Category Archives: review

Easy to forget

There was a constant low hum whenever I would fire up my old record player to spin some vinyl. It definitely took away the music’s beauty that was trying to escape from the record’s grooves.

I knew better. There’s a thing called grounding. I knew that if the record player wasn’t grounded, it would hum. But that fact got buried in the clutter of life. I took a few minutes to look at the back of the record player and couldn’t find where the grounding wire was supposed to plug in. So I gave up.

the grounding wire at the back of the turntableSeveral months later, I checked again. Buried under an overhanging part of the back of the record player was a little hole. I pushed the grounding wire in there, and voila, the hum disappeared.

How often I forget stuff I know. (How much easier life would be if I applied what I know!)

Here are a few concepts that I keep forgetting – any maybe you do too.

  • When I treat the people around me with love, they will often love me back. It’s way too easy to get into business mode and be short; gentleness works much better. Luke 6:31 – Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
  • Be thankful – and more than just on Thanksgiving. Don’t just be thankful – but share what I’m thankful about with others. Psalm 105:1 – Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.
  • Generosity doesn’t just benefit the person I’m giving to – it benefits me. 1 Timothy 6:18b-19a …be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age…

What are some things you keep forgetting?

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.


Reflecting on lent, reflecting on Easter

There’s no reason to be surprised about our confusion about living after Lent, living beyond Easter. Consider the responses of people during the days following the first Resurrection day.

There are moments of sheer delight.

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It was empty. She went to find the disciples. She ran into Jesus on the way, first mistaking him for a gardener, then knowing the voice. She was ecstatic. Like the people who celebrate Easter with big events, with great smiles. Like the people who are bubbling from the freedom. The people who thought they were dead, thought their lives were over. Easter is a reminder of everything wrong gone right.

There are moments of disbelief.

The disciples didn’t think they could trust what the women said. The disciples didn’t think they could believe the people from the walk to Emmaus. Thomas couldn’t believe the other disciples. The people like Elijah who have had an amazing experience but get up the next morning and everything is normal, everything is worse than normal. The people who worked hard getting everything ready for the Easter celebration at church, hours and days and weeks. And they walk out after the Sunday services and the right rear tire is flat.

There are moments of explanation.

Two of the disciples headed out from Jerusalem on that first Sunday, full of confusion about what had happened to Jesus. They were so wrapped up with the introspection that when Jesus started walking with them, they didn’t recognize him. As they walked toward Emmaus, Jesus walked through the whole Old Testament, from Moses through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, and the rest. He traced the threads that pointed to him. That kind of teaching likely happened often after his resurrection.

What’s so clear in the responses of the people who knew Jesus first is that they responded in different ways at different speeds. And so do we.

(Taken from Lent for Non-Lent People, still available for the Kindle and for the Nook.)

Saturday reflection: Lent 2012

The second most visited post on this blog is one I wrote about Lent in 2011: 33 things to give up for Lent. All year long people have come to this post by searching for Lent. Which is interesting, since Lent is a period of forty days (plus 6 Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It doesn’t last all year.

Several years ago, some friends and I wrote about Lent. When I started that blog, I said

What I’m seeing is posts from you which would wrestle with what we learn when we give up that which we enjoy for the sake of better understanding that in which we delight. Not all of us are from a liturgical background. That’s the point. I want to have some wrestling with lent, with fasting, with self-denial as self-discovery, with the relationships between forms and faith and relationship.

For 2012, I decided to gather some of the posts I’ve written about Lent and fasting. I also decided to post it 10 days before Ash Wednesday in case you want to plan ahead.

And so you know, in 2012 Ash Wednesday is February 22 and Easter is April 8.

Some comments on fasting from Matthew 6

Some comments about silence

  • Deliberate silence – Excerpt: “I am involved regularly in deliberate unsilence. Every day I am generating words and thought images and stories and photos with the intention of disrupting silence. And so are you.”
  • habits of sight. – Excerpt: “Some habits are desirable. We call those “disciplines.” Some habits are not. We call those “addictions.” Some are neutral. We call those “drinking coffee.” For the last six weeks I gave up a way of seeing called twitter. When Lent started, I hadn’t exactly intended to give it up. However, I was beginning to wonder whether Twitter was a discipline (staying in touch with a group of people that I was beginning to care about and for) or an addiction (staring at the flow of comments in every spare moment) or neutral (stopping to say ‘hi’ while walking to the office coffee pot).”
  • listen – Excerpt: “I discovered that I use noise. I discovered that when I drive and start talking with God, I finish a couple sentences and reach for the radio. I didn’t realize how often I do that until I watched my hand reach for the radio that no longer was there.”
  • 8 ways to get better at following, part 2 – Excerpt: “Most of us have heard about sabbaticals. A sabbatical is a break from something. It could be taking a day each week with electronic devices turned off or six months away from work. The idea of sabbatical is rooted in the idea of sabbath.”

Some comments about Sabbath

I know that Sabbath seems like the opposite of Lent. It’s time to eat and rest, where Lent seems to be about suffering. But for many of us, truly taking time off, giving up the franticness for family and feasting and frivolity and fellowship, would be its own kind of fast.

  • Our sabbath group – Excerpt:  We started a couple years ago. Just for six weeks. Now we can’t stop. It’s not complicated, by the way. It starts with “you hungry? For supper and God?” And goes from there.
  • Burdens and breakfast – Excerpt: “These were people who weren’t just tired. They were tired from living up to expectations. They were tired from having to look over their shoulder, expecting pastors to pester them, expecting Pharisees to flog them. Every step was a burden. And Jesus says, “try my yoke”.
  • A question of stopping – Excerpt: “Late at night, when being driven by the list, rest seems desirable, but out of reach. In the morning, when being driven by the list, rest seems long gone. In the middle of the day, between the calls and the visits and the ambiguity and the precisely-phrased demands, rest seems impossible.”
  • On rests – Excerpt: “I used to play tuba. As such, there were often long stretches of music pieces we played during which I didn’t play. We would spend these times counting very carefully (1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4 and so on). It was stressful at times because you had to make sure you entered at the right place.”
  • Time is hard to take – Excerpt: “Ironically, it is easier to confess to you my inability to stop than it is to just stop. Is it possible that there is in the confession a desire to receive compassion, empathy, understanding…from you? I mean, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You are, as I am, a part of a culture which, whether inside or outside church, finds stopping difficult. We feel as though we must be productive in our work, in our rest, in our play, in our wasting of time. If we can’t do something, we must at least create the facade of busyness.”

Marching together – Lent ideas.

I’ve got a bunch of projects running through my head and heart. Some of these are on my list of 99 goals for the year. Some of them have cropped up since I made that list.  I’m realizing that I’m never going to get to all of them. Nor should I.

For the next few days, I’m going to describe some of these projects. I’m doing so to offer them to you. Maybe you want to help. Maybe you want to take the idea yourself. Maybe you’ll help me see that the project doesn’t matter.


Here’s the first one: Lent.

March 9 is Ash Wednesday. It’s the first day of the season of Lent.

Three years ago, a group of friends wrote a Lenten blog with me. It was a wonderful project. I have thought about writing for Lent again this year, but I don’t have the freedom to do it.

If I did, I would not talk about giving up food.

  • I would instead talk about giving up worry. For 40 days, intentionally surrendering the illusion of control which is reflected in worry.
  • I would talk about giving up self-aggrandizement.
  • I would talk about giving up the illusion of martyrdom which so often accompanies our service.
  • I would talk about giving up resignation, at least the kind that we do to make ourselves feel better, more in control, more humble than others.
  • I would talk about giving up self-righteousness, which is not a kind of righteousness that Jesus ever had any time for anyway.
  • I would ask you what you would be willing to give up for 40 days as an exercise in self-discipline.

But I’m not going to do any of those. I’m not sure why. I would be interested in reading about them if someone else wants to write them.

We all can’t be hands

Many have approached this new year with ideas of things they would like to do differently this time through. It’s really nice to have a fresh start. We all need places and times to begin again.

However, I ask you to proceed with caution. It’s easy to give yourself goals that may be unrealistic or unobtainable. If you’re like me, your to-do list is massively long. I keep starting new lists of stuff I need to do. Then I tend to start newer lists that are more current or more urgent.

In First Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that every person has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s all too easy to look at the person who gets more glory and say, “I need to be more like them.” Maybe you don’t! Maybe it’s better to look at the way God created you and figure out how to be better within the gifts that God has given you.

I played violin in middle school and a bit in high school and college. Twenty years later, I was given the opportunity to play again through the graces of a low-risk orchestra. I spent an hour with the violin and realized the amount of time and emotional energy it would have taken me to reach a level of satisfaction were more than I had to give. So I quit before I began again. Was I wrong? Maybe.

It’s definitely good to push ourselves beyond our limits, sometimes. We all know that if we stay too close to our comfort zones, we will never grow. But staying in that place of discomfort can cause burnout or even worse. Remember, “God has put each part just where he wants it.” If you don’t know, figure out where that place is. Live there. And grow there.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)