Bust out your iambic pentameter

Some more Billy Collins for ya.

I must say this is about how deep ole William‘s goods sounded to me in elementary school.

This one is simply called Sonnet.

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Working to earn God’s favor

I think we fallen men (this includes me of course) have the hardest time parting with the idea of works righteousness. I mean, a REALLY hard time. Even if we settle our understanding on a solid reformed doctrine of salvation (we are saved by grace alone), that STILL does not protect us from living in a manner where

  • good works = favor with God
  • sinning = back in the dog-house

That is NOT the gospel. Not of works lest any man should boast. It doesn’t stop after your first repentance. I’m not advocating sin here folks. I’m not saying God doesn’t answer prayer or doesn’t delight in good fruit in our lives or doesn’t reward hard work. I’m saying there IS no works righteousness. There can’t be. It’s a sham. Stop living like it’s real.

Travis Prinzi on the Boar’s Head Tavern illustrated this very well today with a quick rewrite of the parable of the prodigal son:

I’m going to get in trouble for this:

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best copy of the Scriptures and the prayer mat and send him into the chapel. I can’t hear him, and I refuse to pay attention to him, because he’s been sinning too much, and I’m not going to answer prayers of someone who has not been doing his duty.’ …

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard the sound of his brother turning the pages of the family Bible. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has commanded him to go pray and study the Scriptures.’ And the older brother said, ‘Good. I’ve been saying for years that father shouldn’t listen to sinners until they start doing their duty like me.’”

That entire mentality is built on the idea that we are received back to God by grace, but after that, we need to start behaving like the older brother in order to get God to listen to us. We become better than the prodigal, and God begins listening to us and answering our prayers. Sorry. Every single time I come to the Father, I’m the prodigal.

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Billy Collins Poetry

I’ve gotten in conversations with several people about poetry over the past year. The common theme is that, try as we might, we just don’t “get” most poetry. That is to say, we don’t like it. Perhaps it’s more boredom than the inability to put our fingers on what is actually wrong with it.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found some Yeats to be OK. Tennyson looked hopeful for a while, but I couldn’t get farther than the second chapter of Idylls of a King. What a snore. I have some Walt Whitman (still with dust) on my newly unpacked bookshelves. On second thought, I think it’s propping up the lamp on my desk upstairs.

One name that has come up a couple times in these conversations is Billy Collins. Supposedly this guy’s stuff is very accessible and actually quite good. Today at lunch, I had to pick-up my Rene Girard book at the library. It’s slow reading and even though I’m close to finished with it, I couldn’t renew it anymore. So I had to return it in the drive-up drop box and wait a day for it to be re-shelved, then grab it again. While I was there, I picked up Sailing Alone Around the Room, which is kind of a “best of” from Collin’s last four books along with a few new poems. I sampled several sections over lunch.

Wow. This is really good stuff! I don’t even know where to start. It’s super. I MUST post a few here over the next week or so. They are often simple, often quirky, sometimes deep, sometimes intentionally shallow. This one is called Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House:

The neighbors’ dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbor’s dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Converting long-term goals to short-term

More clear thinking from Seth Godin:


Do you have a plan?

A long or medium term plan for your brand or your blog or your career or your project?

You can have grand visions for remodeling your house or getting in shape, but if there’s a fire in the kitchen, you drop everything and put it out. What choice do you have? The problem, of course, is that most organizations are on fire, most of the time.

I gave a talk the other day, all about the unstoppable slow decline of interruption (traditional) media and the opportunities for rethinking how we communicate with people. At the end of the talk, someone came up and had very nice things to say about what he’d learned. The he leaned over and asked me to help him brainstorm about his brand’s upcoming ad campaign, because it was due to his boss on Friday.

Add up enough urgencies and you don’t get a fire, you get a career. A career putting out fires never leads to the goal you had in mind all along.

I guess the trick is to make the long term items even more urgent than today’s emergencies. Break them into steps and give them deadlines. Measure your people on what they did today in support of where you need to be next month.

If you work in an urgent-only culture, the only solution is to make the right things urgent.

I’m thinking about how we are approaching our moving houses and putting things away. Urgent things, one box at a time. I think it’s working well. That’s a medium-length goal of a few weeks though.

What I really want to figure out is how to apply this to taking my wife on a real honeymoon to Ireland someday, actually learning the music I really want to play on guitar, to teaching my kids how to read and play violin, to paying for their schooling, to saving up for stuff down the road. I have these long-term goals, but somehow I must convert them into a little something to do NOW to pull them off. Saving money toward something is one of the hardest to actually do, but at least it’s straight-forward. As for the other things, they needs some thought. And more immediate will.

Can’t go back now

OK, so it’s been many years since I’ve followed pop radio, but last year I discovered The Weepies after hearing an interview on NPR. They are pop/folk duo with remarkable songwriting skills and melodies. Most of their songs and arrangements are very simple and straight-forward but oh-so-good. I mean, when is the last time you heard an album where every song was good? One after another!

Their latest album Hideaway (recorded in the their house) just came out and I was a sucker to get it. I’ve only listened through it a couple times and can’t say it is as good as their previous effort Say I Am You, but it looks to still have a lot of gems on it.

Here is the lyrics and a 30-sec clip from the opening track “Can’t Go Back Now”.


Yesterday, when you were young,
Everything you needed done was done for you.
Now you do it on your own
But you find you’re all alone,
What can you do?

You and me walk on
Cause you can’t go back now.

You know there will be days when you’re so tired that you can’t take another step,
The night will have no stars and you’ll think you’ve gone as far as you will ever get

But you and me walk on
Cause you can’t go back now

And yeah, yeah, go where you want to go
Be what you want to be,
If you ever turn around, you’ll see me.

I can’t really say why everybody wishes they were somewhere else
But in the end, the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself

And you and me walk on
Yeah you and me walk on
Cause you can’t go back now
Walk on, walk on, walk on
You can’t go back now

I’d really love to, but…

A pertinent piece of wisdom from web designer Amy Hoy‘s blog:
(I’ve edited it a bit)

For the longest time, I used to tell people I couldn’t do something, sorry!, because I didn’t have enough time. Lately I’ve been trying to admit that I just don’t have the motivation or desire—maybe I just didn’t really want to do it in the first place.

These days I’d rather say, “I could have written a best-selling (fill in the blank) book but it turned out I’m just not a good personality match for writing 400 page books. I hated it and so I found ways to avoid working on it.” than “I didn’t have the time.” It feels more honest.

I personally feel that I’m letting go of a psychic burden every time I do it. One that frees me up, mentally, to do the things I really do care about.

It’s not that I “don’t have enough time”, it’s actually that “I just don’t care”. I doesn’t meant that your desire isn’t legitimate, that your idea isn’t good, or that your project isn’t something I’d like to see successful. I just care about a lot of stuff and I’m not motivated enough to care about your thing, that thing, too. At least not right now. I hope we can still be friends.


Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over.
That’s just annoying.
Persistence is having the same goal over and over.

Seth Godin


Don’t keep trying the same thing over and over again. If it’s not working, try something else. Don’t keep bashing your head into the wall over and over just to prove you’re not giving up. Maybe you can go around it, or over it. I’m just talking to myself here.

Calvinists and Emergents fighting over the same group of us guys

I find myself right in between two movements in Christianity right now: The so-called “emerging church” and the new resurgent Calvinists. They overlap in so many areas, it’s rather fascinating how they can be so opposed to each other at times. They both are moving AWAY from the deadness of “classical” American evangelicism, disillusioned with it’s mega-churches, worn-out revivalism, cheesy Left Behind eschatology, political culture war, CCM, and shallowness. They travel THROUGH largely opposing philosophies, but then surprisingly, arrive BACK at many of the same conclusions.

Both are often intellectual, focus on church planting, desire to return to older liturgies in worship, and spend much more time and money on charity and humanitarian aid then our parents and grandparents ever did. It’s just that the reasoning behind these conclusions come from very different corners. The “Emergents” travel through a mix of postmodern philosophy, the experience of hands-on philanthropy, liberalism, mysticism, and rediscovery of the ancient church. The “Resurgents” get there through renewed academic fervor, systematic theology (and the desire to really apply it), appreciation of the arts (acknowledging the beauty of creation), and more theology. Of course, I’m painting with broad strokes here, but I think these are useful descriptions nonetheless.

Unfortunately, because of their differences, these folks do end up fighting a lot. I don’t think the actual people on the ground fight much, but they certainly do so on the internet and in their rhetoric. A few days ago, Michael Spencer posed a question at the Boar’s Head Tavern about why the new Calvinists spend so much energy trying to squash the emergents. What follows I think offers some brilliant insight into the situation. I just had to repost (edited) snippits of the conversation:

Michael Spencer: Why are the Together for the Gospel Calvinists obsessed with the emerging church? I mean, it’s a never-ending obsession. Why? What’s the connection? Why isn’t it progressives? Lutherans? Atheists? Liberals? Not Really Reformed Calvinists? Baptist Fundamentalists? Why the angst over the EC and especially McLaren?

To which one of the Lutherans quips:

John Halton: I for one am deeply disappointed that Calvinists spend so little time these days attacking Lutherans. C’mon, guys! We believe the most ghastly stuff! Unbelievers get to eat Jesus, babies spring out of the font fully regenerated, Christ paid for all sins of all people… Good grief, all the emergents have done is grow goatees, wear heavy-rimmed glasses and use lower-case for the names of their churches!

Hmm, maybe I could meet in the middle and have a reformed gathering called something like “infusion” or “the storeHaus”.

And then, the nail is hit on the head:

Richard: Because they are both keenly interested in “reaching” the same demographic, viz. white, 20-30 years old, educated, culture-shaper types. That’s why we have a Calvinist book by two guys who“should be emergent but aren’t”. The crowds at Together for the Gospel and a typical Brian McLaren meeting don’t look very different, do they? Lots of young, white faces. The people at the Reformed meeting are a bit better dressed and groomed but they all grew up in the same suburbs, went to the same schools and graduated in the same classes.

Spike: I’m with Richard. As the new reformies see it, they and the emergents are the only two groups in the church that really count because they’re competing over the young male intellectuals. It’s a zero-sum game; any young male intellectual who starts quoting Doug Pagitt could have, should have been quoting John Piper. There aren’t enough resources in the denominational ecology for both of them to thrive.

That’s it. Demographics. I’ve said this before, though I have yet to develop the idea fully. Arguing about theology is often just a front for something else, even if the people talking theology don’t realize it.

Jason Blair: That’s an interesting observation, Spike. But if true, it would expose a flaw in their thinking. All they have to do to win the numbers game is encourage their team to have more babies than the other team. (kidding – kind of).

Kidding, kind of. Actually, I think this is true, though just one of many factors. On this front, the Calvinists probably have an upper hand since they are generally friendly to large families and the liberal-leaning emergents will have fewer goombas.

And on a different note…

Adam Omelianchuk: I’ve thought a lot about the ongoing debate between Emergents and Resurgents (my terminology) and have come to see it as a competition between two paradigms that are battling for the hearts and minds of the younger generation of evangelicals. In the wake of the soft and highly replaceable seeker-sensitive evangelism of the Willow Creek/Rick Warren era, the receding unifying figurehead of Billy Graham, and the disillusion caused by the Religious Right, a void has emerged that cries out for radical change in ministerial innovations, doctrinal education, and cultural engagement.

The Emergents seek to meet these problems with a wholesale rejection of whatever it deems “modern” (read: conservative, rationalistic, propositional, or whatever) and turns towards an Ancient/Future dichotomy that seeks the understanding of a Christian experience that ministers to the challenges presented by the postmodern ethos. The figureheads of the movement, such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell, seek a convention that buys into the idea that culture in an inescapable ingredient in theological formation and therefore should be embraced, albeit critically to varying degrees.

The Resurgents see this as nothing short of heresy and believe it is simply the repetition of the previous errors of Protestant Liberals who accommodated the faith to the tenets of modernity. They too see the unsatisfactory conditions left by the previous generation of evangelicals but stand in disbelief at the proposed solutions of the Emergents largely because they believe they are simply propounding the same philosophies that got the previous generation into trouble in the first place (starting with people’s “felt needs”) and extending them to approaches that can only lead to heresy (as observed historically with the liberals). Thus the need for something fixed, transcendent, confessional, and historically rooted, i.e. Calvinism.

Both groups flourish by way of the same means: conferences, websites, blogs, podcasts, and published books from a “cult of personality” leadership structure. Therefore, when they inevitably intersect we get lots of book reviews, conferences with speakers addressing one or the other, discussions over politics and theology and various answers to the question “What is the gospel?” that are utterly divergent.

In short, what we see today between the Emergents and Resurgents is an echo of an earlier era when Fundamentalism and Modernism clashed.

This is lamentable for several reasons, most of which are related to a false choice between extremes being presented to many young people. Any moderate voice coming from classical Arminians, Postconservatives, young Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Anabaptists, or those that authored the Evangelical Manifesto are met with an alien and confused look on the face.

The final comment by Adam is good. The refusal of people in both movements to hear the words of wise people still attached to the old institutions is a weakness of both movements. Christians of all flavours still have much to offer.

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The same table, five years later

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to spend the evening reading at the big table in Bucer’s Coffeehouse Pub. It’s one of my favorites places and it’s difficult not to eavesdrop.

Many of the student’s at New Saint Andrews classical college study here in the evenings. This night was pretty typical I believe. To my left were two young men who spoke at length about how this Easter came very early this year because of the complicated formula used to determine what Sunday it should fall on. It was noted that the Orthodox church (and the Jews) still have Easter (or Passover) coming later this year due to the fact that their calendar isn’t accurate. Apparently it doesn’t have leap-years frequent enough to keep the equinox lined up correctly.

Across the table from me was a young man working on translating a cryptic Hebrew text for one of his classes. He occasionally joined in to the discussion about the church calendar with comments about how he had recently visited an Orthodox church on his trip to the Balkans where the daily scripture reading was recited in 10 different languages to cover all the people that might be attending.

To my right was a guy reading Peter Leithart’s new book Solomon Among the Postmoderns. Well, at least he started on it. He ended up spending most of the hour surfing Facebook.

About this time, I realized that exactly 5 years ago, it was me sitting in the same chair with my sheet music spread all over the huge table. I was analyzing a Miles Davis solo transcription as the final project for Theoretical Basis of Jazz at the university. My professor at the time, Dan Bukvich, recently marked his 30th year at the music school. My wife and I contributed a story to a memory book that was being compiled for him.  Wow, what a wonderful time. I miss school. Part of me envied all the guys around the table that evening.