Observation #3: We (and things) are complicated

If you have missed my previous posts (which, unless you are a family member of mine, is 99% likely), I am taking some time in this crazy season to think about some things that are normally true about life but are now especially clear due to COVID-19. This strange season that we are in is like a spotlight, illuminating things that are always there, but perhaps just less clearly visible during other times of life. The short list I came up with is this:

Observation #3: We (and things) are complicated. This might actually be one of my favorite topics. I’m a big believer in the idea that so much conflict, turmoil, and distress in this world comes from the fact that we tend to draw simple conclusions about complicated matters. Or more simply, we fail to recognize how complicated things truly are. We live in a world where we settle for tweetable answers to questions that deserve entire books to answer. That is why I love caveats so much. So many times in life, and in theology, the answer to a question is not a simple yes or no but a “Yes, and…” or a “No, but…” One specific, more obvious example: Is Jesus fully God or fully man? Christians would say he is both! How? Well, it is complicated and probably can’t be answered in a tweet.

We should also consider the fact that we ourselves are complicated people. We have an ability to act selflessly while still being selfish. We have an ability to think one thing but say or do another. We are full of contradictions and if we are honest with ourselves, often hold various viewpoints that are actually incompatible. We can have deep affection for the same people who drive us crazy. Even though we may do our best to attempt buttoned up, unified, singularly focused individuals – if we are honest we are complicated, complex beings.

Now, let me be clear. What I am not saying is that everything is relative, there is no such thing as absolute truth, or that each of us gets to decide for ourselves what is right and true. I would simply argue that the absolute truth is often more complicated, and deserves more nuance and discussion than we often allow. Again, we look for one-liners instead of thoughtful dialogue, tweetable quotes instead of lengthy novels.

The fact that things are complicated is always true. However, we are in an extremely confusing situation in which this has become abundantly clear. The question of what to do with the coronavirus or how to respond to it feels tense, divisive, and confusing. We desperately want to know where to land, or what to think about it. We read one thing that makes us feel hopeful about freely hugging your friends and family very soon and another that makes us feel like the world just might end tomorrow. If you are like me, this can feel agonizing! Somebody, anybody, give me a one-liner that will make this go away! But they can’t. Because it is complicated.

One way that being aware of this truth should inform the way we proceed is that it should cause us to have a lot of grace and empathy for folks. We are in unchartered territory as a world, and as a society. Leaders of all kinds, whether hyper-local, like your pastor, or globabl, like our Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world, have been making complicated decisions based off of complicated information in the middle of a complicated situation. This doesn’t excuse ignorance, apathy, or a failure to engage in the complicated matters. But it does mean that people are going to get things wrong. People are going to change their minds. People are going to confuse and frustrate us. Why? Because this is complicated. And we are complicated people.

We can even make it more personal. People everywhere are trying to make difficult decisions in the middle of this complicated situation, and I am almost positive you are among them. Whether that is determining how your business should proceed, whether you can have friends over for dinner, or whether you should feel comfortable going for a run in a park – these are all new, difficult decisions with a number of social and situational factors that make them even more complicated. So we should not be surprised that we feel stressed or troubled about them. We should also not be surprised when our friends come to different conclusions. And we should not be surprised when we, or those around us, change our minds about these decisions. It is okay. It is natural. Because this is complicated.

So what should we do? We should seek the truth, even when it takes some extra digging, research, reading, talking to try to figure it out. We should be willing to do the work of looking for thorough, thoughtful perspectives instead of quick, pointed one-liners that are simplifying a complicated situation. We should have grace for those who are around us and doing their best to figure this out. We should prioritize loving God and loving our neighbor, and seek this above all else as we make complicated decisions in the middle of a complicated time. Lastly, we should be wise, thoughtful, and considerate, placing others needs ahead of our own.

Observation #2: Significance and Security

This is a continuation of a series I started last week. I am examining a number of things that are always true, but are now especially clear in light of COVID-19. These aren’t meant to be statements of expertise or anything like it – just some observations that make up part of my worldview. Here is the list, with the other ones I have written linked:

  • We are not in control
  • We long for significance and security
  • We (and things) are complicated
  • We need grace from/for each other
  • We are deeply interconnected
  • We are more selfish than we think
  • We have a great capacity for love

This observation I can’t take credit for. It was actually something I learned in seminary last semester. The idea is that all humans possess a deep longing for two things: significance and security. Significance and security are really just two words that serve as short hand for two questions that are central to the human experience. Does my life have meaning? Am I going to be okay? (security) The theological idea here is that our hearts are discontent, unsettled, and experience a deep sense of longing because of these two powerful questions. And the only thing that offers true, unwavering significance and security is the Gospel of Christ. The idea of a perfect, just God who loves us with an unending, sacrificial, merciful love gives our life great meaning, and it offers us eternal security. Of course, we fail to remember this and look at all kinds of other substitutes to give us significance and security.

What I love so much about this idea of our longing for significance and security is that it is so easy to see this at work in all aspects of the human experience. We can look around and see how so much conflict, discord, or despair come from our sense of significance or security being threatened. We feel discouraged when we can’t find a meaning to our life, or see meaning in the suffering around us. We feel scared when it becomes unclear whether we will in fact, be okay. We make compromises and impulsive decisions in a desire to gain security or significance. This is always true, and I have seen it in a few specific ways over the last few months.

Significance. I have seen this one manifested in some kind of unique ways. For some, the coronavirus has threatened their sense of significance. Incomes lost, jobs that once seemed vital and honorable are now discovering they aren’t considered “essential.” Or just in a very simple sense, it can push us towards despair thinking, “What is the point of all this?” It all feels so chaotic, out of our control, and scary that it is hard to see how there could be meaning behind this. For others, the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to lead a meaningful life. I have seen this in the way that millions of people have rallied around the idea of social distancing, feeling incredibly motivated by the idea of making a change for the greater good. That alone gives us a sense of meaning. Now I’m not just sitting around at home all day for no reason; instead it is a sacrificial, others-focused decision. Loving others sacrificially gives us a great sense of meaning.

Another example I have seen is a podcaster/lifehacker/entrepreneur named Tim Ferriss. He was one of the first people I saw paying close attention to the coronavirus before it hit America. But rather than reveling in his accurate predictions, he has overall forgone the opportunity to say “I told you so!” and instead has started to look for opportunities to help in any way possible (such as using his closely followed podcast to invite others to help). He is using his platform and influence for the greater good. He seems especially passionate and fired up about this cause. He is doing everything he can to lead a meaningful life in light of all that is going on.

Security. This one is even simpler to explain and observe. The idea is that we all just want to know, on a literal, physical, and existential level – “Am I going to be okay?” And part of the fear and anxiety introduced by the coronavirus is that this question feels almost impossible to answer. And similar to how we are never actually in control, we never actually know for sure that we are going to be okay. But we can do everything in our power to live in a set of circumstances that make us feel safe, or in other words, secure. A quick diagnostic to think about what you look to for security is how you would complete this sentence: “As long as , then I will be okay.” As long as I get to go on that vacation. As long as I have a nice retirement fund. As long as I have some friends to hang out with. As long as I can go to the gym. The list could go on and on. And there is (almost) nothing you can fill in that blank with that can’t be stripped away. And we are always subconsciously aware of that. And because of that, we don’t ever fully feel secure. COVID-19 has just made that especially clear.

So this brings us back to where we started. The idea that we are all longing for significance and security is a theological idea. Meaning it describes something about the way that we relate to God. If our deepest longing is for significance and security, the greatest thing we can find is something, or someone who can eternally, unwaveringly, powerfully meet that need. The only one who is capable of holding the weight of that, who can not fail to provide these for us, is an eternal, unchanging God. If we attach our significance and security to literally anything else, it is always at risk of being taken away. The only way to experience true significance and security in our finite lives is by being united to an infinite God. It’s always true. May we see it even more clearly now.

Observation #1: We Are Not In Control

A couple of days ago (which is practically ancient history in this constantly evolving, 24/7 news consuming situation), I mentioned that one unique aspect of this extremely strange, difficult time is that it acts like a spotlight. It is illuminating things about our day to day life that are always true, but are now especially clear. If you missed that, it is right here. I want to spend some time talking through each of these ideas on their own for a couple of reasons. 1) Because a little extra project probably won’t hurt in the coming weeks. 2) Because I want to be sure to think carefully about each idea, as well as be sensitive to the fact that the coronavirus is not just a teaching lesson, but is causing real pain and suffering around the globe. Now, without any more of my beloved caveats, the first of a few things that are normally true but are now especially clear due to COVID-19.

We are not in control. This fact has probably hit close to home for you in the last couple of days. Our emails and social media feeds have been inundated with notices of postponements, cancellations, and closings, due to circumstances out of our control. Which is another way of saying, there is nothing we can do about it. Things canceled have included more “trivial” things such as vacations and concerts, but also things that come with great disappointment and heartache – entire sports seasons gone, long awaited weddings having all of their plans change, and some have even lost the opportunity to grieve the loss of a loved one in community. All the while, restaurants and stores are closing, and many are figuring out what in the world to do for work. In one way or another, big or small, we have all come face to face with the uncomfortable reality that there are so many things about this world that are out of our control.

Of course, this is always true. Our best made plans, hopes, and dreams are always subject to the countless variables of life that are out of our control: weather and natural disasters, disease and sickness, relationships and conversations that don’t go how we planned, errant drivers on the road and needless violence in communities. Our lives are always affected by these things that are out of our control. But at the same time, we want so desperately to be in control. On our best days, and in the best circumstances, we can almost trick ourselves into thinking that we in fact are in control. We schedule our days, we choose what we will eat, we choose what we will watch, we choose where we will go and who we will hang out with. We believe the lie that our fate is entirely in our hands. Until of course, some external circumstance that we can’t do anything about comes and wreaks havoc on our plans.

I’ve struggled with how to talk about this always true but especially clear now thing because this reality has been the cause of much pain, anxiety, and fear for so many. There is no getting around the fact that this is a really hard situation, that has already, and will continue to cause really hard outcomes. And so a reminder of the fact that we are not in control can almost feel insensitive, like rubbing our nose in it. What can we make of this difficult reality?

One of the Christian catechisms starts off with the question:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our savior Jesus Christ.

This answer won’t satisfy everyone. It might leave you with more questions than it does answers. If you are not convinced that there can somehow be a good God in a world that seems to be filled with so much bad, this answer is probably especially not helpful. However, if what the catechism above says is true, and I believe it is, then it offers us an incredibly hopeful path forward. Because this answer allows us to be honest about the fact that we are not in control (which is true whether you believe in a God or not). And it tells us that someone who loves us, who has chosen to save us at a great cost, is in control. That gives us enormous freedom to enjoy the good (for we have someone to thank for it), lament the bad (for we have someone who is with us in it), and go through this life with open hands.

Of course, I don’t think this means that we should not ever plan or put in effort towards things. It does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to stop the spread of this virus. Instead, it means that we have somewhere, and someone to look to when our lives are turned upside down. As much as I would love to be in control, I am so grateful that there is someone who is infinitely wiser, greater, more loving, more perfect, and more powerful than I am who is. Again, it doesn’t fix everything, answer all our questions, or necessarily make things easier. But in a time which might cause us to try to clamp down on things and control as much as we can, let us move forward being honest about our lack of control, and faithful to the one who is in control.

A Few Things That Are Normally True But Are Now Especially Clear Due to COVID-19

These are strange times. If you are anything like me, over the last couple of days, maybe weeks, you have spent more time than you would like to admit scrolling, refreshing, searching, and scrolling again, looking for who knows what in regard to the coronavirus/COVID-19. The great thing about the internet is that anybody, can say anything, about any topic. So we scroll past countless non-experts giving their “expert” opinion on these wild times we are living in. This post is NOT that. I have no insight on the state of the pandemic, what we should do to stop it, how worried we should be on a scale of 1-10 (though I do love asking my friends that!), or whether mountain biking counts as social distancing (I hope so).

Instead, I have a few observations about life in general, that I think have become especially clear in this strange time. You see, it feels like this virus has shined a massive spotlight on modern life. It has caused us to spend time considering our daily habits, our patterns and practices of life, our cultural obsessions and, not to be dramatic, our deepest desires. With so much of the world as we know it coming to a screeching halt – we can’t help but to be a little reflective. It causes us to ask questions ranging from “What is the value of sports?” to “How should I be spending my money/time/resources?” to “Why is it so important for the church to gather as a physical body?” It causes us to think deeply about our priorities both personally, and as a society. In this way, the coronavirus acts like a massive spotlight.

The thing about a spotlight is that it does not magically cause things to appear. It simply illuminates the things that have been there all along. So while it does appear that the coronavirus may drastically alter our way of life for quite some time, I think that it is also revealing things about ourselves (as in human kind) that have always been true. This strange time has just created an opportunity for us to see these things more clearly. Truths about humanity that have remained hidden beneath the rushing waters of our fast paced, overstimulated, chaotic lives are now rising to the surface in light of a global pandemic. I have listed some of these truths (or at least what I believe to be truths) below:

  • We are not in control
  • We long for significance and security
  • We (and things) are complicated
  • We need grace from/for each other
  • We are deeply interconnected
  • We are more selfish than we think
  • We have a great capacity for love

Over the next week or so, I plan to spend some time discussing each one of these ideas, and how we are seeing it more clearly in light of our current circumstances. A few caveats: 1) I am bad at consistently writing on here, no matter how much I say I am going to change that. 2) The situation seems pretty fluid and things I say about the current circumstances one day may be totally different the next – hopefully these truths will transcend that, but I’m sure I will write things that won’t age well. 3) Even though I am claiming to be writing about some observable “truths”, I will probably give lots of caveats. Caveats are my favorite. 4) I also recognize that the coronavirus and COVID-19 is the cause of much suffering, pain, and anguish around the world, and I don’t want to minimize that in any way. I will aim to be thoughtful and attentive to this fact as I write, but I’m sure I will fail in many regards. Have grace.

Finally, I would love to talk with you about any of the things that I write! If you are reading this, it is probably because you are my mom, dad, spouse or sibling – so just text me! If not, feel free to comment your thoughts! I am excited to unpack these ideas over the coming days/weeks (months?).

Feels Like ’58

Tomorrow at noon, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs will take the field at Neyland Stadium. I couldn’t be more excited! If you know me, and if you are reading this, you know me – then you know that I am an extremely proud graduate of UTC. I frequently refer to it as the best university in the south. This isn’t really a thing people say, but one might say that I bleed blue and gold. So I am excited because I get to watch my alma mater play in the town where I now live. But I am most excited because, you might have noticed, but this isn’t exactly the “Year of the Volunteer”. UTK (and yes, it does need the K for specification) isn’t off to a great start, losing two straight home games against less than stellar opposing teams. Tennessee fans are experiencing emotions ranging from heavy depression to flat out mad. It’s all very exciting.

Now, I am aware of some obvious things. UTK is a lot bigger than UTC. UTK plays in a much different division/conference/world of college football than UTC. I get it, UTK plays in the “best conference in college football”. And no, UTC isn’t having a stellar year – they dropped their last game to arch-nemesis Jacksonville State. But, as you may have heard, it feels like ’58 around Knoxville. (If you have somehow missed it, that is the last year that UTC came to Knoxville and beat the Vols.) As a recent UTC video pointed out, that was the same year Eisenhower was president, who famously said “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it is the size of the fight in the dog.” If there is one thing I know about the always scrappy Mocs, it is that they are full of fight. So here’s the deal. Vols are bad. Mocs are okay. Vols are down and out. Mocs are fired up. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

With all this in mind, there are some things I need to get off my chest. The past three years living in Knoxville have been full of internal conflict for me. You see, while at UTC, I developed a passion for the Mocs, and some pretty intense negative feelings about the Vols. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that some of my fellow students would skip a home UTC game to watch the mediocre Vols on TV. It frustrated me so much it led me to write this post some years ago, 3 Reasons You Should Cheer For The Mocs (Or Whatever Small to Medium Sized, Non-SEC School Where You Are A Student). A key principle for me is the idea that you should be all in, where you are, where ever you are. Whatever you are doing is the best thing you could be doing. Instead of wishing you were at a different school because “the games aren’t as fun” – go to the games and MAKE them fun! This is a key principle that made me a proud Rossview Hawk in high school, and a proud Moc in college.

That principle has given me trouble after moving to Knoxville. You see, I moved here along with all of my Moc pride, and all of my Vol disdain. And I have to admit, there is something really fun about being the contrarian – going against the grain in a city where everybody bleeds orange, and #VFL is a real thing. Especially in these years where the football program is less than stellar, there is something wickedly fun about taking little jabs at the hometown team. But that also goes against the very principles that turned me into a Moc fan. I should point out, I didn’t come to that realization on my own. My loving, sweet, UTK graduated wife, who just wanted to be able to wholeheartedly give me a high five at a football game when the Vols scored one of their rare touchdowns (I’m sorry, it’s just so easy) – was pretty quick to point out this inconsistency in my ethics.

To further confuse things, this past basketball season, UTK had an amazingly fun program that was really hard not to root for. The team had a great energy. The coach is a stand up guy who spends time giving back to the community, even volunteering at the organization where JoBeth works. They pulled at my heart strings. And I’m here to say, I have tasted the sweet, orange, forbidden fruit. I have sung that annoyingly catchy fight song, not even replacing the words “rocky top” with “mocky top.” I have not one, but two articles of clothing with UTK logos on them, and what’s worse, I wear them. I have cheered enthusiastically at an Admiral Schofield slam dunk, and I have experienced real disappointment as I watched them lose in the NCAA tournament. It hurts a little to write this, but it feels good to get it off of my chest.

A.C. “Scrappy” Moore – Coach of UTC in 1958 on that glorious day. Thanks https://twitter.com/UTChattanooga for sharing this gem.

So where does this leave me? I am still processing what it might look like to live in Knoxville and actually root for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (it definitely won’t look like me dropping the extremely necessary K or Knoxville on the name as to avoid confusion with the other scrappy but prestigious University of Tennessee down in Chattanooga, I can tell you that). I really do think there is something good and right about rooting where you live. At least to some degree. And if you are a student at a school, the command is simple – root where you live, all in, all the time. As for me, an extremely proud graduate of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I will always be a Moc. I am coming to grips with the fact that rooting for the Mocs and being a proud UTC grad doesn’t HAVE to be mutually exclusive with supporting the hometown team of the town where I live (which at this point in time happens to be the Vols).

This weekend is different. This weekend is no time for ethics or principles. This weekend is no time to be the middle of the road, peacemaker that I can tend to be. the situation is much too serious for that. The stakes are much too high. The Mocs are storming Rocky Top. They are rolling into Neyland Stadium with one goal, and one goal only – take down the beloved Volunteers. I would say it is a classic David v. Goliath showdown, but calling UTK Goliath gives them way too much credit. I like to think of it as a championship, heavy weight fight between two brothers, much like the movie “Warrior.” And yes, UTC is the little brother. And it is tired of getting knocked down and pushed around by its bigger (but not that successful) older brother. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. And the Mocs are ready to fight.

I live in Knoxville. I’m willing to support the Vols. But I love the Mocs. This weekend it is all about that blue and gold. If you live in Chattanooga, if you graduated from UTC, if you are a student now at UTC, I hope you will join me. It is time to embrace the ethos of our beloved mascot Scrappy, because it’s going to take a lot of heart, and a lot of grit. But I can feel it. It feels like ’58.

Fix Your Eyes

If I have talked to you in person at some point in the last 6-8 months or so, you have probably heard me talk about this thing called the Peloton. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an at-home spin bike famous for commercials with absurdly wealthy/fit people taking a spin class in the comfort of their million dollar apartment. Like this.

Well, I wouldn’t peg myself as someone to be sucked in by commercials and marketing and trends, but, well… they got me. In January I started using a free trial of their app to take some classes on the spin bikes at our YMCA. Then when JoBeth and I went to New York we attended a live class in the Peloton studio where I got to feel and see how much nicer the actual Peloton bikes are. Then JoBeth and I started doing some calculating to see if we could swing it. Then we started scouring Facebook marketplace for a good deal on a used one. Finally, a few weeks ago, we found a deal that was too good to pass up, and we are now sheepishly proud owners of our very own Peloton. I’d be happy to tell you more about it sometime, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

So the thing about Peloton is that while the bike is really nice, the value comes from the instructors. The company would call their instructors the best in the world, and they really might be. They are great. They have challenging classes, pick great music, and if you follow their instructions through a class, 20, 30, or 45 minutes later you will be panting for breath, sweaty, and exhausted. At the same time, they can be a little cheesy. They are part instructor, part motivational speaker. And don’t get me wrong, when Alex Toussaint is telling me that “this ain’t daycare” and “stop cheating yourself of greatness,” or telling me to “breathe in that confidence, exhale that doubt,” I can’t help but to pedal faster. But what I also can’t help but do is notice that when it comes down to it, most of the things they say boil down to self-help, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, try harder, be better, you need to save yourself because nobody else will type of advice.

Hearing the advice, encouragement, and motivation from secular folks in a secular organization really doesn’t bother me. I feel pretty good about my capacity to hear and be motivated by the good stuff while ignoring the nonsense. And it feels like a good opportunity to gain insight into the general worldview of modern, Western, high achieving type of people who tend to flock to the Peloton. All of that to say, amidst all of the self-help, try harder motivation, I hear something that rings true and reminds me of Christian truth. John Calvin once said “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.” Now please don’t hear me calling these Peloton instructors wicked. Rather, what this quote reminds me of is the importance of looking for, embracing, and affirming truth where we find it. Instead of picking apart everything that people say, I want to be someone who looks for the things that are good and true and can point us to God.

In a recent class with my boy Matt Wilpers, during an especially difficult stretch of the workout, he gave some advice. He said something along the lines of – when struggling through a workout, a run, a bike ride, etc., it is so important to fix your eyes on something. If your eyes and head are constantly moving around, looking all over the place, you will be wasting energy. Instead, you should fix your eyes on something so that you know where you are going, and so that your energy can instead be focused in moving in the direction of your gaze. I was naturally reminded of Hebrews 12:1-3.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I don’t know what Matt Wilpers thinks about God. But I do know that through the gift of common grace, I could be reminded of this beautiful, encouraging, challenging truth in the middle of an early morning workout. In fact, Matt’s encouragement even caused me to think about the ways that I might waste energy and time when I do not have my eyes fixed on Jesus, and how that makes it more difficult to follow him. And more than that, I could be reminded that all truth is God’s truth, and that God chooses to use pictures from this world to illustrate and remind us of His truth.

So, let’s be people with eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. And let’s be people who affirm truth where it can be affirmed, who look for the ways that God is revealing himself in the hearts of men and women in so many different ways. And let’s participate in His work of revealing himself to the world around us.

2 Years of J-O-B-E-T-H

A couple of days ago, JoBeth and I celebrated two years of marriage! We got to enjoy some time together in Boston last week (including seeing the Red Sox obliterate the Yankees at Fenway Park) and we treated ourselves to a way-fancier-than-normal dinner here in Knoxville on Tuesday evening. But, I wanted to have something written to commemorate the occasion. As I was thinking, I was reminded of some specific memories of my Grandpa.

He was an extremely clever guy, intellectual, with an always-on, sometimes over peoples heads sense of humor. And for many special occasions, he would send us a card, email, even a text, written in the form of a riddle, a poem, or an acrostic. One year at Easter for instance, he set out some candy with a card that was meant to communicate – we didn’t have time to hide eggs, but here is some candy anyways. But instead of saying that, he wrote a poem that started something like “Imagine pastel parcels placed purposefully in the yard…” You get the point. It was one of my favorite quirks of his.

So, in honor of Grandpa, and in celebration of two years with JoBeth, here is an acrostic to help summarize these two years with my sweet wife.

J – Jovial. I bet you thought I was going to say joy – but that is too easy. She is every bit of the definition of the word – cheerful and friendly. She makes friends quickly, brings light everywhere she goes, and we can’t go anywhere without her excitedly hugging and being hugged by someone she may have met just once. #JoBethforMayor2020

O – Overwhelming. In every sense of the word. These past two years we have had times of overwhelming joy. At the same time, we have had times of sadness and melancholy. Beyond that we have been overwhelmed by God’s grace in our lives, and for the unique callings he has given us in Knoxville. Sometimes that leaves us feeling a bit overwhelmed, but still grateful.

B – Beautiful. She was when I met her, she was on her wedding day, and she is today. Inside and out.

E– Extraordinary. This might not be that creative of a word, but I mean it very literally. JoBeth is way more than ordinary. One of my favorite parts of living with her, and of getting to stay in this city together, has been getting to see her be affirmed in her extraordinariness, and for more and more people to have the chance to see what I have always seen in her.

T – Transition. We have lived our whole married two years in one apartment, but outside of that there has been a whole lot of change. JoBeth graduated college and got a job at Thrive Lonsdale, where she is now the volunteer coordinator! I finished an internship at Cedar Springs and started a new position there. So the city and apartment have stayed the same, but these past two years have been full of new seasons.

H – Home. One of my favorite parts of marriage is that we get to create a home together. It is worth noting, JoBeth is way better at it than me. When I lived in the apartment by myself I had a twin bed on the floor, and a camp chair in the living room. Now it is a place that is warm, hospitable, and really does feel like home. We are looking forward to moving into Lonsdale in October, where we will get to create a whole new kind of home. But the best part of it all is knowing that home will always be where we are together. (cue the “awww” sound effect).

A Megaphone Preacher Guy and a Coffee Shop

As I sat down at Old City Java in Knoxville, TN, at 10:30 AM on Friday morning, I had planned to give some brief life updates, and some commentary on the fact that this was our first 4th of July spent in America in a couple of years. But as soon as I sat down with my cranberry-oat scone and americano, I started to hear the booming, distorted, crackling sound of a voice coming through a megaphone. For a few seconds I hoped it was just a strange, artistic touch to the song being played through the speakers of the coffee shop. But as one song ended and another began, it became clear this sound was coming from out on the street. I got up from my seat and popped my head out the door to investigate, and my fears were confirmed.

It was one of those preachers. You know what I’m talking about. Big, moderately offensive sign. A bright colored safety vest, perhaps to give them the appearance of authority. And a megaphone. This one was one of those fancy ones with a separate headpiece and the speaker attached to him like a backpack – that way his hands were free to hold the offensive sign in one hand and the (closed) Bible in the other. You’ve probably seen them outside of big football games, or on busy sidewalks in cities. There was a two week span at UTC where a main courtyard was taken over by an especially angry preacher lady. This man is pacing up and down the street – his words that are a mumble from afar simply become a louder, more angry mumble as he passes by the windows of the coffee shop.

I watch as each of the baristas and customers react to the sight of a man with a sign and a megaphone shouting up and down the street. One customer tells another “its one of those preacher guys” to which she responded “Oh, great” – sarcasm implied. Numerous customers simply shook their head in disgust and quietly grumbled to themselves. Some looked around the shop for someone else to affirm their head shaking and disgusted looks. One of the baristas walked outside for a second to observe, then walked back in and loudly exclaimed “Good God!” Now I can’t be sure… but I am 99.9% that he was not actually responding in amazement at how good the God of the Bible is.

While the guy is most certainly annoying, and it seems even the loudest setting on my headphones won’t drown him out, it mostly just makes me sad. Because as I look around at the small, but what I would say is a fairly representative sample size of people in the Old City on Friday morning, it is pretty safe to say he is not winning anybody with the Gospel of Christ. For somebody who is not following Christ, there are probably 1 of 2 things that can happen from encountering this preacher guy.

  1. If they already had a preconceived idea about how “Christians” act – hateful, bigoted, hypocritical, judgmental, or even just socially unaware – then this preacher guy was simply proving this to be true.
  2. If they don’t know much about the Christian faith, this is a terrible introduction. Any future encounters with church or the Christian faith will have this memory playing in the background.

(Now, before anyone fights me on this, it is worth mentioning that it is possible that a seed could be planted by the preaching of God’s word [though he is rarely actually reading or teaching God’s word faithfully] and that the Holy Spirit could choose to work through this guy. That is possible.)

Knowing how the preacher guy is being received even just within this coffee shop makes me frustrated that he is choosing to spend his morning this way. And it would be easy to continue to poke holes in his method and logic and theology. There are a lot of reasons why I think what he is doing is a BAD idea. But simply sitting in a place of judgment from my safe little seat in the coffee shop doesn’t really put me much closer to the heart of the Gospel than he is. So instead, I want to consider two challenges for myself, and for Christians as a whole, in response.

First, it makes me wonder how often I am actually a lot like him – proclaiming truth to people without actually engaging them as image bearers made to reflect the Glory of God. I think of 1 Corinthians 13:1 which says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.” For the people in this coffee shop, the man’s words sound exactly like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. They don’t know him, and he doesn’t know them. Furthermore, there is nothing to imply that he loves or even cares about the people he is preaching to. Again, it is easy to pick on the guy, but I have to ask myself, how often do I do the same? I can stand in front of high school students and share the Gospel, but if I am not moving towards them with love, spending just as much time actually sitting with them and talking with them as I do preparing for a talk, then what is to say my words don’t sound like a clanging cymbal – or a muffled, crackling noise from a megaphone.

As Christians, especially in light of knowing that the general perception of the faith is often simply confirmed by people like the preacher guy, we have to be persistent in getting to know people, in moving towards them. It is ironic for me to be writing this in a blog post, because that is one of the ways we can so often fail at this. I see so many articles and Facebook posts that are basically the equivalent of yelling through a megaphone at our neighbor, rather than loving them. Now even people posting articles that proclaim a Gospel of outrage would say that the megaphone preacher guy is totally off base – but at least he has the nerve to say the things out loud that so many others are thinking or writing from behind a screen.

The second challenge for me personally is this: I feel so frustrated that for many, this angry preacher guy is their first impression of Christianity, and yet, I am not doing anything to counteract that. I am not actively going out of my way to make sure that the people who fill a coffee shop on a Friday morning would know the love and grace of Christ. I’m not sure that I know the best method to do so, but we as Christians should not be content with just sitting in judgment of the megaphone guy while doing nothing ourselves. I come to this coffee shop enough, I could be engaging in conversation with the baristas that I see week after week. Heck, I could use this opportunity to engage with the folks around me about the fact that the baristas sarcastic “Good God!” is true, even if the preacher guy is doing nothing to show it. So I can feel good about myself for not being the angry preacher guy, but I am a long way off from being Paul, who in the book of Acts, by being in the city and among the people, found ways to lovingly and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

For Christians today, it is so important that we not be content with simply not being those obnoxious kind of Christian. We should not settle for our witness being the fact that we aren’t as annoying as other people who claim Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great start, and PLEASE don’t go out and invest in a megaphone. But we are called to go out and be active ambassadors of Christ. We are called to love one another, because He first loved us. This goes beyond just NOT being annoying. We have been given the Gospel of Christ, something that we have the joy and privilege of offering to others. Through conversation, through love, through care for our neighbor. Just not through a megaphone.

8 Months Later…

Hi! Remember me? It has been a little while since I have posted anything here. Almost 9 months in fact. The only reason I didn’t call it “9 Months Later…” is because I didn’t want to accidentally imply that we are about to have a kid – we aren’t (yet!). But anyways, it really has been a long time. I can’t say why exactly – a busy school year for JoBeth and I, lack of inspiration, laziness, a strange self-consciousness about putting my thoughts out there – all of the above. But, 8, almost 9 months later and I am getting back out there.

The reason for deciding to write a new post today is actually simpler than the reason I haven’t written in so long. You see, I recently realized that I had enabled “Auto-Renew” on my domain name, meaning that a couple of weeks ago, a decent amount of money came out of my account to keep this website alive for another year. I didn’t really have a chance to think about whether or not I actually wanted to do that, and I didn’t catch it until it was too late. So, me being the frugal, cheapskate that I am, started thinking about the money I had spent and realized that in order to make it not seem like a total waste, I would need to post something about every other week – if not more. So here we are, a little rusty, and determined to have not wasted money on another year of scottiehill.com.

But this revelation that I need to write more often to make the expense seem reasonable has also reminded me why I started writing on here in the first place. I think it was after my freshman year of college and I had discovered a couple of outdoor blogs that I loved reading and really connected with. And I remember thinking, “I think I could do that!” (I may have also had pipe dreams about turning it into a profitable thing so I wouldn’t have to get a “real job,” but that’s another story) I quickly realized that I actually really enjoyed the practice of sitting down, taking thoughts and observations and stories, and putting them into words for others to enjoy. I loved hearing the way that these thoughts, observations and stories connected with others, and was hopeful that I could somehow be an encouragement to others through my words.

While thinking back to when I first started writing on here, I also remembered how 5 years ago my brother took a chance on me by investing in taking me from one of those scottieshills.wordpress.com websites that looked ugly and was hard to find, and instead creating scottiehill.com, just because he believed in and supported my writing. I also thought back to so many words of encouragement and notes of support from all kinds of people – whether they be old high school friends, friends of my parents on Facebook, or people I have barely met but somehow stumbled across a post shared by a friend. And then I thought about how much clarity I get from putting thoughts into words, and the joy of getting to share them with others.

And at the end of all these thoughts I have this: what started as a desire to write just enough to make me feel better about spending money on a website I haven’t used in over half a year has turned into an earnest desire to use the gifts that God has given me, and to return to a hobby that has been a source of joy and encouragement to me, and hopefully others over the years. So, I can’t tell you exactly what I’ll be writing – I’ve thought about turning old talks that I gave to high school students into short posts, or chopping up my boring thesis from college and turning it into a series of posts, simple reflections on scripture, or just updates on life from JoBeth and I. I’m sure it will be some combination of each of these. But here’s what I do know:

  • I’m committing to writing at least twice a month for the next year
  • I’m fully expecting that my main readers will be JoBeth, my mom, and my dad – and that’s okay with me!
  • If anybody else out there is reading and following along, I’m always grateful for your thoughts and feedback
  • I hope that the things I write will be encouraging, life giving, and bring glory to God.

I’m excited for the journey to come. See ya soon!

ps. if this is still my most recent blog post in a few months, please call me out

Here’s just one picture from one of our adventures (this one to New York) from the last 8 months. More to come soon!

There’s More to Listening Than Hearing

It has been a month since my Grandpa passed away.

I have wanted to write something in memory of my Grandpa since he passed. He was such an amazing man, and I wanted more people to get to hear about him. But at the same time, I haven’t known where to start. How can you do justice to a man who lived such a full, rich, and admirable life. My family knew that he was special, but I think some of us were still caught off guard by the outpouring of love that we saw for him in the days after his death. Facebook became an active and vibrant memorial for a man who had clearly spent his whole life impacting the lives of others. My Uncle posted about his death and there were over 200 comments on it, almost all sharing a memory, a story of a life changed by Grandpa’s kindness and selflessness. And his memorial was full of the same – people from all walks of life, gathered together to honor a man whose life had touched more others than I ever imagined.

So, I write this knowing there is no way to fully capture the amazing man that Paul McIver was. And I write this knowing that for anyone who never had the joy of meeting him, a lot of this, even the sadness that I still feel, might not make sense. But nonetheless, here is my personal reflection of a man who I am so grateful to have been able to call Grandpa.

Grandpa was kind. He had a way of making people who barely knew him feel like they were his best friend. He was always excited to see, meet, and talk to people. Especially if they were people who the people in his family cared about. He knew my friends, my friends parents, my friends’ parents’ friends. And he was interested in each one of their lives. He would ask how Tanner was doing in baseball, or how Nate was doing at his church. He would see my in-laws around town and treat them like family, long before they were even my in-laws. He loved JoBeth, and he and Grandma would even go watch her high school soccer games when I was away at college. When he wasn’t in town to keep up with everyone, he loved to use Facebook to stay involved in the lives of his friends. I think he just really believed that each person he met was made in God’s image, and it showed in the way he treated everyone he met.

Grandpa was patient. I think I have one memory of my Grandpa raising his voice at me, when I was very young, and I was refusing to get out of a pool. It stuck with me because it was so rare (and by “raise his voice at me”, I mean he probably was a tad more serious in his tone than normal, I’m just sensitive like that). He was always giving us and others the benefit of the doubt. It felt like there was nothing I could do to change the way that he saw me, loved me, and cared about me. Perhaps it is just that after so many years of serving as a principal and teacher there was just nothing we could do that would surprise him. But as I learned from so many Facebook comments from former students, his patience has been a constant, and countless people recalled his patient and loving discipline as a monumental part of their education. He was never in a hurry – there was always time to help, to have a conversation, to just be with people.

Grandpa was selfless. Getting his way was never a chief concern for Grandpa. He was much more concerned with the needs of others than he was his own. He was always looking to see how he could help, serve, give. Moving? He was there, with boxes. Working on a project? He probably had a tool or supplies that he would love for you to have and he would be there to show you how. Need a ride? If he couldn’t drive you he would find a way for you to take his car. Not only was he generous and selfless, but he was also full of many skills. So while he was a great carpenter, a picture of strength, he was also a gifted florist, his gentleness on display. At a few homecoming dances I think I both borrowed a tie from him and gifted my date with a corsage, specially crafted by Grandpa himself. It was never about him. He loved Panera Bread, but I think even that is really just because Grandma loved it and knew it and he loved her.

I love this picture from my wedding – especially the Hawaiian print tie.

Grandpa was fun. He loved to play a game, crack a joke, or tell a funny story. He is lovingly remembered for witty Facebook comments that took some thought to understand at first, but almost always had a humor that was subtle and mischievous. One of my favorites was while JoBeth and I were broken up, he commented on a picture of her (wearing a hat) and a guy who wasn’t me, saying “I can only click like on the one with the hat.” I can almost imagine the smirk he must have made as he typed that one up. He was great at Balderdash and checkers, and terrible at Farkel. He told the best stories from his younger days. I wish I could remember  some of the specific stories, but what I will always remember is him sitting across the table, leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, twinkle in his eye as he told me about his college friends, his army days, or absurd youth group adventures that he led. His playful spirit was on full display as the attire for his memorial service was not stuffy, somber suits and black dresses – but Hawaiian shirts.

Grandpa was wise. I imagine a lot of people feel this when someone dear to them passes away, but I have constantly wished for just a few more conversations, a few more opportunities to learn from him. Or I wish I had written down some of the things he taught me over the years. One thing that I am incredibly grateful for is that when I was getting married, my brother reached out to some men in my life to ask them for marriage advice to pass down to me. He compiled their advice and put it together in a book. My Grandpa was one of the men he asked, and listen to this beautiful insight:

“There will be times when you can almost know what the other is going to say. Yet, taking an extra moment to let each other speak may well be one of those golden moments. There is more to listening than hearing.”

This isn’t just a beautiful thought – it is something that I had watched him practice for so many years. JoBeth and I are only a year into marriage and this already feels so insightful – I can only imagine how much more true this was in his 57 years of marriage. I pray that his wisdom would continue to shape me.

Words will never fully describe the man that he was, and the legacy that he leaves. But maybe they can be a start. And I think that these words – kind, patient, selfless, fun, wise – might help paint a pretty good picture. While I do hope that this meager attempt at honoring my Grandpa would be encouraging to some, especially my family –  I hope to best honor my Grandpa by continuing his legacy of kindness, patience, selflessness, fun, and wisdom. I’m eager to follow his example, in the same way that he was following Christ.