Twinkle, Twinkle, Simple Faith?

Every now and again I speak to believers who don’t enjoy the notion of Christian theology one little bit. Their faith, you see, is a simple faith. Theology? Well that just confuses people! “Forget all the boring and complex doctrine”, they say, “I just want to love Jesus…that’s all”.

But, one only has to ask, which Jesus is it that they ‘just want to love’? And of course, to answer a question like that, one needs very complex and and precise doctrine. And while being able to properly identify the Jesus whom we love does absolutely nothing to take away from the simplicity of our faith (viz., our complete and utter trust in the person of Christ), the same cannot be said for those who do not know their theology. Not only do they end up in great danger of heresy, but their faith becomes simplistic – not simple.

The following story (from Mark Dever’s “Message of the Old Testament”) serves to illustrate well that this is something which cannot be commended;

“George Buttrick… was [from 1927 to 1954] pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. One week he had been off on a speaking engagement and was flying back to New York City. On the plane he had a pad and a pencil and he was making some notes for next Sunday’s sermon. The man seated next to him was eyeing him with curiosity. Finally, the curiosity got the best of him, and so he said to Buttrick, ‘I hate to disturb you—you’re obviously working hard on something—but what in the world are you working on?’

“‘Oh, I’m a Presbyterian minister,’ said Buttrick. ‘I’m working on my sermon for Sunday.’

“‘Oh, religion,’ said the man. ‘I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of religion. I like to keep it simple. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, that’s my religion.’

“‘I see,’ said Buttrick. ‘And what do you do?’

“‘I’m an astronomer. I teach at the university.’

“‘Oh, yes,’ said Buttrick. ‘Astronomy—I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of astronomy. Twinkle, twinkle little star, that’s my astronomy.’”

Why Blog?

For your convenience, here are the links to the previous 5 posts. I’ll try and remember to do this each time before moving on to the next topic.

Part 1 – ‘Hello World!’

Part 2 – ‘Why Say Hello to the…World?’

Part 3 – ‘Balance is for Losers, and the Beauty of a Nuance’

Part 4 – ‘What’s the Value in a Word?’

Part 5 – ‘Glenn Frey Spoke To Me in a Dream Last Night…’

Coming next…why the title ‘Tolerated Sojourner’?

Glenn Frey Spoke To Me in a Dream Last Night…

Ok, ok, he didn’t only speak to me; he spoke to everyone. And…ok, it wasn’t a dream, it was a netflix documentary (The History of the Eagles).  But it felt like a dream. That’s gotta count for something, right? And it was truly profound, as if his words were meant just for for me, and this blog.  Why? He was being interviewed about the process of writing, and how he–Glenn friggin Frey–learned to do it.

Now, I’ll just go ahead and say this up front: I’m a huge Eagles fan. And in my opinion, Glenn Frey and Don Henley are among the absolute masters. Right up there with guys like Johnny Cash. And so, when I get a chance to hear from a true master of their craft, I’m all ears. Especially when he starts like this:

I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know [how] exactly, did you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal?

Ok, now I’m hooked. I feel exactly the same way…about blog-ging! (See! I told you this was going to be good!). Glenn friggin Frey baby. Yes! So Glen, how do you really, really, truly, write a song? What great secret will you reveal about writing?

Ready? Listen to the master speak. Here’s what it takes:

Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.

Elbow grease? Time?! Whoa…mind-explosion!

But then, that lingering little issue of quality remains. What if, after all of my elbow grease, after all of my time, my writing is still…bad? Fear not young grasshopper, Jedi Frey speaks to this issue as well, passing on the same wisdom that he himself had once received (from Bob Seger, no less):

Frey: What if [my songs, are] bad?

Seger: Well, they are going to be bad. But, you just keep writing and keep writing and eventually, you’ll write a good song.”

Boom! Mind-explosion.

But seriously, that is so good, at so many levels. For one thing, what perfect advice from Seger! I find it so amazing that these were the very words that encouraged Frey to start writing. What if he hadn’t started? What if he had been prevented by the concern that his writing might be…bad?  That is so crazy (I can hardly put the words ‘Frey’ and ‘bad’ in the same sentence)!

But then at another level, there is something here that is of a deep, personal encouragement to me. Now, hear me out. I am not for a second thinking that I might be the next great writer. The fact that Frey turned out to be Frey is pretty awesome, but it is not what encourages me. Rather, I’m helped by the sage wisdom that he took on board. I love the advice that Seger gave because it uses the negative force of Frey’s concern against itself. A mental jujitsu move, if you will. A move that defeated the opponent. It allowed Frey to press on, in spite of his deep concern. I feel like it does the same thing for me, with immediate effect. What if my writing is bad? Oh, haha, yes…you don’t know the half of it. It will definitely be bad, real bad. But, here’s the solution. Keep writing the bad stuff (!)…until you eventually write one thing that is…good.

So beautiful. So sober. Thank you Bob. Thank you Glen. I’m taking this to heart. So, here’s the roundup then. My ten thousand hours begin now. The goal: a year of blogging, no matter what, no matter how bad.

What’s the Value in a Word?

So, you don’t want another blog out there, huh? Well, neither do I. So, don’t read my blog and I won’t read yours. And we’ll all be happy, mkay?

Anyway, back to me. Me, and why I should write, despite some of the mental hurdles I’ve had to combat along the way. Beyond the issue of escaping a false dilemma, there’s something more positive to consider as well. Namely, the intrinsic difference in value between that of reading and that of writing.

You see, even if you never read this, the reality is that I still wrote it. And that’s something. It has very real intrinsic value, even if it’s not the same kind of value as that of reading something by someone else (who really knows how to write).

I remember going through the same process of thought as a teenager before eventually deciding to learn to play the guitar. Why would I strum my clumsy chords when there was already seriously good music out there? Why would I waste my time playing, when I could be listening?! Well, I suppose there was always the thought that I just might be the next Jimi Hendrix! Hmmm, maybe. This definitely appealed to my strong delusions of grandeur–for a season.  But delusions are easily shattered. If I’m not mistaken, my Hendrix-delusion lasted a total of 2 days. No. If there was any hope of long-term effort, I would need something more. Back to my friend, clear-thinking.

Here’s a fairly abstract sentence for you: I eventually came to realize that I was collapsing into one, what is actually two. That is, I eventually came to understand that learning and listening are not the same thing. They are different things, with different values. Listening to Knopfler let his soul ooze through the Stratocaster is truly among the most profound things I have experienced in this life; but it is nevertheless completely different from me learning to play the guitar. While my own strumming of those basic guitar-chords was perhaps not as, ahem, aesthetically profound as that of the Hendrix-experience, it did nevertheless serve to develop me in ways that listening to Knopfler or Hendrix, never could.

So, back to writing then. As convinced as I am regarding the importance of reading, I need to remember the value of writing (or, learning to write) as a ‘different thing’. This helps me to press on, because even if my writing never amounts to anything, it is of massive value in terms my own self-improvement. This is especially the case as it relates to my vocation as a pastor. Concerning the development of a pastor’s mind, I once heard it said that, “reading maketh the full man, speaking maketh the quick man, and writing maketh the exact man”. I have found this to be so very true. And in many ways, I already live by this mantra. Every week I write my sermon in full, even though I know that I will disregard the manuscript when preaching. I write it out because of the unique value that it brings to my preparation process. I know this value experientially. I know the clarity (and ‘exactness’) that this process brings to my thinking.  And while this is not the only value in writing, it is in my mind one very tangible example of it.

Bringing all of this together then, it makes sense that I add a time of focused ‘writing’ to my weekly routine of ‘reading’ and ‘speaking’. And when I hear the call of those mighty authors on my bookshelf, beckoning me to stop my silly blogging and instead point my reader to a truly worthwhile experience, I need to remind myself of these things. There is value in reading. There is value in writing. They are different values. Both are truly valuable. And…at the end of the day, it’s not all about you, dear reader.

Balance is for Losers, and the Beauty of a Nuance

Seriously, another friggin’ blog? Yup. Deal with it. I’m doing this.

But in light of my previous post, how do I substantiate such outrageous behaviour? Well, there are actually a whole lotta things to talk about here. But, let’s just mention one of them in this post: the beauty of nuance.

You see, while I still do feel a strong preference for listening and reading (to that of speaking and writing), I’ve also come to see that this preference is not as nuanced as it needs to be. Here’s what I mean; while it is true that we only have 24 hours/day to listen and read, the reality is that it would neither be possible to do this, nor would it be a good use of time.

Indeed, there are times when we are actually obligated to speak, obligated to write. But, without getting sidelined by the ethics of ‘speaking out’, this is helpful simply because it forces me to nuance my struggle. On this admission alone I’m forced to see a necessary complexity in the way that I use my time. And so, even if my preference is for a certain thing, it is simply not possible (be it as a result of ethics, or pragmatics–I have to sleep!–or otherwise) to pursue that thing  with all of my time. The best I can do is to give the thing that I prefer a substantial bit of time-allocation. Ah! What sanity, what joy, to be removed from the horns of this false dilemma! I don’t have to choose between one or the other. I simply have to manage my time well.

Now, I realise that this is ridiculously obvious to many. But please appreciate: I’ve always had a bit of an extreme personality. I really do struggle to do things in balanced ways (because…balance is for losers that do things in half-measures, and stay half-measured losers all of their loser lives).

That’s why when I think about starting a blog, the whole ‘reading vs. writing’ issue emerges. This is a classic example of what I go through on a day to day basis, in virtually everything that I do. And while getting older has helped me to a certain degree, learning to see deeper complexity has been pure therapy. I rarely find a nuance that I don’t immediately fall in love with. Nuance is the result of careful thinking. Careful thinking helps me gain balance. Balance brings me sanity.

I feel all of this working in my heart and mind even now, as some deeper part of me considers the amount of time and energy that it is taking  to write these words, and reprimands me with full force: “You are wasting precious study-time!  You will master nothing this way!”.

How do I respond to myself?

“True, there are a million other things that I could be doing. But does it follow that I should be doing them, right now? Nope, it doesn’t. Boom! Eat some ‘nuance’, you inner-fiend!”

So, back to the issue then. While I would never want to replace my reading-time with writing-time, I could (and should!) try and replace some of my less-productive habits by taking up the pen. Or at least, by trying to take it up. By doing this, I am in no way compromising with half-measures, or misplaced-priorities. I’m doing something good. Something balanced. Something healthy.

And with pen in hand then, more to follow…


Why Say Hello to the…World?

I’ll eventually get to writing some actual blog-content. But first, allow me to warm up with a bit of a ramble. Wordpress makes it way too easy to throw out those first words (in fact, you don’t even have to write them. They do it for you!). “Hello World!”. Good to get things going I suppose, but a tad gratuitous at the end of the day. So, let me go for something a bit more substantial this time around. Something that tries to justify its own existence…kind of.

I’ll make a start at telling you why I’m saying “Hello”. Or, why I’m going to go ahead and start this blog, despite some of the reservations that I’ve felt up to this point.

Here’s the basic problem, you see. I’ve always felt that too many people are talking, and not enough are listening. There are so many ‘Greats’ out there. Why, oh why, would I spend time speaking, when I can listen to them?! Why would I spend time writing, when I can read what they have written? Time is short. This is already a very difficult reality for me. Why would I squander further amounts of time by trying to push out my laborious thoughts in clumsy, awkward sentences for a non-existent audience? And even if the audience did exist, I would quickly point them elsewhere as a better stewardship of their own allocated reading-time.

Yet, here I am, writing. So what gives?

Stay tuned…


Hello World!

Ok. I’ve decided to give it a go. I’m starting a blog. It’s been difficult to get here. I’ve been fighting with myself the whole way. But there’ve been sufficient nudgings, both internal and external, to go ahead and give it a try. So, the die has been cast. Let’s do this.