This Year

I saw one of my favorite bands last night for the third time. Each show I’ve seen has been an utterly unique combination from their extensive catalog, even though they play some of the same fan favorites at all their shows. Last night there were deep cuts for the die-hards mixed in with lots of new stuff for the band to work on.

The best way to have new stuff to work on is to build a back catalog. And the best way to build a back catalog is to work on new stuff today.



Monday brought some warm, sunny weather. In the morning I encountered my neighbor saddling up his bike for a ride to work, and I thought of my bike, sequestered in the garage, un-ridden for about 20 months. Later that morning I got it out, brought out a soapy bucket and wiped it down, and rode it down the alley and back. Still works.

It’s at the bike shop now getting a tuneup. And a new chain. And saddle. I hope to ride it to work on Friday.

I’m very tentative about this kind of thing, when I try something new for the first time. I expect I won’t be able to keep it up, and so it will take a lot for me to say, “I ride my bike to work.” I’m not like my friend, who dives into new interests and pursuits with single-minded focus and uses phrases like, “The hiking community.” I’m more like my other friend. She ran the Boulder Boulder, like, five times, and yet she would say, “I’m not a runner.”

I’m a novice at everything. Don’t tell the pros.

I’m afraid the pros will call me a poseur. In high school I bought this beautiful pair of Diadora shoes, black with neon trim. I’d seen some of the soccer players wearing Diadora, and I thought they looked cool. The first time I wore them to school those soccer players gave me Hell. I wasn’t a soccer player; why was I wearing Diadora sneakers? I quit wearing them.

Everybody is trying it on, you know? Even the pros could stop tomorrow. That jogger you pass in your car who prompts a shock of guilt maybe hasn’t run for weeks, or ever. Today could be her first attempt. Or she could be training for her fifth marathon. What’s it matter?

One of the dangers of a culture driven by expertise and high performance is the loss of the novice.



Is it possible that the “Golden Age of Television” is eroding our ability to enjoy stories? Has analysis taken over? We watch and live-tweet. As soon as the credits roll we’re on Reddit. Tomorrow we’ll listen to all the podcasts.

Analysis is part of enjoyment. But when it becomes its own end, analysis crowds out other important disciplines that are just as important to enjoyment, like the willing suspension of disbelief. I mean, if “It Doesn’t Make Sense” is all we can say at the end, then maybe we’re part of the problem.

Careless mistakes don’t help, of course. They create their own perverse kind of enjoyment that further diminishes the story. I fear that’s becoming the dominant Golden Age mode of enjoyment.

Receiving and enjoying stories is a skill just as desirable as criticism.



Jenny Odell’s new book, How to Do Nothing has a fruitful suggestion for churches, though she’s not writing to or about churches. She’s actually writing about a public rose garden. Still, her praise of maintenance is ripe for exploration by church leaders.

Why have I never thought of this? Why have I never attended a workshop on maintenance as leadership? Why do denominations not produce maintenance-themed curricula for congregations?

Instead we have a binary: growth or decline. Church growth literature and “expertise” is everywhere, while anxiety about decline infects many pastoral and church board decisions. But there is something beyond growth or decline available to us.

Odell writes, “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.” She describes the volunteers who care for the rose garden as an image of this kind of care and maintenance, people who give themselves to something bigger than themselves out of love, both for the things and for the public the thing serves.

Of course, the churches I have served are filled with such people. They arrange and clean up communion, hold babies in the nursery, answer the office phone, change the letters on the marquee, and perform a whole host of routine tasks that you won’t find in a church growth manual. But they are integral to the maintenance of holy work.

Odell’s proposal is “that we protect our spaces and our time [emphasis hers] for non-instrumental, noncommercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality.”

What institution could be better positioned for that than a church?



It’s Friday, so I’m checking the new music releases for the week. First perusing Spotify’s Release Radar playlist, which features singles and albums and too many remixes and acoustic versions to be completely useful. Next clicking through the NPR Music’s New Music Friday playlist, also on Spotify, songs from album releases the NPR editors think deserve my attention. Next it’s the music websites folder on my browser toolbar: American Songwriter, Paste, Consequence of Sound, Album of The Year, The Guardian.

By the time I’m through with the ritual I’ve added the releases I’m interested in to a playlist called “Check Out (2019).” I’ll pull albums from this list on the train or in the kitchen, and if I like four or more songs I’ll add them to my “2019 albums” playlist (of course, individual songs go on the “2019 Radio” playlist).

I’m building a collection. It’s what I’ve always done with music, but it’s only lately dawned on me how central this collecting fixation is to my relationship with music. I enjoy it (I love some of it). But mostly as a collector.

Is collecting a lesser way to love a thing?



The home team scored three goals in the second half, right in front of our seats. It was one of those novel sports spectator experiences: you’re so close you can smell the grass and hear the stomping of players’ cleats on it. And everything goes right.

Of course, I was in the car driving home already. Kiddo started pleading to go home barely 15 minutes into the game, and not even halftime Dippin’ Dots were enough to placate her past the first five minutes of the second half. She’d returned from a six day trip that morning, and the fatigue was catching up to her. So we left. It was an easy call.

She almost didn’t come. It was almost me and a buddy. “I want to go, but I’m too tired,” she’d said in the afternoon, and I was fine with that. There was rain forecast anyway, and I seriously doubted how much she would enjoy a professional soccer game. I would have seen the second half goals then. My buddy and I would talk for weeks about having been there. But as I was leaving Kiddo rallied and proclaimed her intention to attend, and I was glad for it.

The three of us tailgated with some sausages, chips, and cookies I brought. My buddy and I leaned against the trunk of his Accord while Kiddo entertained herself digging rocks out of the dirt parking lot surface.

That’s the image that will stay with me from the experience. Not the goals or the cheering crowd, but Kiddo kneeling in mud, sausage and roll in one hand, prize white rock held aloft by the other, beaming from her dirt-streaked face.




I said in my sermon on Sunday that “no serious person” disputes the NASA-backed assertions that the climate is warming and that due to human causes. I wish I hadn’t use that phrase. It was a lazy way to amplify a point. What kind of sloth needs to amplify NASA?


Such rhetorical laziness is a luxury, because, in fact, NASA and the whole edifice of global scientific consensus about this question are disputed with deadly seriousness.

Laziness about that isn’t helping.


Evaluation Time

Schedule the evaluation at the same time you schedule everything else. It’s just as important as everything else, so why leave it to the end-of-program crunch of everybody’s schedule. Put it on your schedule at the beginning.

Then, have a tool. It doesn’t need to be a complicated evaluation; the simple questions What Worked and What Could Be Better are all you really need. Of course, “worked” means you’re clear on what your program was trying to do; useful evaluation depends on clear goals and objectives.


The Summit

In between weddings on Saturday I stood in my office and nervously watched Kiddo’s cheer team compete at the Big Meet in Florida, the one we’ve been fundraising for since early April.

Her team was much smaller than the others in the competition, nine members to the standard 15 or 20. The difficulty in their routine was clearly less than their competitors, and they dropped one of their stunts. They did not advance.

Lady Evo, show ’em how it’s done

Yet there they were. The youngest ones seven years old and the oldest only 14, representing a gym that has never earned a bid to a national meet before. Good on them, and good on everyone who offered support over the last month.



There were roughly 5,000 pages of reading assigned for this first semester of my new academic venture, and I am not going to get them all read in time. That is partly because the way I am reading, which is to underline and notate in the margins and then, at several page intervals, type up those notations in a Word document. I’m basically trading speed for depth.

In school, as in life, that’s a trade with benefits and costs.