Happy Valentine's Day

I filtered my entire Spotify songs library by the word “love” and plucked from the results these 15 songs, all of which have the word in the title. These are my favorite “love” songs for February 14th, 2020. They’re a mix of gooey romance, gut-churning angst, and even detached reflection, but they’re all “love” (i.e. no “lover,” “loves,” or “loving”).

Enjoy, and Happy Valentine’s Day!


The Great Barrens

Daughter went all out on her social studies project. She went to Michael’s a week before it was due to purchase supplies: wooden dowels, ribbon, beads, hot glue, and various other accessories for a scroll-like map of the Fertile Crescent. To construct it, she printed a map from Google Images, soaked it in coffee water, dried it in the oven, ironed it flat, and then glued the edges to the dowels. The ribbon was glued to the back.

It looked great, and it was finished days before it was due, because Daughter was into it.

Then, at 10:00 last night, as she is preparing it for transport to school in the morning, she looks carefully at the map’s text, really for the first time. “Dad,” she says (I’m bent over the laptop strategizing a fix for a dead Prius battery), “There’s something weird about my map.”

“Uh huh.” I don’t look up.

“It has the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on it, but it doesn’t say ‘Mesopotamia’ anywhere, and there are other weird place names on it, like ‘Desert of Bones’ and ‘The Great Barrens.'”

Uh oh. Now I look up.

Sure enough, the map she has so painstakingly assembled is not a map of the Fertile Crescent but someone’s rendering of World of Warcraft, from what I can gather searching Google, though for the life of me I cannot relocate this exact map. In her focus on the style she flubbed the substance. A part of me wants to advise her to turn it in as is, trusting that nobody will really notice. I suppress that part, so when she declares that she needs to start all over (at 10:07) I can calmly agree.

She’s finished with it in about 90 minutes and she goes to bed having learned a valuable lesson about attention to content before flourish. I’m still working on the battery.




Thank you for being a previous voter. Who you vote for is secret, but whether you vote is public information. Vote Tuesday, April 7th!


I wrote those three sentences to dozens of Wisconsin residents last night at a “postcard party” my friend invited people to for his birthday. It was held at a local sports bar, and the New Hampshire primary returns were broadcast on CNN as we wrote.

Because my friend is the kind of person who wants his friends to engage in citizen activism to celebrate his birthday, I brought him the book I started reading last week after hearing John Dickerson recommend it on the “Political Gabfest.” Its main thrust is that we treat politics too much like a sport and that those of us who pay the most attention to politics are doing the least good.

Happy birthday Jack!



A student’s name and short bio appeared in the materials given to the congregation at the annual meeting at which officers are elected. The student is nominated for a one year youth term as an Elder, and the bio states that this student feels a call to ministry.

This comes as news to me, who knows the student as well as I know any student, having led them in Confirmation and half a dozen trips or retreats. First thought: I’m clearly doing something wrong, as the Associate Pastor for Youth, to not know that one of the church’s youth is discerning a call to ministry.

Second thought: that first thought is dumb. This is right and good. A student has told someone from the nominating committee about this discernment and then shared it with the congregation at large; if one of the goals of youth ministry is to help the church welcome the gifts and contributions of young people, then this is a positive sign. A wider circle than the Youth Ministry staff and volunteers are church for this student, and that’s what we want for all our students.

Another argument for youth officers.



Keep telling the truth.

Keep admitting your mistakes.

Keep choosing curiosity over judgment.

Keep defaulting to empathy.

This may all feel like a dead end in an era when so much untruth is celebrated and when hubris is lionized, when takedowns and trolling have become such precious currency. But the alternative is a deader dead end.

Jesus said you’re the salt of the earth, and he warned that the unsalty salt gets trampled under foot. Yes, and the salty salt gets trampled sometimes too.


Youth Sunday Prep Experiment

This Sunday the youth at my church will start working on the worship service they will lead in about two weeks. They prepare every element of the service, start-to-finish. This year I’m using a slightly modified approach with them.

It’s an awful lot to expect a group of, say, middle schoolers, to thoughtfully compose parts of a liturgy, like a prayer of confession, in under an hour. I don’t actually know any worship leaders who prepare liturgy in teams. And not all preparation is composition; we have a rich heritage of prayers to draw upon.

So this year I’m providing groups of youth with small packets for each element of the service that includes a brief description of that element drawn directly from the “Commentary” section of the Book of Common Worship and several examples. The Prayer of Confession packet contains five examples, including this one:

Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name.

Students might choose an element in its entirely, and that will be fine. I will be grateful for their careful attention to it. Or they might combine pieces from different examples. Or they may choose entirely to compose their own. The difference is that I’m exposing them really solid examples first.

The mistake I’m trying to correct is implying that worship leadership is always a feat of creative composition.


Pay Some (Though Not All) Attention

Between overwhelmed by the news and completely disengaged from it there is a medium that, though maybe not happy, is functional. If you value awareness of current events, this is the kind of week that could overwhelm you: a messed up election, the State of The Union, the end of an impeachment trail–one highly-charged event after another, each one announced with ALL CAPS BOLD TYPE HEADLINES, an avalanche of monumental happenings that might could make you surly for days. Maybe best to shut it all off.

Luxuriating in ignorance doesn’t feel responsible, though. Maybe they’re not the breathless spectacles the phone notifications promise, but they are still, at bottom, important national events that deserve our attention.

We can handle this. We can protect and give our attention at the same time. We can turn off the news notifications but open up the app a couple times a day. We can listen to one news summary podcast, not four. We can read a carefully written email newsletter rather than skim all the headlines.

Paying good attention to important goings on means not paying all of it. We can do that.


Know Nothing

“Don’t speak about things you know nothing about” used to be a much easier maxim when the number of things about which you could speak was limited to a daily newspaper and three national broadcast television channels and when “know” merely meant possessing an adequate grasp of an agreed-upon set of facts.

Now we can know nothing about so much more.


(Don't) Have A Take

“Have a take, do not suck” was the tagline of a sports call-in radio show I used to listen to enthusiastically. Jim Rome was at least a decade ahead of the “hot take,” to no great end.

A take feels less useful than an opinion or a view. My opinion may be worked out after careful consideration, but my take is off-the-cuff. My view of the matter is in dialogue with others’ views, but my take stands on its own. Takes lake the conventional humility of opinions, and even when the modesty of a view lacks authenticity, even when its humility is strictly conventional, it is still doing something valuable. Takes burn hubris for fuel.

So that’s my take on takes.



Maybe instead of valorizing the extra time that people are putting in and making heroes of those who stay late and come in on days off, you should focus more on making the most out of the time you are already allotted.

Eight hours is plenty of time to do meaningful work, and two hours is more than long enough for an effective practice session. If you consistently need more than that from people, maybe you’re doing something wrong.