That’s all folks

Sometime around 2007, a friend and I launched a blog called Between the Trees. The name came from the idea, which I took from one of Rob Bell’s Nooma films (don’t laugh), that we now lived life between the Tree of Life in Genesis and the Tree of Life described in Revelation. We maintained the blog for about a year with limited success before we each decided to take it down. My friend launched a new blog shortly after we shut BtT down. I stayed out of the blogging game for about a year before launching Notes from a Small Place in January of 2010. Since that time I’ve posted over 1,100 times here in this digital space. I’ve done guest posts, experimented with a group blog set up, and then switched over to the current format that mixes micro-blogging, commentary, and lengthier posts (a style I’ve basically stolen from more famous bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Rod Dreher, and Kevin Drum).

Over that time, I’ve settled into that final routine pretty comfortably and found that the pace and diversity of it suits me well. The switch to the new format has also corresponded with the best time Notes… has ever had in terms of traffic and other writing opportunities for me, which has been a good surprise. What Notes… has allowed me to do, then, is basically have a digital sandbox where I’ve been able to experiment with all sorts of ideas and blogging styles in hopes of finding something that works for me, that I enjoy, and that other people find useful as well. That said, to quote one of my favorite authors, “I think I’m ready for another adventure.” So this will be the final post here at Notes from a Small Place. I’m going to leave the blog up because it’s free to do so and because I like the idea of all the work I’ve done here being permanent in some small way. So the blog will stay up, but I will be leaving.

My friend Matt Anderson has invited me to become the new Notes editor at Mere Orthodoxy and I couldn’t turn down the chance to begin working with him more regularly. Matt is a good friend, a generous soul, and a first-rate thinker. And he’s created a really unique, exciting community at Mere Orthodoxy that is marked by an irenic, cheerful tone, a commitment to the broadly orthodox (little o) Christian church stretched across time (“terrible as an army with banners,” as Lewis says in Screwtape), and a well-rooted desire to see all of creation in light of the lordship of Christ.

Honestly, I’d never give up the autonomy and control I have here at Notes unless I had the chance to move to a new venue that is such an excellent fit. Thankfully, Mere O looks like just the thing and I really can’t wait to get started there.

Getting into brass tacks a bit, I’ll be blogging at more or less the same pace I’ve kept for much of the past 15 months here at Notes from a Small Place, but it will all be happening at Mere Orthodoxy rather than this little blog of mine. Mere O is going through something of a rebranding phase right now and the Notes page will be, more or less, a Tumblr style blog very like what I’ve already been doing here. I’ll leave the rest of the announcement about the changes at Mere O to Matt as it really is his baby and he should be the one to announce the bulk of the changes.

In addition to my work at Mere O, you can also find me occasionally at Fare Forward where I’m a contributing writer and do a bit of blogging and some long-form writing as well. My essay “The Farmer and The Don” will be in the spring issue of the journal and I have an essay on the incarnation and apologetics in the summer issue. And, of course, there will still be the occasional soccer post at Just Football and Think Football. I’m also on Facebook (facebook.com/jrmeador) so feel free to add me there if you want to connect that way.

It’s been an absolute blast to work on this blog for going on four years now, but it’s time to turn out the lights here and move over to Mere O. I hope you’ll join me. But whether you follow me over there or not, please know how much I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, it’s meant a lot.


This is a good one to go out on:

Nothing Behind the Curtain

Cross-posted at Mere O.

Disclaimer: I kinda-sorta want to apologize to people who find so many marriage posts annoying or are bothered by sentimentality. But I say “kinda-sorta” because really I want you to give up your cynicism so you can recklessly throw yourself into the joy. So this is a half-disclaimer that is part apology and part a call to repentance for your inability to believe in a good thing. Sometimes there is no trick. The wizard isn’t hiding behind the curtain. He’s right in front of you. Things really can be thatgood.

At the end of The Last Battle as the Pevensie children join Aslan in the New Narnia the lion-hero looks at them and says, “You do not look so happy as I mean you to be.” Much of the time, that is our experience in the world: We do not look so happy as our gracious father means us to be.

And yet there are days when New Creation – wholeness, grace, and joy – come crashing into the old. When you’re standing next to one of your best friends, a guy you’ve been through more with than you can even say and will continue to stand by forever, and watch as the chapel doors open and his bride walks down the aisle toward him… you feel New Creation breaking in. You see the cracks forming in the foundations of a broken world and you know someday the house will come crashing down.

Describing Christian ideas about redemption can be a fiendishly difficult thing, often the best we can do is rely on metaphor and hope the listeners will let their imagination run rampant with it. But it’s tricky. As Chesterton once noted, the romantic tries to get his head into the heavens while the rationalist tries to get the heavens into his head (and it is, as Chesterton noted, the rationalist whose head splits). Trying to explain Christian redemption is trying to convert people from rationalism to romanticism. And it ain’t easy. But sometimes lived experiences present themselves to you as the perfect tangible picture of redemption. So it is with marriage.

A few years ago I was an usher in my friend Eric’s wedding. At the end of that weekend I said it was one of the best weekends of my life. As an usher, I seated most of the guests there to celebrate with Eric and Elizabeth. I got to participate in the festivities of the entire weekend – the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, the bachelor party (where we smoked so many cigars that the latecomers could find the apartment simply by looking for the one with smoking billowing out from under the door)… all of it. And best of all, I got to be the one to open the door for Elizabeth and her dad to walk down the aisle. It was all beautiful, all a gift and at the time I could think of few things better. Actually, I still struggle to think of too many things better than that.

But a few weekends ago I got to be a groomsmen in Matt and Ashley’s wedding. When I ushered for Eric, I missed out on being with them in the dressing room for the hour before the wedding. But this time I was in there for every moment as Matt – who never gets rattled – seemed more worked up than I’ve ever seen him, concerned about the many, many things that could conceivably go wrong over the next several hours. I got to be the one to say, “It’s OK to be nervous but it’ll be fine. You guys are ready and we’re all here with you. You don’t have to worry.” (The fact that Eric was also there, freaking out about giving his first wedding homily in front of seven pastors only added to the moment.) I got to be in there with six of the best men I know as we enjoyed our final smoke break and bottle of beer before the ceremony (don’t worry, they make Altoids for just such occasions), sang the doxology, laid hands on Matt, and prayed for his marriage. I got to stand next to Matt and watch as Ashley walked down the aisle. It was the first time I’ve seen tears in his eyes. I got to see Ashley’s face as Matt made his vows to her and I got to stand close enough to hear her barely-audible voice make the same vows to him. And I got to be one of the first people to greet them in the foyer and see the looks of relief on both their faces. (Both of them asked us to poke them multiple times at the reception to make sure they weren’t dreaming.) Like I said, sometimes there’s nothing behind the curtain. The wizard is there in plain sight, daring you to believe.

I think this is what C.S. Lewis was talking about when, again in The Last Battle, Aslan tells the children that Heaven is simply moving further up and further in, pressing deeper and deeper into the unspeakable wealth of God’s pleasure. If you grew up evangelical and heard the typical 1990s evangelical take on Heaven, you’ve understandably had a hard time getting real psyched up for it. Author Jerram Barrs loves to tell the story of a child who once told him, “I don’t want to go to Heaven, I want to go to Narnia!” Jerram said, “If heaven is what so many people say it is, me too.” It’s hard to get real excited about an ethereal existence of cloud-floating and harp-playing. Thankfully, that image of Heaven is completely wrong.

Lewis nails it when he tells us how to respond to people that read Revelation that way: “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them… People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.” The language is meant to communicate something deeper – the idea that the riches of God’s grace, the pleasures of living in right relationship to him in his created world, are inexhaustible. And after being in a few weddings, I’m starting to understand that idea in a very small way.

Three years ago, I could imagine nothing better than being an usher in my best friend’s wedding. Then this past May, I went further up and further in to the mystery of marriage, picking up on many of the small precious moments that are so easy to miss.

But this time I know that I haven’t exhausted the riches of marriage – someday I will go still further up and further in when I’m the groom watching my bride walk down the aisle. And still the riches won’t be exhausted because, Lord willing, someday I’ll be the father walking my daughter down the aisle. Then maybe someday I’ll be the grandfather watching one of my grandkids get married. With each new role I am confident I’ll discover new riches, new joys that I’d never previously imagined. And with each new role, I learn again why the Scriptures lean so heavily on the image of marriage as an explanation of the Gospel and how God relates to his people. (Ed. note: I wrote this three years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten married and around 18 months after our wedding my wife gave birth to our first child, a little girl. Having lived a bit more than I had when I first wrote the above words, I still stand by them absolutely.)

When you understand joy and pleasure in this way, you can throw yourself with abandon into the moment of pleasure as it hits you. Drink it all in, observe as much as you can – but know that there’s always more to see. There’s more beauty hiding and the wonderful, glorious truth is you’ll never find it all. Keep exploring, further up and further in.

In his song Hymn #101 Joe Pug says he’s “come to be untroubled in [his] seeking.” Therefore, be untroubled in your seeking, take in as much of the world’s beauty as you can bear. Say with Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Oh world, I cannot get thee close enough.” But know that there’s always more. And the only way you’ll find it is through humble gratitude for God’s grace, which will enable you to keep climbing… further up and further in.

This one was written only a couple weeks ago:

To forget one’s people is to be impoverished

A couple years back I was at my paternal grand-grandfather’s funeral in Omaha. We were at the cemetery and they were getting ready to lower my great-grandpa into his grave as my grandma sat in a chair nearby, watching. My grandpa was standing next to her with a hand on her shoulder comforting her, but was in obvious physical pain himself. Grandma had just had a hip replacement and my grandpa needed to have surgery on his ankles, but they couldn’t do it just then because of the cost of my grandmother’s surgery. So he was hobbling around on ankles that were completely shot and would, before too long, be fused into place so that they wouldn’t bend at all. He was clearly in a tremendous amount of pain and was struggling to stand. Noticing this, one of the younger men nearby offered him a chair. But grandpa wouldn’t budge. “No, I’m going to stand with my wife,” he said. And that’s exactly what he did, all the way through the service, holding himself up on ankles that didn’t have anything left to give just so he could keep his hand on my grandma’s shoulder. I love that about my grandpa.


About a month ago when Margie was in town for her book reading she shared a Frederick Buechner quote that, I’m working from memory, went something like “to lose track of our stories is to be deeply impoverished.” I think that’s true, but with respect to Buechner I think there may be a way to improve it: To lose track of ourpeople is to be deeply impoverished, although perhaps the two are so closely related that it amounts to the same thing.

I come from families made up of men and women like my grandpa and grandma–honest, hardworking, working class midwesterners. On my mom’s side, her father was born the same week that the Titanic sunk in 1912 on a farm in Oakland, NE, a small Swedish farming community in the northeastern part of the state. He was the son of Swedish immigrants who came here in the late 19th century and carved out a life for themselves out of the northeast Nebraska prairie. (If you’ve seen the movie Sweet Land I think you have a decent idea of their life. In fact, two of my great-grandfather’s brothers went up to Minnesota and settled there.) My mom’s mother was the son of Greek immigrants who came over here in the early 20th century. My great-grandpa, who my mom called “Papa,” was a proud Greek man, a sheriff when he lived back in Greece and a veteran of their wars with Turkey in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His name was Constantine Themastuklios Panasopoulos, which became “Gus Panos” upon his arrival in the States.

When my grandpa Bert and grandma Mary got married, they settled down in Lincoln and my grandpa went to work on the railroad, where he worked for around 35 years. I grew up in a house about three blocks from where he worked. And my mom’s father was cut from the same cloth as my dad’s. If you saw his toughness you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was a veteran of World War II. Once while at work he was pinned between two box cars and suffered several broken ribs. But he was at work the next day. My grandmother’s health was poor and grandpa had to work to pay her bills, and so he worked through the pain of broken ribs, performing what was difficult manual work under normal conditions and must have been excruciatingly painful when done with broken ribs. But he did it and my mom has no memory of him complaining about it. He did what he had to do to provide for his family.

These are my people and this place that made them is my place.

A couple months back, I read Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which is an absolutely marvelous book and one that I’d warmly commend to anyone. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book and I hope it receives a broad reading. But what struck the strongest chord with me wasn’t Rod’s telling of his sister Ruthie’s story, but the way his own story differed from (and rubbed against) Ruthie’s. Rod was a bookish kid from a blue collar family. My parents were bigger readers than his, but I think the surrounding cultures we knew as children and teenagers were very similar. Rod was bullied in middle school and high school, as was I. Rod was mocked and teased for his bookish habits, as was I. And Rod felt like he wouldn’t have any peace until he left, a feeling I also developed as I reached young adulthood. But what’s so beautiful about Rod’s story is the way he’s able to still recognize and love the people of St. Francisville, even while being aware of the pain experienced as he grew up there. A man with disdain for his roots could never have written a book like Little Way

I bring up Little Way partly because it’s just a profound book and I think everyone should read it. But I also bring it up because of what Rod says on the dedication page. He dedicated the book to his sister Ruthie’s three daughters and wrote to them on the dedication page, “This is your mother. These are your people.”

In an age marked by individualism and the constant pursuit of self actualization, I think we become profoundly impoverished if we lose track of who our people are. If we buy into the myths of self-fulfillment, self-actualization, and the more basic idea that the self is basically a construct entirely of our own making (existence precedes essence, in Sartre’s deplorable dictum), then we become impoverished. We are impoverished because our refusal to love our home places and people has the effect of severing us from all of the things distinct from our individual self that, nonetheless, are an essential part of who we are. If we hate our roots, our home place, and our home people, we are choosing to cut ourselves off from some of the most intimate and basic pieces of our identity. But we begin to become whole again by learning to love our homes–the places, the culture, and even the people.

Repost: A decade on

For reasons that will be apparent by the end of this day’s posting, I’m going to be reposting the three posts I’m most proud of from the past three+ years of blogging here at Notes. To start off, this is something I wrote on the tenth anniversary of my conversion, September 22, 2011:

A Decade On

Ten years ago today my parents caught me looking at porn online. That night, for the first time, a true sense of guilt and wrong-doing broke through my Pharisaical, ice-choked heart and I saw Jesus as something precious and necessary to my life. The story since then has been more winding, unexpected, and joyful than anything I could’ve imagined that night. On the one hand, my conversion actually did more to put me at odds with my immediate Christian experience and community then it did to reconcile me to them. That’s been something of a theme in my life as a Christian.

But not the only theme – and that’s the important part.

The longer I identify as Christian, placing myself willingly within the storied and often painful tradition of the great creeds, of Rome and Byzantium, London and New England, Alexandria and Damascus, the more I find that the story of Christianity shares a great deal with the great stories of literature. There are moments too splendid for words, stunningly beautiful and gripping. Then there are moments that seem so dark that you can’t help wondering if any good can come of it. And yet, as so many Christians have known so well, we are all characters in the great story, so none of this should be a surprise.

Quote Tolkien: “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why.”

In the time since my conversion I’ve known moments of deep, even suicidal, despair. I’ve known moments – and sometimes months – of anger that threatens to consume me. As I said, these have been themes to my Christian life. But they are not the only themes.  So it is that I’ve also known love, which is the deepest magic of all. I’ve known my wife of three months, my parents, and my Benne brothers. I’ve known places of safety, peace, joy, and hope. These stand with – and against – the places of betrayal, mistrust, suspicion and hostility. Despair and joy have existed simultaneously as the chief themes of my Christian life. (And frankly, I suspect that any Christian who cannot relate to this is either, as Westley memorably put it in Princess Bride, lying or selling something.) That’s how the first ten years have gone. I don’t anticipate the years to follow being much different. I will wander in and out of the Dark Wood of Error, into and out of heaven, but seldom in anything like a progressive order. So goes the Christian life.

Sarah Kliff in the WaPo:

A surgical complication increases a procedure’s average contribution margin by 330 percent for the privately insured and 190 percent for Medicare patients, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study underscores how ludicrous the incentives are in the American health care system, generally paying doctors for each medical service they provide, even if some of that care is the result of a surgery gone wrong.

“If you personalize this and a relative is having heart surgery, which gets complicated by pneumonia, I don’t think we would want a hospital’s profit to go up as a result of that pneumonia,” said study co-author Barry Rosenberg, a partner in Boston Consulting Group’s health care practice.

The study does not imply that hospitals intentionally complicate surgeries to bring in more revenue. Most surgeries, about 95 percent, go off without a hitch. What it does suggest to the surgeon, writer and Harvard professor Atul Gawande is that hospitals now see little reason to invest in technologies that would reduce complications when the only prize at the end would be lower income.

I don’t know what the solution is on this, but man, what a mess…

Stay put, dammit

From a review in The Atlantic of Dreher’s book:

“Relationships are meant to constrain,” Schwartz told me, “but if you’re always on the lookout for better, such constraints are experienced with bitterness and resentment.”

Dreher has come to see the virtue of constraints. Reflecting on what he went through when Ruthie was sick, he told me that the secret to the good life is “setting limits and being grateful for what you have. That was what Ruthie did, which is why I think she was so happy, even to the end.”

Meanwhile, many of his East Coast friends, who chased after money and good jobs, certainly achieved success, but felt otherwise empty and alone. As Dreher was writing his book, one told him, “Everything I’ve done has been for career advancement … And we have done well. But we are alone in the world.” He added: “Almost everybody we know is like that.”

Makoto Fujimura:

The Second Commandment does not prohibit making of images.  It prohibits making of idols.  Idols are “a good gift of God that has been made into an ‘only thing.'” (Tim Keller, my pastor).  Sex, money, love are all good things that can become idols.  The Old Testament is full of images and art, from representational to abstract (see Solomon’s Temple). We need to understand that at the same time the Decalogue was given, strict instructions were given to Bezalel and Oholiab to carve the Ark of the Covenant.  Thus the expression in the Second Commandment “You shall not make for yourself a carved image,” is tied to prohibition of “not bow down to them.”  Bezalel and Oholiab carved images, but in accordance with God’s design.  After Christ’s incarnation, the author of The Book of Hebrews tells us that Christ, the perfect Temple and Sacrifice, fulfilled the design that Bezalel and Oholiab executed in Christ’s Body.  I take that to mean that all manner of expressions (much like in Peter’s vision of eating forbidden animals) are now freed from the curse.

Therefore ALL expressions are permissible, but that does not mean that all expressions are created toward our full thriving.  We twist the good gifts of God to make idols (Madison Street Ad agencies do this all the time!) We are to, in Christ, liberate all mediums and expressions from “our bondage to decay…to bring into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)  We are not only children, but heirs, with full authority to bring to our materials and mediums to steward over them.

Ancestor worship, I suspect, began as a good effort to remember and honor the dead, to pass on the family history to the children.  It has been twisted into a type of duty, a legalistic bounds that require offspring no freedom toward thriving or full experience of love.  We need to remember that our reaction against such idolatry, even in our religious duty, can also become just as legalistic.  The enemy, and our orphaned hearts, always twist good intent to create bondage to others and ourselves.  Christ came to liberate us from that, and the Holy Spirit guides us to live our identity as Christ’s heirs, God’s Princes and Princesses, to co-create with the great Artist.

You can also check out Mako’s top five books on creativity here. Also, if you don’t own his The Four Holy Gospels, that’s really something you ought to remedy.


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