Words Have Weight

Thoughts from a youngish husband, father, and pastor



here comes golf

One thing I did not see coming in life is that I play golf now.

I guess I should have seen indications that it was a possibility, that I was prone to this illness. The first time I ever picked up a golf club, a friend had taken me to a crappy driving range near Pittsburgh to help me after my only experience being dumped. I was flummoxed at how a tiny ball that didn’t move could miss my golf club so many times. But I absolutely loved what it felt and sounded and looked like when I connected. That little ball went very far (or so it seemed). Nothing came of that, though. Years later, before my wife and I moved to Cape Town, we lived with my parents for part of the summer. I found myself watching the Golf Channel. I just found it soothing and I liked the way it looked. It was relaxing.

South Africa is a pretty golf-friendly country. I played my first non-miniature golf course while we lived there. A little nine-hole, par-3 course. I had no idea what I was doing. We played that a couple of times there. Again… nothing really came of it. I think I came back from South Africa after that year and bought a cheap set of starter clubs from Dicks and went to a driving range a couple of times. But that’s it. I was embarrassed by the bag of clubs wasting space in the garage for years and years and years. I would never have gone to an actual golf course. It would have taken me hours and hours to get around and I really hate being terrible at things in front of people. Real Golfers would hate me for being out there.

Then COVID happened.

It turns out, golf is a pretty COVID-friendly activity. And it was an especially grand time to learn the game, as many, many people found out. I was bored and stuck at home and I started watching YouTube videos and hitting practice balls. Someone told me that locals had, for years, snuck onto the local municipal course for free, to practice and play a little. I could go out there and be a lone and hit balls. I could even take my kids with me and let them wander the green spaces while I figured out how to get that dumb little ball to stop dodging all over the place.

I started actually playing. I played by myself, mostly. On my days off. I walked alone early before many people were out there. I filled the quiet of the morning with my own muttering and frustrated questions and self-congratulations on the (very) rare occasion I did something not awful. I played with other people, friends, for the first time. That was actually a big step for me. Again, I hate being the butt of the joke while I’m seriously trying hard at something. But I found out that… everybody is the butt of the joke. At least, the people that I play with are in that position. I know players that are actually good. Who regularly score birdies. I try not to play with them because I don’t want to slow them down or hex them with my awful swing.

The normal people who buy really cheap balls because they’re lost in such great quantities? We’re all laughing at each other. So it was fine. In fact… it was fun.

So here I am. Playing golf. I never thought it would be me.

My family did not play golf. Golf was for rich people, as far as I knew. It was for rich, stuffy white guys who had country club memberships. It never even occurred to me that it would be something I’d like. I never thought about golf. I knew who Tiger Woods was. I knew he was dominant. I watched a little here and there. But I was never part of that club because, literally, I could never be a part of that club. We would never be the kind of people with that kind of money. I never will be.

Golf can be, without a doubt, an expensive sport. What I’ve learned, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Normal people in the places where golf is from (places like Scotland and Ireland) play amazing golf courses and play recreationally all the time without being rich people. In America, certainly a significant portion of the golf landscape is occupied by very expensive private clubs that no one like me could ever get a look into. It’s a shame, really, that so much of the sport’s landscape in our country is dominated by this high-walled snobbery.

Golf is already hard enough to get into without ever touching those really nice courses. The equipment is expensive. Actually learning the game is expensive. Practicing is expensive. Because the ball goes so far, if you want to practice hitting all your shots, you have to pay decent cash to go hit golf balls into someone’s empty field. Every time you want to play the actual game, you have to pay someone. I can go walk 9 holes nearby for $12. That’s unbelievably cheap and I’m very grateful for it. To play decent to nice places? Whew. SO much more expensive than that. And guess what? If you don’t play regularly (or at least, if I don’t) you get even worse, really quickly.

There’s no doubt it can be and in many ways IS an expensive hobby. So I just never saw it coming for me.

But there’s something about it…

The colors of it, for one. I love the green of the grass that change colors with the passing of the light throughout the day. I like the feel of walking on turf, of padding on greens. I so often find myself hitting off the fairway, and it’s amazing to me how longer grass can react so differently each time with both my metal golf club and this little ball. When I’m not out there being followed by those blasted mowers (I hate those morning mowers so much), the quiet of it intermixed with the sound of club to ball is so soothing.

I still love to watch the ball go far. It never goes far enough or straight enough or high enough for me, of course. But it’s still amazing how far those little balls can travel. I sure do wish I could make them go where I wanted, though.

This is something that has amazed me: I am so, so bad. It makes me so angry in so many different ways. I am truly the worst player out there so many times. It does not matter how much I practice. I am the worst. And yet, I can finish losing half a dozen balls (net, because I’ll find some more out there and that will soften my losses a bit) and be so, so angry at this stupid little game…. and I cannot wait to do it all over again. I really do not like puzzles, generally speaking. But this one is a puzzle I want to keep coming back to over and over again. I finally hit a good shot and, inevitably, I think, “This is who I really am. I’ve figured it out.” And of course, I haven’t. It isn’t who I am. I am all the other terrible shots. The good one was the anomaly.

But I lie to myself and search for the next one.

After a couple years of playing, I realize that I am always going to be very bad. At first, this really bothered me. And don’t get me wrong, I’d love to not be really bad. I’d love to have 20 lessons over the next few months instead of the four total I’ve had in my life. I’d love to have clubs fitted especially to me, instead of just the ones I could afford on the used rack or from the discount brand. I’d love to have lots of practice so that I could just be a decent-to-good recreational golfer. Nothing fancy. Nothing crazy. The occasional ability to break 80. Shock at shooting over 95. That kind of thing.

And I will almost certainly never be even that good.

No, I will always be a bad golfer. And I think I have the opportunity to learn something from that. I don’t want to be the “it’s about the journey, not the destination” guy… but it kind of is? I need to take this hobby for what it is and accept what I have been given. At any given moment, I have been given those moments with those friends in that place. And that is surely a great gift. I will never, ever conquer this game that is very, very hard. It will always bully me around the course. IF. If I view it as a war with the course.

I almost never keep score now. I used to do it to see if I was getting better. Now? I know I’m not. I go out there and play the puzzle. I try different things. I try to look at my surroundings and enjoy the walk and the quiet. I try to swear at myself a little less. If I’m playing with friends, I try to accept the being the worst one and let it be medicine for my persistently arrogant soul.

Yeah, I just didn’t see all of this coming. But I’m glad it has. I look forward to many, many walks as I get older. I look forward to a puzzle I’ll never solve, to those rare good shots that delude me even further. I look forward to the times with friends and, maybe one day, my children or grand children.

I’m over the surprise and embarrassment of finding out that golf has come from me. I don’t have to understand how it happened to me. It has.

Now I can just go play.

book response: rachel held evans’ “searching for sunday”

I’m not quite sure when I first became aware of Rachel Held Evans’ work. It was probably through Twitter. I wasn’t a regular reader of her blog. It was mostly occasional. I was a kind of tourist to her world. If I’m honest, it was more of the “watch the car crash” variety of spectator-ship. Not that she was a car crash in my book, per se. I mean, I definitely found her annoying at times. Certainly, I found her very much wrong on some things. I hated how she made straw men (at times) out of people that disagreed with her. I found it so irksome. I wouldn’t venture to guess how many times she made me roll my eyes in disgust.

But then again, I never got worked up about her work in the same way others did. I had sympathy with her on some things (the overly-intertwined nature of evangelicalism and politics, the value of women’s ordination, etc.). I appreciated her impetus to call things out and make room for people with doubts. I never felt like we were on the same team necessarily… but I also didn’t like to see people torching her or delighting in taking shots at her.

Anyway… she was never a major figure in my mental or emotional world. But a few years ago, when she died quite suddenly and tragically, I was really grieved by her death. Yes, I know we should grieve every death. Every life lost matters. Yes. I agree. But something about who she was and how she went about things made hers an especially sad, moving stranger’s death.

I’d been meaning to read Searching for Sunday for some time now. Recently, I listened to a copy of the audio book from the library.

I was really surprised by what I found there. I was moved.

Much of the book is about Rachel’s doubt. Doubt about the nature of God and Christianity. Even more, about her doubt that she’d ever find a home in, find faith in the Church. It’s part memoir, part exposition using the traditional seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church.

She was a fantastic writer. I knew that already, but her prose really sparkled at times. I appreciated her humility with her own story. She was self-deprecating in a really charming way that came across as sincere. She evoked some real chuckles about youth group culture that will ring true to anyone who grew up around the same time.

Two experiences really jumped out to me: I was so moved by her love for the Church and her real faith in the very core of what binds Christians together. I mean, she clearly wrestled with those things. But it seems so clear that only someone with real love would wrestle like that. She wrestled because she deeply cared. She was grappling with something that held her life. I knew that to some degree about her, but I think this book really laid that bare. I found it really beautiful, really moving.

The other experience that jumped out to me was some attitude I realized in myself at some point in the book. I’m not even sure what point of the book it was. But I remember thinking/feeling something along the lines that I was relieved for her that, now, at least, all of her mistakes about God were corrected. When I heard those thoughts, recognized them for what they were, I was so embarrassed. The subtext of that sentiment is that she would now see things clearly, see things rightly, see things MY way. Because I, of course, am right about it all.

This is not to say that we can have no idea about who is right and wrong about things. I think she was very wrong about human sexuality, for example. My opinion hasn’t changed on that. But my default attitude and assumption, even for a moment, that I will one day see God face to face and be… unsurprised? That is shockingly arrogant. Well… maybe not so shocking. I’ve hung around my own head for a long time to be too shocked.

I imagine that when I see Jesus, I will immediately recognize him. But I also think that I will be surprised by him. I expect to have gotten so much wrong. To realize I misunderstood or had my view of him misshapen. I think that’s part of being human. And when that is all revealed, will I really be holding up any kind of measuring rod to anyone else to see who was most right? I’ll be too busy being overwhelmed and surprised. And so, so happy.

I had to confess my own sin in that moment. I sinned against God and sinned against my sister.

She still did stuff that made me frustrated or made me roll my eyes. I still really disagree wit some of her stuff. But the experience of hearing her love for Jesus, her hope for the Church, her need for Resurrection… it was powerful. I can’t help but feel even more keenly that all of the aggravation I felt towards her in the past (however much it was), was that found between siblings. (And let’s be clear: it wasn’t “between.” She had no idea who I was.)

Some of what she said carried all the more weight in light of her untimely death. And it made me sad for her death all over again.

It also made me look forward to Resurrection and the setting right of all that’s wrong.

I trust her confession, her trust was not misplaced. That Jesus delighted to surprise her as much as he will delight to surprise me as well. Though I hope that day is long in the future, this book did made me think of my own death and dwell on the truth of Christ’s victory over it.

What she was searching for was found in Jesus. And I’m glad he’s big enough, faithful enough, good enough for people like me too.

Thanks be to God.

for me and my house: individualism is for everyone

Yesterday was the 4th of July and I tried to spend some time thinking about what the day means and what my response should be as a Christian. The question, “What should my response be” my feel like a ludicrous, even sacrilegious question for some people. Jesus is basically wrapped in an American flag and we worship him as the image of the bald eagle descends on the church. That is not how I see things, to say the least. Our church doesn’t have an American flag (or any flag) in our building because the Cross is our flag.

But I’m not anti-American either. I’ve lived outside the country, traveled outside the country in addition to that. I love other cultures and foods and customs. But I’m also glad that I’m an American. There are many advantages and benefits. I think American ideals are legitimately good and were even revolutionary in the 18th century. Americans are generous economically (in terms of aid distributed). We at least used to have a reputation as being particularly hospitable to refugees and those in trouble. I’m grateful for all of those things. So I tried to give thanks to God for the many blessings and privileges I enjoy here.

It’s also worth reflecting upon how being American affects me and many other Christians in this country. This came to mind as I read this piece by Tish Harrison Warren. I really commend the whole thing to you. It’s about how Christians, especially pro-life Christians, ought to care about economic justice, specifically care for the poor and wealth disparity in a society. Much of her piece is to show, through Christian history, how frequently income gaps and poverty were seen as a major, perhaps even primary means of social engagement in the Church.

I think Tish is right that, for many Christians, especially white evangelicals, this is entirely a question for individual social action. And it is! Historically, active church-goers have been very generous people in their communities (on average). This may be shifting a bit as religious labels and commitments and institutional trust change, but historically that has been the case. However, for many people, this is only a question of individual charity.

My instinct says that this is a place where being American has particularly inflected our expression of being Christian. I think Christians in other nations probably understand the need to address poverty as a national, governmental problem and an arena for individual generosity. It’s also entirely possible that Christians in other nations are influenced the other way, prone to only look at government programs and not individual generosity. I don’t know about that part.

This is only an example, though, of what I think is a primary place for American Christians to exercise self-suspicion. Our country, our culture particularly emphasizes the supreme importance of the individual. In America, rugged individualism is part of our national mythos. This cultural ideology has fueled incredible innovation and capitalist conquest. But there is a great cost: every problem comes down to each individual person. Of course, this also protects Americans from a mindset that pawns every problem off onto a governing institution. It’s a trade-off.

What we have to acknowledge as a people and particularly as Christians, that it is indeed a trade. And we ought to be careful.

I see this individualism theologically all the time. More and more Christians today, in this country, wander into theological and church practice territory that is entirely inconceivable to most Christians in most places and times. Theological decisions (or capitulations) are made all the time on a version of this rationale: I have read the Bible myself and I personally have decided what this means and I personally do not feel that I am wrong. Therefore, I will do/believe this. Here are the verses and podcasts and experiences that confirm my decision.

So many decisions about economic justice or gun rights or lifestyle choices (I can buy what I want!) or church structures or spiritual beliefs come down, ultimately, to a concentration on the individual and not the community. The Almighty “I.”

This is a trans-national problem. It is occurring in many countries in this world. But we have to be aware that we, as Americans, are particularly susceptible to this kind of thinking. “You can’t tell me what to do” is one of our de facto national mottos. We see it in movies, in books, and in our churches all the time.

This is not a Christian mode of thinking.

Your individual experience, interpretation, and conscience are all very important. I think the Bible actually teaches that. But all of that is nested into a larger, communal way of thinking. The story of the Bible is ultimately the story of the revelation of God in one God-Man: Jesus Christ. However. Jesus’ story is inseparable from the story of Israel. A people. From the Church. A people.

Throughout Christian history, it has not been left to the individual to determine what is right and what is wrong. The Church provides the context and the guardrails for personal experience. That sounds so dangerous and threatening to so many people in America. And let’s be clear: it has often gone horrendously wrong! The community, the authority has been abusive and oppressive. We acknowledge that. But a radical association of individuals is NOT what the Church is meant to be either. If you come to me and tell me that God has told you that you can leave your wife to explore new romantic experiences, my answer will be pretty simple (assuming there’s no abuse or adultery or something like that): God did not tell you that. Your interpretation is wrong. You should submit to the communal authority of the Church and live in accordance with your vows.

The society, the community decides for you to bind your individual will to what is right.

That is radical, unAmerican thinking. But I very much do believe it is Christian thinking. And I actually do think most Christians would agree with that specific example.

But that mode of thinking is often absent from the kinds of things that Tish talks about or our nation laments when looking at tragic shootings in Uvalde or Highland Park (or on and on and on and on…). I have no definitive answers or political strategies to advocate for here because I am not a poly-sci guy. But if our only response to societal ills is to foist everything upon the individual (“get them mental health help!” “give more to charity!”), the society is not operating as it should. A society built by unjust people is often, unsurprisingly, unjust. Therefore it is both the individual and the collective that needs to be addressed.

I think we can forget that. Individualism is powerful and ever-present in our country.

We ought to push back against it.

No, I’m not saying all Christians should vote a particular way or that we have to live in a commune or that people’s individual conscience and rights don’t matter. Not at all. That all or nothing reaction is symptomatic of the larger problem! “It’s either all about my right to do x or it’s about enslavement!” No. The hedging of personal rights in a corporate setting is simply part of the dynamic of a rightly-ordered society.

It is Christian to think thus and so.

I’m grateful to live in a place that emphasizes the protection of all individuals. I really think it’s incredibly important and a lot of good has come into the world through America precisely because of that. But every gift, every call comes with a burden, an inclination to a particular kind of error. This, I think, is ours. We ought to be careful.

And Christians ought to be ready to be out-of-step with “what it means to be America.” We ought to be weird and foreign and, frankly, a bit annoying because of our refusal of cookie cutters.

My prayer is that, for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. Not the American dream. Not our own desires. Not the cravings of our flesh or the dictates of individualism. No. That we would serve the Lord.

Let it be so with God’s help and the help of His Church.

My daughter cringed and told me that my cup had spilled. Upon further review, it appears that my cup did not spontaneously spill but in fact was knocked over by said daughter. Odd how that didn’t make it into the original account of the incident.

I get it. Apologies are hard.

Question: Is ESPN’s entire media strategy these days simply to cut to Stephen A. Smith and have him launch opinion grenades? Every video on their webpage is precisely this construct. It doesn’t even matter what the topic is. How can a giant company with all those resources have come down to that one move? And… how long can he sustain this?

pro-life and pro-family…. how?

I, like many people in the United States, have moved beyond being frustrated with how our country runs/is led from Washington, D.C. “Frustrated” implies that things could be otherwise. Right now, it just seems impossible. What I feel is resignation. Two political parties hold all the power, in nearly equal measure. And they absolutely refuse to work with another on any kind of meaningful challenge in our country. Why? Because the Other One is the embodiment of evil (“Fascists,” “Nazis,” “Woke Gang,” “Socialists,” etc.) and to work with Evil, in any way, is to be morally compromised. It’s a really rewarding school of rhetoric that does really well to get you a job in Washington and to keep it. It’s a punishing rhetoric in that, once there, you can do absolutely NOTHING. Or at least not without raw numbers/power. And you almost certainly won’t get enough votes to do that. See: (gestures at… everything)

One thing I had a little window of hope about last year, a little ray of optimism, was about a possible coalition of politicians who were going to take seriously policies that would provide relief and encouragement to American families. Specifically: having a family and keeping them fed and clothed. There are different ways that people from both parties were arriving at this desire. One would talk the language of equality and fairness. The other would talk about being pro-life and pro-family. Demographic decline is a real thing and our country is in the midst of it. Or at least we’re edging towards being “in the midst of it.”

Mitt Romney proposed legislation that would provide cash payments to help families. His program was similar in many ways to President Biden’s program of an expansion and pre-payment of child tax credits. There were important differences, but it was a very similar idea. Neither of them had a work requirement, which was new. It seemed like we were heading towards that reality….

And then Washington happened. Which means… nothing.

I find it so disappointing, so discouraging.

When you look at what our country does to support families with children compared to our economic peers (which is a pretty broad category to account for the fact that we’re the biggest economic power in the world), it is shocking who our national comparables are. They’re a grouping of nations that we would, I think, probably consider “beneath” us. Not that that sentiment is ok ontologically, but certainly, they’re countries that we (rightly) consider ourselves well beyond, in terms of development. Countries closer to our economic output spend two or three times more (or more!) than us on programs that support children and families. We have more we could do… and we do less. For children. In poverty.

Why is this?

One thing is that I think we have a fragmented set of values held by a great many people in this country. I think there are a great many people who would say “I am pro-life. Children are great!” and “People should have traditional, two-parent households” and “It would be great if moms stayed home with children” and “Work is inherently good for all people” and “The state should not pay you to sit on your butt” and “You should work your way out of poverty and the government should not compensate for your bad decisions.”

I agree with almost the entirety of all of those statements (I don’t think poverty works as described in that last one). But there is a lot of information to consider between those statements, where those “ands” are and very rarely any kind of holistic envision that is able to explain and hold in tensions all of them at once. So if you interrogate how all of this is supposed to work out, you kind of just get repeat of the dogma, with no new information or explanation. They become items of faith that you can somehow insist on ALL of these things with no adjustment or explanation.

I think you need to pick some values to prioritize and you need to compromise and order things in such a way that these statements can actually come close to being held together by more than brute assertion. Here’s what I mean:

Prioritize families. What is most important here? Children are good. Stable families are good. They are transformative. The idea that our modern society is conducive, to all people, to have multiple children and even to contemplate having one stay-at-home parent (a mother) is, frankly, laughable for the vast majority of the people who live here. That ideal is a middle-class pipe dream for most people without magically being able to transport to a much different neighborhood or into a very different main income. And the idea that if you just work hard enough and smart enough, you can attain that ideal… that’s a fiction. People don’t like being poor. Do stories exist of people making terrible choices and choosing drugs or terrible short-term purchases or whatever over long-term, smart choices? Yes OF COURSE. But, by and large, most people poverty care that they are in poverty and do not want to remain so.

Do you want them to remain poor? Probably not. But do you want to live in a communist society that radically caps and redistributes all wealth towards a vision of equality? I don’t! And I assume you don’t either! So what does that mean? There will always be people at the bottom of the income chain. Always. Even if they’re smart and work hard and whatever, someone (many someones) is going to be at the bottom of the food chain. It’s the nature of a competitive economy.

So. That being true… prioritize families. Do poor people, who will never have the economic dream that is described as the “American dream,” get to have the dream of a stable, two-parent, multi-child household? Well, some of that is up to them. Of course. But can we use our collective national expenditure to make those conditions more accessible for all Americans, regardless of income or job status? Would it be good for us if a mother can choose to NOT work for the first three or six months of a baby’s life? Would it be good for the baby if that was an option for their mother?

I think it would. I think mothers should be able to be with their babies. And I choose that as an organizing idea around which the other ideas have to orbit. If that’s the prioritization, I have to make compromises elsewhere to make all those statements fit.

Is it good for people to work? Yes! Very much so! God made people for good work. He also made us to be fruitful. If I have to choose, I’d rather have the option, as a society, to support a single mom to work less and be with her developing child than to prioritize working more so she can fulfill her obligations as a worker.

See, what I think happens is that people prioritize the work side of this equation and tack on the pro-life, pro-family side. “Yes! We want you to have babies and have a family…. as long as you can remain a 50hr/week worker.” I think we should re-prioritize: “Yes! We want you to work and earn an income and have a steady job… but we want you to do a good job first of raising your children.”

For many people in poverty, I really do think you have to choose one of the priorities. And I think we have the means to make better choices.

Choose families. Support children. Lift kids out of poverty (which absolutely did happen with the expanded child tax credit and has absolutely been undone with its expiration). Make it as easy as possible to have kids with two parents who can actually afford to work slightly less so they can parent slightly more. If you’re going to compromise, compromise in favor of those families.

Choose families.

I think there are lots of ways to be creative and thoughtful when you think along those lines. And I think there really are creative solutions where you can make all the dots fit, if in slightly altered forms. The “nightmare welfare state” doesn’t have to be the only solution.

But start with the family as the organizing principle. I think it’s a much better place to start.

Unfortunately, Washington appears to still be Washington. And I don’t know when we’ll see a different approach to all of this. It seems like such a no-brainer to me. We could compromise our way to something better than what we have. And it just feels so unlikely now.

That’s a real bummer.

Pretty amazing that Major League Baseball has given a look at the recent history of the NHL and said, “Actually yes. That’s exactly what we’d like. Fewer fans. Less interest. Let’s go down that road EVEN FASTER.” I mean… that’s their choice, I guess. Just extra time that my Atlanta Braves remain the uncontested champs.

Wordle was one of those things that I heard and saw people referencing but which I had no personal contact with, so I wondered if I should just purposefully exclude myself and stubbornly not participate in the Very Cool Thing. I’ve done this, for example, with Titanic. I’ve never seen that whole film and what I have seen, my wife made me watch only in the past couple of months. I thought I’d just Titanic the Worlde thing.

Then I found out it’s a word game, which is pretty much right up my alley. I’ve played like five times. It’s so simple and precisely to my tastes.

Now the New York Times has bought it and will inevitably ruin it for me and everyone else. Props to that guy for getting paid. But he’s literally the only actual human being who benefits from this sale. Well… maybe executives at NYT. Maybe.

I’m sorry, everyone. This is probably all my fault. I’ll try not to bring down capitalist doom on anything else.

As a pastor, I am actively trying to get my people to believe a number of things, almost entirely relating to the worth of Christ. But I am formally adding something to my list. It is my desire that all people of Buncombe County, North Carolina and, indeed, Western North Carolina, would come to believe this life-transforming truth:

It is possible to drive on roads when snow falls from the sky. You, yes YOU, can drive while it is snowing, on roads covered and covering with snow, and in the days following said snow. It is possible. You can do it. WE can do this.

It is a hopeless task, but it is mine. I take up this mission.

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