52 Stories #21: “The Picture in the House” by H.P. Lovecraft

abandoned architecture balcony cemetery
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Today’s #52Stories selection is my first real experience with the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, as I consider his 1921 story, “The Picture in the House.” The Lovecraft name has become synonymous with supernatural horror, and I was curious finally to explore his work for myself.

So, what did I think? Gird up your loins, dauntless reader, and proceed!

=====

The Pitch

A traveler takes refuge from a storm in what appears to be an abandoned house, only to find there is one inhabitant…and he’s hungry.

The Pay-off

I made the mistake of choosing a Lovecraft story that was conveniently located in a collection I had picked up to use for another story in this series, so I went ahead and read that one rather than searching out what might be considered his better/best work. At least, that’s what I hope, because if this story is considered one of Lovecraft’s better works, I’m fine with not reading anything else of his. Does that tell you what you need to know?

The Takeaways

Fair warning, adventurer—there be spoilers ahead. Take heed, lest ye

You know what, I’m just going to stop, because giving you spoilers might actually be doing you a favor by saving you the trouble of reading this.

Steel yourselves, brave the fell wind, and hark:

  • You can certainly credit Lovecraft with having a distinct style—even if that style is “15-year-old goth kid with a thesaurus and an axe to grind.” The sentences were belabored and flowery to the point of being silly. Reading his prose almost became a game of “How could I rewrite this sentence in as few words as possible?” I understand that he’s trying to set the mood, but his verbosity quickly became ridiculous. Suffice it to say, this was a jarring shift in style after reading Hemingway’s sparse text.
  • First line: “Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.” Yet, he continues, New England holds the greatest horrors, “…for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.” Yikes.
  • Lovecraft’s narrator (and likely Lovecraft himself) holds a deep and bitter prejudice against the Puritans who settled New England, describing their “gloomy and fanatical belief that exiled them from their kind” and their “appalling slavery to the dismal phantoms of their own minds.” Having actually read Puritan writings and theology, one wonders if Lovecraft has actually read the Puritans, or is merely working from academia’s stereotypes of these early American immigrants (who were fleeing religious persecution, not “exiled” as if they were banished from polite society, thank you). Indeed, the narration was so arrogant about New Englanders  past and present that I hesitated to feel bad for the evil that would imminently befall him.
  • The short version of the plot: In November, 1896, the narrator (a genealogist) is travelling by bicycle through New England, when he breaks into what looks like an abandoned house to wait out a storm. He discovers an ancient book about exploration in Africa, that falls open to a woodcut picture of a cannibal tribe’s “butcher shop,” if you will. As he stares at the picture, he hears a creak in the floor above, and a creepy old man comes down to greet him. Rather than demanding he leave, the old man welcomes the stranger and comments on the open book and its pictures. The old man begins describing how the pictures stir up murderous, hungry impulses in him, when suddenly a drop of blood falls from the blood-stained ceiling above and lands on the page. Then (and this is a bit unclear) there is a clap of thunder, and the narrator is struck by the old man and presumably killed. Or so I thought. Per the Wikipedia entry, a bolt of lightning destroys the house and brings oblivion to the narrator, preventing him from a dark fate–which is the plain reading of the text, but I thought that was too easy and that HPL was being more artistic? Silly me.
  • If the narrator is killed, in either case, how is he able to write this story? Or am I not supposed to ask?
  • But yeah, that’s really all there is to it. A traveler almost (?) falls victim to a cannibalistic recluse in the New England countryside. Also, Puritans are creepy and bad. Thanks, H.P.!
  • Okay, I admit, this is probably an unfair summary/review. HPL sets the mood and tone of the story with his descriptions and language, and I admit, there’s a growing dread as the tale unfolds. I just wish he had set aside the unnecessary potshots at Christianity, because it took me out of the story and made me more guarded and critical of the narrator. (A brief Google/wiki search clears this up: HPL rejected his culturally-Christian roots in childhood and from then on held to a persistent and antagonistic atheism/agnosticism throughout his whole life. Yet all that time, he wrote quite often about powerful, malevolent gods/demi-gods who destroy, corrupt, and drive mad the helpless characters in his stories. There’s QUITE a bit to analyze there, eh?)

All this to say, I was…not a fan of this story. While the references and allusions to Lovecraft’s “Great Old Ones” mythology that I’ve come across in other media have been intriguing (including one of my favorite stories so far in #52Stories!), this entry was a dreary mess. I might give him another shot, but if it’s more of the same, I won’t be digging any further into the Lovecraft bibliography.

=====

Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

52 Stories #20: “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway

cull pistol establishment during nighttime
Photo by Arthur Brognoli on Pexels.com

[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Today’s selection is Hemingway’s 1933 classic story, “A Clean, Well-lighted Place.” I got the idea to read this one from FX Turk via the Gut Check Podcast. Thanks for the inspiration, fellas.

So what’s this story about? More than just “alcohol,” lemme tell ya.

=====

The Pitch

An old man drinks alone at a table, while 2 waiters watch and comment.

The Payoff

That really is the entire story, in that one line of description–but it’s so much more than that. This sparse story carried an emotional heft I wasn’t ready for. It resonated deeply with a past season of my life, and I found myself unexpectedly moved. Definitely seek this one out and read it. (I would further recommend finding a printed version, rather than one of the many PDFs floating around the internet. Due to Hemingway’s complete disdain for dialogue attribution, any formatting errors in digital copies end up confusing the reader as to who is speaking at certain points.)

The Takeaways

I have a few thoughts about this story, so sit back and pour yourself a beverage (with or without a saucer to catch the spillage):

  • First: Hemingway’s economy of language. I was fully engaged in a scene he describes in only the barest of terms. I could hear the music, I could feel the breeze, I could smell the city. With the briefest strokes, he paints a complete picture.
  • At its heart, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is about how people (men, specifically) battle loneliness. The married waiter wants to rush home to sleep beside his wife. The soldier outside is pursuing the company of (presumably) a prostitute. But both the old man who drinks and the older waiter who watches lack such companionship. In a way, they are each other’s company, as they silently occupy the same space. This is why the waiter is hesitant to rush the old man out the door. The old man, despite being rich and having some family nearby, had attempted and failed to kill himself when the loneliness became too much. Now, he just drinks alone in the cafe until closing time.
  • As the old man goes and the old waiter closes shop, the waiter then tries to find somewhere else to go. Here is where the title comes into focus: he, like the old man, sought a clean, well-lighted place–someplace he could sit by himself but in the presence of others, so that he didn’t have to confront the loneliness and silence of his empty apartment. It was the emptiness, the all-encompassing nada, that he was avoiding. The waiter recites a version of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, as the words are overcome and replaced with nada, nada, nada. It’s this nada that lonely men avoid by seeking out cozy spots to drink (or read, or write). There was a season of my life in which, despite having family and friends nearby, I myself ate many meals and spent many evenings in clean, well-lit places, reading, scribbling notes for stories unwritten, hiding away from my own nada.
  • [Now that I think of it, it makes all the more sense that for many years my favorite piece of art was Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, which depicts the epitome of a “clean, well-lighted place.”]
  • “After all, [the waiter] said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.” These final words were a bit heartbreaking, because he’s right. There may be many who have trouble sleeping because they feel isolated.

“A Clean, Well-lighted Place” was short but surprisingly moving, and I grokked it on a fundamental level. One of my favorites thusfar.

=====

Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

“I ain’t gonna work on Susan’s Farm no more…”

mokup smartphone technology phone
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

So…how much is your time worth?

Last night, while looking at a freelancing site, I was shocked how many people underestimated the time and effort required to complete the jobs they posted. In one instance, a poster offered $5 per 4000 words proofread, and flatly stated that if the price wasn’t right for you, then you weren’t the right person for the job. (This comes out to a fraction of the average burger-flipper’s hourly wage.)

I was both amused and offended. “You need to value my time better!” I smirked.

Then the irony dawned on me: I don’t value my own time even that much.

I had just spent 2 hours watching Youtube videos as I finished the dishes and sat down to unwind at the end of the day (not an uncommon occurrence).

Youtube sells its users’ attention/eyeballs to advertisers. Essentially, we’re the product being sold. And I gave Youtube a few hours of my time to sell for…what? Fractions of pennies?

I enjoy content creators on the platform who cover geek culture or video games. But after giving away hours and hours of my attention for a trifling bit of amusement (“a-muse”=”not-thinking”), I start to wonder if $5 per 4000 words might be, comparatively, a princely sum.

I use Youtube for lots of things: music, information, but mostly distraction. It’s often background noise while I work or do chores–a sometimes distracting video-podcast. To be honest, I was afraid to look up how many hours of partial or full attention I’ve given away to a platform that seems to be more interested in reshaping my worldview than supplying my entertainment needs. But I went ahead and did it just now.

26+ hours in the last 7 days.

More than an entire day in the last week. Almost 4 hours a day of this ubiquitous screen demanding my partial or full attention. I’m…mortified.

It’s time for me to step back from Susan’s Farm, find another source for my daily music listening, and (crazy thought) go without a daily distractor for a few weeks. I don’t like being a product. Beyond that, I don’t like that I’ve consumed all this media without producing much of anything. This feels really out of balance.

If Youtube is the way you unwind, I get it. It’s cheap, and there’s lots of options. I hope it benefits you.

But looking at those numbers, I have to wonder if, for me personally, there may be a better way to spend these fleeting moments, even in leisure. (Perhaps I need to re-read Digital Minimalism or Competing Spectacles for inspiration.)

52 Stories #19: “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune” by Chris Crutcher.

abstract art ball blue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Today’s entry in #52Stories is “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune” by Chris Crutcher, recommended by my buddy James on Facebook. This 1989 short story was published in a collection called “Athletic Shorts” and would go on to be the basis for a film adaptation (called Angus), which I believe is James’ favorite movie.

So what did I think? Let’s get to it!

=====

The Pitch

An unlikely candidate is crowned “Winter Ball King” and is determined to make the most of his big moment: a dance with his lifelong crush.

The Payoff

I have mixed feelings about this one. There are elements of the writing that I really liked, and others that took me out of the moment. Some of the story elements seemed unnecessary, but on the whole they don’t really detract from the narrative. The tone of the story is very early 90’s and clearly geared at middle/high-school-aged kids, so it feels a bit heavier on the “Bart Simpson” snark than I would prefer. (I guess that means I’m an “old man yelling at clouds” now?)

The Takeaways

So what worked? What didn’t? Does this story “get its moment”? Let the spoilers commence!

  • Right off the bat, I was a bit thrown off by the “voice” of the narrator. Angus is a high-school senior in 1989, but his word usage and cultural referents are sometimes a bit older. You could argue he’s very close to his grandfather and spends most of his time with his parents, so it’s not out of the question that he would consistently refer to older cultural icons like Robert Redford or use words like “tomfoolery” unironically. But in the end, it really does sound like a middle-aged man writing the dialogue of an 18 year old. The fact that the songs that factor into the climax of the story would be considered “dad-rock” by even late 80’s standards only emphasizes the age disparity between author and narrator.
  • On top of the weird cultural discussion, there’s the sarcasm. I get it, he’s portrayed as a “tough kid” with a good heart. But even how he mentally describes his parents is pretty mean. I don’t know if Crutcher is consciously or subconsciously channeling Holden Caulfield here, but the thing is, I despise Holden Caulfield.
  • You can definitely tell the story was written 30 years ago, because man, some of the terminology would NOT fly in our current PC culture.
  • Don’t let all this criticism fool you, reader. I did genuinely like Angus as a character. Crutcher presents a flawed but very sympathetic protagonist, who becomes a kind of everyman for those of us who didn’t make prom king or get our “moment.”
  • “All I want is my moment.” This is the driving theme of the story: the pursuit of a perfect moment that will make for a lifelong memory. Angus really needs a “win,” and he’s self-aware enough to know that he won’t get many.
  • There are some really nice set-ups and callbacks in the narration and dialogue: Angus saying he has no illusions that Melissa Lefevre (his dream girl) will be so taken with him she’ll want to leave with him; the discussion of how Angus’ football skill comes from his ability to shadow his opponent and watch his hips to know where to go; his fear of his sweat being off-putting to Melissa. Crutcher creates some delightful symmetry throughout the story with these elements.
  • Angus’ unusual homelife could have been used as a major plot device (and would have, if the story were written more recently), but Crutcher manages to keep it secondary to the dance plotline. The fact that Angus has 2 sets of gay parents, and his relationship with all of them collectively, does inform much of his character in the story (and gets quite a bit of attention in the middle section of the story), but it doesn’t feel like this is the capital-P Point of the narrative.
  • Crutcher employs high-school-movie tropes (the big dance, the football-star bully, the untouchable dream-girl, the nobody who’s thrown into the spotlight by the machinations of others), but he does so in a way that still feels natural–the tropes become touchstones, connecting this story to all the other stories we love in this sub-genre.

In the end, I enjoyed this story, despite its flaws. Crutcher demonstrates he’s a solid writer from a technical standpoint, and he made me cheer for Angus as he “got his moment.” If you’re so inclined, you should check this one out. Not a classic, but not a bad time, either.

=====

Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

 

52 Stories #18: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

black crt tv
Photo by Huỳnh Đạt on Pexels.com

[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Next up on “#52Stories Sprint Week” is Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 story, “Harrison Bergeron,” recommended by friend-of-the-blog Matthew Tuck! Thanks for suggesting this one, buddy!

What did I think about Vonnegut’s story? Let’s get into it!

=====

The Pitch

In a society where fairness is enforced, the exceptional are considered a threat to order and happiness.

The Payoff

Oh man, this one was fun. What a great concept. Vonnegut’s subversive wit shines here as he gives a glimpse of a society gone mad with equity. The focus of the story isn’t so much on plot as on fleshing out the brilliant concept–how a government might enforce “equality” by driving everyone toward a common middle. It’s a bit ironic that Vonnegut, who was personally sympathetic to the ideas of socialism as a way of benefiting the common man, describes a kind of ideologically and characteristically socialist state. At any rate, this story is a hoot. Definitely find it and check it out.

The Takeaways

Let’s not waste any time. On to the hail of spoiler-filled bullets, which by government mandate will not be any longer or more wordy than any other post’s bullets:

  • First line: “The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal.” From the outset, Vonnegut’s sardonic voice sets up the reader for what’s in store.
  • [AH! I’m having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I want to talk about everything at once! I apologize for repetition and stream-of-consciousness points. Blame it on these infernal headphones.]
  • The story describes an equality-by-government-fiat, held in place by multiple constitutional amendments and by the iron will of the Handicapper-General of the United States, Diana Moon Glampers. Over the course of the story (which is not only short but fast-paced in its humor and movement), Vonnegut describes the pursuit of “equality” as the intentional flattening of excellence or personal exceptionalism. Success, brilliance, and genius are privileges (if you’ll forgive the modern label) for which the gifted should feel shame (e.g. a ballerina apologizing for having a beautiful voice and going on to speak with an exaggerated squawk) and be willing to be penalized. The goal in this society is to be as close to average as possible, so as not to offend others who are less gifted than you. I don’t know about you, but this seems a bit…relevant, almost 60 years later.
  • George and Hazel Bergeron are sitting in their living room, distracted and dazed by television. This seems like a pretty clear commentary on media-obsessed culture, but that could just be a surface level reading since it’s such low-hanging fruit. Their passivity in the light of the screen is demonstrated when they barely register the exciting and tragic events that unfold before their eyes. Nevertheless, Vonnegut takes that trope up a notch by noting Hazel’s sudden bursts of tears–as if awareness and understanding are trying to fight through the fog. Very likely, her tears at the beginning are in part for their son, who was stolen away by the government for being too gifted.
  • The satire of the “handicaps” (a word always used to describe the arbitrary encumbrances placed on people, never actual disabilities) takes on an absurd degree. George’s noise-headphones to prevent extended deep thought, the masks and weights worn by the dancers, the burdens placed on Harrison by the state, all demonstrate how far well-intentioned people will go in the name of equality. This takes a more ridiculous turn when men with actual speech impediments are shown to be the newscasters of this society. Hazel’s response to a frustrated news anchor who can barely get words out perfectly encapsulates this thinking: “That’s all right–he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.” This is “everyone-gets-a-ribbon” thinking at its fullest.
  • By contrast, George refers to the age when people competed with each other all the time as “the dark ages.” People are afraid of being better than anyone else, of succeeding if others fail.
  • The namesake of the story is George and Hazel’s son, Harrison. Though he’s said to be only 14 years old, he’s described as an Adonis. The reader seems to be encouraged to visualize him as older, more powerful and self-possessed, a seven-foot-tall superman who breaks free of his bonds and declares himself to be the Emperor on live television before he and a beautiful ballerina he proclaims will be his queen are shot and killed, live on air, by a shotgun-wielding Handicapper-General.
  • To be honest, the only real critique I have for this story is that when Harrison himself shows up, he’s just a little too much. He’s described as an almost epic figure, which makes his original stated age ridiculous. His aggrandized statements are completely silly (although that, to be fair, is age-appropriate), and the description of the dance became too fanciful for my taste. I was all-in for the biting social satire, but the gravity-defying ballet dancing took me out of the moment.
  • In the end, Harrison is dead, the TV broadcast is interrupted, and George and Hazel miss the whole thing. George was distracted and Hazel was dazed, and they exchange a tragic bit of dialogue. George asks why Hazel has tears in her eyes, and she says she doesn’t know–perhaps there was something sad on the television before the program stopped. “Forget sad things.” “I always do.” “That’s my girl.”
  • One wonders if a society full of Hazel’s and George’s is destined to be ruled by a bureaucracy that demands an average populace. If a people can be lulled into complacency, and discouraged from striving for excellence, they would be pretty docile in the right pair of strong hands.

This one was a delight to read. And as an added bonus, I hear there is a short film adaptation that was made recently. I’m planning on seeking that out. I’ll let you know what I find!

=====

Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

 

52 Stories #17: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

photography of stones
Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

[What is #52Stories? Check it out.]

Happy #52Stories “Sprint Week”! (One day late, sorry–yesterday was a “day off” spent running household errands!)

We’re kicking things off with a classic from 1948–Shirley Jackson’s lighthearted and whimsical tale of ritual small-town murder.

What did I think? Let’s find out! (Does everyone have their names in the box? Good.)

====

The Pitch

Townsfolk gather to find out who “wins” the yearly drawing.

The Payoff

Stories like this are tricky, because the twist is so well-known that it’s hard to approach it with fresh eyes. Even not having read the story until now (surprising, since it’s often included in high-school curricula), I was still well aware of the broad strokes of the plot, such as it is. It took a second reading to pick up on some of the subtleties and allusions Jackson works into the piece. Nevertheless, it’s a quick story that’s worth your time, so if you haven’t read this story, and somehow don’t know about the ending, definitely seek it out and enjoy.

The Takeaways

If there are any sweet souls unfamiliar with the story, I’ll go ahead and give a SPOILER WARNING from this point forward. Go read the story and then come back.

On to the barrage of bullets, like so many scattered stones!

  • Opening line: “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day.” Definitely sounds different the *second* time you read the story.
  • Jackson makes a few brief allusions to the history of the Lottery–the transition of pieces of bark to strips of paper, the practice of chants or salutes, the battered old box handed down from generation to generation. There are references that those foolish young folks who want to end the Lottery would likely prefer going back to “living in caves.” In just a few sentences here and there, Jackson gives the reader a sense that this village (the location of which is merely described as south of “the northern village”) has been doing this for a long time, and that the progress of the Lottery mirrors the advancement or progress of “civilization,” such as it is in this context.
  • If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you likely would pick up on the similarities to the judgment against Achan: the community is gathered, the clan is chosen, and then the guilty party is singled out, taken away, and stoned by the community. I don’t know enough about the author to discern if this story is meant to be on some level a critique of what seems like arbitrary or cruel mob violence framed as divine judgment in the Biblical version.
  • “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” The first time I read the story, I skimmed right over this line, but on second look, I realized that this is the “why” that seems shockingly absent in the rest of the story. The Lottery isn’t just a random practice of communal violence–it’s a ritual to secure a good harvest. Though the story is set in the twentieth-century American heartland, it could have easily been any other culture in millennia past. Perhaps this is a statement about the nature of human superstition being the same across time and space.
  • There is a certain sad irony that Tessie Hutchinson, late to the party, “forgetting what day it was” (perhaps as an indication of her hesitation to participate), ends up being the “winner.” Or the fact that Old Man Werner, who has defied the odds for 77 long years, is the most adamant supporter of the Lottery, and bemoans how folks have “changed” and are sometimes less enthusiastic than he’d like. One wonders how he would have reacted if he was the one to draw the black mark.
  • I first wondered if this story, published just 3 years after the end of the second World War, is meant to be a subtle examination of anti-Communist anxieties and the growing concern about a changing world. However, I think my earlier thought on the universality of human superstition and fear is more on the mark (no pun intended). Jackson isn’t writing about a mob trying to ferret out a subversive or dangerous element. It’s a story about tradition: a tradition that too many are afraid to question, even if year after year, on a bright and sunny summer day, they must put to death one of their own.  Sometimes, the darkness of men’s hearts is monster enough.

=====

Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

A #52Stories Update.

black and white books education facts
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, friends!

So you may have noticed that my initial plan of reading and reviewing a short story every week hasn’t quite panned out. Point of fact, this is the end of Week 32 of calendar year 2019, and I’m only 16 stories in!

Well, your faithful-if-inconsistent correspondent is going to put himself on the spot by declaring next week “#52Stories Sprint Week“!

Starting Monday, expect to see a flurry of posts reviewing and discussing short stories from my #52Stories list, including such notables as Asimov, Vonnegut, Tolkien, Bradbury, Jackson, Hemingway, and more!

I don’t think I’ll be able to get caught all the way up to Story #33 in my list by the end of next week, but I’m gonna make a good run at it.

If this project isn’t really your bag, that’s fine–just bear with me while I catch up over the next few weeks, and then we can settle into our normal (inconsistent) blogging on other subjects after that. Maybe sign up for email updates, so you can just check in when a post interests you? That link is on the right or below, depending on your browser configuration.

That’s it for now. See you next week, friends, and happy reading!

 

Weep and hope.

I started crying as I led our congregation in prayer yesterday.

Part of it was my own fault. I had a challenging week, balancing work, church, and family responsibilities. I haven’t been sleeping enough, I haven’t been eating right, I’ve been consuming way too much sugar and caffeine (my go-to drugs to keep the engines firing when I’m reaching my physical and mental limits). The night before, I foolishly stayed up past midnight when I know good and well what a mistake that is with church the next morning. All this to say, I wasn’t in top form as I drove to church the next day.

Funny thing, though: all those circumstances were cracks in my defenses, allowing the news of El Paso and Dayton to hit me pretty hard. I couldn’t tell you why, particularly, beyond the obvious human tragedy. My wife asked if it was because I have two little girls now, and my paternal protectiveness and overactive imagination got the better of me. Perhaps. I don’t know.

I was tasked with leading the Prayer of Supplication during our Sunday service. As I stood at the pulpit and prayed with and over my brothers and sisters, the little flock I’ve been tasked with co-shepherding, I felt myself starting to weep.

I prayed for our unity, which has been facing some recent challenges. I prayed for our mission in the community where we are planted. I prayed for the future of our church, as we face some important decisions in the next few months. I prayed for them, and I felt a knot growing in my throat, because I knew what else I was about to pray.

I prayed for the families of the dead and wounded in three cities whose names hit the headlines this past week. I prayed for the countless others all over the country whose suffering wouldn’t be noticed much past their regions. (Little did I realize that almost 50 were shot in Chicago this weekend, or that in the next 16 hours, eleven people would be shot in my city and six of those would perish.)

There is so much death. So much violence. So much rage. 

What is the source of all this death and chaos and hatred in our world? Where does it come from? Behind the barrels of guns, the vicious invective, the glares and the bared teeth, is the poison of sin and the handiwork of Satan. Whatever secondary causes may be blamed and opposed, there are always traces of brimstone in those bloody fingerprints.

This past week, I listened to a sermon by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Ephesians 6:10-13. In his address, he argued that all the death and destruction of even the (then-recent) 2 world wars wasn’t ultimately caused by Hitler or by the Kaiser before him, but by the work of Satan and his forces of darkness. The same is true for all suffering and violence committed among men.

[To be clear, I agree that there’s a time and a place to talk about solutions, to assign blame, to call for change. Those discussions should be had. But I don’t want to have them right now, right here.]

As I prayed over my church family, as my eyes burned and my voice caught, I asked God to help His people think about these tragedies theologically more than politically–that our response would, in part, be the same as Jesus’ when He was told of falling towers and bloody tyrants: “Unless you repent, you also will likewise perish.”

No matter what laws are enacted, no matter what rulers are ensconced, no matter what preventative measures are ratified, the heart of man is still corrupt, self-seeking, angry, and spiritually dead. The only way a wicked, violent, destructive man will truly change is for his dead, poisoned, rotten heart of stone to be replaced by a clean, living, heart of flesh–for him to be brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son. That’s the only way any of us will be rescued from the sin that has entangled and enslaved us–repenting of our sin and believing in Jesus, who died in our place and rose again, defeating sin, death, and the grave.

As we move forward, as we consider what comes next after such a bloody week, may we keep in mind that laws are good for restraining the evil in men’s hearts, but only the blood of Jesus can remove it. 

At the same time, and perhaps most of all, may we remember the hope we have as believers in Jesus. Because the hope, friends, the hope that we have is in a King who is coming back, who will destroy the works of Satan, who will punish all evil, who will remove it from the world, who will banish Death itself. We have the promise of a Kingdom of Light, and a King who will wipe our tears away.

Weep, beloved, but weep and mourn while holding onto hope. This dark world will give way to a better one, a brighter one. Maranatha.

What Your Faithful Pastor Needs.

brown and blue house on mountain
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

I’ve been an elder for 6 months or so, and it’s been a blessing and a challenge. Although I was warned about the weight of this “mantle of responsibility,” I underestimated how heavy it can be to carry the knowledge of the challenges and pains your flock is enduring–and to know that you have a part to play in ministering the Gospel of grace to those hurts each week.

Here’s the thing, though: your pastor, your elders–they do it because they love it. And they love it because they love you.

Pastoral ministry is heavy and it’s hard, but your pastors love serving you in this way. You may not like when the way they serve you is through exhortation, challenge, or even discipline. But this is how they love you. This is how they care for your soul.

So going into this weekend, Christian, I wanted to encourage you briefly with a reminder of what your faithful shepherds need, so that you can be a blessing to them.

  • Pray for them. Pray for their hearts, as they carry the responsibility of leadership and ministry. Pray for their marriages and families, that God would guard them against the attacks of the Enemy. Pray that God would keep them humble and hungry for Him and His Word. Pray that God would guard their witness in ministry. If you know of struggles they are facing, lift them up before the Lord.
  • Encourage them. Tell them that you prayed for them. Thank them for teaching or serving or administrating. Let them know how their work is bearing fruit in your life. There can be stretches where all an elder hears from his congregation is hurt and critique and doubt, and in those moments a gentle word of encouragement is a refreshing drink of water that squares the shoulders and straightens the spine.
  • Show them respect. By this, I don’t mean that you should give them undue deference or any sort of silly “anointed” and untouchable status–far from it. Pastors and elders are exhorted throughout Scripture to live as examples before the congregation; this is a high standard. What I mean is this: recognize that your pastors and elders are not only under-shepherds entrusted with the care of the flock, but they also your brothers in Christ. They are (hopefully) your friends; by that I mean, you treat them in a friendly and brotherly manner. So if you have concerns or even critiques, you don’t put them on blast as the world does, or trash them on social media or in snarky conversations with others. Rather, you should seek to discern the best time and the best way to address those issues lovingly, as a brother or sister in Christ.
  • Buy them coffee. Okay, this last point is from me, not the Lord, but I too believe I have the Holy Spirit. 🙂 This may sound self-serving, and I admit it may be so, but a small token of appreciation for a pastor who labors faithfully can make a huge impact. October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I would encourage you to plan on blessing your elders and pastors in some small but meaningful way.

Most importantly of all, follow the example of your pastors and elders this weekend by being in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day.

Have a great weekend, friends. See you next week.

Friday Feed: 07/26/2019

beach beautiful bridge carribean
Photo by Nextvoyage on Pexels.com

Happy Friday! I’m back today with some interesting and (hopefully) beneficial links for your weekend review (including some links pulled from my Feedly app’s “Read Later” list that I’m reading *much* later).

Let’s get to it!

  • Maybe you’re someone who wants to read more but just can’t seem to find the time or the will to make it happen. Jordan Taylor can relate. He can also show you how to address that.
  • I had never before heard this story of the price that Pastor (and author) Randy Alcorn paid for his convictions about the life issue. What a profound example of humble, daily faithfulness.
  • As you may know, we welcomed our second daughter recently. This post by Matthew Tuck is a great encouragement about how important simply reading the Bible to your kids can be.
  • Along those same lines: If you have wanted to begin a practice of family worship in your home, this piece from Things Above Us is instructive and practical. Check it out.
  • From last year, here’s a Crossway blog post about 5 tips for Bible memorization. I don’t pursue this discipline as I ought. These reminders/encouragements are worth a look.
  • Christian, rethink your public speech. Amen.
  • If you’ve never heard the story of Charles Spurgeon and the “Downgrade Controversy,” this is a nice summary. It’s a story worth digging into.
  • I am looking for a way to get organized, mentally as much as schedule-wise. I may give bullet-journalling a try this weekend. 
  • Finally, this post about the ignoble tasks of pastoral ministry was a challenge to the creeping selfishness in my heart, and a reminder that I should be grateful for the elders I serve with and the ones who have cared for me over the years.
  • Update: Actually, one more link–this post from Tim Challies about being your own content curator. As I noted above, I use Feedly, at Tim’s recommendation, and I think it’s a great resource. If you use an RSS feed now, or if you are considering using one, could I perhaps encourage you to add this blog to it? That is one of the best ways to know when I’ve posted new content, as I’m obviously still trying to figure out a consistent posting schedule. (Another great way is to sign up for updates on the sidebar to the right (or below, depending on your device). Thank you!

=====

I hope this was a help to you. If any of these topics interest you, be sure to click through, and maybe drop me a comment below to let me know which of these interested you. Thanks!