Friday, May 12, 2023

The Speed of the Internet and The Accuracy of a Weatherman

Wrapping up another school year. Things winding down. It is much akin to how T.S. Eliot famously quipped at the end of his famous poem, The Hollow Men, "not with a bang but a whimper". MAN, I am one tired dude.... but the Lord is good!

Drama and crisis is always just around the corner if you are in the school business, it is the normal marketplace of human interaction. So I am never upset to get a break from that and though my summer is always busy with projects, I do seem to get a break from the malaise for a bit.

I also get a break from the two sinister beings who seem to roam the hallways.... rumor and gossip.  These two are much more deadly than most people give them credit for.

In my early days as an administrator, those two sucker punched me and I just stayed down for days. They still punch me, and it still stings, but I have gotten pretty good in my ability to get up and keep moving forward.

And these rumors take on unique styles. In the last month of school I have encountered the three most common: 

Situation 1: A fact out of context that is separated out and creates a narrative that is totally untrue because of the lack of the other facts that lead to a totally opposite narrative.

Situation 2: A false narrative that spreads due to a predisposition of negativity towards a person or an entity.

Situation 3: A false rumor made up in the wind and becomes a targeted attack on the reputation of a human being.

As I have long said- the gossip and rumor chain "has the speed of the internet and the accuracy of a weatherman" and when we participate in keeping the chain alive, we are sinning and often hurting people or creating negative environments where the venom is poisoning the pool.

In this fast moving interaction of information, it is the dangers of rumor and gossip that should make us pause. As I have been studying AI technology, it is the deep fake capabilities and our cultural mood that is predisposed to guilt before innocence that concerns me the most.

And people of Scripture should be a part of the solution and not part of the problem 

Bible verses about gossip and rumors can certainly provide guidance on how to respond to the harmful effects of AI deep fakes. One such verse is Proverbs 16:28, which says, "A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends." This verse can be applied to the actions of those who create and spread deep fakes, as they are deliberately stirring up conflict and causing harm.

Another relevant verse is Proverbs 11:13, which states, "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." In the context of AI deep fakes, this verse could encourage individuals and organizations to prioritize trustworthiness and integrity in their use of technology. They should also keep confidential information safe and secure, and not share it with those who may use it to create deep fakes.

One last verse, Proverbs 17:9 says, "Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." This verse reminds us of the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation, even in the face of harm caused by deep fakes. Rather than perpetuating rumors and gossip, we should strive to promote love and understanding, and work towards repairing any damage caused by the technology.

Applying Bible verses about gossip and rumors can provide a framework for responding to the harmful effects of AI deep fakes by encouraging trustworthiness, confidentiality, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

I want to add one last thing.... train your spirit to think the best first and accept the worst with great evidence and hard conversations.

Rumors come to me almost everyday. In my position, I attract them like a super magnet.

The Lord has been gracious for me to not panic or automatically assume the worst. Yes, I know human nature so any action is possible no matter how good we think a person may be.

At the same time, I am going to let facts shape my opinion. And if the facts are beyond a reasonable doubt I try to land on the optimistic side....

When I was Dean of Students, I would have some evidence... but not a great case. And I would drop it. If the student was prone to inappropriate behavior, he would eventually give me a better case. It was OK to drop it. And guess what, sometimes that would be a turning moment and I wouldn't get a great case... and that was ok as well.

I will never rid my work place from those two demons... rumor and gossip. But I don't have to listen to them either.

I pray everyone has a wonderful break soon!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Dark Side of Competition

The Merle Haggard song doesn't quite fit the context, but the tag line is where I want to start:

Yeah, walkin' on the fightin' side of meRunnin' down a way of life our fightin' men have fought and died to keepIf you don't love it, leave itLet this song I'm singin' be a warnin'When you're runnin' down my country, manYou're walkin' on the fightin' side of me

The message of that song is- there are things worth fighting for! There is a use of competition- there is a reality of competition.

And the purpose of this post is honestly to admit problems and explore unintended realities in the world of high level competition. Over 30 plus years of being in competition, I have seen the toothpaste come out of the tube from even the best of people. Competition is conflict and sometimes the testosterone can get the best of us.

It can happen at any level: little league, church softball, pick-up basketball, high school, college, and professional games.

Competition can have negative effects on individuals, organizations, and society as a whole.
There is a potential dark side of competition:

Unethical behavior: Competition can create a culture of winning at all costs, which can lead individuals or organizations to engage in unethical or even illegal behavior.

I personally get sad when I see how often successful competitors are often accused of cheating and this makes me suspect that there is a lot of cheating. Can't we just congratulate the winners until cheating is proven? And if there is cheating, we need to crack down hard on it..but it shouldn't be a knee jerk reaction to assume the worst.

Stress and burnout: The pressure to succeed in a competitive environment can be overwhelming, leading to stress, burnout, and even mental health issues.

I'm seeing this more and more..... when competition gets out of balance, it can wreck a life!

Exclusion: Competition can create winners and losers, and those who lose may feel excluded or marginalized. This can be especially true for individuals or groups who are already disadvantaged.

In the old days, champions didn't trash talk and respect was important. A winner was classy and that helped honor the opponent.

Short-term thinking: In the pursuit of victory, individuals and organizations may prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability.

I remember thinking way back in 1994 and praying to the Lord that if we ever did win a state championship in football, I wanted to look around after that win and still have my faith, my family, and my friends. And I was blessed to experience that in just a few years after that.

Hostility: Intense competition can create a hostile environment, both within and between organizations. This can lead to conflicts and even violence.

I have seen too many times where competition drove people to unhealthy states in temper, words, and actions.

James 1:20- for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Overall, competition can have both positive and negative effects. While it can motivate individuals and organizations to strive for excellence, it can also create a range of negative consequences if not managed carefully.

Whether the positive or negative aspects of competition outweigh each other can depend on the specific context and the individuals involved.

In some cases, the positive effects of competition can be significant, such as when it motivates individuals and organizations to innovate, improve their performance, and achieve their goals. This can lead to increased productivity, economic growth, and other benefits.

However, the negative effects of competition can also be significant, such as when it leads to the negative attributes listed above. These negative effects can have long-term consequences for individuals, organizations, and society as a whole.

I still believe healthy competition is important, but it is also important for me to know the dangers as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Haynes and Pops Go Fishing

Haynes loved spending time with her Pops, especially when they went fishing together. They would pack their fishing gear, sandwiches, and drinks and head to the lake early in the morning.

On this particular day, Haynes and Pops had been fishing for hours without catching anything. Haynes was starting to feel bored and frustrated.

"Pops, why aren't the fish biting?" Haynes asked.

"Well, sometimes they're just not hungry, Haynes," Pops replied.

But Haynes didn't give up hope. She kept her line in the water and waited patiently. Suddenly, she felt a tug on her line.

"Pops, I think I got one!" Haynes exclaimed, feeling excited.

Pops came over to help her reel in the fish. As Haynes was reeling it in, the fish jumped out of the water and then fell off the hook, flopping back into the water.

"Oh no!" Haynes said, feeling disappointed.

But then something unexpected happened. Haynes and Pops started laughing and laughing. The way the fish had jumped out of the water was so funny, and they couldn't stop giggling.

"Haynes, that was a great catch!" Pops said. "Even though we didn't bring it home, we had a good laugh together."

Haynes realized that even though she didn't catch a fish to take home, she still had a great time with her Pops. They enjoyed the fresh air, the sunshine, and each other's company.

From that day on, whenever they went fishing and didn't catch anything, they would still laugh and have a good time together. Haynes learned that it's not always about the catch, but about the memories and laughter shared with loved ones.

And who knows, maybe one day they'll catch that big fish they've been dreaming of. But until then, they'll continue to enjoy each other's company and the simple joys of fishing.

 And when Jesus  had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” [5] And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” [6] And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. [7] They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:4–7 ESV)

Children's Story Time: "No's Are Not Fun!"

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Haynes. Haynes loved to play and have fun, but sometimes she did things she wasn't supposed to do. Like one day, she tried to ride on the back of her great big dog named MawMaw.

"No No, Haynes!" her mom shouted. "That's not safe! Don't ride Maw Maw, you might get hurt!"

Haynes didn't want to stop riding Maw Maw. She was having fun, but her mom's voice made her feel sad.

"Why can't I ride my Maw Maw?" Haynes asked.

"Because it's not safe," her mom, Julie, replied.

Haynes  didn't understand why her mom always said no. She thought "NO's are NOT fun".

The next day, Haynes went to her friend Emma's house. Emma had a jar of cookies on the kitchen counter.

"Can I have a cookie?" Haynes asked.

"No, sorry," Emma's mom said. "We're saving them for later."

Haynes felt disappointed. She thought "NO's are NOT fun"

Later that day, Hayne's dad, Alex, took her to the store to shop for things for their house and passed by the toy aisle. Haynes loved playing in the toy aisle and Haynes and her dad had so much fun!

"Can I have this toy, please?" Haynes asked.

"No, not today,"
her dad said. "Maybe next time."

Hayne's felt sad. She thought "NO's are NOT fun".

But then, something amazing happened. Haynes's dad took her to a park with a huge slide. She climbed up the ladder and slid down the slide, again and again. She laughed and giggled, having so much fun.

"Haynes," her dad said, "I'm so proud of you for following my rules and being safe. That's why we could come to this fun park."

That night at her bedtime prayers, little Haynes prayed and she thought "NO's are NOT fun"

But she also remembered that she had a lot of fun with her mom and dad that day. And she thought and thought and thought about it.

Haynes realized that sometimes, no's were not fun. But they were important to keep her safe and to make sure she had even more fun later. From that day on, Hayne's  tried her best to follow the rules and listen to her parents, even if it meant hearing a few no's along the way.

And whenever Haynes felt disappointed, she reminded herself that sometimes, no's were necessary to having a happy and safe life.

No's are still no fun... but they help us. And the Bible promises happiness when we obey our parents and others who are older and care about us.

Original artwork by BCS student, Cole Weaver

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [2] “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [3] “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” [4] Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1–4 ESV)

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Biblical Boasting in a Culture Addicted to Attention

Romans 5: 9-11 (NIV) Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The word "boast" here is  καυχάομαι (kaucháomai)
from some (obsolete) base akin to that of aucheo (to boast)

While there are instances in the Bible where people express gratitude and thanksgiving for their accomplishments or blessings, boasting is generally viewed as a negative trait. In fact, the Bible frequently warns against boasting and encourages humility. 

Here are a few examples: 
 Proverbs 27:2 - "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." 
 James 4:16 - "As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." 
 1 Corinthians 1:31 - "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 
 Galatians 6:14 - "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." 

 Therefore, while some forms of self-expression are permitted, boasting is not generally seen as a positive or desirable behavior in the Bible.

 In a culture of social media and an addiction to attention, boasting can become a common behavior.

 Social media platforms provide an easy way for people to showcase their accomplishments and seek validation from others. The constant need for attention and validation can lead to an increase in boasting behavior. Boasting on social media often takes the form of self-promotion, where people highlight their achievements, post pictures of themselves in desirable locations, or share details of their glamorous lifestyle. This behavior can be driven by a desire to impress others, gain social status, or simply seek attention. 

 The downside of this type of boasting is that it can create a culture of comparison and competition, leading to feelings of inadequacy or jealousy in those who feel they can't measure up. Additionally, boasting can also contribute to a lack of authenticity, as people may exaggerate or misrepresent themselves to get attention. 

 Overall, while social media can provide a platform for self-expression and sharing, it's important to be mindful of how much boasting is appropriate and whether it's contributing to a healthy or unhealthy culture of attention-seeking.

I still think we can participate in this cultural marketing platform to shine a light for Christ as well.

But it is very HARD to do... and even my desire to post about this, I have to admit that self promotion is very much in play!

Potential Dangers of Artificial Intelligence

Sorry to be so late in the game in keeping up with the AI news and banter. I did spend a little time playing around with ChatGPT and found it fascinating, mesmerizing, and terrifying all at the same time.

While artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to bring about many benefits, such as improving healthcare, increasing efficiency, and driving innovation, there are also potential dangers associated with its use and application. Some of these dangers include:

1. Bias and discrimination: AI systems are only as unbiased as the data they are trained on, and if the data is biased, the AI system may perpetuate and even amplify that bias. This can lead to discrimination against certain groups of people, perpetuating and amplifying existing societal inequalities. 

 2. Job displacement: AI has the potential to automate many jobs, leading to significant job displacement and economic disruption in certain sectors. This could lead to widespread unemployment and social unrest. 

 3. Privacy violations: AI systems can collect vast amounts of data on individuals and their behaviors, raising concerns about privacy violations and the potential for abuse of that data. 

 4. Security risks: AI systems can also be vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking, leading to significant security risks and potential harm. 

 5. Lack of accountability: As AI becomes increasingly integrated into various systems, it can become difficult to determine who is responsible for its actions and decisions. This can make it difficult to hold individuals or organizations accountable for any negative consequences that may arise. 

 6. Misuse: AI can be used for malicious purposes, such as creating deepfakes or generating fake news, leading to widespread misinformation and manipulation of public opinion. 

 Overall, it is important to be aware of these potential dangers and take steps to mitigate them as we continue to develop and use AI technology. This includes ensuring that AI systems are developed in an ethical and responsible manner, that they are transparent and accountable, and that they are subject to appropriate regulation and oversight.


Everything in blue above was written by an AI open source in about 2 seconds when I prompted it to write a short summary on the dangers of AI. Crazy? The AI also picked out the image to use on this post.

How about this- I asked it to help me write a pre-game speech for my football team 

In 2 seconds:

Title: One Team, One Goal
Gentlemen, today is the day we've been working for all season long. This is the moment we've been waiting for - an opportunity to compete at the highest level and show the world what we're made of. But we're not just playing for ourselves today. We're playing for each other, for our coaches, for our school, and for our community. We're playing for something bigger than ourselves. And that's what makes this moment so special.

Main Points:
1. Focus on the task at hand.
Today's game is important, but we can't get caught up in the hype and lose sight of our goal. Our goal is to play to the best of our ability and leave everything on the field. We need to focus on the task at hand, one play at a time, and give it our all. If we stay focused and play with intensity, we can achieve anything we set our minds to.

2. Trust each other.
We've been through a lot together this season - the ups and downs, the victories and defeats. But through it all, we've learned to trust each other. We know that we can count on each other to do our jobs and play our roles. We need to trust each other today, more than ever. We need to have each other's backs, communicate effectively, and play with unity and purpose.

3. Play with heart and passion.
Today's game is not just about executing plays or following a game plan. It's about playing with heart and passion - leaving everything on the field and playing with everything we've got. We need to play with intensity and aggression, but also with respect and sportsmanship. Let's show our opponents what we're made of and leave them no doubt that we are the better team.

4. Have fun and enjoy the moment.
This is an important game, but it's also an opportunity to have fun and enjoy the moment. We've worked hard all season long to get here, and we should be proud of ourselves. Let's savor this moment, and play with joy and enthusiasm. Let's celebrate our successes, learn from our mistakes, and play with no regrets.

Gentlemen, today's game is an opportunity to make history. It's a chance to showcase our talent and determination, and leave a lasting legacy for ourselves and our school. Let's play with focus, trust, heart, and passion. Let's have fun, enjoy the moment, and give it everything we've got. Together, we are one team with one goal. Let's go out there and make it happen!

Then I said- "We are a big underdog"

In 3 seconds:

Title: Believe in the Upset


Gentlemen, today we face a challenge that many people say we can't overcome. We're the underdog, and the odds are stacked against us. But we didn't come here just to accept defeat. We came here to play our hearts out and show the world what we're made of. We're not just playing against our opponents today - we're playing against doubt, fear, and the idea that we can't win. But we know that anything is possible in football. And we believe in the upset.

Main Points:

1. Embrace the underdog role.
Being the underdog can be a powerful motivator. It means we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It means we can play with freedom, passion, and aggression. We need to embrace this underdog role and use it to our advantage. Let's show our opponents that we're not intimidated, and that we're here to fight.

2. Believe in ourselves.
The key to pulling off an upset is believing in ourselves. We need to trust our abilities, our preparation, and our teammates. We need to believe that we can win this game, even when others doubt us. Let's play with confidence and conviction, and let's show the world what we're capable of.

3. Play with heart and intensity.
Today's game is not just about winning or losing. It's about playing with heart and intensity - leaving everything on the field and playing with no regrets. We need to play with passion and aggression, but also with discipline and focus. Let's show our opponents that we're not going down without a fight.

4. Control what we can control.
We can't control what our opponents do, or what the referees call. But we can control our effort, our attitude, and our execution. We need to focus on what we can control, and do it to the best of our abilities. Let's execute our game plan, play with discipline, and make the most of every opportunity.


Gentlemen, we face a challenge today, but we are not alone. We have each other, we have our coaches, and we have our fans. Let's play for each other, for our school, and for our community. Let's show the world what we're made of, and leave everything on the field. Believe in the upset. Let's go out there and shock the world!

Then I asked it to write a sermon for me on Psalm 23.

In 3 seconds:

Title: The Lord is my Shepherd 

 Introduction: Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved and comforting passages in the entire Bible. It is a Psalm of David, who himself was a shepherd before he became a king. In this Psalm, David uses the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep to describe the relationship between God and his people. Today, we will explore this beautiful Psalm and learn about the ways in which God cares for us as our loving Shepherd. 

Main Points: 

 1. The Lord is our provider and protector. David begins the Psalm by declaring, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." This statement reveals his trust in God to provide for his every need. Just as a shepherd provides food, water, and protection for his sheep, so too does God provide for his people. We can rest assured that God will meet all of our needs if we trust in him. 

 2. The Lord restores our souls. David goes on to say, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul." Sheep need to rest and be restored, just as we do. God invites us to rest in his presence, to drink from the still waters of his Word, and to be renewed by his Spirit. When we are weary or burdened, we can turn to God and find the rest and renewal we need. 

 3. The Lord guides us on the right path. David says, "He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." A shepherd leads his sheep on the right path, away from danger and towards safety. Likewise, God leads us on the path of righteousness, away from sin and towards holiness. He does this not for our own sake, but for his name's sake - to bring glory and honor to his name. 

 4. The Lord is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. David says, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." Sheep sometimes have to walk through dangerous or treacherous valleys, and so do we. But we need not fear, for God is with us. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, and he comforts us with his rod and his staff. 

 5. The Lord prepares a table for us. David says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." A shepherd sometimes leads his sheep to a place of safety where they can graze and eat in peace. God does the same for us. He prepares a table for us, even in the midst of our enemies. He invites us to feast on his Word, his presence, and his love. 

 Conclusion: Psalm 23 reminds us that we have a loving and caring Shepherd who watches over us and provides for us. He leads us on the right path, restores our souls, and comforts us in times of trouble. Let us trust in him and follow him wherever he leads us, knowing that he will never leave us or forsake us.

I just said WOW each time.

I do think we need to be aware of the growing ability and inherent dangers of this new technology.

We need to think about education in light of this new arena- people kind of roll their eyes and go to sleep when I speak of teaching virtue and principle and technique of epistemology... but that is the direction we are heading. The content and writing world is instantly changed... now we need to learn discernment and cling to virtue.

Feel free to visit my writings on the need for Implementing a System of Justified Belief in an Educational Setting Here- Post #1 here: Developing System of Justified Belief

FACE TO FACE communication will become the best avenue for truth exploration.

And finally- we will have to be slow and deliberate when we see images, sounds, information that could be damaging to people or institutions.... 

I worry mostly about the deep fakes and irrational responses.

And yes, technically this blogger is out of business- but this is for my children.

A real human being is still writing this... you can tell by my flaws!

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Wave Upon Wave: Walking the Way

Almost a decade ago, U2 included a song on their "Songs of Innocence" album entitled 'Every Breaking Wave'.

Looking back and remembering the controversy seems long ago now, but it had all the elements of the rampant reactions that we experience even today in a global mass communication culture. 

Billboard magazine summed up the consensus of opinion in an article published in 2019 called " The 100 Moments That Defined the Decade in Music"

Here is how they evaluated the moment:

September 9, 2014: U2’s Songs of Innocence released as a preloaded album on the new iPhone 6

"The 13th studio album from rock gods U2 was given an extremely forward-thinking release: The band partnered with Apple to give the new album away to purchasers of the new iPhone 6, which had the album preloaded into its music library. Though the free LP was intended by Apple as a gift, it was considered an invasion by many customers, who may not have desired the album and found it surprisingly difficult to delete from their new phones. The failed strategy showed the perils of embedding music within technology so deeply (and so quasi-literally), and today, most Apple subscribers couldn’t tell you a thing about Songs of Innocence besides the backlash."

I personally enjoyed the music. It was during my running days and this album was a part of my marathon training where I finished the Mercedes Marathon in Feb. of 2015 (My Mercedes Marathon)

It was this song, Every Breaking Wave, that pushed me the most- the idea of repetition of steps over and over that seems monotonous and counter-productive... but there is a hope of winning, even though the cycle seems to be meaningless failure.

The irony is that this album and song was tossed on that sea of dissension and accusation... but still found a welcome place in my library.

I stumbled on this song again recently and, just like a lot of art, found me in a different time and disposition. My running days are long behind me and walking is more my speed (though I miss them!).

I also spent some time seeing how the song fits into society now. Originally, Bono said the song is about how hard it is to maintain relationships over time- and that still resonates. But Bono has performed it acoustically in different settings and even changed a few lyrics in the succeeding decades of performing it. It has been used to illustrate the seeming never ending cycle of violence in our world and often seems to have a more mystical or spiritual attachment as U2 ages and explores deeper meanings and the struggle between hope and despair.

I find that the song is a call to keep relationships on the forefront of our journey. The waves will never stop crashing, and the opinion of men will never stop criticizing. And instead of being worn out by the pace, we need to continue the desire to be swept off our feet in the relationships that keep us floating. And that main relationship, for me, is with my heavenly Father.

That main relationship helps me to enjoy the others- my wife (we will have been married 35 years this April 2nd), my children, my friends... even the ones who are distant or I haven't spoken to for years.

I know this is what the Lord is impressing upon me in recent readings and encounters. It is funny how the convergence of Scripture (currently Ecclesiastes), a Disney+ show (Mandalorian), difficult news cycles (Nashville shooting, Ukranian war, political controversies, economic distress, culture battles, global enemies), and the joy of my family (especially my new grand-daughter) all have influence in my day to day walk.

But here I am, at the end of a spring break- ready to walk in patience and perseverance. It is always a struggle though we MUST keep climbing upward, I believe, to the heavenly Jerusalem. And though crashing waves cast me down and even, at times, overwhelm me- I am not alone. God puts people in my life who pick me up and I want to help pick up others as well. That's how we do it.... together.

Let's look at this song together- then I encourage you to add it to a playlist - songs that help us in our walk!

Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there'll be one more

This is the ever ending cycle- 
sun up/ sun down
and the inevitability of crisis AND drama
you are either just coming out of one, or in one, or about to go into another one
It's OK- this is the drumbeat we walk to
and though Longfellow says our hearts are muffled drumbeats of a funeral march to the grave... as followers of Christ, we know it is a march to Zion to the arms of our King and Shepherd!

And every gambler knows that to lose
Is what you're really there for

The world is Satan's dominion, and in the casino, the house always wins!

Summer I was fearlessness
Now I speak into an answer phone

This is what I struggle with- as I age I get more cautious, I get afraid to speak. I cling to personal peace and affluence, and stay out of the fire of the culture. I am not a powerful warrior for good. I am too comfortable in Babylon. But I also sense that there may be a day where I can't stay there... I pray still for revival, but I worry that I will be forced to be a part the resistance reluctantly... 

As the song says....

Like every fallen leaf on the breeze
Winter wouldn't leave it alone

The chorus of the song is a cry to stay together- we can't let this world isolate us from loved ones. We can't let our love grow cold! 

If you go-
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide?

And this next line makes me smile....

Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we're in love with defeat

This is the opinion and verdict of the world system... but the Bible always points to the walk of the way
Do you long for this reality? 

Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave

In my application, the next stanza presses us to find the wise mentors who have lived enough of life to separate the truth from fraud... I never worry about the idealism and error of the young people ... in time, life makes them confront the truth.. this world is by nature a dark and mean place. But there is a way to live as we hope for restoration from the Creator.

Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy

And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is
To live without intimacy

The line above reeks of the gospel... it is not a message of failure or the stain of sin, it is an invitation of repentance and faith in the love of God who demonstrated His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!

I thought I heard the captain's voice
But it's hard to listen while you preach

This line has a lot of truth in it. Read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, and you will find the hard choices between love and obedience in a world of conspiracy and destruction. We have to walk in humility, simplicity,, AND LOVE. Love demands listening!

Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach,

Chorus again:
If you go
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide?
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we're in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing every breaking wave

We are powerless, we are not the elite... nor do we want to be... we trust in God and we love Him BY loving others.

The bridge of this song is excellent!

The sea knows where are the rocks
And drowning is no sin
You know where my heart is
The same place that yours has been
We know that we fear to win
And so we end before we begin
Before we begin

It is a reality- it is understanding- it is an admission- it is a testimony to our quitting before we even try-  but it also holds out a hand to another- we WANT to love- and that is still our quest and dream!

If you go.....

So there you are... a little bit of how my quirky brain works. 

It can sound almost like a mental illness. But if my hope in God is a mental illness, I would rather die in this hope than live in the cold, stark lostness of hopelessness and isolation.

Two pessimists met at a party and instead of shaking hands... they just shook their heads.
Two Christians met outside of that party, uninvited, and they hugged each other in love and hope.

Despite the crashing of wave upon wave, I walk with my bride of 35 years in thanksgiving to my Savior. Please join us in that upward climb to the glory of God.

We march on our knees once again today and we fall time and time again under every breaking wave.
But it is foolish to chase every breaking wave as well.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Spring Break at 6900 Feet

Introductory note:
This blog is essentially dedicated to documenting my specific journey in life for the main purpose of leaving memories for my children and family.

My inspiration originally came from Ben Franklin's Autobiography in which he begins:

I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you.

and later an admission:

Hereby, too, I shall indulge the inclination so natural in old men, to be talking of themselves and their own past actions; and I shall indulge it without being tiresome to others, who, through respect to age, might conceive themselves obliged to give me a hearing, since this may be read or not as anyone pleases. And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity.

So, in that spirit...I write....

My daughter and son-in-law are new residents of Craig, CO and I had an opportunity this spring break to see their new way of living.

An easy but beautiful plane ride to Hayden CO changed my climate and altitude considerably. On the day I left, Bham was going away from 82F and I live my life at around 760 feet above sea level. I landed in the cold (22F), with snow, at nearly 6900 ft sea level.

During the flight, I had breathtaking views of our wondrous land. I am reading at the same time an amazing book, The Heart of Everything that Is- an account of the great Indian warrior, Red Cloud by Bob  Drury and Tom Clavin.

I had recently read a quote from that book that became vividly expressive in my imagination as I peered at the great plains- there is such a dramatic change when you see the rocky mountains begin to rise from this remote area!

East of the Mississippi civilization stood on three legs-land, water and timber. West of the Mississippi not one but two of those legs were withdrawn--water and timber. Civilization was left on one leg--land. It is a small wonder that it toppled over in temporary failure.
-Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains

God definitely was impressing these ideas all during the trip. I had pondered this originally in my reading about the early westward expansion that led to the series I finished on the Burned Over District and watching a few episodes of the Paramount series 1883 on the plane trip added to the book as well. 

The drive and perseverance to survive these elements in the 19th century is so foreign to me. How did they do it? 

Craig, Hayden, and Steamboat Springs Colorado

Melissa and Conner have been residents for about a month and are loving it- they like to ski and no better place for them than Steamboat. They have hardly unpacked due to the lure of the powder as Steamboat has had record snowfall. Every opportunity that they have to get away from work is a jump in the car and drive about 1 hr to the parking lot of the resort.

I found my stay quite the adventure and found a number of surprising discoveries- 

22F is not as cold as 22F in Birmingham. The dry cold wasn't that bad with the right layers and sunshine. Throughout the week, I found myself wearing less heavy stuff and feeling quite comfortable. The wind was tough and shade or lack of sun wasn't pleasant- but a bright Colorado day afforded a marvelous walk in the brisk, cold, and dry air.

The Old Time Mineral Springs Health Center was probably my favorite stop in Steamboat. For a small fee ($29) you could take residence in that place for the entire day. It had lockers, exercise and weight equipment, climbing wall, snack bar, a warm fireplace, but also large outdoor hot springs pools that were so healing and peaceful to sit in.

My first morning there, after a long workout and stretching routine, I sat in a pool with snow coming down on me a just meditated for a long time. It was an amazing way to recover from a fast paced 2nd semester at work. After that, I showered and just enjoyed downtown Steamboat- fun things to see and very friendly people.

Nature/Creation is God's gift to my sanity. Being in a majestic setting with woods, water, and wildlife is my natural battery charger and each day was what I needed.

I was also heartbroken during the trip as I learned of the school shooting in Nashville where TWO of the 9 people killed I knew personally: Katherine Koonce and I worked together at CPA and Cyndi Peak was my realtor there. 

The news was so disturbing that I just had to get outside and pray and once I walked back all I felt I could do was to read some Scripture. For some reason, I was drawn to Ecclesiastes and I spent a good part of the morning reading and praying- it had a very comforting presence that day.

I tweeted my thoughts at the time-

Ecclesiastes is my help for hard times and hard reality. It has a strange authenticity and scabs the wounds as we heal. The Bible does not run from darkness - that is what I tend to do. Distraction only delays despair. A life of activity is not a life of meaning. God IS here.

and a few days later:

News of crime, economic distress, surging AI warnings, and the alliance of enemies can bring despair and hopeless. God’s Word is a great tool to help us navigate these valleys with light and hope. Ecclesiastes has been a great help to me this week. Keep reading, praying, loving!

Where would I be without this gift of direction and comfort!

As I live each day, I often take for granted the special gift of God's presence in my life and the world view that has been shaped by His Word.

It helps me on plane flights, when I am alone, and when I get to enjoy the blessings of family... even if they now live far away.

I wanted to write about His good providence as well.

The week before I went on the trip, my truck started running rough. It happened in the school parking lot and though NO ONE wants car trouble, the fact that it happened in that place and not in the middle of Hwy 280 is a blessing. To have insurance to get it towed.. a blessing. Getting it repaired without MAJOR issues.. a blessing.

Then, on that Sunday in Craig, our heating unit went out! The forecast that night was 2F - this was a Sunday... who is going to be able to fix it!? But once again, we discovered it early... a blessing, someone came out and fixed it...a blessing!

God's Word and a worldview of trusting in His care and provision allows us the be thankful... and yes, bad things happen... but our view of His goodness has an eternal timeline... and His promises are good! His grace is unmatched!

As a follower of Christ, we must never lose hope.

God has given me a life of treasure... and though I suffer the consequences of sin, both my sin and the evil world of sinful man... we get to rejoice in the now and not yet.

What a grand trip- beauty... good food and fellowship... God is good.

I read more Red Cloud on the way back... and arrived home thankful for God's good gifts.

It was a healing I needed and a new adventure to remember.

Conner and Melissa are in a good place and family is a wonderful thing. Though I miss them, "This is The Way." (I also watched a good bit of the show Mandalorian  at their house- another fun thing that I get to enjoy is this blessed life!)

I guess that Ecclesiastes will be my next Bible series on this blog and I will have to write some thoughts about Red Cloud at some point as well. Til next time.....

Friday, March 03, 2023

Changes Beyond Recognition or Remembrance

Time for a football post..... haven't done one in a while.

Every year about this time, I begin to do some deeper dives into trends and changes in football. As a person who played from 1972- 1985 and then coached from 1991 to the present, I often can't even believe what I am seeing.

Everything changes, and at some point the change is so great that all you have from the past is a reference. Even the super QB sneak used by the Philadelphia Eagles this season is similar but different to that ancient play from old. The short yardage OL technique used by them harkens back to the 'hunker down" days of 6-5 goal line defenses and games won in bloody 3 yard skirmishes in tight spaces. The rugby scrum still exists from the origins of 'foot'ball.

And yes, it all builds on itself and may come full circle... but likely never just the same.

The evolving nature of the sport can make it difficult to teach and reach the new players properly. And the lack of connection can actually hinder the education process going forward. That is why a lot of coaches have to go back each year and build it fresh. The battle of schemes causes action/ reaction cycles that spin into things that connect to the past but are also totally new.

And rules changes come into play as well. I think the NFL will change the short yardage rule this year to prevent the push from behind scrum and there aren't as many powerful QB's in the league like a Jalen Hurts, but I could see teams subbing their squat champions to push the pile of humanity 1 yard.

Change is inevitable.

And it can create issues, the older people who see the past connections may get isolated from the new generation and that gap can hinder important elements necessary to successful adaptation. If the old stay old... then they will disappear into history as the game moves by. If the new never knows the old, they may lose important lessons or fundamentals that actually lend itself to achievement.

Here is a somewhat silly or fun way to illustrate this.

I had the pleasure of getting a front row observation seat at the University of Tennessee from 1993 to 1998 because my old high school coach, David Cutcliffe was the OC there at the time. I was a young new Qb coach and OC at Briarwood and Coach Cut invited me to work camps and spend time up there each summer. It was a golden time.

It is a long story, but the genesis of it was that Coach Yancey used the quick passing game (the 3 wide receiver, under center, 3 step  90's game) that UT used at the time. He has been taught the system by WR coach Kippy Brown and then I called and re-connected with Coach Cut to learn more. 

Over the next 5 years, Coach Cutcliffe, Randy Sanders, Mark Bradley, and Coach Fulmer all helped generate ideas that we used to develop the original BCS 20 Personnel offense that had such a great run in that same era. That system evolved each year as well as we added the power gap scheme and early shotgun, sniffer back sets to better  utilize 7 man protections in the medium passing game.

I had the honor of sitting in meetings at Tennessee with Coach Cutcliffe, Peyton Manning, Randy Sanders, and Tee Martin as they watched film and discussed schemes, techniques, decisions, and issues. I found it ironic that both UT and Briarwood won championships in 1998 and I attribute a lot of that to our gleaning from the growth of the Vols at that time. There was a lot of UT orange in the coaches office those years: a lot of film, camp shirts, pictures, and hats. My Alabama friends were so confused in those days! But the John Chavis 4-3 defense and the David Cutcliffe quick passing, gap scheme, play action offense was right in line with how we were growing at Briarwood.

Back to the change and challenges....

UT had a play at the time called 'Meyer'- Coach Cut loved calling it. It had a glance at a post, and dig/curl conversion primary route, and a nice check down/ pressure answer. It was great any down vs any defense and they called it a lot.

In meetings and on the practice field, I heard a lot of 'Meyer' called.

My biggest problem was 'why do they call it Meyer?'.

I asked the GA, and he didn't know. "It's just Meyer"

I asked a few of the back-up QB's... "It's just Meyer"

Then I finally asked Randy Sanders who also played QB at UT years earlier.

He laughed... "Well, we used to have a play called "Oscar" and the companion play to that was "Meyer". Over the years, we stopped calling Oscar because Meyer was the better play."  The original term Oscar had a clear meaning, just like a lot of football language has.

As I am writing this, I actually just thought... do our kids even know "Oscar-Meyer"!? I can sing the jingle right now... My bologna has a 1st name, it's O-S-C-A-R-... My bologna has a 2nd name, it's M-E-Y-E-R.. oh i like to eat it everyday... you children of the 70's can finish with me.....

The point is this...

As we hand down concepts and 'systems' what connections need to be made so the next generation of learners can best use and help the assimilation?

Too much history can stall the process... not enough can stunt the process.

We need to see the world our kids live in and find connections to the present without losing the fundamentals or principles from the past that are essential.

I did not grow up with cell phones and Madden.... my lingo is not their lingo

No one calls "Meyer" anymore... it is lost in a sea of common concepts.... that play today in our world is called "Z Cleaner"... but others may call it Mavericks, or Dodgers, or 826 Frisco.

This is life as well... 

As I grow older, I have to stay in a growth mindset or I will get left behind. It isn't easy.

We can change too quickly or too slowly, I think collaboration and communication is very important in these processes.

Ask the whys- evaluate the results- and don't be afraid to try it a new way.

That offense we ran from 1996- 2003 was amazing. But to be honest, if we ran it exactly like the old way, it would not be successful today. The pass protections would not hold up and we could be defended in more multiple ways that create necessary changes.

But we also have some great fundamentals and principles from those days that are still applicable. I see teams doing many of the same things, but they are missing some fundamental principles in the application/ technique of those concepts.

The evolution never stops.... 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Zombie Mythology and Hints of Truth

My mama told me at times to NOT do things that I ended up doing. Every time I disobeyed her, I suffered consequences of divine providence. She told me NOT to ride my neighbor's motorcycle and I crashed it under a chain link fence with the barbs ruining new jeans and peppering my leg with some puncture scars that I hid from her.

She told me to not go see the 1978 movie, "Dawn of the Dead" but I did it anyway.  And that was my first film exposure to the idea of "zombies" and again, the nightmares and gross images were consequences enough!

It took me by surprise, mainly because my early experiences  with monster genre was the old "Monsters of Hollywood" magazine that was part of my weird kid experience growing up.

This magazine covered the original cinema explorations of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the werewolf. These were the now iconic figures made famous by Bela Lagosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Cheney Jr.

Looking back, I'm not sure what drew me to those motifs. They weren't scary and the story lines weren't compelling. It may be the same draw one feels at a circus sideshow, more curiosity than care.

A quick side note, I finally read Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, many years later and found it to be a fascinating account. That story has amazing depth and analysis of life, creation, our relationship with the creator, and elements of psychological fear and love.

But back to the zombie dramas and the common elements that make these stories a draw to many followers.

Wikipedia lists 567 films 'zombie' movies, but IMDB lists over 7900. 

The basic premise of any zombie movie is an apocalyptic account of reanimated corpses who prey on human flesh. The cause of the  reanimation is by many different means including: voodoo, radiation, parasites, bacteria, and fungi. The wikipedia article on the etymology of zombie is quite interesting.

Popular portrayals like "The Walking Dead" carry on the mainstream ideas that these zombies animate after death by means of some mysterious infection with an insatiable need for blood and guts. They are slow moving creatures who overwhelm by numbers and their bites spread the contagion.

 I have friends and a few family members who have seen the newest version of this myth in the HBO series, 'The Last of Us' but I am not up on the details except these zombies have connection by way of fungal vines and they can run (I have always counted on outrunning them- so that stinks).

In the end, a zombie film is another type of science fiction where alternate realities explore issues of current society and human nature. 

Human beings making choices within the pressures of life and death circumstances leaves no shortages of storylines. The complexities of relationships, attitudes, emotions, and actions are many times predictable  but also have the wildcard moments of irrational or unexpected turns. Kind of like me and whether I listened to my mama or not.

In zombie mythology, human beings turn out to be much more dangerous than the 'walkers'. 

The hints of truth in these myths and connection to real life human nature is what 'sells' us on the story lines even more than the suspenseful horror or action sequences. The meaning is there though we often pass by without giving it much thought.

It's just a movie or show.... right? But what does tie us into following the narrative?

Why do we not care if a zombie gets whacked but grieve over a main character going down?

What hints make us 'trust' some of the human beings it the story but are skeptical of the motives of others?

What makes us label some characters as heroes but others as villains?

What makes us accept that characters can change in virtue of vice?

What gives us plausible acceptance when a characters acts contrary to their base nature? Why does a 'good' man do a 'bad' thing or vice versa?

In reality, the 'last of us' is just like the 'rest of us'.

As we encounter the many facets of life, we have to consider if there is actually a true narrative that allows all of the others to finally connect in a way that begs our attention and plays the various chords of emotions and responses we have as humans.

Is there one? Which one?

If you ever have time, I encourage you to read the many accounts of the famous conversation between C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on Sept 19, 1931.

The two men with another friend, Hugo Dyson, took a stroll along 'Addison's Walk' in Oxford. Lewis found Tolkien likable but strange. How could a man of such great intellect still cling to something like old religious myths?

In the famous conversation, Lewis actually mentioned how much he loved 'myth', though he knew ultimately they were based on lies.

Tolkien countered Lewis by exploring the yearning men have for meaning and redemption. He also argued that many myths in global story-telling actually parallel Biblical accounts. Could the love we have for these stories actually point to something true?

If Jesus Christ was real in space, time, and history.. could there be something more in play here than just another mythological tale?

Lewis recounts that one conversation led to a later acceptance of the truth of the gospel after a motorcycle ride through the countryside where he pondered these points.

Here is how C.S. Lewis says it himself  in God in the Dock (emphasis mine)

“Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.”

“God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘pagan Christs’: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: perfect myth and perfect fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.”

So think about these things the next time you have your popcorn and streaming service. The desire to live, the ability to laugh, the horror of atrocity, the longings for significance and love.... they have a common source and a common Creator. And sinful actions always have tragic consequences.

Because of this reality, the 'Common Creator' did a very uncommon thing.

We too have an infection that will re-animate us upon death. 

But there is a promise of mercy through healing blood..... why not ponder that a bit.

There are many pilgrims today who take that same stroll down Addison's Walk, like C.S. Lewis did, and think about these things. We walk to places everyday without even noting the birds singing or the sun shining. 

I pretend it is a zombies walk, limping and blood thirsty without Christ.

But with Christ.... it is a joyous, though arduous climb to glory.

Which walk do you desire?

Friday, February 24, 2023

What Can the 'Burned Out' Learn from the 'Burned Over'? Summary and Applications

I have truly been mesmerized during this study. It is an area I wanted to learn about and provoked surprising reactions.

Sometimes, when we read scholarly research on social trends and historical observations, we can get hypnotized by simple rationality and still miss personal applications. Predicting the weather isn't 100%, observing the weather is realistic, but describing the weather yesterday often goes beyond the facts- Yes it was 92F, but how did the heat impact your feelings, attitudes, choices, or actions? Were you prepared or unprepared, acclimated or not? Do you like hot weather? Did you stay in all day? Yes? So really your day was 75F.

In reading the rapid change of ultraism, perfectionism, revivalism, utopianism, communism, spiritualism in the western New York region in the early and mid 19th century we can state the facts but miss some important applications.

More and more, my study kept being categorized by Whitney R. Cross's book, The Burned Over District written in 1950. I was also surprised how many more recent scholars openly criticize this book. One commentator said that the subject needs to be refreshed by more recent and relevant attitudes. Another critic spent time bemoaning the 'clumsy writing style'. This is always my fear when we hear of 'new discoveries' about history.

One of my favorite quotes by Dr Calhoun was when he said Charles Hodge celebrated the fact that Princeton was pleased to announce meticulous studies of God's Word had produced "no new discoveries".

And this summary of my study isn't an attempt to revise history, I'm not even saying it is completely accurate.

But it is fair to say that the political, economic, social, and religious elements all seemed to produce a very unusual cultural phenomenon in a vey short span of time.

Cross says in chapter 16 of his book, "Religious ultraism reached its peak about 1836. Then it quite suddenly collapsed."

Later, he writes "Both the nature of ultraism itself and the pressure of external circumstances helped to bring about its disintegration."

Chapter 20: 'The evolving religious emotionalism of western New York carried some people along with it, but left at each stage an inheritance of individuals, or even descendants, whose ability to adjust to further novelty stopped at that given point."

Later: "Apparently, religious extravagances and sensationalism made enemies as well as friends and finally bred sore disillusionment among advocates."

As I have written earlier, we all have remnants of these times and practices in our midst. Mormonism, Advent Churches, Spiritualism, tent revivals, utopian cults.... all of these have roots in the burned over district.

What few sociologists are able to document however is the excellent corrective nature of the Bible when handled correctly and with care. They are also in most cases unable to show that there is a true, historic, and sacred stream of consistent gospel proclamation and discipleship found in the victorious, invisible Church. There is a true faith in the midst of error and imposters. There is a sacred canopy that stands despite taking blow after blow of dissent and accusations.

What have I leaned?

1) There can be a lot of danger and possible damage by one person left alone with just a Bible, concordance...even with good intentions. It is so important that we get good training and connection with those who seek to be 'ministers'

2) We always have to hold the entire Bible as preeminent and let it shape our doctrines. John Calvin is often quoted as saying God limits our knowledge to keep us humble and make sure that we have dealings with our fellows.

3) Rapid visible growth may not indicate Biblical accuracy. God's kingdom is better indicated by perseverance over time rather than momentary trends.

4) Incorrect doctrine and heresy has tragic and hurtful results. The extreme disillusionment when these faulty ideas crumble is bad enough, but sadly, there were some sad and tragic consequences on people as well.

When someone twists the Scriptures to rationalize improper boundaries... be they too strict or too loose; it causes harm.

I think it is vey important for Christians to always stay in the marketplace of ideas and compete for the supremacy of Scripture.... the whole counsel of God. We need to engage rigorous debate in a spirit that honors Christ.

Sometimes we seek to win arguments, but lose souls in the process. We win battles but lose the war.

I want to close with an example of this that may seem controversial:

Recently, on Fox News, Martha MacCallum interviewed the Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan about the possible revival breaking out in Kentucky. Instead of doing to sectarian divide, Dolan applauded all that is good about this movement.

He went on to celebrate the 1st Great Awakening, mentioning Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield and saw it historically as a time when we truly became Americans.

Are there major theological issues at play here, especially around authority and salvation? ABSOLUTELY

Does it keep us from having discussions and finding common ground on issues that pertain to service and initiatives for the common good?  ABSOLUTELY NOT

You can see the interview here:

As our culture gets darker, more isolated, and less haunted by the Christian voices of old, we must continue to find common ground and civil disagreements while still leaving breadcrumbs to the reality of God and the beauty of the gospel message.

We have to engage, lead, and make promise keeping/ peace making a high priority.

If we find hard hearts and doubters along the way, we can't lose hope- we have to be the ones who patiently love, honestly confess, and stubbornly give testimony to God's goodness and His grace.

I finally saw the recent movie called "Jesus Revolution" about the California Jesus People movement in the 1970's. I appreciated the complexity and issues that the directors included in the narrative. God's movements are messy and sin is always in the mix. My favorite line in the movie was "truth is quiet and lies are loud".

I think it is fair to critique the movie in terms of what it didn't cover (Lonnie Frisbee's lifestyle and issues) but it is hard to determine where to go in the time limits of a single movie.

When Smith and Frisbee split, it was interesting to me that it was a theological divide over the role of the Holy Spirit. Smith was later quoted as love should be the highest manifestation of the Spirit, not signs and wonders.

The movie is told more through the story of Greg Laurie, but in many ways, Frisbee is more applicable to my reading on the burned over district... Frisbee is the burned over district personified- a rambling complexity of seeking, experimentation, frailty, inconsistency, and misunderstanding.

We need to see God move, I need it as well. Growing older has a sense of growing colder that seems to go along with it.

If you feel 'burned out' it is OK- tell someone... seek the Lord in prayer,  and wait on Him.

But if we want it to be clean and organized- it won't be..... if we are going to be hyper-critical and skeptical- it won't happen.... if we don't make allowances for humanity- we are not living in reality of the human condition..... If we don't get humble, pray, and love then we aren't going to help the true seed grow in good soil.

Final update: The Asbury Revival was technically ended on Feb. 25-
( February 8, 2023 through February 25, 2023- 18 days)

I watched the opening chapel service that started it on youtube and I also appreciate the statement from Asbury's president: 

I have been asked if Asbury is “stopping” this outpouring of God’s Spirit and the stirring of human hearts. I have responded by pointing out that we cannot stop something we did not start. This was never planned. Over the last few weeks, we have been honored to steward and host services and the guests who have traveled far and wide to attend them. The trajectory of renewal meetings is always outward—and that is beginning to occur. We continue to hear inspiring stories of hungry hearts setting aside daily routines and seeking Christ at schools, churches, and communities in the US and abroad.

In spite of this, many in my corner of theological pontificators have slammed and mocked the movement with skepticism and criticism- and I am sad to say that it is a mistake. We often shoot our own wounded and that hurts my heart. :(

But, overall personally this has been an incredible study for me- thanks for reading and love to hear your feedback-

Lord- we want to see you move... we are waiting!

Maybe someone reading this one day  - possibly all alone and discouraged, will once again pick up God's Word and cry out for mercy.... and that is all I ever hope for... until He returns!

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

[29] He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

[30] Even youths shall faint and be weary,

and young men shall fall exhausted;

[31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28–31 ESV)

Saturday, February 18, 2023

What Can the 'Burned Out' Learn from the 'Burned Over'? Finney and the Anxious Bench

“Remember not the former things,

nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18–19 ESV)

These posts are going to get hard to write because I am going to attempt to thread a needle where misunderstanding can quickly arise.

We are generations removed from the rise of what has been called 'the new measures' of the mid-19th century preachers and evangelists. This was the fire that eventually burned up the burned over district.

And we are going to see issues from these techniques that will bring into question some of our all-time famous preachers. Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, and MANY churches throughout our lifetime will have some similarities to these practices. And so much of this can apply to the rise of televangelists and celebrity pastors as well.

And there is a balance here... one that will create dividing lines. It may even sound contradictory to applaud the work of Billy Graham but write hard things about Charles Finney, but I do see differences even though we ALL inherit expectations and procedures... don't we?

This topic is so on point right now with various reports surfacing about a revival at Asbury in Kentucky and an early report coning from Samford University. I am prayerful, hopeful, and Lord please don't make me so skeptical that we miss supporting YOUR work!

I have issues with Finney and some of the mechanics of the 2nd Great Awakening... a lot of it is purely on doctrinal grounds, but it is up to the Lord to be the final judge.

 Charles Finney looked like a man who cared. One commentator mentioned that his appearance exuded a "guileless, honest, frank heart".

As a hard charging lawyer, Finney described himself as 'worldly' and "decadent', in his pre-conversion  days though in Whitney Cross's book, there was a minister who is quoted saying, Finney "had a good respect for people and institutes of religion".

But it wasn't long before a dramatic conversion, a zealous devotion to his faith, and an impressive skill set of oratory and persuasiveness began the fire that finally consumed the burned over district in what historian later called "the 2nd Great Awakening". Finney was a 'man's man' and exhibited excellent skill on horseback, marksmanship, and social interaction. From those experiences, he pulled together stories and illustrations that resonated with the pioneers.

This was no show of pretense, Finney wasn't a hypocrite or con man, but motives and intentions may still not fulfill the call to the great commission. Finney devoted himself to hours of prayer and Bible study. In his mind, he was simply following the Spirit in the tradition as old as Acts. Finney did not originate revivalism in Western New York in the mid-19th century, but his zeal and efforts pounced upon the opportunities in some of the most  favorable circumstances one could imagine.

The problem is that zeal without knowledge can lead to a condition we call "ultraism", defined as "the holding of extreme opinions". Is ultraism a sin? If the extreme position is Biblical... then NO. But we all must live with a healthy skepticism of our opinions. We can be so right, we become dead right! 

It wasn't long until calls rang across the countryside for Finney and his team. And his time in Rochester, NY has birthed legendary tales of supernatural fires. Finney held service after service and kept the audiences spellbound for days on end.

I have read and watched numerous books and on-line videos on Finney, and it isn't surprising to learn that the support and criticism of his style, theology, and ministry is varied and controversial.

The changes widely employed in the formal process and procedure to conversion was greatly impacted by how Finney operated and we see the influence even today.

For the sake of time and space, I am going to deal with the issues I have struggled with in terms of giving Finney a voice of support in spite of his zeal and intentions.

The biggest issue was some important theological problems around the nature of salvation. If salvation can be obtained merely by the will and efforts of the human soul, then there can be a dangerous temptation to employ techniques that can manipulate a person in the process.

I stumbled upon some excellent resources on this subject during my reading a research. There was actually a book written all the way back in the 1840's that correctly articulated many of these issues that surrounded Finney's ministry.

John Nevin was the Professor of Theology at Mercersburg Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. This was the Seminary of the German Reformed Church in America. In 1843, he published the first edition of The Anxious Bench. It has been called the most probing critique of Finneyism ever written.

The book has a number of interesting arguments, here is a summary of some of these I found in various journals online:

 "The use of the anxious bench (reserved seats at the front of the meeting house where people anxious over their souls were implored to come and sit with counselors) cannot be justified either by its popularity, or its apparent success in converting sinners, taking for granted that some/many of the the conversions are genuine. But, we must be EXTREMELY careful- 'It is marvelous credulity to take every excitement in the name of religion for the work of God’s Spirit.' Further, God in His sovereignty may sometimes choose to make use of a bad method to effect a real conversion – but that does not justify us in using bad methods. 'We must not do wrong even to gain a soul for heaven.' If  the success of the anxious bench can be accounted for by purely natural factors. No clear spiritual preaching of the truth is necessary, only an ability to stir up and manipulate the emotions of the vulnerable."

"If Christianity exists primarily as a divine and supernatural organism in the church, then Finney’s whole understanding of religion is negated. Finney sees religion in natural, not supernatural terms, as merely the right exercise of natural human faculties. Not so, says Nevin: that would make religion stand in Adam instead of in Christ. Religion is a supernatural life that flows from God’s recreation of fallen humanity in the Second Adam. It is Finney’s failure to see this that makes his whole concept of religion into a man-centred system of self-salvation by natural free-will."

I also wrote some quips that I stumbled across:

Finney's tent revivals fit right along with the optimistic, mechanical explosion in the region. His 'new measures' could be described as the 'cotton gin of the soul'.

Though we cannot say the converts of the 'new measures' were true or sincere, many critics of the day seemed to find ammunition in the reality that a lot of souls who walked the sawdust trail eventually seemed to fall away when the mood was gone.

There was a populist vibe attached to this movement as well and it is interesting to study the overall societal impact of this... one commentator mentions the mid-19th century as the time 'when power changed from the snobs to the mobs".

"Finney employed all the techniques that work in sales" and he was rewarded "when using ingenuity to provide new sensations."

"So what’s the theology behind these “new measures”? Finney denied the teaching of a human, sinful nature. He declared the notion of original sin to be “anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma.”Similarly, he rejects the doctrine of supernatural regeneration. He didn’t deny that the Holy Spirit exerts some moral influence on the believer, but “the actual turning . . . is the sinner’s own act.” He doesn’t even seem to try to conceal his Pelagianism—the most frequently condemned heresy of all time—which is evident in the mere title of his most famous sermon, “Sinners Bound To Change Their Own Hearts. ' "

But there were two other issues that concerned me about Finney and, to be honest, will still rile me up today. One was how mean spirited and toxic he was from the pulpit toward other ministers and churches. We do have disagreements, but we must be careful about sarcasm and mockery. These are holy things and we should handle with great care!

Whitney Cross quotes Finney as praying "Lord wake up these stupid sleeping ministers; else they wake up in hell".

The other issue seems to be ample evidence that Finney and others pre-planted congregants to come forward to the anxious benches to promote the movement. In the leaders eyes, these were just the counselors coming forward, but the technique can't escape the charge of manipulation.

A final summary of the issue at hand?

"The revival engineers had to exercise increasing ingenuity to find even more sensational means to replace those worn out by overuse..... the (new) measures themselves grew more and more intense, until the increasing zeal boiled up inside of orthodoxy and overflowed into heresy. (Cross pg. 184)"

My early experience with Christian conversion had some of these elements... though they were tempered in time and, I believe, held in check by Bible exposition.

My introduction to Christianity was sporadic attendance at Ruhama Baptist Church in Birmingham. I have to acknowledge the important ministry of Mr. Jack Rutledge (father of Gary and Jeff) in my life. He was the first man to press me to make a decision for Christ. I resisted him at an 'anxious bench' moment during a revival as he put his arm around me and whispered, 'Don't you want to go forward and accept Jesus and was sad that I disappointed him with a firm NO.  But I was still drawn to Sunday School to look at Sugar Bowl watches and hear Alabama football stories. Mr. Rutledge even took us to Tuscaloosa to see an Alabama Spring practice. (On that day Steadman Shealy tore his ACL and we got to meet Coach Bryant.)

My first experience with my personal salvation was around the age of 10 (I think in an earlier version I said 8, but I think I was mistaken about that). It was during a revival (just months after resisting the altar call and Mr. Rutledge) and, this time, I felt like I was supposed to go down the aisle. A lot of it was just doing what a friend of mine was doing. I remember a Pastor meeting with my mother and me. During this meeting, he showed me a Good News Bible and pointed to a picture of a shepherd. I just shook my head “yes”.

The baptismal ceremony was performed in freezing cold water because the water heater was broken. It took my breath away as I went under. In later years I laughed that this was a little humor from the Lord about my “cold” baptism.

I tried to be a good boy for about 2 weeks but eventually regressed to being the same ole me.

In 8th or 9th grade, I remember a Sunday School teacher explaining the gospel in a way that I actually understood it. My sin was real and Jesus’ sacrifice made complete sense in bridging the separation I had with God.

I vividly remember thinking “I’ve already been baptized, so I can’t tell anyone that I’m not a real Christian” And I lived in conflict off and on for a long time. I knew I wasn’t living for God and I believed that I was going to hell. It disturbed me whenever I thought about it.

I was playing a video game in the mall one day and a little girl came up with a gospel tract. I treated her very rudely, but inside I still felt condemned.

Another time a girl I knew well told me that I couldn’t be a Christian because of my behavior. I told her that I had been baptized. She said that baptized or not, I lived like I was going to hell. Deep in my heart, I knew she was right.

I wanted to write a little about the outstanding Christian education I received at Ruhama Baptist. Vacation Bible School, Bible sword drills, and the teaching in Sunday School gave me a very solid Biblical foundation. I remember memorizing Psalm 100 and singing in the choirs.

Getting to high school actually provided distractions from God and found that I was hardening to the idea that I was not a believer. Sports were a great diversion and offered some reward as an idol. I received recognition and relationships and I experienced a lot of success.

I also ended my attendance at Ruhama. I really don’t know why, but I never went to Sunday School once high school started for me. At high school, I was an honors student (based on the enrichment program I attended in grades 5-8) and a basic ‘good guy’. The role models for athletics had me living the ‘All-American’ image pretty well.

My realization about eternity abruptly came back up in the summer before my junior year. An acquaintance of mine was tragically killed while robbing a convenience store. He was with a group who was doing it just for the thrill.

I remember receiving this news from my mom as I was coming home from Sunday School. I don’t know why I went to church that day and remember nothing from the visit.

All of the students were grief stricken and I was confronted once again with the idea of death.

We had a student gathering at a home and I was very impressed by the message. It was my first experience with Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. A minister, Tom Caradine, gave a clear gospel presentation along with Biblical answers for grief and loss. I was stirred immensely.

After the meeting, a college student who had been an athletic role model for me, Benny Parks, found me and shared a gospel tract with me. The tract had a drawing of two lives and I knew that my life was not being directed by Christ.

I went home and re-read the tract and knew it was time to make a choice. I got on my knees and prayed that God would forgive me and take me back. At the time, I thought I was re-dedicating my life to Christ. I now know from thinking through Scripture that this was my actual conversion. The earlier experiences were valid and God used all of them to prepare me for this time of being born again.

And that is where I want to leave Finney and the new measures.... experiences with God that God will use to call His children.. in His way.. and in His time.

We must not fall into the temptation to manipulate these moments. Sadly, I feel like I did that at times in my ministry to kids... Lord, please forgive me for those times.

Usually, it is about wanting ME to look successful. Evangelism is not an athletics contest. It is living under God's direction, taking time to initiate conversations, praying at all times, and trusting the Holy Spirit to move as He may.

But this has also shaped some of my feelings about ministry as well.

Less topical sermons and more expository preaching.

I worry that topical approaches get out of Biblical balance in a hurry. Let the Spirit apply the Word and educate believers about the entire counsel of Scripture.

At every point in public or private, explain the gospel.

I know I heard the gospel thousands of times before I finally responded as a work of God's grace in my heart.

Love others and be patient with others.

I especially implore folks who work with teens. Be patient. We often expect the sanctification of a 40 year old from a 16 year old. Don't fall apart when people sin... it shouldn't surprise us. Love, teach, correct, restore, forgive.

Finally, play the long game. God works like yeast, not like dynamite.

And as we a burned out... we need that yeast in a desperate way!

Lord, send a true revival in our day... and come quickly!