Words Have Weight

Thoughts from a youngish husband, father, and pastor

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.

Sometimes I fall into streams of theology outside my theological home (Presbyterian). Very often, I am delighted by what I find there. So much so that I wonder, “Wait, should I be XXXX?!” The thought captures me for a few days and then I end up thinking, “No I could not leave where I am. I love it here. But I sure do love those people over there for stewarding that treasure so well.” And I still sort of wish/wonder about living in that different theological home. I think this kind of exercise a) reinforces the great strength of the united Body of Christ and more importantly b) Shows the riches of the depths in Christ Jesus that require an eternity to be explored and enjoyed. Glory be to God!

Increasingly, I flip through Apple News and realize that the entirety of the headlines are either “The state of XXXX is absolutely the worst and we’re all going to die” or “OMG look at this hilarious/tragic/terrible piece of celebrity news!” That’s it. That’s everything.

Apple News (and perhaps just “News”) is therefore meaningless for me. Or at least just… useless.

On the highway today, I saw a pickup truck drive by with a sticker on the driver-side rear-window. It leapt off the scenery and into my attention: “14/88.” I was confused, but something about that rang alarm bells. I looked it up and… yep. Barely-hidden white supremacist, neo-Nazi code. And this guy had it pasted to the OUTSIDE of his truck. The degree to which America has been or still is a very racist place is obviously very contentious. Everything is racist or nothing is, apparently. I don’t always know how to talk about it with people. But what I can tell you is this: There are portions of this country where someone like that is entirely comfortable making statements like that, with no fear of any negative social ramifications. That alone should trouble us more than it usually does.

the end of a life at the end of a year

My wife’s grandfather died this past Sunday. He was nearing 90 and had lived a life that was filled with such warmth, his family could not help but gather in the shelter of its heat one final time. He died surrounded by people who loved him, who had been loved exuberantly by him, and had been led to love like him in so many ways. Death is a cruel, vile, and hateful thing. But when I meet my end, if I do so half as well as Stan Beckman, I will be a wealthy man.

I was reading Papa’s obituary today and I was really moved by it. For one, the photo for the article was absolutely appropriate and in keeping with his character, as I know him. Papa was in my life for only the waning of his strength, but I was absolutely floored by how much strength and vigor was in him. One of the first times I was ever around my wife’s family was actually at his retirement party. He was finally done with his medical practice at the hospital at the age of 73. At that point, he was still regularly going on 3-5 mile runs. At that point, at the age of 20, I’m not sure I could have completed one 5 mile run.

Meeting Papa (and his wife, Joyce, who the family calls “Mormor,” of Swedish origin) radically expanded the horizons of what old age could be for me. My father’s father died before I was born. His wife, who I was very close to, died when I was 15. My other grandmother had battled a variety of illnesses, including diabetes, that did not leave her with nearly so much physical vitality. Her husband, my only remaining grandparent, my own Papa, seems absolutely bulletproof and may live to be 140. But he was often taking care of his wife, not doing laps on the nearby track.

But it was not the remembrance of Papa’s physical energy that I was so moved by in his obituary. I remember Papa as an abundantly, enthusiastically loving and kind man. He (along with some others) supported my little family from the time we went to Cape Town for a year, to the day I walked across the stage of seminary graduation, several years later. His laugh was unmistakeable, his joy incomparable. The people in my church who know of him, know him as the man who vocally expressed his delight at the Word being preached with moans of delight that you might easily hear around the dinner table or, more specifically, the ice cream bowl. He loved ice cream and he vocally expressed his joy at church as if he were sitting down to a banquet table filled with the very best homemade stuff. Papa was a man in his 70’s and then his 80’s who was better at enjoying life than I have ever been.

That’s what I found so striking about his obituary. There’s a lot of things in the description of his life. Paragraphs race through whole stretches of years. As I cruised through his life, it was like the feeling I get as I drive through rural parts of the country on a long road trip. Instead of asking myself, “What’s it like to live down that road,” I wondered, “What was it like for him to live that year on the reservation, or there in Okinawa, or to move the family back to Newaygo?” So much time and experience that I’ll never be able to know or access made up his long, rich life.

Some of the things that he did are pretty adventurous. Being a doctor for the state department and moving so many places is more world-seeing than most people will do. But the bulk of his life was spent in a small town in Western Michigan where, seemingly, nothing really extraordinary happened. He passed decades of his career in a small hospital, doing good work that didn’t change the medical field. He didn’t take big, jaw-dropping vacations that would do well to grace a magazine cover. In many ways, his life was not “epic” in any way. On the surface.

But if you knew him, you could see so many signs of the remarkable. The daily devotion to the people he loved, to his kids, his grandkids (and their lucky spouses), and even his great-grandkids never looked, in the moment, like anything too special. But a lifetime of that kind of daily love, presence, and faithfulness is the only way to build what he left behind in his 88th year: an absolutely incredible, rich, full, joyous life.

It is appropriate, at someone’s death, to consider the reality of our own end. Death is coming for me. I hope that I’ll get another 50 or even 60 years. I don’t know. It’s not promised to me. But I hope that’s what I have left in me. So much of the ethos of my generation was a spoon-fed rhetoric of doing the awesome, the radical, the epic. And it has left many of us frustrated and disappointed with our lives because we just can’t quite live up to that standard.

But Papa’s life is a reminder that the truly enduring and beautiful life that may be available to us is the life that is put together, not accomplishment by accomplishment, but day by day. How well do I live my life in loving service to, support for, and joy over my wife, my kids, my church, my friends? How often do I waste my time wishing for what’s just ahead, over that next hill, or beyond the horizon, instead of faithfully tending to where my feet are planted?

Papa’s life, from what I saw, was pretty well focused on the ordinary beauty of the life he was living. He found that God Himself charged every moment with rich meaning and delight available for the taking.

Oh he wasn’t perfect. I’m sure many people in his life could list the ways he hurt or wronged them. I’m sure he had long stretches of struggle (apart even from the struggle to grind his way out of very humble beginnings and into the medical field). I’m sure there were times when he questioned how he measured up. He was a man, an ordinary man. Those things had to have been true to one degree or another.

But the generosity of his love, faithfully given across the decades in those ordinary fields of life’s passing, is what accumulated into the extraordinary.

I heard so much gratitude from Papa. I think he surveyed his life and kept being impressed by God’s kindness. He kept seeing sunsets and children’s laughter and well-managed fields of wheat and he was just, over and over again, so delighted to see another gift given from the hand of God Himself.

If I could follow him, that would be a gift indeed. That would be the recipe for a good, ordinary life.

To do it so well would be epic. It would be extraordinary.

When I grow up, I hope that I look like him.

Stereotypical and very first-world complain: UPS has been absolutely terrible this year. Way worse than normal. Failure to ship things. Failure to update tracking. I ordered things a month out and… I may not get half of the Christmas presents I ordered. Very odd. I guess a result of labor shortage? How do they expect me to give thoughtful gifts with very little effort?!

The assigned Advent reading in The Jesus Storybook Bible tonight was the story of Rachel and Leah. That “children’s” Bible has a lot of ways to make me cry, but that particular story makes me lose it more than most. I was choked up before I read a line of it. Sally Lloyd Jones does a lot of wonderful work in that book, but (1.) the decision to include that story and (2.) to tell it from that perspective is one of the most beautiful ways to tell the audacious nature of the Gospel. It’s the cast-off ones that He’s comes to love. Glory.

I am not familiar with the ins and outs of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. I am not overly familiar with the technical aspects of the events or the charges or the law. All I can say is that the overwhelming feeling I have as an uninformed person is this: I’m incredibly sad that in America (and probably only in America) could a child acquire a powerful, deadly weapon, appoint himself an agent of justice, patrol dangerous streets, have two people die in the events at his hand… and have nothing at all about this be deemed criminal. I’m not saying he’s a murderer or should have been judged as such. I’m not saying he was a villain amongst innocent, peaceful doves. I’m sure it was complicated and messy.

But two people died at the hands of a man-child who decided he needed to be a representative of justice in a neighborhood that wasn’t his.

And no crime was committed.


I truly hope and pray for an incredible outcome: I hope he is flooded with genuine relief and sadness over the loss of life and becomes a wonderful agent for shalom in the world. That would be amazing. I hope that he has a long life in which he can be a leader and a healer and a servant. What an unexpected redemption that would be. May it be so!

I just read this story on ESPN, which tallies the amount of money paid over the past 10+ by public universities to coaches who were fired. It’s over half a billion dollars and does not include the firings from this year. This is absolute insanity. Public universities paying millions and millions of dollars for coaches who no longer coach for them. And look at the states who lead the pack. Do you think states like Alabama and Mississippi could use some investment in education? I mean… go look at the educational rankings. And yet, I cannot imagine a way out of this lunacy apart from a completely fantastical system change. Schools, PUBLIC schools, will continue to pour out millions of dollars for the admissions recruitment that happens on the helmets of their football teams. And the public that supports the institutions would bay for blood if their favorite school did not keep up with this arms race. And you know that the coaches are not looking to take a reasonable “public servant” salary. So all parties involved… are perfectly happy.

This is madness.

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