October 22, 2020

One Last Look Back: What I Enjoyed Learning and Writing in 2013


I learned a lot in 2013.

Some I learned in the daily rhythms of work, family, friends, church, and various activities. Life.

Some I learned as I studied, met with mentors, and served in churches en route to approval for ordination in the ELCA. Vocation.

Some I learned reading, thinking, writing, and conversing in the context of Internet Monk. IM has become equivalent to my daily devotions, my small group, my table at the library, my seat at the small town diner, my stool in the pub, my seat in the stands where I sit surrounded by friends and neighbors.

Today, I’d like to review some of the things I enjoyed learning that showed up in my posts during 2013.

I learned the meaning and significance of baptism on a deeper level, and wrote about it in The Font and the Tiny Casket.

I learned in Lent that I need to take note of the signs of death in our culture. The sad stories and songs of death and dissipation remind me of my own mortality and brokenness and help me realize the depths of human need. Townes Van Zandt’s music and life weaves such a cautionary tale and I talked about it in Ash Wednesday with Pancho and Lefty.

I learned to distinguish two important verbs that have often been confused when we identify ourselves with a particular religious tradition or cause. You can read what I learned at “I Am” and “I Practice” – An Important Distinction.

In “The Second Turning: or How JT, a Field of Dreams, a Marble Tomb, and Learning to Do Nothing Saved My Life, “ I reflected upon some of the influences that taught me being a Christian and a human being don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I was able to nail down one characteristic that made me long for a return to “grandpa’s church” in an era when everyone thinks you must leave it behind to stay “relevant” in “Wanted: An Adult Faith in a Youth Culture.”

monk-writingLutheran learning was a big part of 2013 for me. One area of study involved clarifying distinctions between Law and Gospel. In case you don’t remember, here’s a clue: I discovered I don’t believe in the so-called “third use” of the law. Read this post and you’ll see that I think the Gospel offers us something much better — Third Use of the Law? No, Something Better.

If you read The Goal of Spiritual Formation you’ll meet a character from American literature that I realized fit my idea of what it means to be like Jesus.

Be afraid, be very afraid. No one needs to tell me that, and I finally ‘fessed up in If You Are Not Afraid, You Are Not Human.

I consider the following one of the most important articles I was able to write last year. Comments on a piece we ran about heaven and hell forced me to do some thinking about How the Bible “Works” Today. My answer in short: we must recognize that the Bible is not a theological textbook characterized primarily by propositional doctrines and ethical instructions written to a universal audience, but a family story, a narrative about particular people in particular times and places who experienced God in the midst of their lives and communities. Much of the Bible was not written to us directly, but it was written for us, and for all who are part of God’s family. This is our family story. It has been given as a means of shaping our identity and forming our lives in the world.

I’m not sure this falls into the “enjoyable” category, but I thought it important to respond to the hype in the Neo-Reformed community over John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. Though I certainly share many of his concerns (and even some of his condemnations) of the poor teaching and shallow enthusiasm of many Spirit-oriented communities, I objected to the fact that he summarily swept all pentecostal, charismatic, and third wave Christians away with a broad broom of questionable theology and terrible church history. So I wrote, There Is No Narrow, Pure Stream.

I had the opportunity to review and comment on some fantastic books in 2013.

There were two wonderful books written by women: Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” and Nadia Bolz Weber’s Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

I also loved Gordon Lathrop’s The Pastor: A Spirituality, which explored the landscapes of the pastoral life with such elegant simplicity that it took my breath away.

But I had two overwhelming favorites in 2013:

  •  The Return of the Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible – I wrote: “In my view, Gregory Mobley has brought a sense of clarifying order to our understanding of the First Testament in The Return of the Chaos Monsters. Rarely have I found such sheer delight in reading a book of Biblical theology. His writing is lively and enthusiastic, appealing to mind, heart, and imagination as he connects his thoughtful reading of each text with the big picture of the First Testament, Ancient Near Eastern myths that formed the context for Israel’s narrative world, examples from literature and popular culture that illustrate the universal themes of the Biblical story, and personal reflections.”
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Having grown up in the civil rights era, in or near northern industrial cities all of my life, and now being a hospice chaplain that serves people from all backgrounds, I have long been fascinated with the stories of African-Americans from the South who came north in the Great Migration. This was one of the greatest undocumented exodus accounts of the 20th century, as more than six million fled oppression, prejudice, and lack of opportunity to come to cities like Indianapolis, Chicago, and Detroit in the Midwest, New York in the east, and Los Angeles in the west. Isabel Wilkerson’s luminous narrative opened this world to me in one of the best books I’ve read recently.

Of course, I can’t leave today without mentioning my favorite announcement of the year: Eagle Taking the Plunge. On November 24, our friend Eagle was baptized, marking a milestone in his wilderness journey of faith.

On that day, I learned anew what a wonderful, important conversation Internet Monk holds each day.

Thanks to all of you for that.


  1. Happy New Year to all at iMonk!

  2. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    I’d like to point out that I did not comment on Wanted: An Adult Faith in a Youth Culture although it was one of my favorite posts.

    One of the things I love about going to Catholic Mass is the familiarity of it, and I find it very humbling to know that all around the world millions of Christians are doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. I also find comfort in the thought that this Church will be there long after I am gone.

    I remember going to Mass after a long absence and choking up during the Gloria because it just felt like a warm parent’s embrace to me.

  3. Happy new year all. This place remains my favorite diner, thanks for all the hard work that makes this possible. He is risen ( here) indeed.

  4. “Happy New You!” (in Christ)

    (as my pastor likes to say to us at the beginning of the new year)

  5. May all of us have a good New Year! I love this place!


  6. David Cornwell says

    Chaplain Mike, Jeff Dunn, and the other wonderful crew of writers: Thank you!

    A couple of things you mentioned above that have been especially significant to me:

    “we must recognize that the Bible is not a theological textbook characterized primarily by propositional doctrines and ethical instructions written to a universal audience, but a family story, a narrative about particular people in particular times…”

    The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough. I have done a lot of reading in this area for several months now, and it can have different slants to it, but at its core it is very significant for the Church. It has evangelical, ecumenical, and eschatological dimensions. I had mostly given up on theology until I started this study. And I am only at the beginning. I hope we hear more about it here at Internet Monk,

    “The Return of the Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible ”

    This is probably the most fun read of the year! And back in the Spring and Summer I used it as a theme for my own work, trying to tame some of my landscape, old flower gardens, bushes, and a yard that frequently gets trampled by cattle or deer!

    • David, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am reading and enjoying ” The Return of the Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible”. I have quoted you and others in my Bethel lessons on the importance of the STORY of the Bible.

      Internet Monk starts my day and keeps me thinking all day long. Even the snarky remarks by some remind me to mind my words when sharing my beliefs. I really appreciate you all.

      • David Cornwell says

        liz, I really do not know a lot. And I can change my mind quickly. I have a feeling that sometimes I really do not know what I am talking about. So– be careful about quoting me! My knowledge is very partial and forever incomplete.

        But it sure is fun trying to learn.

      • David Cornwell says

        This year, 2014, I plan on writing much less, and reading much more.

        • I usually say ” I read on a blog that I follow something that spoke to me ” I plan to read more but am not sure if I will speak or write less.

  7. Love anything written by Gordon Lathrop. That was one of the texts used in an elective course at Gettysburg Seminary, Piety of the Parish Pastor. What synod is your candidacy through? I was just ordained in 2012 at the age of 57 and am the pastor of a small town/rural parish. Blessings on your continued journey.

    • Thanks, Ivy. I’m in the IN-KY synod, just made it through approval and now am beginning the assignment process. I am your age, pastored in non-denominational churches until 9 years ago, and have been a hospice chaplain since. I hope the spirit and substance of Lathrop’s books will characterize any vocation I pursue.