Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween!

"This is Halloween, This is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Halloween..."

It's that time of year again.  A great cold day for Trick or Treating, for carnivals, and spook houses.  To dress up.  To feel young again.  To eat all the candy you shouldn't and not regret it (at least until tomorrow).

So, why not enjoy it?

Turn on the lights and pass out candy instead of acting like you are not home.  Go trick or treating yourself.  If nothing else, go pass out candy to cashiers at grocery stores and fast food windows; make someone's day who has to work.

Why not go to mass and light candles for those that have passed on before, a recognition of the commencement of Allhallowtide?

How ever you celebrate, please, let everybody else enjoy the fun too.

If you are passing out candy, give candy to the teenagers who come to your door.  Don't ask if "they are too old to be trick or treating."  They could be doing so many other worse things than being a little childish.  If it keeps them safe and legal, why not.  You don't know if they're just hungry, or if they don't want to go home to whatever awaits them there.  Further, don't equate size with mental state.  You don't know what level they are able to interact with you on.  It shouldn't matter.  If they come to your door, let them have a little fun tonight, too.

Please don't refuse to give candy to kids who aren't dressed up or who barely have a costume on.   The child might have sensory issues or autism that makes dressing up impossible.   Don't berate anyone who doesn't say thank you.   They may be non-verbal.

If they are not from "your" neighborhood, good.  More's the better.  Make sure they feel safe in your neighborhood too.

Halloween has gotten a bad rap in many circles, particularly Evangelical, stemming from a complete misunderstanding of the holiday and its history.  There should be something for everyone to enjoy and reflect on tonight.

So, in the spirit of the season, I wish you a great All Hallows' Eve.  May you have a blessed and safe evening.  May you get full sized candy bars.  And may you enter this season of remembrance looking toward the Thanksgiving to come.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts and Prayers

It's taken a bit for these thoughts to come together, because my anger at each of these events and our continual inaction is ever increasing.  This one hits a little closer to home.  Jamie has both siblings and students that attend Texas A&M Commerce.  And while thankfully, none of them were directly impacted by the events of the weekend, the fear, the dread, the worry and shock, and the impact on the community remain the same.

For those who have not heard, there was another mass shooting over the weekend, this time at an unofficial homecoming party for Texas A&M Commerce held on Saturday night in Greenville.  At some point just after midnight, a man entered the rear of the venue filled with around 750 people and opened fire, killing two men and shooting eight others.  Four other people were injured by glass or other debris in the shooting.  Though the authorities were already at the scene, they were not able to lay eyes on the shooter at the time.

Shots were later fired at a vigil for one of the deceased on Sunday night.  Thankfully no one was injured at the vigil, though it was clear the shooter was not just shooting into the air - they were aiming at the crowd.  Bullet holes were made in a news van at the scene.

On Monday, Hunt County officials arrested a suspect in connection with the event, a 23 year old father of three.  The suspect has continued to proclaim his innocence, stating that he was at the event, dressed as a security guard, but was in the parking lot at the time of the shooting.  He claims to have witnesses that would place outside the venue at the time.

In many ways, the event has been an object lesson in how not to handle a mass shooting.

Hunt County officials have labeled the witnesses "uncooperative," with Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks  saying it "appalled" him that with that many people there no one was able to give a good description of the shooter.  As if a victim's first responsibility is to be able to identify the perpetrator.  As if, at a college dance, it's not going to be dark, crowded, disorienting.  As if a natural human response to hearing gunshots is not to run in the opposite direction.

There has also been a refusal to label a mass shooting, as officials feel it doesn't meet the exact definition.  The United StatesCongressional Research Service acknowledges that there is not a broadly accepted definition and defines a "public mass shooting" as an event where someone selects four or more people and kills them in an indiscriminate manner, echoing the FBI’s definition of the term "mass murder," but adding the indiscriminate factor.  Generally, a mass shooting does not have to meet mass murder, instead requiring four or more people shot, not necessarily killed.  It's really splitting hairs isn't it, when we have to debate over whether enough people were killed versus shot to determine exactly how we should feel about this and respond.  It was a mass shooting.  A gunman walked into a building with 750 people in it and opened fire, trying to kill or injure as many as they could.  It seems it also may have been a mass shooting of convenience, as officials believe the gunmen came there with a specific target in mind and then opened fire onto the broader crowd.

Texas A&M Commerce for its part has done everything to distance itself from the event to keep it from being a school shooting.  Every news item had to include a mention that this event was not school related, it was not school sanctioned, that it was in no way connected to the school.  Now, I understand liability, but this was a homecoming celebration for your school, thrown by The Goodfellas, a known organization on campus, and advertised on campus.  It's not officially school related, but it's definitely connected.  The victims were students, alumni, and friends.  Texas A&M Commerce tried to maintain this stance even to the point of continuing school on Monday, despite requests.  Pointing to concerns of safety, particularly with the shooting at the vigil as well, as well as the need for time to heal, students through the student body government petitioned for classes to be cancelled.  Texas A&M Commerce acquiesced and cancelled classes for Tuesday, October 29, and Wednesday, October 30.

Everyone is so determined to just move past this.  To put it immediately in the rear view mirror and not have to deal with it and it's implications.  We so don't want to deal with the questions this event raises, we don't want to do the hard thing, we don't want to sacrifice for the community.  We're so determined for this to have no impact on guns, gun policy, to have very little impact on the general communities lives that we're even skipping the traditional thoughts and prayers component.

Are we that desensitized to this kind of event?  Oh look, it's just another one.

Look, I don't want to belittle thoughts and prayers.  They are powerful.  Prayer can move mountains, truly.  I can point to the times of my life where I have been prayed through.  Where I only survived because of the prayers of others.

But we belittle the very purpose and power of prayer when we make it the very least we can do and leave it there.

There is a lot we should be talking about.

There are questions of safety in and around Commerce.  Just with Jamie's family, this is the second shooting in less than a year that has hit a little too close to home and a little too close to the campus.

There are questions of race.  There are questions as to whether the shooting has a racial component. The party was largely minority.  The two deceased are African American.  The victims are largely minority.  The alleged suspect is a minority.  And this is in an area where the relations between minorities and the police are already strained.  It was just two years ago that the Miss Black Texas 2016 was inappropriately confronted by the police in front of the Commerce Wal-mart.

And there are also questions regarding gun control that have to be answered.  If the gun was legally obtained, as most of the guns used in mass shootings have been, then we have questions regarding what needs to be done to prevent these kinds of events in the future.  It's gun control, it's economics, it's mental health support - it is all of it.

If we cannot address these, and all of these at once, we have no business calling ourselves the greatest country in the world.  If we cannot do even the smallest things, like requiring universal background checks, closing gun show and private sale loopholes, etc. then we have given up all pretense of caring.

We can do it.  We can look at mental health care.  We can look at bullying.  We can look at the family structure.  We can look at socio-economic status and mobility.  AND we should can look at sensible gun control.  We're a big country and pretty good at multi-tasking.  We're more than capable of looking at it all.  If we just had the will power to do so.

To close, a friendly reminder of why it matters.  Why it is so vital we do something.
  • On an average day, 96 Americans are killed with guns.
  • On average, there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the United States.
  • For every one person killed with guns, two more are injured.
  • 62% of firearm deaths in the United States are suicides.
  • Seven children and teens are killed with guns in the United States on an average day.
  • In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner in the United States.
  • America's gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries.
  • The United States accounts for 46% of the population, but 82% of the gun deaths.
  • Background checks have blocked over 3 million gun sales to prohibited people.
  • Black men are 13 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed with guns.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of the woman being killed by five times.

The point of this all, is that it goes far beyond mass shootings.  If we could implement gun control and have a noticeable impact on suicide it would be worth it.  If it had a noticeable impact on domestic disputes, on homicides, on accidental deaths, it would be worth it.

Until that day, here are my thoughts and prayers.

Dear Lord,

I pray that you are with the families and community that are grieving in the Commerce area today.  I pray your peace and comfort is on them and that somehow this will be redeemed for good in their lives.  I pray justice is done.  I pray the shooter is captured and that they are brought to justice.

I pray our society finds the strength to do something about this.  To act, to rise up and say no more.  I find we have the strength to sacrifice to slow these senseless deaths.  I pray we never get desensitized to it.  I pray we grieve every single time.

Break our addiction to guns.  Break us to the point where we stop seeing them as a solution to the problem.  Break our reliance on them for strength and power.

Lord move us.  Strengthen our resolve.  Guide us.  And protect us from ourselves.

In Jesus Name.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Baptism Sunday October 2019

Today is baptism Sunday, the last of 2019.

At Stonepoint, we do not have a traditional baptistery, so Baptisms are scheduled for three times a year.  The whole service will be dedicated to baptism and its celebration.  It's a time for the whole church, both campuses to come together to celebrate life change.  And celebrate we do.  In addition to the baptisms themselves, we sing.  Loud.  After the service, we have bounce houses, Kona ice.  Barbecue and hot dogs.  This year we can attempt a rock climb challenge.

Because of the wetness, we'll be outside in the parking lot at the Edgewood schools.  It may be cold, but it is going to be a party nonetheless.

We come together as a family.  It's part dinner on the grounds, part river baptism, part worship service.

This is homecoming.  It's a family reunion.  It's a party because our brother, our sister was lost and has now returned.  We celebrate with the angels in heaven who rejoice when a sinner repents.  "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  Luke 15:15

We involve each other in the process.  The baptisms involve the whole staff and those who have been influential in the life change that is being celebrated. Journey Group leaders and members.  Parents.  Siblings.  Best Friends.  A recognition of the joy that is to be spread.

What a great day in the Lord!  Oh that we celebrated the Lord's work more often.  Certainly he has given us plenty to celebrate.

If you are looking for a church home, to find a place to truly connect and dig in deeper, you can find out more about Stonepoint here.

If you have not believed and followed Christ in baptism, I ask you, Look, here is water.  What stands in your way?

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Travelers' Report Part 16 - Road Trip Day 3 Ohio

Part 16 in the series of our ongoing travels, both as a family and individually.  This continues the Hamrick family road trip, covering our Keeler family detour into Ohio to go to church, visit friends, and see a couple of sights.

"Sunday, fun day!! We woke up early to make the trek to Dayton, Ohio to go to church at Far Hills and catch up with friends who just moved there this month. It didn’t take very long for the kids to fall back asleep so it was a nice, quite little Sunday morning drive, although Jude did wake up when his song came on. He can’t help but sing “Hey Jude.”😂"

"It was so much fun to spend some time with the Tate’s, enjoy some pizza and bond over our views of Stranger Things Season 3. The message Sunday picked up exactly where we left off at Stonepoint, Ephesians 4:16. How perfect is that?"

It was really great to spend time with the Tates.  They are a family that I wish we were able to spend more time with while they were in Texas, and I'm glad we've had this opportunity.  Hope to do it again.

"On the way back to Kentucky we made a stop in Cincinnati to visit The Hall of Justice and appreciate the amazing children’s museum and Natural History museum at the Cincinnati Center. Jude went ballistic when he saw the dinosaurs. I think he may want to be a paleontologist like his daddy did when he was a kid."  

For those who don't recognize the reference, the Cincinnati Union Terminal building was used as the inspiration for the Hall of Justice in the old Super Friends cartoon.  We had to do our best superhero impressions out front.  This is a really cool museum complex with three museums under one roof.   A lot of great exhibits and a lot of great hands on activities for kids.

"We were told we had to have Graeter’s ice cream while in Cincy, luckily they had one in the museum."

Worth the wait.

"Before saying goodbye to Cincinnati we had to try Skyline chili. Now you have to understand what they are famous for: Cinnamon chili poured over spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans (called the 5 way). All I can say is they need to visit Texas for real chili. At least I can say I tried it."

I can say I tried the chili portion on top.  That's just not right.  Cinnamon really doesn't seem to go well in chili as a primary ingredient and flavor.  I was proudest of Avalyn for saying that the chili definitely wasn't Texas chili because of the beans on top of the 5 way.

Next in the series, a couple of posts on our thoughts on the Ark

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Goodness of God

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Psalm 23:6

As Psalm 23 comes to a close, it contains the promise of the Psalm.  That goodness and mercy will follow us, and that we will dwell with the Lord forever.  Regarding this verse, I want to amplify two things from the message Sunday.  First, regarding what it looks like for goodness to follow us.  Second, what it means to dwell in the house of the Lord.  Both parts can be easily misunderstood by focusing on a single aspect of the promise.

It's easy to see how we can get turned around regarding goodness.  We all too often associate goodness with good things happening to us.  Goodness is following us when fortune smiles on us.  When we get what we want.  When things are going well.

We have coined "prosperity gospel" for this exact ideology.  For the teaching that God wants what is best for you and will give you nothing but good things.  If your faith is strong you will be healthy and wealthy.  Sickness, suffering, and want are symptoms of a lack of faith.

It's seductive, certainly.  But it's a false gospel.  We have too many passages that promise that we will suffer as followers of Christ.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."  2 Timothy 3:12-13.  We will be provided for, yes, and we will have joy, but we will also face hardships.

How we respond in those times says a lot about what we believe about goodness and about God.

As Brandon conveyed, the goodness here reflects on the goodness of God.  That God is our good shepherd.  The shepherd that cares for His sheep.  The faithful shepherd, that does not leave his sheep to their own destruction.  But the one that ensures the sheep are healthy and productive members of the herd.

Goodness here also reflects more on the consistency of the goodness of God.  That God remains good in any and every circumstance.  That he is always the good shepherd.  Even when the suffering comes.

In the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like Jamie and I lost a family member a year.  In that time, God was still good.

Through our the two miscarriages, including the ectopic that could have killed Jamie, God was still good.

Through the job loss and the two month period of unemployment, God was still good.

Through every hurricane, storm, and strife that has affected our families, God has remained good.

He was, is, and will always be good.  Past, present, and future; imperfect tense.

I like to think of goodness here referring to the grace of God.  His ultimate goodness towards us.  Giving us what we do not deserve.  Salvation, sanctification, glorification.  All the grace of God.  So when paired with mercy, we have grace and mercy following us all the days of our lives.  God giving us what we do not deserve (restoration), and not giving us what we do deserve (death), through the days of our lives.

The picture becomes even more beautiful when you consider the Hebrew word for follow.  The word in Hebrew is radaph, and follow is perhaps too tame to accurately translate the text.  Radaph indicates pursuit, to be chased after.  Grace and mercy are pursuing us throughout our lives.

If that is not a picture of the Gospel, I don't know what is.

Viewing it through the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep, you can almost picture goodness/grace and mercy as the two faithful sheepdogs of the shepherd.  Continually reigning the sheep in.  Guiding them, pursuing them when they stray, nipping at their heels when needed.

Such a radical departure from the mistaken idea that "only good things should happen to me now, goodness is going to follow me."  And given this context, it should make us consider another consequence.

If the grace and mercy of the Lord are pursuing us, and we are following the good shepherd, then grace and mercy should be pouring out of our lives.  Our cups should runneth over.  Goodness and mercy should follow where we go.  In this way, we should not only as sheep be receiving these blessings, we should also be about transmitting goodness and mercy.  About sharing grace and mercy to those we are in contact with.

If all that is left is what we make in this world, let us make good.

Can that be said about our lives?

I think we all too often avoid our responsibilities in this area because we focus on the wrong part of the promise with regard to the second section of this verse.  An improper focus on what dwelling in the house of the Lord forever means.

For most of us, I think we all view this as referring exclusively to Heaven.  About our eternal life in our Heavenly home in the presence of the Lord.  Forever.  This section certainly does cover that.  But I believe it is much broader.

In David's day, the house of the Lord was the tabernacle, the tent of meetings which was, quite literally, the dwelling of God.  To dwell in the house of the Lord would be dwelling in the tabernacle with God.

In that, we see that this promise has an earthly component.  It is to be near God, to be with God forever, both here and in the heavenlies.

It's the opportunity for the sheep to get to go into the master's barn.  Or in certain cases, to be in the master's house.  To be in the presence of the shepherd continually.   And to then be led back to the green pastures in season.

As believers, the dwelling of the spirit of the Lord is in us.  The temple is now each and every one of us.  I don't think we emphasize that point enough.  The promise is fulfilled in a seeming inverse.  The Lord will dwell with us forever.

That gives us an awesome responsibility as sheep - to be about the shepherd's business.

To be messengers of goodness and mercy.

To be proclaiming the goodness of the shepherd.

To sing of the goodness of God.

"All my life you have been faithful,
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God."

Monday, October 21, 2019

Mitchuation Update - New Opportunities

It has been a while since the last update, so I thought it was time to pass along a little more information regarding where we are at.  Largely the lack of an update reflected a pretty stable status quo.  The project I was on was supposed to last for just a month.  It ended up lasting for two months and two weeks.  In that time, we created a pretty good rhythm.  I would come back to Winnsboro on the weekends and spend time with the family.  On Mondays, I would load up and head into the office, stay with friends in Wills Point through Friday, and repeat the process all over again.

It was stable and greatly appreciated, but being away during the week was beginning to wear.  On everyone.  By the end, even Jude was waking himself up early on Monday mornings when I would leave, and during the week he started to get to the "I want Dada" stage.  So while we wanted the reliability of the paycheck to continue, we were definitely ready for something else to allow us to be together throughout the week.

I do have to say that I really loved working with Lynn Pinker.  That was a great office and team to be supporting.  It was a little weird to be there during their extensive renovation, but the entire experience was excellent.  In that regard, I was sad to see it end.

As it has been through this entire process, it is amazing to see how things come together.  Last Monday when that project ended, I got an email regarding another opportunity.

Through the last few weeks, we knew the project was likely going to end soon, and we had been praying for a smooth transition with a short break in between, so we could enjoy the time together.

That's what we got.  From the initial email, I had an interview on Wednesday and would not hear affirmatively until Friday.  So nearly a week's break to enjoy time together.  To play with Avalyn.  To get Jude to take a nap.  Just to be together.

I've started the new project today.  It's a higher hourly rate.  It's work from home, so I'll be in Winnsboro with the family.  It's training me to have greater technical experience, which will definitely be a plus for future applications.  And most surprisingly, it's with two companies that I have previously applied to (including the one I got the farthest with in Washington, D.C.).

The Lord works in mysterious ways, indeed.

This project has the potential to last for a while, potentially until March.  The length is one of the few unknowns.  As with most project work, it could go away tomorrow.  But even in that eventuality, I know there is a plan.  There will be something behind it.  There will be further provision.

We are still praying and hoping for that permanent position that we know will be coming.  We are ready to find a new place to rent and start setting up our next home.  We are still open to just where that might be.  In the interim, we will simply continue to trust the Shepherd.

Whatever is next, we will keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Use of Deadly Force

Not two weeks after the conclusion of the Botham Jean trial, there is another fatal shooting by the police of an innocent bystander in their home.  Atatiana Jefferson was killed by a Fort Worth police officer over the weekend by a Fort Worth police officer.

It started with a non-emergency call to the police by a concerned neighbor.  Jefferson's lights were on and the door was open.  The neighbor was requesting a welfare check.

When the police arrived, instead of knocking on the door, they searched around outside first.  While in the back yard, an officer saw someone standing near a window.  The officer gave a short verbal warning "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" seconds before opening fire.  "Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence."

Jefferson was pronounced dead at the scene.  From the family attorney, we have learned that Jefferson was inside playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew.  When she thought she heard a prowler outside, she went to the bedroom window to see what was happening and was then shot by the officer.

The officer, Aaron Dean, resigned from the Fort Worth police department and has been charged with the murder of Jefferson.

This second case in two years time where unsuspecting civilians have been fatally shot in their own homes by the police raises serious questions regarding police training and the use of deadly force.

For starters, in the Jefferson case, why on a non-emergency call for a welfare check was the first step not just to knock on the door, announce police presence, and ask if everything was ok?

Why did the officer never announce that he represented the police?

Why would the police go around inspecting the outside of the place without first trying to establish contact on a welfare check?

Most importantly, why was the use of deadly force even considered as an option when the period between warning and firing gave no time for response?

Are our police so afraid of the people that everything is perceived as an immediate threat of harm?

When armed with a gun, does every situation look like it could be resolved by a bullet?

Are we training our officers to go use the gun to resolve conflicts in more instances than they should?

I know all of these questions and more are going to be dragged through the court over the coming months and year.  And they well should be.  But we should be raising them in our civil discourse as well.  These should be in the front of our conversations, requiring us to take a good hard look at our expectations for police officers and the training they are receiving.  They should be informing our local political process as we start to demand more of the community and its representative leadership.

We haven't got here by accident.  And we won't get out of here accidentally either.  It will be through persistent dedication to change.  To investigation.  To accountability.  And to action.

I pray we have the stamina for it.  I pray we can start to question the use of deadly force and the limitations that should be in place.

So we can all feel safe at home.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Indigenous Peoples Day 2019

Today, Octoboer 14, 2019, marks the first officially recognized observance of Indigenous Peoples Day in Dallas.  A day to celebrate and honor Native American peoples and to commemorate their histories and cultures.

Today we remember America wasn't discovered.  Not by Columbus, not even by the Vikings who beat him here.  Yes, they opened up trade, they made the contact between Europe and the Americas, but there wasn't anything to discover.  There were always people of this land here.  And sadly, the European contact with the land came largely at the expense of those already here.

Today is a day we remember the tragedies the indigenous people have endured and find inspiration in their overcoming ongoing struggles today.   It should be a day most of us remember that we still have a lot to wrestle with in our history. 

Sadly, our education system is failing in teaching us history.  It has been has been so undervalued for so long, we cling to problematic myths and struggle with the wrong parts of our heritage.  And we can see this in the battles over whether today should be Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day.

It's time to have a celebration that recognizes the heritage of our country and land dates back much farther than any date when a European stepped foot on this land.  And when we recognize that, perhaps we can start dealing with the harder issues.

Perhaps a great way to start today would be in learning more about the native peoples of Texas, or for your particular region.

"Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."
John Fire Lame Deer

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Travelers' Report Part 15 - Road Trip Day 2 Nashville to Kentucky

Part 15 in the series of our ongoing travels, both as a family and individually.  This continues the Hamrick family road trip, covering the leg from Nashville to the rental house in Kentucky.  As before, Jamie's thoughts are in blue, with my own color commentary.

"After a good nights sleep we hit the streets of Nashville and headed over to the Adventure Science Center. Thanks to our Perot membership this amazing museum was free for us and our our nephew. They had a whole section of bodily functions which we all found hilarious especially the intestines slide wherein the person sliding represents the poop leaving the body. As you exit the slide there was a pad that made fart noises, Jude kept jumping on the sensor just to hear that sound and giggle over and over again."

This is an incredible science museum, with an amazing six-story play area in the center.  The kids had a blast, and I think Jamie and I did too.

"The departure of the museum lead us to the Goo Goo shop where you can make your own goo goo cluster. We loaded up on the variety pack (chocolate is never a bad road trip snack, or any type of snack for that matter.)"

The peanut butter cluster is definitely the best, though I was tempted by a couple of their signature creations.

"The last stop in Nashville before heading up to Kentucky was The Soda Parlor. Almost everyone has a shake but we opted for the PB+Space Jam, a delectable dish of Belgium Waffle with cookie and nutter butter ice cream with strawberry and blueberry drizzled on top of whipped cream and cookie crumbles. YUM!"

Our PB+Space Jam was dubbed a Mondae, and it was a delectable brunch.

"Lunch brought us to Bojangles Chicken n Biscuits, for a fast food joint it was pretty good. Mitch wanted to go back there ever since the last time he had it and now we all got to experience the deliciousness." 

I've been missing Bojangles since a couple of summer camps in North Carolina. It's still as good as I remember, and I think they have the best biscuits of any fast food joint.

"We did have to make a quick detour to the Jim Beam distillery. Two days on the road with the kids drove us to drink.😂 We settled on Pre-prohibition rye whiskey and for the two of us being unfamiliar with that liquor I will say we chose well. That bottle will most likely last us a long while but it is quite smooth."

"By our days end we arrived at our house in Pendleton, KY. The story of the owners is pretty amazing. They had 8 kids biologically and adopted 6 kids from Africa. At one point that three story home housed 17 kids when they also provided for two kids who needed to escape a bad situation. One thing I can say is the house exudes warmth and love and we’re so glad this is where we chose to stay."

This was a great location and an excellent place to escape and relax. The family rents out several distinct parts of their property and we would recommend.  It put us within two hours of all our travels over the next few days.  Perfect central location.

"Stay tuned for more adventures on the road!"

Next in the series - Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio

Thursday, October 10, 2019


"I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being."
Martin Scorsese, on Marvel/superhero movies

It seems we are again debating what qualifies as film.  This time, Martin Scorsese has offered his opinion on what qualifies as worthy of being dubbed cinema, determining that the Marvel movies are not worthy of that distinction.

It echoes sentiments made by Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and William Friedkin.  Funny how the comments all seem to be coming from the same generation of filmmaker regarding the current state of film.  Never thought these mavericks would be the ones to get to the yelling at clouds state.

There is no doubt, the Marvel movies, and a lot of modern cinema are heavy on spectacle and the worst examples can be heavy on plot, light on character and emotion.  But to paint them all with the same brush would be just as ill-informed as to paint all of their movies with the same brush.  To dismiss them all as plotless, esoteric exercises.

There has always been a backlash against popular entertainment.  That it's not real art.  That it is just a crass commercial product.  That it's soulless.

That its's a sellout.

It's a tired argument.

In a way,  I understand it.  We live in an age when the types of films that Scorsese is championing are not being made for the theater anymore.  Where you have to be a Scorsese, a Spielberg, a Tarantino, a Coppola to even get attention for such a film.

But I would argue that focusing on such an issue is putting form over function.  There is a great new opportunity for such character focused pieces to be made in streaming and in television.  We are in a golden age of television right now.  And thanks to all the various streaming platforms, there is a great demand for new content.  Maybe that means the project you thought would be a feature is now a 6 hour serial instead of a 2 hour movie.  But that also means you can make the mega 4, 6, or 8+ hour project.  You can really dig into character development and plot.  You can truly dig into those and explore them to your hearts content.  The format can be adjusted to fit the needs of the story, not the other way around.

Budgets aren't even an issue, because some of the Netflix budgets that I've heard are outrageous.   The only thing you have to let go of is the attachment to actual celluloid.  To the theater experience.

So again, what matters more, the story or how it is presented?

Scorsese has to understand this; he's making a film for Netflix now.  Rumor is he was even considering helming the current Joker film, producing and directing.

But for this argument to keep coming up, makes these contemporaries look like snobs at best and grumpy old-timers at worst.  Making them appear out of touch with their audiences.

So, from this, perhaps we can all learn the best response to such a question - "It's not my cup of tea."  We can stay out of trying to define what is and what is not art, and can just be honest and voice what we are qualified to raise, our opinions.  Recognizing, not everything is meant for us.

Art doesn't have to be for all people.  But sometimes it can be for the masses.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


Today marks the observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The holiest of the High Holy Days.  The one day of the year where the high priest can enter the holiest of holies and make a sacrifice for the people.

It is the day of intercession.

A time of prayer and fasting.  A very focused time to get right with God.

For those of us who believe Jesus is the Messiah, I think we all to often forget we have this kind of access on a continual basis.  Jesus interceded.  His purpose is to be our great high priest.  The great high priest whose name is Love.  He has, is, and is continuing to intercede on our behalf.

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Hebrews 4:14-16

Should it not follow that we are in a continual atonement?   We should be in a continual process of evaluating our lives, our walks, to ensure alignment with that high priest.  

Would we not also benefit from that level of introspection and evaluation?  From a day of fervent prayer and fasting?

To my Jewish friends:
May you be blessed. May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be in good health. May you be in good company. May you never lack food, shelter, or safety. Wishing you a wonderful Jewish new year, and an easy fast for Yom Kippur.

G'mar Chatimah Tova

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Living Paradoxically

"Here's the thing: I'm friends with George Bush.  In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have.  We're all different and I think that we've forgotten that we're all different.

But because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean I'm not gonna be friends with them.  When I say be kind to one another, I don't mean only the people that think the same way you do.  I mean be kind to everyone.  It doesn't matter.
Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen found herself in a little bit of a Twitter controversy over the weekend, following pictures of her at the Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday seated next to President George W. Bush.  Ellen responded today on her show with the statement above, outlining a very straightforward principle:  the idea that we can disagree with other people, even on fundamental issues, but still be civil and friendly.

This is certainly an idea that I've championed in the past.  We all need to broaden our friendship circles.   We as a society cannot survive if we keep segregating ourselves and circling the wagons, surrounding ourselves with only like minded people.  It's bad enough media is doing it for us.  News media is presenting us with only one opinion, generally confirming our existing biases.  Social media does the same, bringing only certain stories to our attention.

If we are not in the business of regularly interacting with people that we disagree with, that challenge us, that push us out of our comfort zone, we will continue to exist in wind tunnels, amplifying our worst impulses.

How can we ever grow, how can we ever change, if we do not have any voices in our lives that push us to do so?

So, I'll repeat my urging from the 2016 election - if you do not have people in your friend circle that are not the same political allegiance as you, you need a bigger friend circle.  If you do not have people in your friend circle that are not the same religion as you, you need a bigger friend circle.  If you do not have people in your friend circle that are not the same race as you, you need a bigger friend circle.  The same for sexual orientation, gender, nationality, creed.

Generally, we all need a bigger friend circle.  A bigger neighborhood.

That does not mean the controversy did not have merit.

To many, W. represents the epitome of the opposition to Ellen's very existence, particularly focusing on his strategy in the 2004 re-election campaign to put anti-gay marriage Constitutional Amendments in as many states as possible.  It's a distinction between Ellen being friends with someone who merely disagreed with her and one who actively made her life more difficult.  It's the level of "disagreement" that is the issue.

There's also the issue of the symbolism.  Is Ellen supposed to represent the whole LGBT community and somehow absolve Bush for the anti-gay marriage stance and Amendments?  Does it make it better?   Likewise, why does it fall to someone like Ellen to be the one to rise above?  Why does the member of the minority need to be the one to rise above instead of the majority?

The same arguments were made with Brandt Jean and his offer of forgiveness to Amber Guyger.  While it is the most noble and most divine gesture, why does it continually fall to the minority to forgive and not the majority?

These aren't easy situations.  When do the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual?  Especially when they implicate such important truths?  Shouldn't the individual character control?

Ultimately, I feel most of the issue lies in the over publicity of such things.  Brandt Jean's apology would never have caused any controversy were it made in private.   Had the camera's not been in the courtroom.  There it would be what it was, the private outcrying of the soul.

Likewise, Ellen's fellowship with Bush during the Cowboys game would be what it was, a private friendship between a President who prides himself on his congeniality and a person who is most openly kind.

And when you think about it, wouldn't the world be a better place if those were more regular occurrences?

Monday, October 7, 2019

No Pain, No Gain

A mantra of the fitness world - no pain, no gain.

A simple statement to reflect the truth that in order for muscles to grow, in order for us to see physical progress, there will be pain involved.  Muscles grow by working them to the point of damage and then letting them repair themselves.  I.e. they grow when we work them to the point of soreness and let them repair themselves.

The same can be true in our spiritual lives.  Our faith grows through testing.  Through trials.  Through exercise.

When we are in the easy times, when things are going well, it's kind of easy to coast.  To become comfortable.  Complacent.

To stagnate.

It can be why it seems our faith grows, our faith is strongest in the valleys.  In the hardest times.  When we struggle.  When serving seems like a challenge.

Paul writes about this in his letter to the Roman church.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
Romans 5:1-5

Paul puts into order how our faith grows.  From struggling to perseverance.  From the depth of the problem to the ability to work through it.  Our valleys, our troughs are the starting point for our ability to persevere.  

When we can persevere, that reveals and strengthens our character.  Who we are when no one is watching.  What you have left after the storm is what you truly had in the first place.  It's what exists beyond the mask, the facade that we all put up.

It's a reflection of the process of refinement.  When metal is refined, it is melted so the impurities can rise to the top and be removed.  Our sufferings, our struggles refine us.  They bring our impurities to the top, so God can reveal them, and remove them.

It's when this process is complete that we find our hope.  Where we can rest in God's love poured out on us.  In the glory of God.

So, the question arises - where are you in that process?  Have you reached hope?  Are you still somewhere in progress?  

Or are you avoiding the struggles?

Are you complacent in your faith and situation?

This doesn't have to be about external struggles that we find ourselves in.

Are you stretching yourself in your faith?  Are you exercising your faith?  Are you wrestling with it?  

Are you reading the scripture, truly digging into it for understanding and struggling with it's difficulties?  Or are you merely consuming it for a checklist?

Are you interacting with people that are different than you?  That think differently than you?  That believe differently than you?  People that are a challenge to love?  To forgive?  To serve?  Or are you surrounded only with people who go to your church who are exactly like you?

Is your faith comfortable?  Or are you being pushed on toward growth?

This life was never meant to be comfortable.  It was meant to be worth it.

No pain, no gain.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Bad Romans

"Sometimes, being a good Christian meant being a bad Roman.  So before you accuse people of being unpatriotic, ask yourself which empire they're actually serving."
Stephen Mattson

I know I discuss the bad marriage of Christianity and politics perhaps more often than I should.  But  I think it is vitally important to see it as problematic and to understand why it is such a bad idea.  Why Christianity and nationalism, why Christianity and patriotism often don't mix - even in the United States of America.

The quote above gets to the heart of the conflict.  There are times when we are called to be bad Romans.  Bad Americans.  Because our calling is to be a good Christian first and foremost.  Above all else, we are citizens of Heaven, not citizens of America.

Sadly, in America today, there are too many that conflate the two.  Who view being a good American a prerequisite to being a good Christian.  Who view being a very specific type of patriot synonymous with being a true Christian.

We have pastors like Robert Jeffress who feel that only red-blooded American Republicans who support Trump are true ChristiansOr Franklin Graham warning how progressives are anti-ChristianEven more astonishing, earlier this year white evangelical support for Trump remained at 69% percent.  Despite him representing the anti-thesis of everything they stand for and believe in.

Jesus requires the distinction that Mattson is indicating.  In fact, he outlines it in his answer to the pharisees when confronted over taxes.

"Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.  So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.  Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?'  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, 'Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin used for the tax.' And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, 'Whose head is this, and whose title?'  They answered, 'The emperor’s.' Then he said to them, 'Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'  When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away."
Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus isn't requiring blind allegiance to country.  He is not requiring that we obey every single rule and law that our country puts forth, regardless of the character of the law.  He is pointing out the division of church and state, the line between the Way and the government.

He is flatly pointed out that he is unconcerned with the matters of the government.  "Give the government what they made.  Give me what I made."

It matters now more than ever.

Those same high profile pastors like Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham are now suggesting civil war if this corrupt president is impeached.

Our president is asserting absolute power.

We have voice after voice after voice trying to tell us our Christian duty is to be "good Americans" as they define it.  To just go along with it.  To go along with the one party because they believe the right things.  To turn our eyes to the corruption, to the abuses of power, to the criminality.   To swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

Maybe right now, the most Christian thing we can do is be bad Romans.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Travelers' Report 14 - Road Trip Day One Nashville

Part 14 in the series of our ongoing travels, both as a family and individually.  The next several entries will be from the Hamrick family road trip to Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.  Jamie's thoughts are in blue, with my own color commentary.

"My family planned a big road trip to Kentucky centering around the ark exhibit and then adding on whatever side adventures we liked to make along the way. You need to know we’re caravanning with three cars, four kids seven and under and ten adults. Our adventures started early when my brother got his keys locked in the car in Arkansas, at least we made it out of Texas.😉

Our first stop outside of a gas station was a picnic at the Memphis welcome center. What a wonderful scene they created right there on the river with a fun playground for the kids to blow off their pent up energy after being trapped in the car for several hours and the cutest covered picnic area to enjoy."

The welcome center in Memphis is amazing.  Right on the river, excellent park space.  Plenty of walking trails.  And the interior space honoring the musicians is excellent as well.  Definitely recommend a stop there if you need one.

"Our final stop of the day before we headed to our hotel in Nashville was dinner at the Loveless Cafe. Such a great place to eat. The restaurant sits in an old motel with lots of little shops and games to play while you wait for a table. We loaded up on some blackberry jam and pumpkin butter before gorging ourselves on some of the best fried chicken, and catfish I’ve ever eaten. Jude and Ryker seemed to be in competition over who could eat the most biscuits (they basically became their meal.)"

I've been wanting to go to the Loveless since the rest of my family has stopped there and raved about it. While they typically do breakfast there, we ended up eating dinner. It did not disappoint.

"All in all our first and longest leg of the trip went fairly well. (Sorry about the keys Joseph)
More adventures to come!!!

Next stop, Kentucky

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Yesterday, we witnessed one of the greatest acts of forgiveness in recent history, from the heart of an eighteen year old.

After the sentencing of Amber Guyger, Botham Jean's brother Brandt asked to make a victim impact statement.  Brandt used his statement to forgive Guyger, to plead her to go to God, to say he loves her as any person, and to ask to give her a hug.

In the midst of tragedy, in the midst of the horror, there God is.  For that kind of forgiveness does not come from man.  Our human frailties may lead us to error, but the ability to forgive it is divine.  It is the highest form of our faith.

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Ephesians 4:31-32

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We forgive only because he enables us to do so.  I cannot imagine being in that position.  I would like to believe that I would be able to rise to that level.  But I know, I would likely be consumed with vengeance.  I think I would want to be sitting at that prosecution table, looking to pile on the charges with what evidence I could dig up.

But that eighteen year old spoke with wisdom beyond his years.  He acted with more faith than most people that have sit in pews all their lives.

And the impact of his actions reached far beyond what he could have even anticipated.

Following Jean's hug, Judge Tammy Kemp stepped off her bench and walked over to Guyger at the defense table.

"You understand?" she asked.

The judge then went back to her bench and grabbed her bible.

You can have mine. I have three or four at home. This is your job.” The judge opened the Bible and began to discuss John 3:16, indicating that this would strengthen Guyger. “You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.

Guyger then embraced the judge, who hugged her back. Guyger whispered something to the judge.

Ma’am,” the judge replied, “it’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ. You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven. You did something bad at one moment in time. What you do now matters.

There's a lot of people that need to hear that.  There's a lot of people that need to know, that need to believe that they have not done so much that they cannot be forgiven.

Forgiveness is out there.  Mercy, grace, and love are out there.

It starts with us.  It starts with us being able to step out in faith and in forgiveness.  To forgive as we have been forgiven.

To love as He loved us.

It's what we've commanded to do.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we did?  That's the world I want to live in.

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Matthew 6:14-15

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Amber Guyger

Amber Guyger has been found guilty of the murder of her neighbor Botham Shem Jean.

This case has been heavily watched and debated, as it is very peculiar.  An off duty police officer fatally shooting an unarmed, innocent neighbor in the neighbor's apartment.

Guyger had been working a long shift that day and was tired.  She parked accidentally on the wrong floor.  From there, she went to the location where her apartment would be, had she parked on the right floor.  She didn't notice anything different regarding the doors or apartments on the floor.  She didn't notice the red doormat at Jean's apartment.  The doorplate was defective on Jean's apartment, allowing Guyger to use her own keys to enter the apartment.

According to Guyger, on entering, she noticed someone inside, said she drew her weapon and said "Show me your hands."  She claims Jean was walking toward her and said "Hey."  She then fired her weapon twice into his chest.  All the time, she claims to have believed she was in her apartment and that Jean was an intruder.  She claimed a perfect storm of circumstances leading to a very unfortunate mistake.

The evidence presented a different story.  Neighbors testified that they did not hear a verbal altercation.  The medical examiner testified the bullet trajectory put Jean in a seated or cowering position instead of the head on walking position Guyger claimed.

The jury was given the choice between murder, manslaughter, and acquittal.  The jury found her guilty of murder, indicating a level of pre-meditation at the time.  A conscious decision to take Jean's life.

I think the case has garnered as much attention as it has because it implicates so many questions that we need to answer as a society:

  • Are we overworking our police officers and other first responders?  If Guyger was truly so exhausted that she could not notice that she was on the wrong floor, entering the wrong apartment, despite all the available signs, does that raise a concern?  Doesn't that raise concerns about the effectiveness of our officers as the shift wears on?  Should there be stronger regulations regarding how long an officer can be on duty?
  • Is her impulse to immediately grab her gun part of her police training?  Is that problematic?  This would seem like an incident that could have been resolved without involving a weapon.  By drawing the gun, the situation immediately escalated.  And once the gun is drawn, it's more likely that it seems to be the solution to the problem.  When you are armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If police training teaches this kind of response (the immediate drawing of the weapon and asking for a show of hands, not the shooting) without a further show of necessity, that would seem ripe for reconsideration.  We already have concerns about the militarization of police.  Do we need to have further concerns about the escalation practices?
  • The previous bullet also implicates our country's obsession with guns.  Unless we assume complete premeditation, in that Guyger wanted her neighbor gone, we have this trial because a gun was seen as the solution to this problem without a further assessment of need.  Fear controlled to the point where contextual clues were overruled and the gun's promise of "safety" kicked in.
  • What part did Jean's race play into the shooting?  Did the fact that he was black contribute to and exacerbate Guyger's "fear" for her life?  Don't we still need to deal with the inherent bias in viewing African American males as more violent, dangerous, criminal?
  • Does the Castle Doctrine need to be revisited?  The judge in the case allowed the jury to consider the Castle Doctrine during their deliberations.  The Castle Doctrine in Texas allows for deadly force when a person intrudes on your property.  In other words, you can use deadly force to protect yourself, your family, and your property.  It's a form of a self-defense exception, used when you believe someone is on your property illegally, you reasonably believe deadly force is immediately necessary, you are not the provoking party, and you are not involved in illegal activity at the time of using deadly force.  Does the fact that the castle doctrine was allowed here where Guyger only arguably believed she was on her property mean we need to account for that possibility?
  • Should more incidents of police shootings be taken to the court system?  There is a great tendency in our law enforcement to view it as a closed system.  Police take care of police issues.  Military take care of military issues.  The Church takes care of issues within the Church.  Outside accountability is viewed as an anathema.  It can be understandable, as the impulse to have those that can most closely understand the rigors of the situation and demands of the job to determine what defines reasonableness in that particular role.  However, it is also the same impulse that leads to cover ups like the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse scandals.  With the news around the incidents of police shooting otherwise innocent, unarmed citizens, do we need to seriously look at how those incidents are handled?  Do we need to lower the threshold such that they should be tried within our court system, for accountability to the communities that they are designed to protect?  
All hard questions; all extending far beyond the case at hand.  They reflect the conversations that we should be having in our communities.  What we should be looking for from our elected officials.  From our first responders.  From those in power.

Guyger is facing sentencing today, with two to ninety-nine years as the possible range.  With the jury in deliberation, the sentence could be returned later this afternoon or tomorrow.

Updated, 4:21 pm - Gugyer was sentenced to 10 years for the murder of Botham Jean.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rosh Hashanah

Today marks the end of of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  A celebration of the creation of man.  The Book of Life has been opened, and the Lord is transcribing our fates, though that fate has not yet been sealed.

In tradition, this is the Day of Judgment, starting the High Holy days leading into Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  Over the coming ten days, Jews are called to repentance.  These are the ten days of repentance or ten days of awe.  A time to focus on repentance, prayer, and charity.

Oh, if we all could focus on those themes.  Imagine what the world would look life if all humanity focused on repentance, prayer or meditation, and charity for ten days.

We are all being called to repentance.  Called to discard our old selves.  The earthly flesh dragging us down.  Our worry, our fear, our guilt, our heartache, our shame, our hurt.  To turn from the road that us brought these into our lives and to begin the path the Lord is leading us on.

We have the ability to take on His yoke, to take His rest.  For our souls to be restored.

Wouldn't this be a great time for restoration?

What keeps us from it?

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has chosen us from all the peoples, hallowing us with mitzvot. In Your love, Adonai our God, You have given us this Day of Remembrance, to hear the sound of the Shofar, to unite in worship, and to recall the Exodus from Egypt. For You have chosen us from all the peoples, consecrating us to Your service, and Your word is truth eternal. Praised is the Sovereign God, Sovereign of all the world, who hallows the House of Israel and the Day of Remembrance.

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.

L'Shana Tovah!