Saturday, January 21, 2017


"Fences" is a powerful movie. I recommend it strongly.

Having said that, let me say that I do not know that you will "enjoy" the movie. I am not sure that I "enjoyed" it. I appreciated the excellent acting. I am astounded by the clarity of the writing. I marveled at the direction of Denzel Washington, taking this stage play to the screen and, while never letting you forget you were watching a play, making it a "real movie."

But I did not "enjoy" it. It is too deep, too personal, too close to home.

As in most of my blog movie reviews, I expect there will be spoilers here. It is not my goal to give away the plot, but you can find most of that in other reviews on the internet. This movie is not really about surprises anyway.

"Fences" spoke to me.

It has a lot of characteristics that flavor the tone of the movie, but it is not really "about" any of those things.

The movie is not really about race. It is certainly set in and completely textured by the life of a group of African-Americans in Pittsburgh in the fifties and into the sixties. It features dialog and dialect and issues of importance to African-Americans - and to all of us - then and now. There is much talk of prejudice and equal opportunity and how the white man treats the black man. There are references to Jackie Robinson and a picture of Dr. King. But the movie is not about race so much as it is set in a time and place where race issues permeate the thoughts and conversation.

The movie is not really about family. It is certainly set within a family structure. Husband, wife, brother, children, mother, father, wayward child, achieving child... these types are all here. How we relate to those we love is a repetitive backdrop. But the movie is not about family so much as it uses family as a vehicle.

The movie is not really about religion. The symbol of the cross is omnipresent, whether on a wall or on a necklace or on the Steel City skyline. There is a well-placed picture of Jesus overlooking much of the activity. The church and the Last Judgment and the pearly gates are all up for discussion. But the movie is not about religion so much as it is set against an assumption of the role of religion in each of these characters' life.

The movie is not really about death. One character talks about death - and to Death - with some regularity. The specter of death hangs over the whole movie, and the interspersed discussion of St. Peter, waiting to open the gates for all of us, keeps death front and center. But the movie is not about death so much as it pays homage to the certainty of death for us all.

The movie is also not about baseball, that holiest of symbols. It uses the language of baseball constantly, and I suspect that if you do not speak that language - if the image of a hanging curveball over the inside corner or a full count against a good pitcher or why Hank Aaron is "just doing what he is paid to do" - then some of the most imaginative and meaningful of the dialog of the movie will be lost on you. If you cannot identify with the Negro Leaguer who was too old for the majors by the time of integration, then you will not understand some of the basic motivation of the movie. If a ball hanging on a rope from a limb with a bat leaning against the trunk do not make you long to take a swing, whether out of frustration or pure joy, then you will not get everything in the movie. But the movie is not about baseball so much as it speaks through baseball.

There are other things that permeate the movie that some reviewers will latch onto that are not really what the movie is about - money, music, rebellion, feminism, the need we all have to build. These are all crucial aspects of the movie, but they are not what it is about.

This movie is about a man who is lost. This movie is about a man, Troy, whom we want to like and in fact we do like, at least for a while, who is lost. Life for Troy started unfairly, and he may well have tried his best to overcome his circumstances, but somewhere along the way he began lying to himself, and to his family, and to God. Somewhere along the way - maybe always - he found ways to take and take and take while convincing himself he was giving and giving and giving. Troy takes advantage of his brother and his wife and the government. He is looking for a chance to take advantage of the boss - ostensibly to blaze a trail for others but really just to make his own life easier. He takes advantage of one son who is looking for an excuse ... any excuse ... to have a relationship with his father, and he takes advantage of another son who challenges what Troy might have become.

This movie is about a man who tries to take advantage of death. Troy sacrifices what is good and right. His explanation/excuse for his betrayal is that age and life and experience have, in his mind, taken away his ability to laugh. Like Vincent Gardenia's character Cosmo in the great "Moonstruck," who blames his longtime affair on his fear of dying, Troy is aging, and the Grim Reaper is ever closer, and he searches for a way to take advantage of death. But the way he does it is so outrageous, so hurtful, so completely self-centered that even his best friend has no alternative but to distance himself. What was once a constant companionship deteriorates into an almost-by-chance occasional meeting, colored by nothing but small talk and discomfort.

There will be much talk about the power in many of Rose's lines, and Viola Davis deserves every award she gets. To me, her most poignant line, the line that embodies the theme of this movie, is not one that most of the reviewers are fawning over. To me, her line that "sometimes he bruises when he touches" is the theme of the movie. This man is lost, and he does not think he knows the way home. Or to be clearer, he will not take the way home. He looks for it in gin and in humor and in the bedroom, but he never finds it. He knows the way - it is right in front of him on that ever-present necklace and over the sink and on the wall and in the simple faith of his brother and in the enduring faithfulness of his wife and in the determination of his son. But he will not accept the way home, and he is lost.

And along the way, he bruises those he touches.

He builds too many fences.

You should see this movie.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Breath of Heaven - A Christmas Prayer

"How will this be," Mary asked, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

I have wandered many moonless nights, cold and lonely, with a babe inside.
And I wonder what I've done. Holy Father, you have come and chosen me now to carry your son.
I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear. In a world as cold as stone, must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.
Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, Breath of Heaven.
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness for you are holy, Breath of Heaven.
Do you wonder, as you watch my face, if a wiser one one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am for the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.
Breath of Heaven...

The English word spirit come from the Latin spiritus, which means "breath." In the New Testament, the Greek work pneuma means "breath" or "wind," but when it has the Greek word for "Holy" in front of it, it always refers to the Holy Spirit. So, when we speak to the Spirit, we are speaking to and about the breath of God, the Breath of Heaven.

I was a little surprised this December when I learned that the Chancel Choir at my church, where we usually sing very "proper" and "higher church" music, would be singing on Christmas Eve a piece written by Amy Grant. For those of you who are uninitiated, there has never been a bigger star on the contemporary Christian music front. Not Sandi Patty. Not Michael W. Smith. Not the Imperials. Not Chris Tomlin.

Many of you know that I am from Nashville. If you come close to guessing my age and then do the math, you know generally who was in my circle growing up. No, Amy Grant and I were not friends, but we had many mutual friends. She is a little older than I am. She went to my sister school, and while I am sure that she would not remember me, we were often in the same place at the same time. Look at this picture:
Yes, this is a picture, from my seventh grade annual, of a young, un-made-up Amy Grant, with hair parted down the middle, wearing clogs and leaning on a stool, strumming her guitar and singing in my school assembly program. I doubt she shows this picture to many of her fans these days. From looking at it, there is no real way to guess what Amy was to become. Oh, we all thought Amy was cool, but it is one thing to sing on a high school stage in front of friends; it is another to become who Amy Grant is today.

The song my choir sang tonight at the Christmas Eve service was "Breath of Heaven," which Amy subtitled "Mary's Song." I think there is a lesson here in Amy's picture.

I don't know how old Mary was. Some scholars posit that she was no more than thirteen. That does not seem right to me, as I read her words in Luke 1, but it does not really matter. She may have been the age of one of my children now, but however old she was, she was a backwater Nazarene maiden. If we had a picture of her from her seventh-grade yearbook, there would be no real way to guess what Mary was to become. She was obviously remarkable. And yet, it is one thing to wax poetic with the Magnificat when the glow of the angel's appearance is still fresh on your face; it is another thing to be nine months pregnant, traveling in first century conditions, unmarried, and unwelcome. It is not too much for the song to describe her as frightened, wondering, alone, prayerful.

But the piece we sang ... Amy's song ... Mary's prayer ... is not the prayer of the desperate. It is the prayer of the faithful. She may not know why she was chosen, but she knows that she was chosen. She may not know if a wiser one could have done the job, but she knows that she is doing the job. She may not know where her path will go, but she knows whom she wants on the path with her.

She wants the Holy Spirit. Not some indistinct, namby-pamby sense that the cosmos is somehow behind her. Not a passing interest from a far-off supreme being. No, she is walking with her God, who is present and real, the part of the trinity who is responsible for her pregnancy in the first place. She asks for the one traveling with her to breathe on her with holiness and power, to be the constant reminder of the presence of God. She asks for the Breath of Heaven.

Her prayer is our prayer. Lighten my darkness. Be with me now. Hold me together. Pour over me your holiness, for you are holy.

The prayer is all our prayer. It is not just at Christmas, but maybe it is especially at Christmas that we all feel pain, grief, abandonment, the seeming impossibility of what lies before us. We do not feel like the chosen of God. We feel no more special than a teenage girl in bad shoes and no makeup just doing our best to sing a song.

But still, we offer all we are.

Breath of Heaven, hold me together. Be forever near me.

Breath of Heaven, help me be strong.

Help me be.

Help me.

Breath of Heaven...

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This World Is Not My Home

I look around, and I do not recognize a lot of what I see. I am out of place. I do not belong. As a Christian, I feel more than ever a kinship with those brothers and sisters who first articulated this truism: "This world is not my home. I'm just passing through."

I have written before about being an alien, but that blog was more of a personal confession of my own idiosyncrasies than it was an understanding of the Christian's place in the world.

Today, I am not just an alien because people do not understand me. I am an alien because this world is running away from me.

Everywhere you look, the world looks different. I am not going to catalog the changes that are going on in our society. You know them, and if you need a list of how laws, schools, entertainment, politics, and even many popular churches have changed radically from what we knew even ten years ago, Google will help you out. Think where our world has gone on issues as varied as gay marriage and diplomatic recognition of Cuba. Listen to the political discussions and pay attention to what local school boards are doing. The world is spinning differently today. These changes are of course the result, in large part, of a new respect for diversity combined with a rejection of many traditional "conservative Christian values." They are the offspring of expanding freedoms and decreasing tolerance for disagreement. They spring both from widening understandings and narrowing acceptance. They result from sin and from growth. They are, in short, proximately caused by both evil and benign societal evolution. Regardless of the source of the seismic shifts in our world, we simply do not and cannot live like we used to. For many of us, the recognition that we march not just to a different drummer but in fact in an entirely different band playing a separate show for a different audience becomes more and more of a reality. For some, this realization spurred a political campaign that would have been unthinkable not that long ago. Many are simply shocked by the world around them.

A number of things come to mind.

First, we upper-middle-class American Christians can join the club. Our brothers and sisters around the world - and many in our own nation - have known for generations the troubles of living among the peoples of this world and the animosity the world holds toward the truth of the gospel. (There is a reason the nineteenth-century African-American experience produced the spiritual.) Frankly, many of us have been too long lulled by a society that has given lip service to the things of God and by people who allowed our steeples and our blue laws and our public prayers to exist in relative comfort. Our values have influenced, if not controlled, the surface of the surrounding political and educational and entertainment worlds enough that we could go along our merry way, choosing to write a letter to the editor about a radical proposal here or complain about sex and language in movies there and otherwise live in comparative satisfaction. We have not really had to contemplate being a disrespected minority before. That day is past.

Second, we can identify with characters in the Bible we have studied for years. Suddenly, being a stranger in a strange land has new meaning. Now, reading that Israel is going where God's people have not been before is real. All of a sudden, apostles cowering in an upper room is not so laughable. Maybe John was on to something when he wrote Revelation in code to escape government censorship.

Third, we can wake up. This world has never been our home. For decades, because our services have been tolerated and even attended by those with smiles on their faces and Billy Graham's sermons have been televised, we have too often felt that God's message did not need us, that we lived in a "Christian nation," and that all was well. How wrong we have been. God have mercy.

Fourth, we have to decide how to react. Shaking our fists at the coming tidal wave is a waste of time, not to mention being embarrassingly futile. Demanding that the clock be turned back has no effect. Expecting a broken world to act as though it were not broken and hoping that we can continue to pretend that "those people" do not exist are not options.

Fifth, we simply must do some prayerful soul-searching and study. We need to listen to God explain to us, patiently as always, how we have been wrong. Not all of the changes are bad. Some of the "radical" things that threaten us may cause us discomfort because we have been fat and happy in the wrong place for a long time. Maybe we will be prompted to reexamine some Of our views. It is entirely possible that, like the Israelites and the Pharisees, we have - with the best of intentions - created God in our image and squeezed out of our view the possibility that God's kingdom looks different from what we have conjured. Again, may the Lord have mercy on us.

So, what to do?
• We can build our walls higher and retreat to Fortress Church, letting the world around us go to hell while we wait for Jesus to come back.
• We can stomp our feet and follow reactionary candidates and demand that our (now minority) values continue to be recognized and honored.
• We can take the world on in a cage fight, matching our tracts and sermons and well-meaning calling out of sin against its indifference and antagonism. We may be correct on many issues, but we won't like the result of the battle.

• We can pray for the peace and prosperity of this land where God has led us. It may not be our eternal home, but God has placed us here for the foreseeable future. Like exiled Judah in the land of Babylon, we have a choice of crying by the the waters or blooming where we are planted, loving and serving God even as we love and serve the people with whom we find ourselves.
• We can work for change in the world, (maybe with a political vote where appropriate, but also) offering cups of cold water, serving banquets where all are welcome, and making sure our own traditions are submissive to what God is doing.
• We can present a witness that has some hope of actually convincing anybody. In this century, simply saying "for the Bible tells me so" is unconvincing and unimportant to many. We need to understand why God's way is the best way so that we can articulate truth and debate with patience, confidence, and genuine love for those who disagree. Of course scripture is critical to our argument, but we must comprehend and explain it, not just quote it and swing it like a baseball bat.

This world is not our home, but we are here now. The prince of this world will no longer allow our comfort to continue, and maybe that is a good thing. Maybe every time the Supreme Court or the local school board makes a decision that makes our skin crawl, we will be moved not to anger and resignation but to service and to sharing the gospel. Perhaps recognizing that our understanding of God's view of sexuality or kindness or taking care of the poor is not the majority view - indeed not even held by many people we know at all - will prompt us not to despair but to a search for opportunity to engage our neighbors without being obnoxious.

Read Acts 18. In Corinth, Paul's discouragement was natural as he saw his message falling on deaf ears and his work being unappreciated. God promised him His presence, but God did not let Paul off the hook. He was to stay put for a time and continue doing what God wanted him to do. Likewise, our understandable frustration win our society is not a license to quit or to withdraw or otherwise to be anything other than exactly what God wants us to be.

Our world, and our nation, are not what they were. We are in Babylon, or in Corinth, or in Texas or South Carolina or Tennessee or Washington or California or Maryland or Illinois or Massachusetts or New York. And God is right there with us, unmoved by court cases or bathroom laws or marriage edicts or school policies. Let us render unto Caesar what is Caesar's; and by all means let us render unto God what is God's

This world is not our home, but we are certainly passing through. We are eternal beings experiencing a temporary human existence. Make the most of it. We are here for a reason.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On the 2016 Baylor Football Season

This blog will not be my usual religious and/or political thought, movie review, or philosophical meandering. It is instead a commentary on a situation that will only matter to a select subset of the readers of my blog.

I am a Baylor football fan.

I watched my Baylor Bears play a terrible football game yesterday. It was their second terrible performance in a row, their third awful performance in the last four, and their fifth loss in a row. They are very likely to lose a sixth in a row to conclude the season next week; I hope it is not with another terrible performance.

The background story is well-known - certainly to the subset of my blog readers who are still reading this one - so I will not belabor it. Instead, I want to offer thoughts.

Back in May, the day after Art Briles was fired, I wrote the following on my Facebook post:

Baylor - The Day After
Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I love the Lord, love my family, love practicing law, love writing, love Baylor University, and love Baylor sports. I try very hard to keep it in that order.
I do not have any inside information. I have precisely the same facts and data that anyone else who cares to read the Pepper Hamilton report and do some basic Googling has or can have. I have withheld judgment because I knew I did not have all the facts, and I understood the University's reluctance to discuss too much private information publicly. Now, however, we have the findings of the law firm, and the time for withholding judgment is past.
Here are my thoughts at the moment. They are still developing.
1. I have a daughter at Baylor. I have female students at Baylor. I have any number of friends with daughters at Baylor. I know many Baylor coeds through my kids. Baylor simply must be a safe place.
2. That multiple sexual assaults occurred is awful and inexcusable. My heart breaks for the victims.
3. That the football program did not comply with the law is inexcusable. That the football program did not comply with Baylor policy - such as it was - is inexcusable.
4. The university's policies in place for dealing with the reality of college students - football players or otherwise - in the 21st century were naive. Those policies have evolved, and the Regents' action indicates a push for them to continue to evolve to the very cutting edge. We can debate the politics of Title IX and "in loco parentis" and government regulation all we want, but the University has legal responsibilities here, and it is now stepping up to them in what appears to me to be a first rate way.
5. The critics who say "why didn't Baylor act sooner" of course have a point, but hiring a preeminent national law firm with no ties to Baylor, giving that firm complete access, waiting for that firm to compile evidence and report, digesting that report, and then acting on it seem to me to be reasonable steps under these circumstances.
6. Self-congratulatory Facebook posts of "look how brilliantly and clearly we responded" are offset by the brutal attacks I am reading and hearing to the effect, to quote the Houston Chronicle, of "no school deserves it more." Neither extreme is credible.
7. Baylor is much more than the sum of its parts. I have barely met Coach Briles, know Judge Starr only slightly better, and have no contact at all with McCaw, but I am confident in saying that they are people who work, or worked, for Baylor but do not constitute the Baylor I know. I know Baylor too well. The Regents are also not Baylor, but they appear to be trying to reach for Baylor's truest vision and purpose, and for that they deserve some appreciation.
8. I am justifiably ashamed that these events happened on and around the campus that has meant and still means so much to me.
9. I am justifiably proud that Baylor has stepped up - as no university that I know of has - to make clear the priority of student safety, following the law, and doing the right thing over winning football games.
10. Complaints about the overreach of Title IX, "why did those girls get in those situations," "when you win they are all out to get you," "this happens everywhere," and "the media/ESPN caused an overreaction" are all irrelevant, or at least not important in the moment, whether they are true or not. The law is the law, and it must be followed unless and until it is changed. Victim-blaming is always tenuous but is completely out of place when your process does not allow for victims to be treated with fairness and respect in the first place. The sports-page analysis is so secondary to the issues here that it can be addressed months from now.
I am sure we will learn more - both good and bad - in the coming weeks. The NCAA will do whatever the NCAA will do.
I am so sorry for the victims - the assaulted, the innocent caught up in the shrapnel, and the many who do so much good for, in, and through Baylor whose name and reputation will be affected by the actions of the few.
With great power comes great responsibility. With money and exposure and fame and adulation comes even greater responsibility. Regardless of from where the attacks have come - and here they have come more from within than from without - Baylor is better than this.
It is time to take our medicine.
Sometimes the way to light the ways of time is to stand up and be responsible for what you have done, or allowed, or encouraged.
I will still go to the football games and fling my green and gold afar. I believe we can win the right way and don't need criminals on the team to do it. I guess we will see.

Now, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, six months later, I add these thoughts.

1. To Those Who Criticize the Board of Regents - How can you possibly have enough information to know that what they did was wrong? The information presented was devastating and damning. I know we don't know everything. I know that many of you are crying out for the university to pay the law firm to write up a tell-all for the world to read. To what end? Are you so distrustful that you believe that Coach Briles was innocent and that the Regents are hiding something that will prove their own fault? Really? Are you suddenly an expert in how to run a multi-million dollar enterprise like Baylor? Are you an expert in how to delegate responsibility to a university administration, especially one run by a non-educator who believes (perhaps rightly) that he is one of the smartest men on the planet? Did you ever seek "full disclosure" of information upon which the Regents acted before, whether it was in the firing of a president or the building of a stadium or the addition of a degree or the determination of campus rules? Calls for "transparency" and "reform" are ringing through cyberspace with no detail at all. What do you really want? Why are you in a rush to "drain the swamp" as though the Board of Regents were Tammany Hall?

(Footnote - the number of my Facebook friends who publish these criticisms who also publish or published multiple pro-Donald Trump messages is interesting.)

I understand the seeking of a scapegoat, but I ask you to consider what the Regents did. They reacted in the name of campus safety, Christian values, and the good name of the university.

Is winning football games really more important?

I am not naive. I know that winning games has helped Baylor's image. I know that Coach Briles is largely responsible for that new stadium. I know he deserves a lot of credit for increased applications, enrollments, and giving - although I give Robert Griffin at least as much credit. But Baylor is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, not Pro Football.

Do you believe that Coach Briles got a raw deal? Really? After all we know now, are you still willing to say that criminal acts by multiple football players are not at some level the responsibility of the head man, the man who intentionally brought to campus players with a sketchy history because he (admirably) thought he could help them find the straight and narrow? After all we know about the choices made and the messages sent to complaining students?

Was firing the coach going too far? Maybe. Maybe a one-year suspension without pay would have been the right answer. But if so, we are now arguing about the fine points of personnel policy, and if those of us with extremely limited information are going to start micro-managing those decisions, that is the beginning of the end.

I do not know many of the Regents, but the ones I do know are honorable and smart - some brilliant - people who have the best interests of Baylor and the cause of Christ as their goals. If they made mistakes, they did so honestly and with the best of intentions. It is time for folks to get off their backs.

2. To Those Who Criticize the University for Continuing to Play Football - Why punish the innocent? I have Facebook friends - some of whom are alumni and close friends of mine - who have jumped on the Paul Finebaum bandwagon, thrown up their hands in disgust, and declared by all that's holy that the only decent thing to do is to self-impose the Death Penalty in some glorious penitential conflagration. From the Finebaums and others who don't know or who hate Baylor - including graduates of other nearby schools - these pleas come across not as well-thought-out analyses but rather as gleeful chances to point fingers and dance in the ashes. When they come from alums, they sound like embarrassment and disaffection. Either way, they make no sense to me. Baylor has taken more steps in the face of these events than any major-college-football university in history - the head coach, athletic director, and president are gone; signees were voluntarily released from their letters of intent (I don't see UT, LSU, or anybody else with a coaching change doing that); and the university has very publicly stated that football prowess takes a back seat at Baylor to safety and doing the right thing.

Are you really so caught up in the politically correct media-approved response that you would throw the Bears out with the bathwater?

(Footnote - the number of my Facebook friends who publish these criticisms who also publish or published multiple pro-Hillary Clinton messages is interesting.)

3. To the Assistant Coaches - You should be ashamed of yourselves. I do not know any of you, and I am assuming that you are all upstanding, honorable men. I am happy to dismiss the two very unfortunate social media posts by one coach's wife as the frustrations of a good person whose father, husband, and brother are all central players in this. You have been asked to work with and for Coach Grobe, who by all accounts is a good guy thrown into an impossible situation, but you did not sign up for him and did not know him, so of course that was tough for you too. Your loyalty to Coach Briles is commendable and to be expected.

I don't know how much responsibility, if any, any of you bears with regard to the criminal situation. The Regents blamed the non-football side of the house that reported to Coach Briles, and you were spared. So I am not willing to assume you knew more and did nothing, or worse, you helped to shush the victims ... although those accusations are certainly out there.

I am not, however, willing to dismiss the incredible destructiveness of the Friday Night Massacre before the TCU game. I am not willing to dismiss the poor taste of the money-bag-emoji Tweets after getting bowl eligibility, especially when you cannot lead the team to a single further victory. I have watched these players in every game (albeit one game on TV), and they are not under the same direction they were earlier in the year. That is on you. Nobody blames the players, at least primarily.

And if any of you dares to say a word against the school or decry how you have been treated - again, I am giving the one coach's wife a pass on her tweets - I will not be willing to dismiss your public disdain for the university, which kept you under very trying circumstances when it had absolutely no obligation to do so. For you to speak badly of Baylor now - especially in light of your lousy performance - would be beyond the pale.

4. To the Fair Weather Baylor Fans - I really do not get it. We sat through - and generally enjoyed and rooted for - years of mediocre-to-decent football punctuated by a few really good (i.e. 8-3) years under Coach Teaff, whom we consider a hero. We sat through - and rooted for, even if we did not enjoy - years after that of truly bad teams. We saw losses to UNLV and North Texas and Army. We cheered when we beat A&M in overtime or upset Texas. We struggled through years of Big XII doormat status. Now, after six bowls in a row, you suddenly have changed personalities? You now care more about how many uniform combinations and 70-point games the Bears can muster than with what kind of kids we are developing? You now are going to leave the Kansas State game at halftime trailing by a touchdown because the temperature is in the 50s?

You ought to be ashamed. If you thought you were helping to create a big-time college football powerhouse, you have a lot to learn. Watch Michigan State fans today, as their team is finishing a three win season. Watch Ole Miss fans as their team, once ranked in the Top 5, flames out and misses a bowl. See how those fans react to their teams next year.

5. Finally, to the Baylor Administration, Regents, and All Who Fancy Themselves Leaders or Influencers of Baylor - Winning is great. I love to brag about my team. But the essence of Baylor is better, and I will brag about my school as long as we stand for the right thing. You are not led by the media, by the boosters, by the editorialists, or by the Playoff Committee. Your Leader is far more important, and most of us are following the same Leader. We are marching with you.

Let's all take a deep breath, fix what is broken, and remain thankful that there is a Baylor who seeks to follow Christ and educate our students in a full-scale university that plays Big XII sports and teaches our kids how to live and lead in the world. There are plenty of Bible schools and plenty of football factories, and God bless them if that is what they want to be. We have never been either one, and I don't really think we want to start being either now.

Monday, October 3, 2016

More News for Readers of Blogarithmic Expressions - My Latest Book

My new book, Grace Always Comes: Daily Devotionals Theough the Bible, is available. I hope you will log on to my website,, and order it today.

From the Introduction:

Grace always comes…

As I wrote this book, I had at least three purposes in mind:
1. To help those who want to launch a yearlong daily practice of reading the Bible, front to back, by offering both a bit of motivation to keep reading every day and some explanation of stories, poems, prophecies, and hard-to-decipher items in scripture they would encounter along the way. I imagine among my readers both the committed Christ-follower who has never quite made it all the way through a Read-The-Bible-In-A-Year plan and the Christ-seeker who is encountering scripture for the first time and wondering how best to approach reading it. And if there is among the readers a true unbeliever or skeptic who is willing to pick up a Bible and see what all the fuss is about, I would be honored for this book to be used as guide for the effort.

2. To provide a daily devotional for those who do not want to tackle reading the entire Bible but who nonetheless would be intrigued by and interested in devotionals that follow the Bible story and build upon each other as scripture does.

3. To give some new perspective to the dedicated disciple who has read the Bible through many times before and is looking for a new companion piece as she reads through yet again.
However you use this book, I hope you will see, as I have discovered, the repeated them of grace throughout scripture. Grace is classically defined as the “unmerited favor” of God, and I find that favor given and displayed in virtually every chapter of the Bible.

There is, of course, Grace with a capital G. It is the “Amazing Grace” that saves us, the “marvelous, infinite, matchless Grace” that is greater than all our sin. We do not order, request, or earn saving Grace. It just comes, offered freely to all. It is up to us to respond to it.
There are many other kinds of grace, ranging from the small to the mighty, from the (almost) unnoticed to the obvious, and from the natural to the miraculous. In scripture, grace begins with the provision of a garden to the homeless and an outfit to the naked and ends with an invitation and a benediction. In between, we see grace coming to us as an ark, in the belly of a big fish, out of a rock in the desert, in hair that grows back, as flour from an empty pot, by healings, through words, and in countless other places and avenues. This grace comes often, and it comes to point the way to Grace.

As you read through scripture with the help of these individual little devotionals, it is my prayer that you see both Grace and grace. God repeatedly sends Grace our way to give us every possible chance to accept the free gift of eternal life; and grace comes every day – God’s mercies are new every morning -because the kingdom of God is at hand, and God loves us so much that He lavishes His unmerited favor on us in ways too numerous to quantify.
Grace continues to come to you and to me. We do not put in a request for it… Grace always comes.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Public Discourse

I have been invited to participate in a public debate next week. The foundation sponsoring it has started something called the Podius Debates. There will be three of them across the country this year, bringing public speakers to various locations to have serious debates about issues of national interest in a civil forum. This corporation supports high school and college debate, and I am glad they have extended their support to letting us debate has-beens have a chance to show what we can do.

We have been assigned the topic and the side. It was not my choice to enter the public arena and argue that affirmative action harms those it intends to help, but I will fulfill this assignment and happily join the process. As I have written here, here, and elsewhere, debate has taught me that there are at least two sides to everything, and to take a side and debate thoughtfully someone who is carefully taking the other side brings out the best of us.

I will admit, however, to some bit of concern about tackling this issue in today's climate. News of Charlotte and Tulsa dominates this week's TV. We are not far removed from Dallas and Flint and Trayvon Martin. We can disagree all we want on why it is happening - 24-hour news cycles or actual rise in racism or liberal news slants or conservative news slants or whatever - but only those with their heads way in the sand do not recognize the staggering rise in the rhetoric concerning race relations in America in 2016. Whatever you think about "Black Lives Matter" or Colin Kaepernick or the new incarnation of "Ghostbusters," the issues of black-vs-white or black-and-white have dominated discussions coast to coast. That is likely a good thing, but the reason I say I have a "bit of concern" is the nature of much of that discussion. I have, half-jokingly, told the others involved in the debate that I need to be shielded from the tomatoes that may be thrown from the audience because of the side of the debate I have been assigned. The debate has already been attacked on social media as lacking the necessary "human narrative" to have a legitimate discussion of this topic because neither of the debaters is black, as though qualification to discuss an issue of national importance is based on skin color. Irony abounds.

Notwithstanding what audience reaction might be, I am eager to participate, to demonstrate what reasoned public discourse on a subject of significant import can look like. To fail to do so would make me a hypocrite, as I have written too often - here and here, just as examples - of the need to participate well in the public sphere.

I was talking to a friend last night about the debate, and my tongue slipped as I said that I was doing this to add to the "public discord." I meant "public discourse," of course. It was a quick object lesson in how easy it is for a discussion of reason and civility to move to vitriol and anger, from discourse to discord.

I think the debate will be fun. If you are in the DFW area on September 29, what better way to celebrate my wife's birthday then to come to a public debate?

I think we may allow some folks to think about affirmative action in ways they have not before. I also think that if we can provide, in some small way, an example of how to discuss crucial, emotional issues without throwing tomatoes or turning over cars, we will have done a much greater service.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Cure

It is happening again. Death. Division. Revenge. Misunderstanding. Anger. Literal violence in the streets.

Black. White. Blue.

And that is just this week. Two weeks ago, the focus was not on black/white but on gay/straight. Not long before that, it was on Muslim/non-Muslim.

People groups are targeted, whether based on their race, their color, their national origin, their politics, their sexuality, their religion, their occupation, or their association with people of a given race, sexuality, political persuasion, religion, or job.

Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

One does not have to be black, Muslim, gay, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, or employed as a police officer to stand with those who are targeted.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This week, I have heard all sorts of so-called causes for our national (and international) crisis described and blamed. Those scapegoats have included gun laws, drug laws, the internet and social media, poor mental health care, tv violence, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the professional media, the level of debate in the country, conservatism, liberalism, and others. I believe those may all contribute, but they are at most symptoms. As I have written before, our basic problem is that we do not love each other enough.

That simple statement - we don't love each other enough - is profound to some and laughable to others. When I posted that message on Facebook, I got "amen" and "100% agree" comments alongside "100% disagree" comments. Those who disagree are good people; I assume they disagree because they think my sentiment is too simple, even naïve. They believe that most of us love one another and that it is just some bad apples who are the problem.

Still, I sense that many agree, or are moving to agree, with me on the true cause. For years, we have addressed these types of issues with agendas and laws. We have poured money into social programs. We have assessed special additional penalties for "hate crimes." We have mandated sensitivity training. Now, when the president suggests that the answer is a new "task force," his suggestion is met with scoffing disbelief. More and more, people are realizing that curricula and action plans cannot address problems of the heart.

So, we have identified the cause: we do not love each other enough. Does that end the story?

Of course not. Because telling people to "go out and love each other more" is not going to work.

Loving one another is not something we can just decide to do with any chance of long-term solvency. We can sing "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love" all we want to, but wishing and hoping will never make it so. We are fallen, sinful, puny human beings, tossed by the winds and subject to our own natural biases, prejudices, and basic failings. Left to our own devices, no matter how much we try, we will never love fully or perfectly or permanently. If the cause is the problem of the heart, and it is, then the solution requires curing the heart. Loving others requires first receiving the love of God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.... Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.... God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

God is the source - the only source - of love. Jesus gave - and gives - His "new command" because Jesus is God in the flesh, showing us who God is and embodying the fullness of God so we can know what God is like.

It is incumbent on those of us who know God to demonstrate God's love to a violent and angry world, to love those who are not like us and do not look like us and do not act like we do and do not believe like we do.

But even demonstrating the love of God to everyone is not enough; it is incumbent on us to introduce others to God. We need to stop telling people how to act and how to love. In this matter, as in all things, expecting those who do not know God to act as if they did know God is fruitless and silly. We need instead to lead them to the One who can and will change their hearts and their souls. They need to know God, to experience God's love, to want to know what God has that can change their lives. That takes time and energy. Jesus did not just show up and demand that Peter and Matthew and the rest start loving their Roman oppressors. Jesus spent three intense years with his closest apostles before announcing, the night before His death, this "new command." So, we need to focus less on telling people how to act and more on introducing them to the One who can cure the heart. And along the way, we need to model that love and demonstrate clearly what it means to follow Christ.

We do not love each other enough because (1) not enough of us know God, who is love and (2) those of us who do know God are not demonstrating God's love clearly nearly often enough.

Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing... But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.

We know the cause. And we know the cure.