.

I find that the things worth having out there are worth paying for.

The Five (S1:E1)

Some things that have caught my eye over the past few weeks.


I believe this whole article is behind a paywall, but James Howell in reviewing a couple of recent translations of the Old Testament made this observation about the value of a stable translation for the whole church:

“It’s not as if we, now, today, finally ‘get’ the Bible after centuries of misconstrual.…At funerals, I watch my congregation recite Psalm 23 in the King James Version without ever looking at the words. While my parishioners never resort to 17th-century English in daily living, the deep resonance of this psalm’s words arouse some memory and hopefulness. They know the words by heart, in the sense that the words are inscribed deeply in their hearts. I worry that with a broad smattering of translations we’re losing the shared phrasings and terminology we deploy to encourage one another and profess our deepest commitments (with verses like John 3:16, Jer. 29:11, and Gal. 5:22). Bray and Hobbins feel the translator has a burden ‘to hold together a community of readers over time.’”

2. Poised as we are between the looming end of the NFL season and the dawning of ‘March Madness,’ may I direct baseball fans to two wonderful documentaries.

On one side of the spectrum is “Fastball.” With interviews of Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan, of Hank Aaron and Johny Bench, and of many more power pitchers and hitters, interspersed with the science of pitching and the physics of speed, this captivated me.

On the other side is “Knuckleball!” There are pitchers who are never going to hit 100 mph on the radar gun, and so they resort to a pitch that most just cannot hit. Rare is the pitcher who can get it over the plate, and rare the catcher who can catch it. Many knuckleballers are profiled, but the focus is on a failing outfielder turned pitcher named Tim Wakefield. A fascinating story.

Both are available on Amazon Prime Video (not on Netflix).

3. Speaking of entertainment, my wife and I were surprised to watch John Krasinski morph into an action hero in Amazon’s “Jack Ryan.” Very well done, as this assessment so ably conveys.

4. My nurse daughter attended a conference in which Hospitalist Dr. Zubin Damania was one of the keynote speakers. When he is not saving peoples lives or speaking on the subject of improving health care (“Health 3.0”), he is rapping and creating music videos under the name ZDoggMD.

His take on making end of life preparations is powerful. Watch “Ain’t the Way to Die” and then, after making sure your living will and advance care directives and such are in order, sit back and enjoy some more of his more lighthearted productions. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sepsis” tickled our funny bone.

5. Finally, I stumbled across a thoughtful essay about Fred Rogers in the Dordt College faculty journal Pro Rege (edited by an old friend, Dr. Mary Dengler). The author, Dr. Joshua Matthews, discusses Mr. Rogers and the recent documentary about him (Won’t You Be My Neighbor) with a critical eye that I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’s worth a read. Here is a taste:

“I couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Rogers the character in today’s terms. If he were on TV here in 2018, would he talk about today’s hard issues on his show? What would Mr. Rogers say to his young viewers about predatory Catholic priests?Would he be so open as to talk about pedophilic school teachers on his show?

“Let’s soften the topics a bit. Would he talk about gay marriage? About what to do if you see a man dressed as a woman in a women’s bathroom?About what it feels like to be called a girl but to feel like a boy?

“The documentary doesn’t address these questions. It remains a mere nostalgic glance back at a more innocent time, one that I think the viewers who have rated it so highly pine for. It offers hope only in a past that is not and may never again be,without the sufficient insight needed to confront the present spirits of our age.”

The Five (The Pilot Episode)


Some who publish blogs are so together that they are able on a regular basis, like weekly, to post a rundown of their more interesting discoveries. They will point to essays they’ve read, or make quick notice of books they’ve enjoyed or interesting facts they’ve learned.

This sounds fun.

If only I were one of those ‘together’ bloggers.

So, as an alternative, I’m introducing “The Five.” My intention is for this to be a periodic feature in which I’ll post five interesting things I’ve run across in the past week or month or 37 days. That is, whenever I collect five interesting things, I’ll post.

These will be random because I am random. My interests often run toward the odd and eccentric. But I hope some will find a thread of interest.

The name (“The Five”) is a nod to my favorite recipe item at a Florida based breakfast and lunch chain, Maple Street Biscuit Company. It’s an odd pile of things (biscuit, cheese, chicken breast, bacon, and sausage gravy) that amazingly work well together.

This is the ‘pilot.’ If it goes well, we may pick it up for a full season starting in January.


Which came first – the doctor or the freshwater worm?

I recently read The Scarlet Letter (for the first time!). I was struck by how casually Hawthorne refers to the doctor as ‘the leech.’ I suspect that if I called my cardiologist a ‘leech’ she might take offense. So, I wondered, was Hawthorne being intentionally offensive?

Turns out, no.

Webster’s not only lists ‘leech’ as a (now archaic) name for a doctor or a surgeon, the word itself is derived from a German word meaning ‘physician.’ In fact, and this is where it gets weird, the worm is named because it was used by physicians.


Related to the above, one of the most interesting twitter accounts I follow is Websters, which just revealed that it’s word of the year is ‘justice,’ a word whose look up rate is up 74% this year.

Dictionary nerds can be fun as well as informative. You can follow them at @MerriamWebster.


A fascinating essay by Andrew Sullivan (New York Magazine / “America’s New Religions”) in which he makes the case that  all people have a religion.

“Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strike”


Finally, this interview with Anna Goff, the founder of Dove’s Nest, provides some very helpful and practical suggestions regarding how churches can be safe places for the survivors of sexual abuse.

As she says,

“Churches are places of high trust and therefore also places of high risk.”

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