Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smooth Sailing: The Year in Review

2011 has been a challenging year.  In fact, that's putting it rather kindly.  2011 has been a difficult year.  Now don't get me wrong -- that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I keep hoping that as I grow older that I will get more organized and the wisdom that comes with age will help me better control my environment.  But instead, I find myself frustrated that as life flies by I am holding on for dear life with absolutely no sense of control.  If I had thought ahead and was better organized, I might have sent out a Christmas card this year (my first ever).  I was blessed by all the cards/letters/pictures that many of you sent to me.  With every card I get, I think "some day I'll be as together as [insert your name here BUT ONLY if you sent me a Christmas card] and send one of these out."

So I failed again, but it's not too late to do something.  Here is my last-ditch effort to put together a Christmas Card.  I give to you the Barton Family Year in Review, with the seemingly-paradoxical subtitle "Smooth Sailing."

I am finishing this blog entry on December 28th, which happens to be our wedding anniversary.  Today marks 15 years that Elly and I have been together as husband and wife.  We hope to celebrate each other by having a romantic dinner at a posh Columbia venue.  I can honestly say that I am proud of my wife for being more attractive, thinner, smarter, more creative and more loving than the day that I married her.  It hasn't always been easy, but that's what has forced us to grow together.  I love you Elly.

Elly never finished college as we decided to start our family and have her be a stay-at-home mom.  But this year, she decided it was time to head back to school to get her degree.  She has been a very dedicated student and is excited about obtaining a degree in nursing so that she can go to work once all of the kids are in school.

Back in January, Elly surprised me with a trip to San Francisco on my birthday.  I had never been to California before.  We did all of the typical tourist stuff (Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Muir Woods, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge) but probably enjoyed our drive down to the Monterey Peninsula the best.  It was nice to get away even though it was only for 3 days.

Elly and I also got away for another quick trip in May when we went to Nashville to see Neal Morse in concert and meet up with John Elefante.  I previously blogged about this trip here.

Serai turned 13 this month and is partially to blame for this being such a difficult year.  I feel as if our family has been taken hostage by Serai's sports.  Serai played on a competitive soccer team this fall which meant that most of our fall weekends were spent traveling to her games.  While it is always fun to watch her play a sport that she loves, the constant travel took its toll on our family (I thought).  As soon as soccer season ended, high school basketball began.  Serai, despite only being 13 and an 8th grader, is playing on the varsity team at Christian Fellowship.  She appears to have improved nicely from last season, though she still gripes about all the running she has to do in practice.  Serai is an excellent student and Elly and I are grateful that we never have to get on to her about doing her homework.  She is very self-motivated as far as that is concerned.  She looks like a grown-up woman and I still have a hard time believing that I have a child who looks like that.

Marek is now 11 and is also a good student.  Following in the steps of his older sister (and dad, for that matter), he is learning how to play the saxophone.  Marek is almost always pleasant to be around as he has a great sense of humor and is usually happy.  He loves to read.  Earlier in the year he finished the Harry Potter series along with the Percy Jackson series.  He is now enjoying other books along similar lines.  Of course, most of his recreational time is spent playing games on the XBox.

Silas just turned 7 and is in 1st grade.  Of all of my kids, he is the one that I most worry about in school.  However, he has surprised both Elly and me with how well he is doing.  Silas underwent a rather significant physical transformation when he decided to have his hair cut short.  He went from having a blond, curly mop on his head:

To this:

Most of his friends didn't even recognize him after the haircut.  Ariya assured us immediately afterwards that "his name is still Silas."

Silas is now a cub scout and the two of us are doing that together.  While I enjoy spending this time with him, I find that hanging around a bunch of 1st grade boys (whenever he has his den and pack meetings) provides quite a challenge to my patience.  Seven-year old boys are wild and I have found that I don't have quite the grace for other people's out-of-control children that I have for my own.

Ariya is 3 and is going to pre-school two days a week.  She is about as cute as a little girl can be.  She is also taking dance lessons and soccer lessons.  While she loves both dance and soccer, she actually appears to have a lot more skill when it comes to soccer at this point.  She really got into Christmas this year and that was fun to see.  Elly is usually a nazi about taking the Christmas tree down as soon as possible after we have opened our presents on Christmas morning; however, Ariya's pleas to leave the tree up this year have melted her heart and it is still standing at this very moment.  Here she is standing in front of the tree:

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of the year has been dealing with Ariya's health.  While we initially thought that she was suffering from severe allergies to gluten, we're not entirely sure that's what has been going on.  She has very little appetite and is constantly complaining about stomach pain.  She has improved since she has been on a completely gluten-free diet, but still has times when her stomach swells up and is in pain from constipation and intestinal inflammation.  What concerns us so much is that we have no idea what it is that we are dealing with and no doctor has been very helpful or interested in determining what the problem is.  This has been especially hard on Elly as she tends to worry about things a lot more than I do.  She (Elly) frequently has dreams or intense feelings that Ariya has cancer or some other deadly disease that is going to take her from us.

This and That
In March, we spent our Spring Break at Disney World and had an amazing time as a family.  I believe it was one of those trips that my kids will never forget.  We laughed and enjoyed one another so much on that vacation and will probably always compare our future family vacations to this one.

As most of you know, my faith in God is of paramount importance to me.  From my perspective, I've had a very challenging time in my spiritual life where I've gone from thinking about God all the time to the last three months where I've felt very dry and distant from him.  It disappoints me that I'm in this apathetic state, yet I trust that His purposes are being fulfilled in some way that I'm not privy to.  I will continue to trust God with my life, with the lives of my kids, with my marriage, with my job, with my overall time and place in this world.  Since I believe that God is always at work in the lives of those who trust in Him, I guess things are probably going better than I think they are.

During this season when we reflect upon God coming to earth as a baby and on new beginnings, I am going to challenge myself to remember that His mercies are not only new each year, but every day I can have a fresh start being a precious child of God.  Having this faith, I do believe that my life -- despite the stress, busy-ness, worries and disappointments that are always front-of-mind -- is going along just the way it should.  Now that I consider all of this, I guess you could say what seemed like a tough year really was just smooth sailing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Random Thoughts

Man...Gary Pinkel.

Knowing people is nice.  I saw an executive from a record company this week who gave me a CD which I'm not sure has even been released yet.  It's "God's Not Dead" from DC Talk...I mean, the Newsboys.  Anyway, I figured the worship album from rock groups got old years ago, but the Newsboys have one now.  I must say, it is outstanding.  When it hits the stores, check it out.  Good stuff.

Remember when I used to blog?

I ran four miles this morning.  The first two miles was into the wind and I was cursing the winter weather.  After turning around, the last two miles were with the wind at my back and I was cursing the summer conditions.  Darn wind.

I think I finally paid off my credit card balances for last Christmas and here we are.  I propose to have Christmas every other year.  Wouldn't that make it more know, kind of like the Olympics.  Besides, then I would know what it feels like to be financially solvent again.  Actually, we can still have Christmas, just without the gift-giving.  Gift-giving is every odd year, so as not too get too busy with presidential elections, the Olympics, my sister-in-law's birthday and all those other things which keep us on our toes during the even-numbered years.  Anyone with me on this idea?  (Occupy Retailers!)

Gary Gary Gary.

The next two months may be the scariest two months ever for me.  My daughter turns 13 next month and in January, I turn 40.  Forty!  I'm too young to have a child who will be getting her driver's license in three years.   I'm too young to be 40!  I need some Calgon.  (Or do housewives who watch daytime soaps the only ones who get the benefit of Calgon?)

James or Colossians?

In case I forget to think about it next week, I want to express how thankful I am for so many things.  Today as I was looking at myself in the mirror I had this weird self-awareness moment where I thought "Well, that's you.  You made the cut.  You got the chance to live and breathe and look at yourself in the mirror."  I'm thankful for life.  It's a weird thing and I don't understand anything about it, but I'm grateful that I got to be a part of the universe and history.

As I type this, I am watching my son eat (or lick) Fun Dip right now.  Wow...has anything ever at one time in life seemed so amazing and now sounds totally disgusting as Fun Dip?  Why yes...that would be Circus Peanuts.  (No offense to all of you who still dip from time to time.)

If you are ever bored and need something to entertain you for 30 minutes, I highly recommend you find and watch the Seinfeld episode known as "Muffin Top."  It's not one of the episodes normally talked about whenever a Seinfeld conversation inevitably strikes up.  However, I challenge you to watch this episode and then describe everything that goes on in it to a friend in less than 40 minutes.  It's a testament to Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld and the writers of that show that they were somehow able to regularly weave an unbelievable number of plot threads into a 24-minute TV show.

I bet Gary Pinkel could use some cheering up.  The Muffin Top episode might just do the trick.  No, on second thought, Gary just needs some Calgon.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Post About Nothing

As you may have noticed, I am prone to making allusions to those things which I like.  If I had to pick my absolute favorite TV show, I would without a doubt choose Seinfeld.  (I used to hear all the time how much I looked like Jerry Seinfeld in my college days when I was super-thin and had big hair.  Now that I'm older and have added some weight, people now tell me I look like Ray Romano.  But that's a topic for a different time.)  Anyway, Seinfeld satirized itself by claiming that it was "a show about nothing."  And what was so stunningly brilliant by that claim was that it was basically true, yet somehow so many of those nothingisms we related to and have now transcended to become ingrained icons of our culture.  For example, there is a whole episode that is centered around someone noticing Jerry picking his nose in his car while he was stopped at a traffic light.  ("It wasn't a pick!  It was a scratch.  There was no nasal penetration!")  I wish there were more TV shows about nothing.

Well, this blog post is about nothing.  I thought I would sit down and write about everything that has been going through my mind of late.  And here it is ... nothing ... zilch ... nada ... the big ole goose egg.  I am sure it is as riveting to read such words as it was for me to type them.  Just this morning my friend Dale chided me for encouraging everyone to write only for me to then go into complete radio silence mode.  I figured I could just pull a Jack Nicholson and pound away on my keyboard like his character in The Shining but that wouldn't be very edifying (or original, for that matter).

So how's this for originality: a nothing confession and a nothing apology.  If you aren't familiar with these terms, allow me to enlighten you as I demonstrate them to the best of my (full of pride) abilities.

The Nothing Confession:
I confess to all the world that I have nothing.  Nothing to write about.  Nothing to say to people who ask me what the secret to life is.  Nothing is thing.

The Nothing Apology:
I am sorry for not having anything to give today.  Check back tomorrow.  Maybe I'll have something then.  For now, I'm sorry.  That's all I've got.

I guess that's something.

"Be still and know that I am God." -Psalm 46:10

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Great Inventions: the Diving Board

On July 23rd, Josh Kezer posted the following status update on Facebook:
 "went swimming this evening at a Christian Fellowship Church event and dove off of a diving board for the first time in 20+ years. It was a blast. I did a flip for the first time ever, followed by more, tried and failed at several attempts of half backward flips and dives, face planted even more with flips and twists that the body wasn't built to do and loved every minute of it. Thank God I'm a free man."
As I read Josh's status, I was gripped by the gratitude that I have for my freedom ... and for that matter, diving boards.  To get a better appreciation of why this was such a big deal for Josh, I recommend that you visit his blog and read his story.

Everyone should have the chance to jump off a diving board.  There is a magical sense of anticipation as you are thrown up into the air, momentarily suspended, with various body parts moving in different directions as momentum, and then gravity, carry you to the inevitable destination -- the pool of water that breaks the fall of the diver.  I have spent countless hours honing my acrobatic skills as I have attempted an assortment of different dives over the years.  My wife likes telling a story that I tried to impress her before she even knew me by performing a gainer while she was visiting the neighborhood swimming pool.  (Pure fiction I say!  Well, the gainer part was most likely true, but not the part about me only doing it to impress her.)  I now enjoy watching my two sons delight in the fun as they dive, front flip, back flip, barrel roll, cannonball, can opener, twist, watermelon, pencil, etc. off the board and into the pool.

Freedom is one of those things that you normally don't think of having until you no longer have it.  Many people choose to never jump off a diving board or frolic in a swimming pool and I love that they have the freedom to make such a choice.  However, Josh was denied that opportunity for a large portion of his life.  He knows more about freedom than I ever will.  And I love how on this particular occasion he enjoyed his freedom with the use of a diving board.

I did not get to see Josh flip, somersault, smile and laugh as he recklessly sprung from the board that day, but I know it was a beautiful thing to see.  As summer comes to a close, I might make one more trip to the swimming pool.  If I do, I'm going to make a point of enjoying my freedom.  I'll also take a leap off of the diving board.  Since I no longer need to impress the ladies; Josh, this next gainer is for you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wishy-Washy (and proud of it!)

Is there anyone more detestable than a certified "flake"?  You know what I mean -- the wishy-washy sort who appears a certain way in one group of people and then acts completely different in another setting.  Or what about that person who appears to not have a developed opinion on anything?  ("Gee...I don't know...I'm just not sure about that...what do you think?")  These people drive me crazy!

Wait a minute...I might be one of those people.  Well, not quite like that, but I do reserve the right to change my mind at any time on any given matter.  I have opinions, but I frequently change them.  Knowing this, it's typically a prudent measure to not be so openly opinionated.  Otherwise, I look foolish and not one to be taken seriously if I change my opinions as often as I change my underwear.  (Hmmmm, perhaps having a blog isn't such a good idea after all.)

N. T. Wright in his book Justification explaining why he has written a book to respond to his critics:
"And, critics please note, I do not expect to remain unchanged through that process.  I am not defending against all comers a fortress called the new perspective.  I hope not just to make things clearer than I have done before, but to see things clearer than I have done before as a result of having had to articulate it all once more.  Perhaps if I succeed in seeing things more clearly I may succeed in saying them more clearly as well."  (page 28)
I appreciate Wright's humility in stating that he is going to stick to his guns, but does not expect to remain unchanged in doing so.  I find this to be an admirable position to take and one I hope to emulate as I formulate my own opinions on weighty matters.

"Wishy-washy" sounds so bad.  But what is the opposite of being wishy-washy?  Stubborn -- also a very negative adjective to describe one's personality.  Is there a middle ground between the two that would be marginally more respectable?

I have flip-flopped on so many issues in just the last year that I am beginning to worry about my sanity.  For example, I used to bristle anytime the theological topics of predestination and/or Calvinism were brought up in my presence.  After some study, I came to a point where I embraced those very concepts that had previously frustrated me.  Lo and behold, I am now questioning those things again (albeit for much different reasons than before).

My pastor once told me that I had my whole life to love my wife, and that loving her over the long haul would involve learning more about her each and every day.  Whether it be loving your spouse or following Jesus, I do not believe we are ever going to figure out the perfect way of doing these things.  As many people now like to say, it is a journey.  We learn and even in that, I believe that learning is a process.  Just because we may have learned something wrong at one point does not mean that there was no benefit or nothing to learn from it.  On the contrary, it is those things which we are in the dark about that pushes us to grow (even if we don't realize we are in the dark).

I hope to grow, to learn, to move from one place in life to another with the freedom and courage to let go of those things which are keeping me in a more static state.  I know I am susceptible to pride and arrogance.  These are the qualities which lead me to believe that I have things figured out when I'm nowhere close to the truth of the matter.  I want to throw off stubbornness and put on humility.  I think I'll just be proud of the fact that I am now wishy-washy.

Oops.  Oh well...

Bibliography: Justification; Velvet Elvis

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Everyone Should Write, Part 2

To blog, or not to blog?  That is the question.

Well, it is a question, but it is hardly the question.  Last week, I opined that Everyone Should Write.  Due to wonderful feedback from a number of different sources, I thought I would follow that post up with some additional thoughts (and questions).

In trying to explain how writing and starting this blog have been beneficial to me, I felt I was a bit bumbling with my reasons.  Thankfully, my good friend Steve Brooks came to the rescue by providing a comment which so eloquently (and succinctly) put into words precisely what I wish I had said:
"I have found that the more I write the more I think.  Then not only does it spur me to think more, it spurs me to think deeper and lastly to consider the importance of thinking correctly."
Writing  →  Thinking  →  Better Thinking

I then saw Steve at church where he grabbed me and very briefly encouraged me to expand my thinking where this blog was concerned.  I only remember him saying one word -- posterity.  (This reinforced the sentiment that Serenity raised in her comment following the same post.)

posterity  →  future generations

Writing is not a new thing for me.  I write all the time.  However, almost all of it is done in the course of my profession as an estate planning lawyer.  I draft wills, trusts, powers of attorney and the like.  People come to me, tell me what they have and then tell me who they want to have what they have when they themselves can no longer have it.  But when I read "I, Theodore Lougash, give all that I have to my nephew, Samuel L. Chilifoot", what do I really know about Mr. Lougash?  And what does the nephew really get except for "stuff"?  Surely someone with such an interesting name as Theodore Lougash had something more than just a house and money in the bank.  What was important to Mr. Lougash?  What did he know?  How did he know what he knew?  Getting an inheritance of money and property is nice, but you can't put a price tag on inheriting wisdom, character and glimpses into the very soul of someone you loved.

Which brings me back to writing.  Every word that you write may be precious gold to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  What better place to start passing on your know-how to your digital-age descendants than a blog?

I'm pretty new to the blogosphere, so I'm still figuring things out.  I would love to hear from those of you who have been blogging for a while.  When you blog, how do you go about doing it?

My blogging hero is Michelle Hodge.  She is easily the most prolific blogger I know.  I would link her blog if I could, but it is so top-secret that only a select few are allowed to even see it.  That's how good it is!  Michelle has a full-time job, but must spend her other waking hours either taking pictures of her four young children or writing on her blog (which is about the successes, failures, joys and frustrations that she and her husband face raising their kids).  Michelle, if you are reading this, keep up the good work!  But really, how do you do it?

For the rest of you mere mortals, how do you approach your blog?  Are you active or passive in your blogging?  (Active meaning that you are always on the lookout for something to write about.  Passive being content to not write anything unless something grabs you, whenever that may be.)  Do you just post pictures of your kids or do you also share the fun stories that accompany the cute photos?

I like the blog dashboard here at Blogspot.  I enjoy working on ten different things at a time, depending on whatever mood I may be in.  There are posts which I have spent lots of time on, but have never published.  Much of my inspiration comes from the books that I read or the spiritual issues that I find myself trying to figure out.  As Steve so astutely pointed out, writing about the things that have formed mud puddles in my mind greatly assists the thinking process.  I see that as an immediately tangible benefit.

The real benefit is what I am providing for future generations, knowing that even the mundane may be seen as fascinating for those who see the 20th century as being ancient history.  Kids, this is your inheritance.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who is Brett Barton?

This post is about me.  (I guess in a way every post on this blog is about me, but this one is really about me.)  I thought it might be fun to introduce myself, in all of my idiosyncratic glory (or infamy -- I'll let you decide).

I really have no idea who reads this blog, but have assumed that most of you who find your way here from time to time are either family or close friends who already know quite a bit about me.  While I'm far from being the most interesting person in the world, I can't help but think that there are some unique things about me that you probably don't know.

Here goes nothing.  I submit to you Brett Barton: Biases, Books, Beer, Beaches and Balls.  (If you've been browsing my blog, you should already be aware of my fondness for alliteration as well as my disdain for the Oxford comma.)  (Oh...I also have a penchant for parenthetical tangents.)

The first thing you should know about me is that if something becomes super-popular before I have watched it, read it, heard about it, etc., then I am biased against it.  This bias is so strong that there is usually no point trying to overcome it.  I first realized this when I was 14 years old.  The movie Top Gun had just been released and everyone that I knew kept telling me "You have GOT to see this movie.  It is the best movie EVER!"  Every time one of my friends wanted to talk about things like geese, kilmers, volleyballs, Berlin, wing men and losing that lovin' feelin', I had less desire to see this movie.  I had one friend who went to the movie in the early afternoon and liked it so much that when he came out of the theater, he got back in line to buy a ticket for the next showing of it.  When he told me that I just HAD to see it, I remember thinking something along these lines: "I'm sure of it.  I hate it."  (Let me know if you get the irony in that last quote.)

My taste in music is very peculiar.  I hate "pop" music.  Actually, that's not true.  I do like lots of what was once pop music, but only after it becomes unpopular to the point of ridicule.  But whatever is playing on the radio right now that everyone is loving, I don't like it.  Bring back the synthesized sound of the 80's and 90's and the hair metal bands with the guys who sound (and look) like girls!  Sure it sounds dated, but's great music.  It warms my heart that my son listens to the likes of Boston, Def Leppard, Kansas and Bon Jovi.  I also love progressive rock, which more than likely won't mean anything to you as it's a genre that most people stay away from.  It is about as unpopular as good music can get.

Other biases: against smoking, against narcotics (except for Mountain Dew) and against household pets (we have 3 of them).

I love to read.  My parents encouraged me to read from a young age.  However, I credit my aunt Karen for getting me going by giving me two Hardy Boys books as a Christmas present which I read and loved.  After reading those two books, I read the entire Hardy Boys hardback series (all 58 of them).  I became such an aficionado of the Hardy Boys that at the age of 9, I could tell you the name of every single book along with its corresponding number in the series.  If that weren't enough, I still know them 30 years later.  Every now and then my kids will quiz me just to make sure I still have it.  ("Dad, what's #19?"  Me: "Too easy, The Disappearing Floor."  I'm sure this information will prove to come in handy some day.)

It took me a little over 3 months to read the entire Bible at the age of 12.  I started my first journal soon after that which I have kept current to the present day.  It is a reading log in which I record every book that I have read.  (This has come in handy for those times when I'm at the library and a particular cover catches my eye.  I'll grab the book, take it home, start reading and if it seems vaguely familiar, I can just check the trusty reading journal to see if it's a book I've read before.)

I love most genres and would list my favorite authors as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Michael Crichton, James Clavell, George R. R. Martin, Orson Scott Card and Malcolm Gladwell.  Due to my bias mentioned above, I have never read anything written by John Grisham.  I also resisted reading Harry Potter, but finally read the first book and was not impressed.  Lord of the Rings?  Read all three of them.  Blah, blah and blah.

I love beer, as long as it's not mass-produced (there's that bias again).  I guess I'm just a snob.  When it comes to beer, I am a huge snob.  There's nothing like kicking back and reading a not-too-popular book while drinking a not-too-popular beer with some not-too-popular music playing in the background.

Everyone loves going to the beach.  Not me.  It's okay, I guess.  Maybe I've just had bad luck.  Our family took two vacations to Destin, Florida in 2004 and 2005.  Our 2004 trip can be described in two words: Hurricane Ivan.  Our 2005 trip can also be described in two words: Hurricane Katrina (ever heard of it?).  No more beach vacations for the Bartons!  Give me the mountains of Colorado while the rest of you deal with sun burn and sand in your butt.

I grew up with a love of sports.  I loved playing football, basketball and soccer as a young child.  However, I wasn't fast.  I wasn't strong.  I wasn't tall.  And after I went through my growth spurt at age 14, I still wasn't fast, strong or tall.  I was slow.  I was six feet tall weighing 140 pounds.  I was a fiery competitor which greatly helped compensate for my lack of athletic prowess, but not to the point where I was ever really good at a sport.  I was merely competitive (which is a nice way of saying that I was a decent loser).  I so badly wanted to be good at something.  I finally found some success in three different sports.

In March of 1986, my dad and I went on a ski trip to Telluride, Colorado.  We spent four days on this wonderful mountain.  The first two days were spent taking beginners' lessons.  The third day we ventured out on our own to ski other beginner runs beyond the "bunny hill."  The fourth day we actually went to the top of the mountain and skied the whole way down on an intermediate trail.  I fell in love with everything about snow skiing on this trip.  (Take that, beaches!)  We had the opportunity to go to Telluride again the very next year.  I was excited to return to see if I had improved any from my first trip.  You see, I had been training and was hoping to see if all of my hard work had paid off.

My dad had given me a high-tech video for Christmas which promised amazing improvement for people who wanted to become better skiers.  All one had to do was watch the video and then visualizing himself executing the same flawless turns and techniques that the professional skiers on the video were doing.  I so desperately wanted to be a better skier, so I faithfully watched the video almost every single day for the three months leading up to that second ski trip to Colorado.  Like I said, I trained hard.  Would you believe that it worked?!?  I had transformed from a snowplowing traverse skier to an aggressive parallel skier willing to take on any run just from watching a video over and over again and believing that it was me skiing on that video.  The darn thing worked and I found something that I was really good at.  It was great.

Before I was a snow skier, I was a ping-pong player.  I grew up with a ping-pong table in my house.  I would play my friends at times, but my primary opponent and arch-nemesis was my dad.  When it came to ping-pong, he was merciless.  He was also pretty good (like me, having grown up with a table in his home playing against his dad).  At the age of 10, I entered a Ping-Pong tournament that was put on by the Christian school that I was attending at the time.  Any and all students of the school from Kindergarten to 12th grade were allowed to play.  Having gone up against my dad numerous times, I had some decent experience and figured that I would win a few games even though I was much younger than most of the other competitors.  As it turned out, I kept winning and winning knocking off kids who were seniors in high school while I was just in the 5th grade.  I made it to the championship and was squared off against a girl who was a junior in high school (who, oddly enough, sometimes reads this blog).  It was an epic battle but I took the "best of 5" championship by winning 3 games to 1.  I was crowned champion of the entire school and loved the sweet taste of success in an unlikely sport, but a sport nonetheless.

My ping-pong career did not end there.  As an adult, I have played table tennis tournaments in such exotic locales as Atlanta, Chicago and Wichita.  I have brought home trophies and medals which are now gathering dust in some out-of-the-way cabinet or closet.  I have practiced against a ping-pong robot.  I have built my own paddles and am still willing to take on anyone that challenges my table tennis superiority.

If you're not strong and fast enough to play football or not tall enough to play basketball, don't be afraid to look elsewhere.  Snow skiing is great, but is definitely not cheap and not easily accessible if you live in the Midwest like I do.  Ping-pong is more accessible and not as expensive, but you better get along well with Asians if you want to play.  And then there is running.  All you need is a pair of shoes and a stretch of road.

I made a New Year's resolution to begin running on a regular basis in the year 2005.  That became the most successful New Year's resolution I ever made.  I began running in January.  In February, my friend Bill encouraged me to sign up for a race.  In March, I ran that race -- a 5K (3.1 miles).  In April, I ran a 5K three minutes faster than I ran the one in March.  In May, I decided to run a marathon (26.2 miles).  In October, I did just that.  It was a great experience and I'll never forget the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes on that fall day in Chicago.  (It was made even more dramatic when I found out 20 minutes later that my beautiful wife finished as well, despite not having run at all for the two weeks leading up to the marathon due to a knee injury.)  That about sums up my accomplishments in the world of sports.

Okay, enough about me!  I'd love for you to comment and tell me what unique things make you unique.  In the meantime, I'll be enjoying a Boddington's beer while I plan my next vacation to the mountains.  I wonder if  the Aspen Holiday Inn has a ping-pong table?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Everyone Should Write

I just finished running with two of my closest friends in the world.  I used to be a hard-core runner, but have completely fallen off the wagon.  Now I'm trying my best to get back to it because I am grossly out of shape.  But on this particular morning, I was running just so that I could hang out with Mike and Dale.  I've run a lot of miles with these guys.  I was there to watch both of them complete their first marathons (different races, mind you) and swelled with pride as they crossed the finish line knowing that they had spent many of their miles training for those races with me.  Over the years of traversing the roads, paths and parks of Columbia, we have bonded and become great friends.

As they ran off into the hideously hot and humid morning air leaving me behind to reminisce about the glory days when I could run for longer than 30 minutes at a time, I realized that both of them blessed me this morning by sharing some of their own random observations about life.  It's good to have friends like this.  Words are exchanged and I come away encouraged and challenged.  It's a shame I have to get up at 4:30 AM on the hottest morning of the year to reap these benefits.  These guys should do me a favor and start a blog so that I can tap into their wisdom whenever the mood strikes me.  Don't they realize how much we could all benefit from their unique insights?

Hmmmm.  (that's the sound I make when I am thinking)

We are all unique.  We all have different experiences and have learned different lessons over the course of our very different lives.  Do you know what this means?  Well, it means a lot of things.  For purposes of this particular mud puddle, it means that you know something that no one else does.  You may be unknowingly holding the key to unlocking the mystery that I have been struggling with for the last 20 years.  (Highly unlikely, since I'm not aware of any mystery that I've been dealing with for that long.  Except for understanding women.  And we all know there is no key to that mystery.  Anyway, you get the point.)

Why aren't you sharing what you know with the rest of us?  Some of us obsessive-compulsive types really are interested in hearing what you have to say.  If it's nothing new under the sun, no harm done.  If it's a glimpse into a new way of thinking, that's a very beautiful thing.

I have found that I enjoy having a blog.  I have tried to pinpoint what it is that I like about writing and sharing my thoughts in a forum such as this.  It could be that I am just looking for affirmation and wanting pats on the back (who wouldn't want that?); yet I believe it is more than that.

I think I know things.  (Gosh, I hate the way that sounds.  It sounds so arrogant.)

Arrogant or not, it's what I think.  I'm not completely sure that I know anything, but as long as I think I know some things I'll keep talking about them just in case someone else hasn't thought about them before.  I enjoy that.  I enjoy the conversation and talking about matters that I've never talked about and thinking along lines previously foreign to me.

All of this to say that I wish everyone would at a minimum write, whether it be in a personal journal, public memoir or blog such as this.  Putting thoughts and abstract ideas into written words is a wonderful discipline that will always benefit the writer himself (or herself) and might just benefit everyone who has the opportunity to read those words that are shared.  Seeing the world through a different pair of eyes is precious and profound.

Think about it.  Write about it.  Dale and Mike, you too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Is Finished. Love Won.

A good friend of mine encouraged me to read Love Wins.  I had never heard of it, nor had I heard of the author -- Rob Bell.  Little did I know that when I picked up that book and started reading that I would be picking up a live hand grenade.  So what do I do after it blew up in my face?  I pick up another hand grenade, pull the pin and begin this blog entry.

Love Wins is a great book.  I honestly don't know how much of it I actually agree with, but that does not diminish the power of the ideas which are expressed therein.  This book made a dramatic impression on me, but of paramount significance were these two ideas:
  1. When Jesus said "It is finished!", He did it.  He conquered sin and death.  He conquered all sin and all death as He was the perfect sacrifice perfectly satisfying the perfect wrath of God (Romans 5:18); and
  2. There is no fear in love (I John 4:18).
"It is finished!"

What a mind-blowing idea that Jesus' death completely satisfied the righteous wrath of a holy God.  Jesus took all of the punishment.  God has been forever appeased.  Can this be true?  There is something very compelling about this possibility despite many arguing that such an idea does not stand up to the words of scripture.  This could be the unifying theory which brings together the best of Calvinistic, Arminian and Covenant thinking.

For me, this makes Jesus more beautiful.  It makes his death more amazing.  It makes his resurrection more victorious.  It makes the good news...GREAT!  Jesus did it all.  It is finished.  He really is the way, the truth, the life!  He did it.

Could this be the truth that sets us free to act out of love and not out of obligation or a sense of duty?  The pressure we put on ourselves to do the right thing...that was finished.  The guilt we feel for messing up...that was finished.  The fear that God is upset with us for not measuring up...that was finished.  There is NO REASON to live with those hang-ups...NONE!  They are finished!  Do you believe this?  Can you believe this?  Are you afraid to believe this?  Stop it!  It is finished.  There is no fear in love.

"There is no fear in love."

Put on your ruby slippers and tap your heels together and say this over and over until you actually believe it and understand all of its ramifications.

There is no fear in love.
There is no fear in love.
There is no fear in love.

Paul said it this way: "There is no condemnation..."  Why do we religious-types fall into fear-based, condemnation-based thinking so easily?  Judging from the apostles' letters, this was a problem in the early church as well.  Perfect love is a difficult thing to grasp, but that's exactly what we get from Jesus.  We say we believe it, but our continual striving and self-torment suggest otherwise.

We love to accuse others and even ourselves, yet the Bible has nothing good to say about accusers.  The Bible actually says that when Jesus said "It is finished," he crushed the head of the accuser.  Accusations bring death.  Those things are finished.

We learned in the old way to fear a holy God.  Enter Jesus, the very love of God, providing a new and living way to be holy, yet without fear.  There is no reason to condemn, judge, accuse ourselves or anyone else.  When we are freed of fear, we are free to love and act out of that love.  I would argue that those who operate out of love experience a level of joy and peace that seems unattainable for those who operate out of fear, duty or obligation.

This is the effect Bell's book had on me.  The doctrinal questions that are sure to arise with some of these ideas don't trouble me.  I realize that they might trouble others and I can respect that.  For me, I believe that I  need to embrace a fear-free, condemnation-free posture before God.  If you feel that you wrestle with fear and have trouble believing that you are a beloved child of God, I recommend that you read Love Wins.  Now don't forget, you might be picking up a hand grenade.  But don't be afraid; there is no fear in love.

Bibliography: Love Wins

Friday, July 8, 2011

Is this Blog Depressing?

Not too long ago, my mom told me that she had been reading my blog and was worried because she thought I came across as being depressed.  I'm not qualified to provide a self-diagnosis of the health of my psyche, so I honestly don't know if I am depressed or not.

What I do know is that I love and am loved.

I love.
I am loved.
(But not necessarily in that order -- a topic for a future posting to this blog.)

When I think about this, I am convinced that this is all I've ever wanted.  So how could I be depressed or even appear to be wallowing in my own mud puddles?

I love and am loved.  Yet I stress, I feel pain, I get angry, I inflict pain on others, I fail when I have the opportunity to succeed and I experience disappointment when there is no good reason to be disappointed.

Is that depression?  Nope.  I'd like to think of it as honesty.  And the honest truth is that I am still hoping for that thing that I'm not even sure what it is.  The Apostle Paul explains it like this:
"But we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves still groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?"  (Romans 8:23-24)
 I don't want this blog to be depressing.  I want it to always point to hope.  That's what I'm doing.  I am blessed, yet I still groan.  I eagerly wait.  I hope.

Bibliography: Surprised by Hope

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Irony of Evolution: Miss USA

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void since there was no YouTube nor any beauty contestants to set the record straight.  But now...

The above video unlocks the mysteries of the universe.  Actually, it shows all 51 contestants in the recent Miss USA pageant and their answers to the question of whether evolution should be taught in schools.  While the video is 15 minutes long, the good stuff begins at the 40 second mark and is worth viewing to see at least a few of the responses.

Beauty pageants, like everything else, have become extremely competitive affairs.  The young women who compete are trained to be able to discuss a wide range of topics and have developed opinions on many of society's problems.  It is pretty clear in this video that most of them were NOT prepared to answer this question.  As a result, it is painful watching these ladies as they try to at least speak in complete sentences as their minds are racing to come up with something that will appeal to the masses while maintaining their controlled, spokesmodel exterior.

As much as I enjoy some good post-pageant analysis, that's not why I am writing this blog post.  I want to talk about evolution.  Until I saw this video, I had no idea that evolution was still a touchy subject.  Frankly, I have no problem with evolution as it encapsulates the current thinking of the majority of the world's most brilliant scientists.

What do I know about evolution?  Nothing, really.  I only know what I have been taught and what I have read on the subject.  It appears that there is enough evidence to support the theory, while acknowledging there is much that is still unknown (for example, recent studies have challenged the longstanding notion that evolution occurs through random mutation and genetic drift).

Yes, you heard me correctly.  I have no beef with evolution.  It is a well-conceived explanation for a great many observable parts of the universe in which we live.  I do, however, question some of the conclusions that are drawn as a result of evolution.  That's because I feel like there are many scientists who can't help but overstep their area of expertise and think they know more than they really do about the subject they are passionate about.  I believe that many Christians do the same, especially when it comes to their views on science in general, and evolution in particular.  The Miss USA pageant video is a perfect example of this.

My take on this is that much of Christendom (at least here in America) has developed an irrational mistrust of science since many of the popular scientists of the last century have been outspoken in their agnostic or atheistic beliefs.  Even more problematic, though, is the view that the first two chapters of Genesis are a literal, scientific description of how the world came into existence.  I understand why some people hold that view, but I think the appropriate response when shown credible evidence to the contrary is not to summarily dismiss any alternative explanation or interpretation.  Instead, I would submit that one should do what the Apostle Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do when he tells them to "test all things."  (I Thessalonians 5:21)

I would submit that scientific discovery should be embraced as it helps us better understand not only God and the universe He has created, but also the very words of the Bible.  I would encourage you to look into these things with an open mind and an open heart.  For those of you who believe in God as I do, you should agree with me that God, in His infinite power and wisdom, could have created the universe and everything in it instantly.  He instead chose to create things over time.

Here is what I currently believe on this subject:
  1. I believe that the Bible is inerrant.
  2. I believe in the Big Bang.
  3. I believe that the planet Earth is approximately 5 billion years old.
  4. I believe that God has created all things and that He was pleased with His creation.
  5. I believe that God has ordained natural forces and processes such as evolution to populate our planet with life.
  6. I believe these things from studying scripture and studying scientific discoveries in the areas of geology, biology, anthropology and astronomy.

Back to the original question that was presented to the Miss USA contestants: Should evolution be taught in schools?

Sure!  Why not?

I find it to be a strong scientific theory with as much supporting evidence as just about everything else that is taught in school these days.  Until a better explanation comes along, I have no problem with evolution being taught in schools.  Perhaps if I was prettier and looked good in a bikini, I might think differently.

Bibliography: Acquiring Genomes; The Genesis Question; Finding Darwin's God; The Language of God

Monday, July 4, 2011

For They Know Not What They Do

WARNING: the following blog entry contains more musings on God, Jesus, the Bible, theology and the like.  Read on at your own risk.

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."  (Luke 23:34)

This utterance appears only in the Gospel of Luke with nothing similar recorded in the other three gospel texts.  Not only that, this particular sentence does not even appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, but was determined to be a worthy inclusion in the canon of scripture as it was found in most of the copies of Luke's gospel that were distributed out to the early churches and is reinforced in other passages (Acts 3:17-18; I Timothy 1:12-13). 

Meditating on this verse has been refreshing, rewarding; yet at the same time, confusing.  Of late, I've been questioning the theological concept of limited atonement (or as some would call it -- particular redemption).  Limited atonement is the Reformed view that Jesus' death only redeemed the sins of those chosen by God to be ultimately saved.  Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology explains that Reformed theologians come to this conclusion for the following reason:
If Christ's death actually paid for the sins of every person who ever lived, then there is no penalty left for anyone to pay, and it necessarily follows that all people will be saved, without exception.  For God could not condemn to eternal punishment anyone whose sins are already paid for: that would be demanding double payment, and it would therefore be unjust.
Luke's verse highlighted above does not mesh well with the idea that Jesus did not love all or was only willing to die for the elect.  For here, Jesus is clearly asking God to forgive the very people who brought about his unjust crucifixion and grisly death.  Not only that, he appears to be offering up a valid excuse for their sin in that they did not realize and understand what it was that they were doing.  He is playing the role of advocate (see I John 2:1-2) for the very people who are acting out of unbelief.  I find this to be a very interesting glimpse into the heart of Jesus.

This leads me to ask a number of semi-rhetorical questions.

What would Jesus' motive be in asking God to forgive a rather large group of people who do not appear to be part of the salvation plan?  Is this a one-time exception-to-the-rule type of desire on the part of Jesus?  Or does this idea affirm what Paul wrote to Timothy that the Savior "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"?  (I Timothy 2:4).

Will God honor Jesus' request?  (Surely He would, based upon what we know of the Trinity.  John 5:19)  If so, would not God always forgive in similar circumstances?  For God is never arbitrary, never capricious, never inconsistent, as far as we can understand those concepts in light of the Ultimate.  (Please know, I am not trying to draw lines and put God in a box to win an argument or to sway anyone to think in a certain way.  On the contrary, I'm trying to stretch my own mind to grasp just a little more of the unbelievableness that is the Divine.)

If Jesus wants to forgive those who brought about his death, and in fact does so, is this forgiveness limited to this particular sin or does it extend to all of the sins committed out of ignorance by this class of people?  Or perhaps such a forgiveness of sins even wipes the whole slate clean at that point?  How often does God forgive when there is no repentance and no request for forgiveness?

There are no good answers to these questions.  (If you disagree, please feel free to comment and contribute to the discussion.)  My guess is that an appropriate analysis would show that this addition to Luke's gospel is not about who gets saved and whose sins are forgiven, but instead about the undeniable compassion of Jesus; yet I feel like there is something more going on here.  This is the heart of Jesus, not just in an isolated incident (though it was a rather momentous incident), but an indication of his desire that all would be forgiven.  It's a fairly scandalous idea.

As I have contemplated these things, my initial conclusion is that Jesus is more incredible than I previously thought.  (Always a solid conclusion to come to!)  However, I cannot put into words (or even a coherent thought) precisely why I have come to such a conclusion.  The only way I can think to describe it is this: limited atonement makes Jesus look smaller.

When the Apostle Paul wrote that grace abounded much more, I think he was talking about something really amazing -- so amazing that even in our best theological constructs we are unable to grasp what really happened when Jesus died on the cross.  Even as I type this, my heart burns and I wonder if this is anything like what those two disciples felt when they unknowingly traveled with the resurrected Savior.

In conclusion, I would submit that the doctrine of limited atonement is lacking in a very fundamental way.  While it is a view that has some scriptural support, it is also based upon logic in its attempt to describe something which is more than likely indescribable.  (That's not to say that I think we should all throw up our hands and say: "What's the point in trying to figure all this stuff out?"  I believe we should continue to search the scriptures and plead with the Holy Spirit to unlock the truths contained therein.)  Where I find fault with this doctrine is that it reeks of exclusion and limitation -- two things which in my humble opinion should never be applied to Jesus when it comes to his saving grace.

I believe the gospel message really is good news.  In fact, it is the proclamation of news so amazingly good, it can be difficult to believe.  Jesus himself was the agent which made this good news a reality.  He must increase.  He must always increase.  Surely there must be a better explanation than to exclude and place limits on the ultimate effects of what certainly had to have been the perfect sacrifice.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.  (Hebrews 2:9)
A CHALLENGE: I am not a theologian, but in this post I have made a number of theological statements.  I welcome debate and would love to be shown the errors (if any) that I have made here.  Please comment with any objections, affirmations or anything in between, that we may all be edified.

Bibliography: Love Wins; Systematic Theology

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why I'm Not a Trapeze Artist

I'd like to think I'm a daredevil and willing to do lots of wild and crazy things....but only if I don't have to rely on someone else when my neck is on the line.  Delegating duties that I deem important also does not come easily for me as I fear that no one else will attach the same level of significance to that which needs to be done.

Circus people amaze me.  Some of them put their heads into the gaping jaws of a lion.  Do they really trust the lion that much?  That's crazy!  The trapeze artists are just as certifiable by swinging on a bar at a dizzying height only to let go in hopes that someone else holding onto a bar with their legs will catch them.  No way could I ever do that.  I would never trust the other person to that degree.  Good thing I went to college.

Trusting is hard.  Trusting someone else with your life is very hard.  And then there's the real reason I've never really trusted anyone or anything -- I have never felt like I needed to.

Until now.

It took me almost 40 years of living to come to the end of the road that is me and my own strength.  I ignored all the Dead End signs along the way (thinking they applied to everyone else and not me) and here I am.  This stinks.  I'll be honest -- this REALLY stinks!  What a nice feeling it was thinking that there was something special about me that would always come through in a pinch.

Where is the magic now?  Where is all the bravado and brash confidence?  Where is the fancy footwork that always got me out of a jam in times past?  What happened?  Did I make a wrong turn somewhere?

I thought I had sufficiently credited God by thanking Him for giving me material wealth, a decent intellect and nice family and friends to share life with.  But now I'm in this place where the blessings have faded from sight and I'm having to...what exactly?  Trust something even more abstract and elusive than earthly blessings?  Believe that there is something out there so different from me and my own abilities that knows what I need and is willing to do something about it?

Why does this seem so hard?  I guess if it was so easy and came naturally, we would not need to be told to "Trust in the LORD...and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).  We can play all sorts of mental gymnastics to think we are trusting God, but if any of that "trust" is as a result of some part that we played or desperately holding on to some confidence in ourselves and not realizing just how broken and pathetic we really are, then I don't believe we are there quite yet.  This is the war that is being fought between the Spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

I love the notion of "never giving up" and "fighting until the last breath" or the romance that endures insurmountable odds before coming to pass which are the stories that make great movies.  Much to my dismay, the screenplay that was my swashbuckling life got scuttled.  I am giving up.  I am done.  I am no longer the "x" that has to be in every equation.

Even as my flesh screams violently as I let go of the sinking Titanic that is me, there is a calming peace that comes with finally admitting what has been true all along:  I was made to trust.  I was created to do something that does not feel natural, because at some point along the way "the truth was exchanged for a lie."  I was created to trust the Creator.

Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm going to run off and join the circus.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Worlds Collide: A Road Trip to Nashville

I have loved music for as long as I can remember.  At the age of 6, I had my own tape player which was perpetually playing such albums as Music Machine and Bullfrogs and Butterflies along with whatever music my parents were listening to in those days.  I later moved on to Psalty and Colby before growing out of that stage of life.  All the while, I was taking piano lessons, learning music theory, taking saxophone lessons and playing sax in the church band.  Music was an important part of my life.

In college, I became fond of a relatively unknown artist by the name of John Elefante.  I was mesmerized by pretty much anything he did musically.  I know all of my friends found my devotion to him to be a little annoying as I thought the "great commission" was to share with anyone and everyone the good music that came from this particular individual.  There is even a funny story that involves me being on a first date with a girl who had one of his albums playing in her car stereo during that initial date and I figured she must be "the one."  (She wasn't.)

I can honestly say that God has blessed me numerous times through John's music.  At one point in 1995 while in law school,  I was studying with his Windows of Heaven album playing in the background.  I was so moved by one of the songs that I wrote him a letter.  (This was back in the dark ages when writing a letter meant actually putting pen to paper, paper into envelope, stamp on envelope and envelope into mailbox.)   Lo and behold, ten days later my phone rings while I'm again studying.  I answer the phone and a voice on the other end says "Brett?  Hey, this is John Elefante."  The dude called me to thank me for writing him.  I asked him if he called every person that wrote him and he said that I was only the second person that he had ever called.  ("Sure John, I bet you say that to all the...uh, fans.")  He wanted to let me know that my letter encouraged him.  Needless to say, this didn't exactly diminish my respect for him.

Fast forward to 2011..16 years later.  I still love music.  Continuing my trend of liking music that no one else has ever heard of, my favorite musician is now Neal Morse who specializes in what is called progressive rock.  Progressive rock is an acquired taste that is actually very popular in Europe, but not so popular here in the States.  As a result, progressive rock artists typically don't tour the U.S.  However, Neal has just released a new album and was going to put on a concert in Nashville, Tennessee.  Since I vowed that I would go see Neal in concert if he was ever in the the Central Time Zone, I simply had to go.

My beloved wife (who absolutely hates Neal's music) accompanied me on this road trip to Nashville.  Not only that, she had previously laid the groundwork for us to meet with John Elefante if we were ever in Nashville.  As things turned out, I had a very special weekend.  I got to see Neal Morse in concert on Thursday night and then met John Elefante on Friday.

Seeing Neal in concert was great!
Meeting John in person was awesome!
Two day road-trip with Elly...


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paging Dr. Jesus

Not too long ago I was thinking I needed to talk to a psychologist.  I did a simple Google search for "Columbia MO psychologist."  After looking through Google's top choices, one stood out to me.  This doctor's online bio listed about ten "areas of specialty," with just about all of them being the very issues that I thought I was dealing with.  What began as a half-hearted search all of a sudden seemed promising with this discovery that there was someone out there who specialized in exactly what I thought I needed.

I called the number listed on the website and asked to make an appointment.  The receptionist informed me that "all of our doctors are booked for the next two months."  Undaunted, I asked for the earliest possible appointment with the doctor whose website I had found.  The receptionist replied, "I'm sorry, Dr. So-and-So is completely booked and is not taking any new patients."


That doctor must be really good.  His patients must really like him if he doesn't even need to expand his practice.  Or is it the other way around?  Isn't it the doctor's job to make his patients better?  Shouldn't people be getting healed to the point where they no longer need the doctor's services?  Maybe this doctor really isn't that good at all.  I thought about this for a while.

I call myself a Christian -- a follower of Jesus -- but in all honesty, I am a terrible Christian.  I rarely do the things the Bible says that Christians should do (pray, read my Bible, feed the hungry, give to the poor, etc.) and am much more skilled at finding new and creative ways to sin.  It took me a while before I realized that I was a perfect candidate for being a Christian since I was hopelessly dependent on the saving work of Jesus.  However even in that, I have had a distorted view of Jesus as something other than my living savior and treated him more as if he was my primary care physician.

For example, a typical prayer of mine goes something along these lines:
"Jesus, help me to stop sinning.  Help me to love people better.  Help me to do this and not do that.  I believe these are things that you want for me to do, so please help me to do them.  Amen."
If Jesus is truly alive and listens to the prayers of his followers, then why wouldn't he want to answer such a great prayer?  Why won't he snap his fingers and make me all better?  Doesn't he want me to do all those things?  Won't he be glorified by my good behavior?  Shouldn't good works just be flowing out of me because I am a Christian?  You know, the fruits of the Spirit and all that stuff?

Then it hit me.  I was asking Jesus to give me a spiritual prescription that would take away the symptoms that were bothering me (sin) so that what exactly...I could feel better about myself?  So that I could no longer need his services?  My friend Scott Boyd would tell me that my prayer was nothing more than asking Jesus to help me with the "Brett Barton Salvation Plan."  No wonder that prayer never got answered!  And here I was blaming him for giving me rocks and snakes when I thought I was asking for bread and fish.  But what am I doing asking for bread and fish when Jesus has already given me precisely what I need -- Himself?!?

When Jesus said that he was (and is) the Way, the Truth and the Life, I believe that he is saying that he is not only the means to an end, but he is also the end.  So now it is becoming more clear that I have been praying and asking Jesus to help me save myself, when he is the one in the business of savings lives.  He is the savior.  I am the savee.  He must increase.  I must decrease.  Why am I asking him to fix me so that I don't need him as much?  That's not really fixing me, now is it?

This is how the weak can say they are strong and the poor can say they are rich.  It's not that once Jesus comes into the picture, they will no longer be sick and struggle to pay their bills.  No, it's that the weak have something better than bulging muscles and a clean bill of health.  They have given up their striving to save themselves and are at peace in the hands of the savior.

He is the Great Physician who heals us through manifestation, revelation and impartation.  He is increasing.  He is manifesting himself, revealing himself and imparting himself to us.  This is the goal, the prize...THE LIFE.  This is the kind of doctor who the more he treats us, the more we go back to him.

And he is always taking new patients.

Bibliography: Redemption; Counterfeit Gods

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Think on These Things, Part 1

I have recently read the popular book series from Swedish author Steig Larsson that begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  For those of you who have read these books, you already know that they consist of page-turning plots with compelling characters who happen to be exposed to more violence, sex and the combination of the two than your average person.

Initially, I was slightly shocked as the subject matter was not what I am typically used to in my recreational reading.  I'm not sure why, though, as I have watched numerous movies over the years involving similar issues and cannot remember the last time I was truly shocked or appalled (8MM perhaps?).  This was a reminder to me that a different medium handling a familiar theme can produce such a profoundly novel effect.  This is why the exact same emotion can be evoked through different means, but rarely is as powerful as the first time experienced in any given form.  (Why else is U2 so popular?  It's because their fans act as if Bono is singing about things they have never considered before.) 

Anyway, this realization could have led my thoughts in a number of different directions, but on this particular occasion I was compelled to assess the profitability of engaging my mind on matters in stark contrast to the Biblical values that I hold dear -- a spirital cost-benefit analysis, if you will.  Should I be reading stories (or watching movies, etc.) involving behavior so drastically divergent from what I hope to emulate?  The Apostle Paul's words to the Philippians come to mind:
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virture and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
As I considered this verse (Philippians 4:8) in light of the question that had been raised in my mind, my thoughts went down three distinct paths, which I will attempt to communicate in three separate posts to this blog.  In this Part 1, I will lay the groundwork by opining how I believe this verse is to be applied.  I will then follow-up with Parts 2 and 3.

I am of the opinion that the verse quoted above does not prohibit mindless reading, TV and movie viewing and the like.  Paul's whole purpose in writing to the Philippians was to help them find (and be reminded of the) joy and happiness in the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances.  The verses that immediately precede verse 8 in chapter 4 are Paul exhorting the Philippians to rejoice and not be anxious, while relying on God and His peace to protect them from anxiety.  Verses 8 and 9 culiminate these concepts with practical ways of finding peace and joy when things seem to be falling apart.

I remember as a young child I would occasionally have nightmares in the middle of the night which would wake me up and then keep me awake with fearful thoughts.  I would usually wake my parents and ask them to pray for me.  They would oblige and then they would encourage me to think about happy things to get my mind off of the fears that were tormenting me.  "Think about going to Six Flags.  Think about being at the beach."  While these aren't necessarily things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous and of good report, the process is similar to what I believe Paul is encouraging the Philippians to do.

Invariably, we all find ourselves at times discouraged as the failures and disappointments accumulate over the course of a lifetime.  It is a natural response to be filled with doubt during times of grief and suffering as we focus on the pain and frantically search for the quickest remedy.  Paul's words are calming and corrective: "remember what you know to be true, remember what you know is right, beautiful and inspiring...think about these things."

So I don't believe that this verse is saying you should only be thinking about things that fit the list (true, noble, just, pure, etc.).  Instead, I see this particular passage as an appropriate response to negative thoughts and feelings which can keep us from experiencing joy, one of the very things that a follower of Jesus should have access to, even in the midst of difficult times.

Now wait a minute Brett!  You completely side-stepped the original question which was whether or not you should be reading filthy books and watching rated-R movies!

Yeah, I guess I did.  That's because that question led me to the verse referenced above and as I meditated on that verse, I was distracted by other thoughts which I felt were worth sharing.  I'm just getting started.  Bear with me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


At what point does a thought become worth writing about?

Elaine Benes of Seinfeld fame was known for being stingy with her limited supply of contraceptive devices.  It turns out that I am not so discriminating with airing my random musings.  As I confessed in the introduction to this blog, I am mostly ignorant on just about everything.  Yet there are a lot of things that fascinate me, primarily due to my complete lack of knowledge on any given thing.   I find that when a topic piques my interest, I start pumping my peers for any and all information that they have on the subject.  I start by asking a few inocuous questions of my well-informed acquaintances and like a "sponge," I've soaked up important details that had previously eluded me.  It's a rather efficient way of learning.

Now this is hardly a secret way of obtaining information as all of us inquisitive-types resort to such fact-gathering techniques.  The key to taking it to the next level is to provide a spark with the potential of igniting a debate.  For in the fires of debate is where information is forged into knowledge.  Debate challenges notions, it puts faith to the test, it fosters meditation and alters perspectives.  Debate hones good thoughts into great ones and bolsters faith as the truth shines through the rhetoric.

So what am I going to talk about in this blog?  It is my hope that I can lay bare my life and share those things that I wrestle with -- thoughts that keep me awake in the early hours and questions that may be unanswerable -- in hopes that ideas, discussions, even prayers will flow from those I hold in high esteem.  At times I will be reverent and respectful, while at others, crass and controversial.  For that is what I am -- a mixed bag.

I invite you to join me on this quest, helping me navigate through the cobwebs that clutter my mind.  I challenge you to challenge me.  I want my views to be sharpened, refined.  I want to make sure that they stand up to the wisdom that you, the reader, can bring to this blog.  For your experiences are unlike anyone else's, making you uniquely qualified to expound upon the things that life has presented you.  Your interests and thinking offer a view from a different hilltop than those that I have climbed.  I long to see what you have seen.  Styx said it well, but Solomon said it even better: 
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.  (Proverbs 9:9-10)
Next: Think on These Things

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dark Side of Disney

In 1990, while a freshman in college, I spent a day of my Spring Break week at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  I remember it being hot, crowded and not all that much fun.  Clearly, an 18-year old male is probably not the ideal visitor to Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

This year my wife and I decided to save up for a big vacation over Spring Break.  My preference was a ski vacation to Colorado, but my wife thought that due to the ages of our kids that we should go to Disney World before they get any older.  The kids also liked the idea of Disney World and the warmth of Florida over skiing in the cold Rocky Mountains.

I have written a ridiculously long report of our vacation which you can read here.  The condensed version is that we had a great time and would do it again once our bank account is back up to an acceptable level.  Disney World does do a great job of insulating its patrons from "real life," which I found to be exactly what I was looking for in a vacation.

But is this nothing more than a classic siren song?  Has the Disney marketing machine touched upon a human weakness that the majority of us are powerless to deny?  Is the magic of the mouse the temporary suspension of reality that incites our escapist fantasies?  Or are there powerful forces at work which indelibly scratch those itches that lie deep in our spiritual core?

While enjoying the Disney attractions, I found myself overcome with unexpected emotion on a few occasions.  I realized that I was grieving for the lost innocence of childhood.  As I re-lived my first memories of Bambi, Peter Pan, Snow White, Mary Poppins and the like, I was reminded of my egocentric childish view of life.  I kept thinking to myself " was so much simpler innocent."  And herein lies the more subtle dark side of Disney.

The not-so-subtle dark side is the blatant humanistic message proclaimed by Jiminy Cricket that you can become whatever you's all up to you.  It's a nice thought and sounds good to kids who want to grow up to be football players or astronauts, who think that all it really takes is "to wish upon a star," but most of us grow up (and out) of such a naive view of the world we live in and ultimately don't take this message too seriously.  As for the more subtle dark side that I alluded to earlier -- well, that's an entirely different matter.

I loved the idea of returning to innocence.  Then it dawned on me -- there is nothing innocent about being a child.  Just because I was ignorant of my sin and my desperate need for a savior does not mean that I was innocent.  Let me repeat this to myself: I was not innocent.  So what then is this very real longing that gets stirred here at Disney World?  Do I have a desire to return to blissful ignorance?  Do I want to pretend that I really don't need Jesus to cover my sins?  Is there something about my broken condition that would prefer to not have to trust God in everything?

My son Silas frequently tells me how he can't wait to be an adult so that "he can do whatever he wants."  I grin and bite my tongue knowing full well that being an adult is not going to go quite like he hopes.  The grass really is greener on the other side.  Kids want to grow up and grown-ups want to go back to being kids.

As a Christian, I feel myself being pulled in a similar fashion in that I want and need Jesus to save me, but I also want to somehow get to a place where I no longer need him so much.  The Bible illustrates this concept well in the story of the Exodus.  The Israelites were miserable when the Egyptians made them slaves and looked to Moses to rescue them from their poor situation, but as soon as they left Egypt and had to rely on God every single step of the way, they quickly started complaining, actually wanting to return to Egypt and a life of slavery.  As is abundantly clear throughout the book of Exodus, trusting God is not an easy thing and neither does it mean that everything will go smoothly.  Yet, it is the right way to live.  I sincerely believe that.  It is my hope that I can embrace a life of trusting God and not look back to times when I was seemingly "innocent."

Jesus, I need you now.  I have always needed you.  I will always need you.  I'm not going back to Egypt.

Next: Blogworthy

Bibliography: Redemption

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Introduction

Welcome to my blog!  Please feel free to read my various musings, but only if you promise to participate by commenting as you see fit.  I appreciate any and all feedback, but am especially interested in opposing viewpoints or those that challenge the conclusions that I have drawn.  I welcome the insight that comes from differing opinions and strongly encourage you to speak up as I intend to tackle some rather weighty (and controversial) matters from time to time.

I hope for this blog to be a safe place to bounce around ideas about anything and everything.  I consider myself to be a follower of Jesus, believing that he was exactly who he said he was -- the son of God.  As a result, many of my contributions to this blog will be centered around topics pertaining to God, the Bible, the church and similar themes.  While such issues have the opportunity to lead to disagreement, I do welcome healthy debate as I feel that the strongest beliefs are those that have been put to the test.

By the way, I do take requests.  If there is something you would like for me to expound upon, let me know.  (You can check my profile to see those things which I may know a little about or find to be particularly interesting.)  While I might be ignorant about most things, that does not mean that I don't have an opinion that I don't mind sharing.  If I can learn something while making a fool of myself, then I will consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

I hope to see you around.

Next: The Dark Side of Disney