My (Belated) New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve never been one to hate on New Year’s resolutions. I realize that they carry the stigma of being unrealistic or inconsequential. But I believe in the power of a purposeful resolution. You can find them in the Bible, too: Ezra “set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Daniel “made up his mind that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The book of 2 Chronicles even shows us that failure to make these sorts of resolutions can have negative consequences. “Rehoboam…did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chronicles 12:13-14).

Resolutions are the first step toward real change. Without them to serve as guides, we’re left to drift, with little more than weak hope we will ever become the kind of person we want to be. We need concrete goals, things that we can set our heart on, to strive for and grow toward.

So here are my belated New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.

1.) Rain on fewer parades. I’m wired to recognize cons before I acknowledge pros, so if I’m not intentional about identifying the positives in a situation I’ll lean toward skepticism, even cynicism. This is something I want to take more steps to correct this year.

2.) Take every opportunity to celebrate the success of others. This one has a lot to do with the first one. I have all sorts of reasons why I fail to do this. Sometimes it’s because I’m too busy thinking about to myself to recognize and praise the work of others. Other times I’ll recognize the great things that other people are doing and I’ll compliment them behind their back to others and neglect to actually give them the direct props they deserve.

3.) Memorize an entire book of scripture. I was going to do this last year with Philippians and fell off the wagon after the first chapter. Picking it back up again this year.

3b.) Memorize another significant piece of literature or rhetoric. I was sitting in a seat at the Cru Winter Conference earlier this month when Regional Director Tim Norman got up to do a mic check and proceeded to recite from memory the first few sentences of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. If he hadn’t been cut off I’m sure he could’ve kept going. Immediately, I thought “I’m going to learn to do that.”

4.) Learn to be comfortable with spending time alone. People who know me personally are always shocked when they find out I’m a high extrovert (over 80% on the MBTI). I’m drained by huge groups of people, but I’m energized by spending time with a select few. Since leaving Austin six months ago, I’ve had a lot more time to myself, and I’m still trying to adjust.

5.) Take a long road trip. Because who doesn’t love one?

That’s them. I tend to try and limit my resolutions lists to five. It’s a good manageable number. I can remember them all. I also like to mix personal development goals with big things that I want to do. I find it’s more fun that way.

What are your resolutions? Feel free to share in the comments below.

mt

My 20 Favorite Albums of 2014

Lost in the dream

THE WAR ON DRUGS // Lost in the Dream

Benji

SUN KIL MOON // Benji

Ryan Adams

RYAN ADAMS // Ryan Adams

Run the Jewels 2

RUN THE JEWELS // Run the Jewels 2

st vincent

ST VINCENT // St Vincent

are we there

SHARON VAN ETTEN // Are We There

atlas

REAL ESTATE // Atlas

morning phase

BECK // Morning Phase

11183_JKT

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE // Single Mothers

Salad Days

MAC DEMARCO // Salad Days

my favourite faded fantasy

DAMIEN RICE // My Favourite Faded Fantasy

white women

CHROME // White Women

Here and nowhere else

CLOUD NOTHINGS // Here and Nowhere Else

metamodern sounds in country music

STURGILL SIMPSON // Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

stay gold

FIRST AID KIT // Stay Gold

the voyager

JENNY LEWIS // The Voyager

jag252.11298

FOXYGEN //  …And Star Power

Future Islands

FUTURE ISLANDS // Singles

El pintor

INTERPOL // El Pintor

brill bruisers

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS // Brill Bruisers

What were your favorites this year? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

The Five Best Books I Read in 2014

reign-of-the-servant-kings-a-study-of-eternal-security-and-the-final-significance-of-man

The Reign of the Servant Kings, Joseph Dillow

Halfway through the first chapter of The Reign of the Servant Kings I felt the way I imagined David Bazan felt as he wrote the first lyrics of what would eventually become Curse Your Branches, his musical “breakup letter to God.” It wasn’t God I was breaking up with – it was reformed theology. I used to be reformed theology’s biggest advocate. I’d figured out a way to ignore all the questions I’d never found answers to. Questions about anthropology, and eternal rewards, and the relationship between grace and works. Reading The Reign of the Servant Kings I found answers to some of those questions. I also found more questions. One thing was for sure: I could no longer accept five-point Calvinism as a satisfying summation of the Christian experience. The Reign of the Servant Kings is out of print, but it’s been expanded and re-published as Final Destiny. It’s well worth the months it will take you to read it.

Quote: “Here is the key to our modern dilemma. The Reformers feared free grace and, as a result, did not take the Reformation far enough. That is, their doctrine of the saints’ perseverance in holiness compromised the free grace of God. Because the doctrine of justification by faith alone was potentially vulnerable to the charge of promoting license, the Reformers simply could not let go of the notion that works played a necessary part in our final arrival in heaven. Unable to accept that a regenerate man could live a life of sin and still be saved, they included works on the back end of the gospel as the means (result?) of salvation.”

artisan

The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus

I’ve always liked Erwin McManus, but I’ve always felt like I never quite understood him – that is, until I read this book. I read the Artisan Soul in one sitting, feeling in over my head and totally depressed after moving from Austin to Dallas, knowing no one, and starting seminary. And for what seemed like the first time in a long time, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Quote: “It takes courage to not only accept our limitations, but to embrace our potential.”

Between noon and three

Between Noon and Three, Robert Farrar Capon

Capon uses the story of an extramarital affair as source material for a meditation on grace. And it’s staggering. In a whirlwind of thought that defies explanation, I fell in love with Jesus all over again, reminded that grace that isn’t scandalous isn’t grace at all.

Quote: “The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that someone else has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that person, whether we achieve or not. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, you’re right: it isn’t. And, as a matter of fact, the life of grace is even less than that. It’s not even our life at all, but the life of that Someone Else rising like a tide in the ruins of our death.”

free grace

Free Grace Soteriology, David R. Anderson

Free Grace Soteriology was the first book I read after reading The Reign of the Servant Kings. So many questions answered. So many troubling passages addressed. A systematic dismantling of “Lordship Salvation” – the cruel slavemaster of a belief system that backloads the gospel with works. I found freedom in these pages.

Quote: “For both the Arminians and the Calvinists, one must persevere faithfully until the end of his life or he does not go to heaven. The Arminians claim that the one who does not remain faithful loses his salvation, while the Calvinists claim that one who does not remain faithful never had salvation. In either case, faithfulness until the end of one’s life is the ultimate litmus test for one to spend eternity with God. When a faithful life is made a requirement for salvation, teachers of free grace claim that works have been appended to faith, turning God’s so great salvation into more of a bribe than a gift. It turns the Christian life into a ‘have to’ life rather than a ‘thank you’ life, which is often the difference between a job and a joy.”

Antifragile

Antifragile, Nassim Taleb

I really enjoyed Taleb’s earlier book The Black Swan, despite understanding maybe a fifth of it. Antifragile is better in every way. I applied some of the concepts from this book to fantasy football and made it to the playoffs as the number four seed in a twelve-team dynasty league. For whatever that’s worth.

Quote: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”

What were your favorite reads this year? Feel free to comment below.

Character, Talent, and Grace: What I’ve learned in the last three years.

Here’s a story about me blowing it.

For nearly ten years of my life, I was a key leader in my home church’s worship ministry. Having discovered what I thought to be my “one thing,” I invested much of my time and energy into growing as a musician and playing in various worship bands. By the time I reached college I was starting to learn how to get paid as a hired-gun guitarist in Austin. I was leading worship consistently at my home church and at other churches around town. I was part of a worship band that played camps, conferences, and festivals. We cut two EPs. I was talented, I had peoples’ attention, and they were trusting me with positions of influence and leadership. Leading worship and playing music became the biggest parts of my identity. I, like so many worship leaders and musicians, had fallen into the insidious trap of using worship music as an avenue to live out all my rock star fantasies. It was great.

And then I had a moral failure. Yes, that kind of moral failure.

Maybe a more accurate way to describe it was that I had a string of moral failures that culminated in a gigantic moral failure. I had sins in my life that I was “managing.” As you can imagine, that got out of hand pretty quickly. The disparity between who I was and who others thought I was grew greater by the day, and I was running out of ways to cope with it. I’d started drinking very heavily, essentially living as a functional alcoholic as a junior in Bible College. My grades suffered. My relationships suffered. My body suffered. My soul suffered. The weight of my dishonesty became too much for me to shoulder.

I came clean. I told my closest friends and my ministry leaders about what was going on in my life.

When people tell these kinds of stories, this is usually the part where everything gets better. For me, everything didn’t get better. Owning up to catastrophic failure and turning on lightbulbs in dark corners of your life is dreadfully painful. In no tangible way did anything get “better.” In fact, it felt a hell of a lot like everything got worse. I lost friendships. I lost my ministry. I lost the things I’d placed my identity in. It felt like I lost myself. I was angry at myself for the way my choices had negatively affected my life and the lives of people around me. I was bitter, after friends paid me lip service about grace, mercy, and forgiveness, only to write me off and use me as a punch line behind my back. I was humiliated to have become a ministry cautionary tale cliché. I was lonely, as people gave up on me when I didn’t grow or “get better” immediately. Things weren’t getting better. That’s the dirty little secret about these sorts of situations. Things don’t always get better.

At the end of it all, I had one friend who wasn’t afraid to step all the way into the chaos of my life. He was a voice of hope to me when I had none. He saw me for who I could become, not just for who I was. He was a fountain of grace in the months that followed. And as I started to take my first steps in a new relationship based on total transparency, he started to repeat the same mantra over and over and over to me:

“God cares far more about who you are and who you’re becoming than what you can do. You can’t rely on your talent to take you where you want to go if you don’t have the character to go along with it. Don’t let your talent pull you out further than your character can sustain you.”

It was like coming up for air. All at once it seemed I stopped caring about trying to impress people, or getting people to think I was “better” or “improving” or “growing.” I stopped caring what I looked like to others. I turned my back on any kind of performance or pretense. And for the first time in my life I met a Jesus who was full of grace and truth. I met a Jesus who wasn’t scared of getting His hands dirty with me. And wouldn’t you know it, I started to grow. Not quickly. Anyone who tells you that spiritual growth happens quickly is selling something. And it wasn’t that things were getting better. It’s that I was getting better.

It’s been three years and a month since the night my whole world came crashing down. I never went back to playing in that worship band. I did get to come back to the college ministry I was helping to lead. And I got to come back with mud on my face and feel totally free to be who I was. I never got most of those lost friendships back. But I started new friendships and quickly found out that I didn’t have to hide behind my talent for people to like me. I graduated from college, went on staff at my home church, and left after fifteen months on great terms to follow a dream I have of graduating from Dallas Seminary. And I care way more about who I will become in my life than I do about what I will do in my life.

It took a literally life-shattering catastrophe of character for me to stop relying on my talent to take me places in life and to start caring about the state of my heart. It took losing (seemingly) everything that was important to me for my character to finally become a matter of first importance. And three years later, I’ve learned that there’s a whole world of difference between a person with talent and a person who can be trusted with talent. And there’s just about nothing I want more than to be the latter.

Where’s the Line?

This is a follow-up post to clarify some thoughts I offered yesterday on the issue of evangelical millennials (EMs) and some of the motivations we have to drink. I got a lot of positive feedback on yesterday’s post, and I’m glad it was helpful or clarifying for some folks. I didn’t actually intend for yesterday’s post to be a prescriptive post regarding what is and isn’t an appropriate way to consume alcohol. In fact, I didn’t even mention drunkenness, but a lot of folks who read it assumed that I was talking about drunkenness because I talked about being “mastered” by alcohol. In truth I wanted to explore why EMs choose to drink at all, not why we’re prone to alcohol abuse (though in my experience, we are, and we’d all do well to stop pretending that we aren’t).

I did say in some tweets yesterday that I think our understanding of what’s appropriate is flawed or distorted, so I wanted to take an opportunity to speak to that.

In my experience, most EMs (and Christians in general) use drunkenness as the standard by which to measure the appropriateness of their alcohol consumption. This comes from Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 to not get drunk, but to be filled with the Spirit. In my opinion, Paul’s intention in referring to drunkenness there has more to do with wanting an illustration for what being filled with the Spirit is like and slightly less about providing a prescription for appropriate behavior in regards to drinking, but the Bible is clear that drunkenness is inappropriate for Christians. In fact, it’s more than inappropriate: It’s sinful. That said, I don’t think that drunkenness is the hard-and-fast line of appropriate behavior for all people in all places. In fact, when it’s employed as the lone mark of assessment, I think drunkenness is actually a faulty metric for at least two reasons: 1) For some, drinking alcohol at all is unhealthy, and good metrics apply to everyone, and 2) Drunkenness is a subjective term. Everyone has a different definition, from “over the legal limit” to “blacked out.”

Here’s what I suggest as an alternative:

In yesterday’s post I referenced 1 Corinthians 6:12, in which Paul corrects the Corinthians’ misconceptions about freedom and autonomy: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In context, Paul is talking about sexual behavior. But don’t you think the principle extends to other areas of life? You bet it does.

Here’s my point: Not everyone who is mastered by alcohol is an alcoholic. Mastery and clinical addiction are similar, but not congruent. Not everyone who has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol gets drunk every time they drink. We know from Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler in Luke 18 that morally neutral things can become spiritually harmful to us when we refuse to hold them with an open hand. I experienced this recently, when I was asked by the seminary I attend to commit to abide by their no-drinking policy. Though I’m not “addicted” to alcohol, I found it difficult to commit 100% to not drinking while I’m in seminary. I thought, “I just won’t drink while school is in session,” or “I just won’t keep alcohol at my house.” If I’m not an alcoholic, then why was my first impulse to try and make exceptions to the rule? Maybe I was in the process of being mastered—not in an obvious way, but in a very subtle way. And we all know that our Enemy is the king of subtlety.

So if the first question we have to ask in assessing our relationship with alcohol is “Am I getting drunk?” then the second question we have to ask is, “Even if I’m not getting drunk or if I’m not addicted, am I being mastered?” The difference is subtle, but significant. Getting drunk has to do with the external appropriateness of your relationship with alcohol. Being mastered has to do with the internal appropriateness of your relationship with alcohol. It’s the higher standard. Not getting drunk is what people with self-control do, regardless of whether they know Christ at all. Refusing to be mastered by alcohol is what holy people do because they know they’ve been mastered by Christ.

I got the question yesterday over Twitter: What about enjoying alcohol for the taste?
This is the camp that I would have put myself in before starting seminary. I love craft beer and whiskey as much as anyone. I won’t make a case that drinking is sinful. I don’t think it is. I think it’s morally neutral, but, like other morally neutral things—money, food, TV, our iPhones, fantasy football—it has the potential to master us. So caution and accountability are necessary and appropriate. After all, we’ve all probably had at least one experience with a person who said, “I drink because I like the taste,” but was either in denial about their drinking habits or was deliberately being dishonest with themselves and others about what was really going on.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Go not one step in a way in which it would be wrong to go two.” For anyone who can’t make up their mind about whether their relationship with alcohol is healthy, this may be a good diagnostic.

I don’t know if I’ll continue to abstain from drinking after I graduate from seminary. But I’m confident that I’ll be glad I did, if only for a few years, because I will have learned to hold my right to drink with an open hand. In the area of alcohol I’m forfeiting my right to total autonomy in favor of freedom. You see, freedom isn’t getting to make all your own decisions. Freedom is not regretting any of them.

After some of the feedback I got last night, I feel as though I need to state the obvious: Your life will not be worse if you choose to be totally abstinent in regards to alcohol. You will not be miss out on anything. You will not be unfulfilled. You will not have less fun. We EMs have forgotten this. We’ve all got a terminal case of FOMO, and we let it dictate our every action. That’s risky business when it comes to why and how we drink.

These are my rapid-fire and highly unorganized thoughts. Take them for what they are, and feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Why We Drink

I chose to attend a seminary with a no-drinking policy. I’ve been at the seminary for three weeks now, and I still haven’t actually heard or read a very good rationale for why the policy is in place, though I could probably guess and get pretty close. To be honest, abiding by that policy has been a more difficult process than I anticipated. I’ve had to explore some of the reasons why. I wonder whether some of the things I found inside myself ring true with the rest of my millennial brothers and sisters, specifically those in the Church. For right or wrong, these are my off-the-cuff, largely undeveloped thoughts. I’d love to hear yours.

 

Maybe this is why we drink:

 

We drink because it’s fun.

This is the most obvious motivator. I don’t think it warrants extensive discussion.

We drink because we can.

Like the Corinthians, we boisterously declare, “All things are lawful for me!” This argument really only holds water for the over-21 crowd. We millennials often confuse freedom and autonomy. If we’re “allowed” to do something, most of us will try it at least once. Sometimes once turns into twice, and twice turns into a habit. Sometimes that habit turns into an addiction. And sometimes addiction doesn’t look like we think it does.

We drink because someone told us we can’t.

We millennials seek fulfillment through self-expression, so if you tell us we can’t do something, you’re encroaching on our ability to express ourselves and therefore our ability to feel like a complete person. For this reason, most millennials will take directives as suggestions.

For those of us in the Church, the choice to drink often seems like an overreaction to legalistic environments in which consumption of alcohol—responsible or otherwise—is dogmatically condemned. I attended a denominational university in which this was the case, and in which drinking was not only allowed, but was encouraged, and celebrated. Looking back on those years with fresh eyes, it’s no wonder that the Religion students were notorious for our hypocritical abuse of alcohol. What we celebrate, we invite.

We drink because our leaders drink.

It’s always been true: What leaders do in moderation, followers do in excess. The Bible is very clear: Leaders are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their followers. Those who lead and teach will be held to a higher standard of accountability. Howard Hendricks used to say, “You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce who you are.” Many of us drink because the people we look up to do, or did, and they modeled it for us. I spent my 21st birthday at a pub with a pastor who would put away three or four beers when we went out. That behavior was reproduced in me. I would venture to guess I’m not alone in that experience.

We drink because we want to feel like grown-ups.

Millennials have a word for having to act responsibly – to pay bills, to study, to clean the house, to be productive, to perform well at work. We call it “adulting.” The fact that we have a word for it is evidence that it’s not yet become our default mode of operation. You see, most of us are still children. But when we want to feel like adults, we participate in those kinds of activities that only adults can participate in. Like drinking.

We feel mature when we go out and get a drink with our friends. We feel sophisticated. We feel superior to the folks who are still in college binge-drinking mode when we can go out, have two responsible drinks, and safely drive ourselves home.

This is especially true for men. We don’t drink just anything. We drink beer—craft beer. Not college party beer (unless it’s the only thing available, in which case we’ll make an exception). And we don’t drink just any liquor at the bar. We drink whiskey (As Ron Swanson put it, “Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets”). We only touch red wine if it’s on the table next to a ribeye. There’s a sort of macho-masculinity culture that’s crept into evangelicalism. Young evangelical men want to feel strong and sophisticated. So we indulge in the “finer things” – brown alcohols, cigars, beards, the writings of puritan theologians. The combined influence of Acts 29 culture and Mad Men is all over us.

We drink because we don’t know how to connect with people otherwise.

I’ve always struggled with making friends. I just tend to keep to myself in environments where I don’t know anyone. So when I moved to Dallas to attend Dallas Seminary and was having to force myself to meet guys, I found myself saying, “We should hang out this week and grab a bee-, um, lunch.” This happened several times.

Why is it that my default choice for connecting with people involves alcohol? Part of it is the influence of the aforementioned pastor. Part of it is the influence of my college environment. Part of it is the culture of masculinity that I find myself in. And part of it is the fact that I like to drink. Regardless of the cause, I’m not comfortable with the outcome.

 

To be honest, I think maybe young evangelicals have a drinking problem. I mentioned 1 Corinthians 6:12 earlier. In that chapter, Paul is addressing sexual behavior, but the principle he outlines there applies to Christian conduct in general: What’s allowable isn’t always healthy. It’s possible to be mastered by alcohol without being an alcoholic. And it wasn’t until I was asked to yield my right to drink that I realized just how tightly I was holding onto it. My hunch is that I’m not the only one with a strong grip.

Feel free to comment below.

How to Cover a Song (Or, What Courrier Taught Me About Art)

One of my favorite local bands (one of my favorite bands, period, actually) is Courrier. Yes, with an extra R. Yesterday, Courrier released a free download of their cover of Mumford & Sons’ The Cave. I had been hoping for Careless Whisper, but, you know.

Now, admittedly, I am sick and bloody tired of Mumford & Sons. I listened the life out of Sigh No More when it was released, and though every song on that record is gold, I lost the taste for all of them. But because Courrier is a good band, and because the download was free, I gave them my email address and got the song. And it’s fantastic. It breathes a new life into a song that went stale a long time ago. And I started to wonder about how Courrier could accomplish this. How could they resurrect a song that we’d all killed with repeated listenings and radio play? How could they resuscitate my love for a song that I came to hate?

I came to this conclusion: They could do it because they are good artists.

Here’s what I mean:

Good artists know who they are. And Courrier knows who they are. And, creatively, they live in that space. This isn’t to say that they don’t take risks. It’s not to say that good artists limit themselves to a certain playpen of expression. But it IS to say that good artists aren’t preoccupied with wishing they were someone else. Courrier’s cover of The Cave is a good cover because they have a catalog of brilliant self-penned, self-composed, self-created songs that speak to their artistic identity that informs their intepretation of The Cave. The practical implication of this is that Courrier’s cover of The Cave doesn’t sound like a pop band pretending to be Mumford & Sons. It sounds like Courrier playing The Cave. And that’s about half of what a good cover is. The other half of what makes a good cover is the way that a cover will interact with the songs you’ve already written. The reason The Cave was one of the best covers Courrier could have picked to fill a slot in their set list isn’t because The Cave is a crowd-pleaser (although it certainly is that), but rather because the lyrical DNA of The Cave can be easily grafted into Courrier’s own lyrical DNA. It’s because The Cave helps them tell the story they’re trying to tell. Ultimately, that’s what good artists are concerned about. And that’s why Courrier are good artists.

There’s a lesson that Courrier is teaching the artistic community if we’d incline our ears to hear it:

The fact is that if your artistic identity is built solely upon your ability to play other people’s songs, that says something significant about your artistic identity. If the story your repertoire is telling isn’t your story, but is rather a Frankensteinian narrative built of other people’s stories and thoughts, that means something. It means that your artistic output is simply an outward expression of your inward desire to be someone else than who you are. Youtube phenoms whose success is predicated upon their ability to play a song that people like are selling us a false definition of what art is. They’re saying art is about people-pleasing. They’re telling us that art is about finding validation in the positive remarks left in the comments section. That’s a horrible way for any human being to live–but it’s impossible to live that way and be an artist.

Performers please others. Artists tell a story, for better or for worse.

Your ability to reinterpret another person’s song doesn’t make you a good artist any more than being able to read Virgil’s Aeneid in the original Latin makes you a citizen of ancient Rome. But the ability to take someone else’s song and use it to help you tell a story that was yours to tell from the beginning, and that you’ve already been telling in other original songs? That might make you a good artist. And that is what Courrier is challenging us to do.

So pick up the pen. The guitar. The brush. Sit at your desk or your piano or your easel. And fight for your art. But more importantly: fight for yourself. Stop singing someone else’s songs, and tell the story only you can tell.

mt

Follow @courriermusic, and go to courriermusic.com to claim your free download of The Cave. Courrier’s latest record, A Violent Flame, is on iTunes. You’d do well to pick it up.