Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Loneliness of the Middle

Very few people who know me would describe me as being in "the middle."

My liberal friends will scoff at the very idea, for my politics and economics are, to them, very conservative. I am a member of a Baptist church. My personal ethics and morality are straight arrow.

My conservative friends, on the other hand, shake their heads that I do not join their causes. I do not boycott, retweet, or rally. I don't think that either President Obama or Secretary Clinton is evil. I don't think we are on the brink of socialism in America. I don't think most people in America even have much of a clue what socialism is.

It is well-documented that the extremes are controlling the political debate in our nation. That is also true in our churches. To say that I am in the Middle does not define me as classically "middle of the road" on any issue, nor does it mean that I do not hold strong and well thought-out convictions. It simply means that I do not identify with either extreme.

I entitle this blog "The Loneliness of the Middle" not because I think I am alone there. I fully believe that a vast majority of Americans, of the church, and of my friends are right there with me. The reason it is a Lonely Middle is that majority stays largely silent to avoid the barbs and arrows that will invariably rain down on them from both sides if they speak.

It is lonely when your friends on one side lead with fear, distrust, and suspicion. They do not, by and large, (and despite what my friends on the other extreme say) actually preach hatred. But they are loudly offended, and they believe that the end is near - whether because of economics, crime, immigration, blanket acceptance of behaviors that are unthinkable to them, or terrorism. In their response - often without their intent or even their understanding - they are offensive, narrow, and off-putting. Their language is foreign to much of the rest of the world, and so they are not understood as anything but reactionary.

It is lonely when your friends on the other extreme lead with open intolerance, mockery, and disdain. They preach broadminded acceptance but show no forbearance or patience with those on the other extreme, not simply disagreeing but labeling with brickbats and ostracism. In their response - often apparently intentionally - they are rude and dismissive. They appear uncaring and uninterested in other points of view, and so they are not understood as anything but high-handed and, ironically, bigoted. They cannot imagine that they are so viewed by anyone with any bit of discernment, but they are.

Freedom of course must mean that we allow what we do not like, what offends us, and that with which we do not agree. As we become freer and freer, more and more behaviors, attitudes, speech, and ideas become more and more prevalent. To want to squash what grows freely is no doubt contradictory, hypocritical, and wrong.

Having an opinion or a standard that says that any behavior is somehow wrong has become the equivalent, in the loudest circles, of small-minded hatred. "Love the sinner but hate the sin," a watchword for many of us growing up, has somehow become a byword, a badge of condescension and scorn. The idea of absolute truth knowable to human beings is, in our post-modern conceit, somewhere between an afterthought and a punchline.

I have friends on one side sermonizing with a message that sounds like anything but love for neighbor and faith that God will bring us through. I understand the reaction to what are believed to be dangerous actions, but expecting everyone to behave like you want them to, or like people used to, or like you imagine would be perfect is a fruitless - and, more importantly, dangerous - daydream. I understand concern that the Left is leading us down a path of no return - whether the issue is economic, political, religious, or behavioral; but understanding it does not mean that I agree with it. And while I understand the concern, I do not understand the lack of faith that truth and right and grace - and yes, God - will not only survive but overcome.

I have friends on the other side moralizing with a message that sounds like anything but love for neighbor and faith that God has brought us safe thus far. I understand the reaction to what is believed to be opinionated and unjustifiable prejudice, but expecting everyone to agree that anything goes and that long-held standards have become passé is a fool's errand. I understand concern that the Right is callous and dogmatic; but understanding it does not mean that I agree. And while I understand the concern, I do not understand the easy intolerance for those perceived to be intolerant. The prejudice against the (perceived to be) prejudiced is self-evident and paradoxical.

There may be no better example of what I am talking about than within the church, where there are those who condemn interpretations that vary from the approved and there are others who cannot abide the idea of doctrine. The fundamentalist's unwillingness to commune with those who disagree is outgunned only by the progressive's complete intolerance of the fundamentalist.

I also have many friends who profess to be "tired" of it all. That is scary, and it is unfortunate. When those on the extreme have worn down those who do not want to engage, or do not know how to engage, or simply find better things to do than engage on the extreme arguments, we are all poorer as a result.

I find myself in the Middle. I have strong beliefs about behaviors, economics, politics, and religion; in the right setting, I am happy to debate all of them. But I do not understand the need to announce them to the world in what can only - especially in this day and age - alienate and offend far more than it can ever hope to persuade. I do not understand subjugating love and grace to the blood sport that our political (and far too often our religious) colloquy has become.

I am ok being lonely in the middle. I am not writing this asking for like-minded folks to send me an attaboy and let me know you are there with me. But I do hope that my friends on both extremes can take a deep breath and think about what is ultimately important. On the Right, is sending a message that is heard by many (even if wrongly) that you are guided by anything less than love worth it? Does announcing fear do anything to demonstrate your faith in the Spirit of Christ? On the Left, does browbeating those who hold to standards you no longer hold do anything to make the freedom you cherish more palatable? Does loudly declaring that those who disagree with you are morons really demonstrate your superiority?

Do the ends justify these means?

I end by reminding myself that I am doubtless guilty of much of what I chastise. I have unquestionably spent my time on my high horse - perhaps even in this blog. I have criticized behavior, taught scripture in a way that I am sure made me sound narrow and intolerant, and arrogantly dismissed those who have disagreed with me. I need to read my own words.

The Middle is full of lonely people who hold all sorts of views. We are liberals, conservatives, pragmatists, dreamers, believers, non-believers, nationalists, universalists, free spirits, and sticks in the mud. We diverge on many issues. But however much we disagree with each other, we circle around principles of knowable truth, freedom, reasonableness, standards, toleration, hope, love, grace, and faith.

There is much that needs to be discussed and addressed. The Left has some good points to make about freedom and self-control and growth. The Right has some good points to make about what threatens us and what deserves preservation. Those of us in the Lonely Middle - whatever edge of the Middle may be our home - are fully engaged in debating and seeking those answers. I invite my friends on both extremes to join us. We welcome you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Starting Over

I am three weeks into the new job. After twelve and a half years in a super position with a great corporation, working with what I told everyone was "the greatest job description in the world," I picked up stakes and left the company and started a brand new law firm. From an employer of 40,000 to a law firm of two partners, one full-time employee, one part-time employee, and my sixteen-year-old daughter and her friend cleaning the office. From a guaranteed check twice a month, with bonuses at the end of the year, to earning what I can from clients I don't have yet. From doing the work somebody gives me to finding my own.

I am starting over.

This is my fourth real job. I of course had some odd jobs before the "real" ones started. My first paying job (other than working for my grandparents or babysitting here and there) was working one summer in high school for a market research company. I spent a couple of weeks standing in a mall, stopping poor unsuspecting shoppers and trying to get them to answer pages of survey questions. In college, I spent my summers teaching at debate workshops for high schoolers.

My first real job was as the assistant debate coach at Baylor while I was in law school. My second job was as a lawyer at a firm in Nashville, and then I went to the aforementioned company as an in-house lawyer for my third job.

Now, I am starting over.

Starting over is not always good. I have had two friends lose parents over the last month. They are starting over in a very real way. I yesterday heard of yet another couple who are having trouble in their marriage. They may or may not be starting over.

For me, however, at least in this occupational endeavor, starting over is a good thing. That does not mean my last job was bad; to the contrary, it was in many ways a dream job. But now, I am following my heart, pursuing my true calling and being my own boss. My partner and I have done everything, from picking the office space and the firm name to designing the web site and buying the furniture. My wife has been in charge of decorating the office while I have been out seeking clients. My partner comes from an existing law practice and brought her business with her; as I am coming from an in-house position, I have no business (but a few promises) to bring with me; hence, I am out wooing the clients.

There is an interesting psychology to starting over at age 50. What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I truly love to do? Where do my passion, my talent, and a real need in the world meet? Will anybody pay me for it?

Beyond the economic, of course, is the spiritual. Starting over is the essence of what we all want, for we all fail to live up to the standard. Pinocchio wants another chance. We all miss the mark. To get a chance to start over, free and clear of the past, is the great gift. It is the gospel.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Tomorrow, according to the lyrics of one of the less well-known carols, is Jesus's dancing day. If you have ever actually pondered what this carol might mean and have come up short, or if you have never thought about it at all, I want to share my take on these words.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Do you remember school dances? Do you remember anticipating a dance? Men, do you remember working up your courage to take someone to the dance or to ask just the right person for just one dance? Ladies, do you remember hoping against hope to be asked to dance?

You were not thinking about the troubles that might come with the relationship. You were not counting the problems that he or she would cause. You did not worry about what would happen later. All you cared about was getting the chance to dance with just that right person.

And, if you were in love, or thought you were, the thought of the dance made you almost giddy. To dance with your true love when you had never done that before… well, nothing else was like that anticipation.

“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” is one of those carols that uses imagery that we do not readily embrace in our 21st century language. Like “I Saw Three Ships” or “Fum, Fum, Fum,” this carol may be unsettling to you as you try to make sense of the language.

I am going to take the liberty for a parenthetical. Let me depart from my assigned task for a moment to say that the only way “I Saw Three Ships” makes sense to me is if you attribute it to the old British tale that St. Joseph of Arimathea, who is rumored to have brought the Holy Grail to England after the crucifixion, made an earlier trip to the British Isles, bringing Jesus and Mary with him for a visit. Thus, Bethlehem, which is landlocked and certainly cannot have any ships sail in, is likely a euphemism for Winchester or Cornwall. They arrived on Jesus’s birthday, and there was great rejoicing. Anyway, back to the ranch…

“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” needs no such euphemism or historical fancy to be quite meaningful. A while back, I blogged here about the hymn-poem “Lord of the Dance.” In that blog, I said this about that text: “The idea of Christ’s actions with James and John, and with the Pharisees, and with those who came to Him for healing as part of a dance takes me theologically to places we seldom explore – how big a picture did Jesus see as He walked the earth? How much of the work of Christ was preordained as the Father and the Son planned this ministry? Which steps were improvised and which were carefully composed ahead of time in order to lead to the next event?”

“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” which dates back to the 1700s or the Middle Ages (depending on which music history source you trust), uses the metaphor of the dance to symbolize Jesus’s life on earth long before “Lord of the Dance” was written. The idea here is that Jesus, who has existed since the beginning of time – remember, in the beginning was the Word – looked forward to His human birth with excitement and anticipation. He was finally going to get to put on some legs and feet and arms and hands, and He was going to get to dance.

Why so excited? After all, being God, He knew that this road only had one end. He was born to die. His dance would be cut short. He was heading to a cross. How many times does this text remind us of the great lengths to which Jesus went to get a chance to dance with us? Knit to man’s nature, birthed between an ox and a silly ass, He came to dance. If you hear a choir actually sing all eleven stanzas, you would remember so much more that Christ endured: temptation in the desert, betrayal by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, His own people crying out “crucify,” the kangaroo court before Pilate, the cross, the spear, the trip to Hell. Why would Jesus possible by gleeful in anticipation of this dance?

The answer to that question, my friends, is the key to this carol. Jesus was excited, giddy even, to enter our world because He loves us. He was getting the chance to touch us, to move with us, to be with us and next to us. He was getting ready to dance with us.

How many times does this text call us His true love? This carol speaks to me because it repeatedly says that Jesus looks at you and me – all of us – as His true love. He is not looking forward to His time on earth as drudgery, as a task, as a chore to carry out because His Father says so. Oh no, Jesus cannot wait, because tomorrow, He gets to dance with His true love.

This carol is Jesus’s exuberant song. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, is the day of the prom, the sock hop to end all sock hops, the royal ball. Jesus has His eyes on His true love, and He simply cannot wait.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why I Have Not Been Blogging Lately

Those of you who follow Blogarithmic Expressions have noted that I have not blogged much lately. In fact, except for my two latest blogs, both of which are best categorized as obituaries for dear friends, I have not blogged at all since May. I owe you an explanation.

Not blogging is not a result of writer's block. In fact, the opposite is true. I have been writing every day, but that writing has been on my second book. I have poured myself into that effort, and I have simply not had the time or the energy to blog regularly. The book will be finished at the end of the year, and I hope to find a publisher soon. When the book is ready, I will let you know here. I also promise to start blogging again regularly in the new year.

In the meantime, if you are missing my writing, I encourage you to go to and order a copy of my first book, In the Court of the Master: An Ordinary Man's Walk with an Extraordinary God. You can even buy a few extra copies as Christmas presents!

Thanks for putting up with that commercial, and more importantly, thanks for waiting for me to return to the blogosphere. I appreciate those of you who read my words regularly, and I hope you will be ready to read again in the new year.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


There is a lot about heaven I don't understand, but I do know three things about heaven that are true today that were not true on Saturday:

1. It is more crowded.
2. The harmony is a lot better.
3. The laughter has increased in volume and frequency by a couple of orders of magnitude.

You see, Joe is now there. That is very hard for me to type. Joe is not here anymore. He is there.

That is, of course, much better for Joe. But it stinks for us.

The word mentor is overused in today's society, but it is appropriate here. Joe was on a very short list of people I consider to be my mentors. He came into my life when I was 12 years old. He was my youth choir director, my church's minister of music, and my friend. I went on five choir tour/mission trips with him. From Joe I learned efficiency, professionalism, planning, excellence, the way to put the right people to work so as best to distribute the talents at your disposal, and an appreciation for humor (even if am not always successful at being funny myself).

Then, later in life, I learned something else from Joe. I learned that demons can be faced. I don't know if Joe would say that his demons were defeated, but I know that he demonstrated to everyone around him how to fight the righteous fight, even when it requires radically changing your lifestyle and finding a new calling.

One of the most fun and most daunting things I ever had to do was direct a play in which Joe was an actor. I know that does not sound like a big deal, and on the scale of life's problems, it is obviously not major. But as a stepping stone in my life, to direct my director was huge.

A natural comedian and entertainer, Joe could be serious when the situation called for it. Nobody who was with us at the Chicago Union Mission in the summer of 1978 will forget Joe's very personal discussion of what it meant to him for us to sing and minister to that group of men. Joe knew that there was no telling who might be in the crowd, and Joe brought that message home to a bunch of upper middle-class teenagers in a way that was both transparent and permanent.

There is no way that this blog can capture who Joe was or what he meant to me (or to hundreds of others), but I can say this: When you picture "Christian" in all the ways you want to picture what that means - caring, loving, active, taking risks then they are necessary to help someone else, unobtrusive, kind, lovable, gifted, excellent - you are picturing Joe. When you think of the person who smiles and causes smiles, you are thinking of Joe. When you envision a man who draws people to him without trying, who shows up to sing a song or play a saxophone or tell a joke and suddenly everyone around is smiling and having a good time, you are envisioning Joe.

In the wake of Joe's death, the words I have seen and heard used about him all follow the same theme: "good man," "encourager," "friend," "inspiration."

Joe was talented. Joe was funny... no, make that hilarious. Joe was giving. Joe touched many, many lives.

And now, in words that Joe taught me... God holds Joe in the palm of His hand.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Always an Angel

Memories are funny things.

I suppose that there is someone like her in every teenage boy's life. The gorgeous, unattainable girl. Not someone to fall in love with... just someone to admire.

For me, that was Patti. With all due respect to some who may be reading this, she was the most beautiful girl I knew in high school. We were friends, and only friends. Oh, I remember seeing a movie together here and there, usually in groups with other people, but there was never any hint of romance. She lived close to me, and I would ride my bike by her house, hoping she would notice and invite me to come in. She never did. I hope that is because she never saw me riding by.

We did have some close times. She shared important things with me, and we spent many good moments together. She made my life better in what was for all of us a confusing time.

Like many adolescent relationships, ours grew apart after high school. We saw each other occasionally, and then less and less. I believe the last time I saw her in person was about twenty years ago. Through the magic of Facebook, we reconnected, albeit not with any degree of closeness.

Still, memories are funny things, and Patti lives on in my memory as one of those truly special friends from way back.

News of Patti came to me over the last few weeks, and that news was terrible. Disease, suffering, hospitals.

Yesterday, Patti left us. Heaven has gained another angel.

But she was always an angel to me.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Age of Adaline

This is an odd movie for me to like. It is cheesy and predictable. It is panned by many critics. It is, but for the presence of Harrison Ford, a certifiable chick flick.

But I was moved by this movie. In reading the bad reviews and remembering how easy much of the plot was to see coming, I have to ask myself why I liked it so much. I think I have some answers. There will probably be spoilers here, so read at your own risk.

First, it is exceedingly rare to watch a movie in which every single character, major and minor (save for a bit part by some silly FBI agents) is good. Not just likeable. Not just attractive. But actually good. Every character in this movie is motivated by graciousness and caring, by the interests of others. Each character (even a minor criminal in the film's first scene) finds the opportunity to help others, to look out for the good of those around, to make the world a better place. That may not be realistic, but it is refreshing. More than that, it is telling how moving it is to watch. I believe we yearn for a world where those around us are better than we ourselves are, a world where help and honesty and the search for betterment are evident.

Second, the obvious themes of aging and immortality run deeper here than in the teen vampire movies to which so many reviewers seem to be comparing this film. This is a sophisticated look at what it means to experience the world, to know history because you have lived history, to miss out on so much of the world because you cannot grow old along with it. Other films, and much literature, have taken up the idea of the fountain of youth and imagined its pitfalls, but somehow this movie does it in a new way. We see that the natural order of things is as it should be, and to take someone out of the biological and chemical and physical process is to tinker with things better left alone.

Third, the power of love is plain but subtly handled. Of course the main characters fall in love, and of course love will find a way to conquer all. But along the way, we see love between a mother and daughter portrayed as beautifully as I have seen. We see love between a husband and wife, dealing with new concerns and unforeseen - indeed completely unforeseeable - complications at a time when the marriage would be thought secure and mastering them. We see love lost - love that can never be - recognized and bid farewell without maudlin melodrama but instead with touching sincerity. We see love between a father and a son fleshed out by a toss of a set of keys. And, even more subtly, we see love of a supernatural kind, reversing the irreversible as a miracle is performed.

The name of God is never mentioned in the movie except in one unfortunate curse. There is no believeable way for me to portray this film as a "Christian story," and I make no such attempt.

But watching goodness, respect for creation, and love in the context of a smart movie that values beauty and history and intelligence is worthwhile. This is a cheesy, predictable chick flick you should see.