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September 2008

Living With Style (Rule One): Lose Yourself

Style_2“Place yourself in the background.” (William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style)

One of the books on my bookshelf at work and at home is the revised edition of Cornell professor William Strunk’s “little book” of grammar and style, as later revised by his student, E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and a regular essayist in the Saturday Post before his death. I’ve written about Strunk and White before, but suffice it to say I’m a devotee and read The Elements of Style devotionally. That is, I often pick it up and read a page to encourage a greater devotion to the English language, to grammar, syntax, and style, to, above all, economy of words. Only today, however, I realized that Strunk and White’s maxims on style in written expression are also excellent provocations for living “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2), for, if you will, living with style.

How can we not see these maxims as guides for Christian living? I have no idea what, if any, religious persuasion Strunk or White had, but I have to smile at the most assuredly unintended second meanings that their “reminders” of style have, of how they connote a far greater mystery than they imagined. Their “mystery story, thinly disguised,” is more mysterious and fulsome than they could have imagined.

“Place yourself in the background,” they say right off. And here I could quote chapter and verse of all of what they briefly say, but won’t. Suffice it to say that “the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none --- that is, place yourself in the background.” What they mean is that good writers should focus on “sense and substance,” not their own “mood and temper.” When you focus your energy on the task at hand, proficiency in the use of language, the “mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed.” Get out of the way. Stop worrying how you will appear, or how you will sound, or what impact you will have. Stop trying to find yourself and simply pay attention to the task at hand, to writing well, and who you are will emerge. Lose yourself.  Paradoxically, you don’t find yourself by focusing on yourself.

Good writers of fiction learn the craft. They serve the characters that beg to be written. They write not to sell books or impress people but because it is what they want to write, feel called to write, or must write. Good writers love the word.

The Apostle with the argumentative style of a lawyer said that we were to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but [must] in humility consider others better than [ourselves]” (Phil. 4:3). He said we were to “conduct [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27), not worthy of the opinions of others. We are commended to live in Christ, to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13). It’s a life lived coram deo, not coram mano, a life lived out before God and not before others. In fact, the only work I have to do is that of continually resting on the finished work Christ has done for me. If I do that, everything else follows. But if I try to do everything else for everyone else, I will not get there. The “mood and temperament” that is revealed will not be my own as shaped by Christ but that of others shaped in me. Thus, one of the mysteries of style is not focusing on style at all but on that which brings style. For writers, that’s word and craft --- the work of writing well. For Christians, that’s Word and craft --- the work of resting on Christ, of living out of an identity shaped by the Word who always accomplishes His work in us.

It’s not easy. Strunk said that “[w]riting is, for the most part, laborious and slow.” And so is the Christian life. It requires that we “cultivate patience,” that we wait for God who wills and works in us. Place yourself in the background. Lose yourself. Live with style.

[By the way, I highly recommend the beautifully illustrated hardback edition of Strunk and White’s classic.  Check out the book and the video preview by its illustrator here.]


Remembering From Where We Came

clockbusinessman If you were a contemporary of Adam, Seth, Methuselah, or even Noah, the word change probably had little meaning to you.  Life was what it was, and little changed from year to year much less from century to century.  There were still sheep to graze, disputes to settle, crops to plant, and natural disasters to weather.  Adam lived 930 years, time enough to watch his son Seth live well or badly for 800 years, and time enough to regret his first sin time and again.  Methuselah lived longer than any recorded human being at 969 years.  How much change did he see in 969 years?  Not much, I suspect, and though Noah witnessed a life-changing event, a catastrophic flood, no doubt in the many years before the flood life went on, badly it seems, pretty much the same.  On Noah’s birth, his father Lamech said “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from the painful toil of our hands” (Gen. 5:29).  Consider the unending weariness of day in day out toil for not decades but centuries.  Not much changed.

Yet today, change is an existential fact of existence, on the lips of not only politicians, technocrats, and self-help gurus, but a fact of life all around us.  The very pace is dizzying, and given the rate of change we suffer both a collective and individual amnesia about how much things have changed.  For example, I forget sometimes that I did not always either at work or at home sit and type in front of a computer screen, communicate by email, or glean a great deal of my information from the internet.  Oh, I remember that it hasn’t always been this way, but I have a difficult time remembering what I did instead of these activities or what it felt like without this technology.  At work, for example, I largely researched legal issues using books in a library, took notes on my research, outlined my argument, and dictated sometimes lengthy briefs.  Now I do my research largely on the computer at my desk, type a rough draft myself, organizing as I go, and email it to my secretary to be finalized.  In that change, which was a gradual one, it occurs to me that something has happened both in the way I think and in how I regard information.  Somehow, the information I find on the internet seems more malleable, less fixed, than what I saw in those casebooks on dusty library shelves, and less esteemed when viewed at the privacy of my desk than in the silence and solemnity of an imposing library.  Since I’ve stopped dictating, I’ve also lost the ability to organize my thoughts in my mind, putting together sentences as I speak.  I also have less face-to-face contact with my secretary and more by the less personal and nuanced vehicle of email.  (Don’t think of me dictating with a secretary perched on the corner of my desk, furiously writing shorthand on a steno pad.  I dictated alone, and sent her the tape!) 

I blinked, and things changed.  It’s not just there at work but all around us.  A new mall goes up.  I can’t remember what the landscape looked like before, as the very land has been reshaped.  No one seems to have any time.  Why?  I’m not sure why, only that it seemed that my parents had a lot more time for seeing other people during my childhood in the Sixties.  So, we sense that things have changed all around us, that we in fact have changed, and while we may speak of it wistfully and anecdotally, we have a difficult time expressing how this change has impacted us or even recognizing how much things have changed.

Some time ago iconoclastic fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly coined the term “shifting baselines” to address the phenomenon of change.  A baseline is a reference point. When we begin to lose track of our reference points from the past, allowing them to shift, we can begin to lose track of change.  In other words, we don’t know how we got to where we are, because we don’t exactly know from where we came.  Pauly is all gloom and doom over this, mostly over the world-wide loss of fisheries, and yet the term itself doesn’t require a tracking only of decline.  Rather, it can be a helpful encouragement to track positive change, to not forget, as a reference point, how bad things were at some point in the past and how much better things are now.  Or how bad we were in the past and how much we have grown since then.  In fact, to not bother tracking positive change in our own lives is to profess belief in sanctification and yet at the same time deny by our inattention and inaction what God is able to do and has within us.

We can ask God to redeem our work, and then believe that he will --- not completely but yet partially --- in this life.  We can believe that we can become more honest, more kind, more self-controlled, and so on.  We can believe and see marriages change, wetlands restored and reclaimed, and historic homes redeemed from decay.  And yet if we don’t have some sense of a baseline, we won’t easily be able to appreciate the change, leading to a nagging sense that nothing much has changed and, in fact, that much has gotten worse.  I don’t want to be in my 80s wistfully recalling some golden age, how things are “going to hell in a handbasket,” when my memory is faulty because I have little in the way of a baseline by which to measure change.  We are predisposed to sin and its consequential hopelessness.  Somehow, we need to work on remembering well, on tracking personal, cultural, and natural change --- for better and for worse.

There are at least three ways that I can think of to do this.  One is regular journaling.  Reading how you thought about something 25 year ago gives you a reference point for how your thinking has changed today.  A second way is one my wife is good at but one I fail at.  That’s marking a particular Bible verse with an event to which it spoke to.  The note triggers memory of the event, some trial or some joy, and along with the verse we are reminded of how we reacted to that event at the time and consider how we might react now.  Finally, we can ask other people who have known as well for a long period of time.  Often they are better at tracking our change over time than are we.  This can also be done collectively as, for example, if I sat around a table with some people I have worked with for over 20 years and we talked about how things have changed in the work environment in that time.  We might want to recover something that was lost, or appreciate something that has changed for the better.  Change need not be bad, but it does need to be noticed.  Baselines shift, unless we remember from where we came.

As those who believe in Providence, in a God who does in fact work all things for the good of those who love Him, we believe that while there are negative forces at work in the universe and in us, He who is in us is greater than the one who would tear us down, that life is not all order to disorder but that in fact there is a countervailing force that is building a new thing, a Kingdom that will never end.  I believe if I know how we got here from there, it will not lead to despair but to great hope --- the glorious hope that this Story has a happy ending after all.


The Best Party in Town

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"If the world is sane, then Jesus is as mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully --- the life you save may be your own, and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says Law and Order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get, and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion." (Frederick Buechner, from The Faces of Jesus)

One of the types of actions I used to bring as an attorney were civil proceedings for the involuntary commitment of persons deemed to have a "mental defect" such that they posed a danger to themselves or others. The subjects of these proceedings often appeared quite normal, even charming, but if they took the stand their answers would increasingly betray some sort of psychosis --- a delusional belief that judges, attorneys, and the court system were a part of a gigantic conspiracy targeting them, or that they were Jesus, or that people on television were talking to them. Just to name a few such delusions. However, the more I spent time with psychiatrists who examined them, the more uncomfortable I became. Sometimes it seemed that these probers of the mind regarded anyone who believed too deeply, or too much in one thing, particularly if the beliefs were religious in nature (which often they were), as delusional. I began to wonder about myself, if in fact I believed enough in what I said I believed, enough to be committed myself.

Writing the Corinthian church, Paul tells them that he and his fellow disciples have become "fools for Christ," and goes on to describe their chosen state as weak, dishonored, hungry, thirsty, in rags, brutally treated, homeless, subject to hard work, cursed, persecuted, slandered, becoming the "scum of the earth, the refuse of the world" (1 Cor. 4: 10-13, NIV). Today, psychiatrists might describe Paul and those of his bent as mentally ill, for who would choose such a state? Of Paul and the others with him commentator Matthew Henry says that "Theirs was voluntary, it was pleasing poverty. They thought they had a rich amends for all the outward good things they wanted, if they might but serve Christ and save souls." In other words, Paul chose to act in a way contrary to what he knew would bring esteem, wealth, or good reputation in the world. He was, in a word, crazy for God. The difficulty he experienced was the world's just desserts for his abnormal behavior. Yet the blessings he experienced were God's rewards for a life fully devoted to Him and lived according to a generally unseen but very real Reality.

Compared to Paul, most of our lives seem pretty sane. Put us in a room with Paul, Peter, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and the like, and we might feel like the world had gone mad. Like Alice at the Mad Tea Party with the Hatter, Dormouse, and March Hare, we might think we had walked into a world where nothing meant what we thought it meant, where what we took for granted is turned upside down. We might even sense that there is danger about, that the people we see are in some way disturbed. But that's not because what they say is nonsense, but because it strikes us as so different than what the world says. Read the upside down logic of the Beatitudes, where the meek inherit the earth, and the persecuted get the Kingdom, and you have the sense that it's a crazy poem meant for a tea party, and the Hatter and March Hare are having a joke at our expense. If you read it with sane eyes, that is. But like readers of Lewis Carroll who were steeped in the culture that he was poking fun at, if we read it as ones who are steeped in a Reality that operates quite differently than the world around us, we see it for what it is: a summation of the counter-cultural Kingdom and a guide to life coram Deo. You see, the Mad Tea Party only looks mad; it's really quite sane, even exciting, if you know what's going on, if you get the "joke." Even if they say, "No room, no room" (as did the March Hare), it's really just an invitation. There's a place at the table for you and me. Scum of the earth? Refuse of the world? Welcome to the party.


 


 


Beethoven, Stars, and Pancakes

DSCF0043_edited-1 Like any city, Los Angeles has a wealth of cultural and culinary diversions, and we were able to take in some of all of those yesterday.  Oh yes, I assume you figured out that I am in Los Angeles!  We arrived Thursday night in time for bed, staying at the Sportmen’s Lodge, a very reasonably priced, historic hotel in Studio City, one favored by musicians who wish to preserve their anonymity (which, of course, doesn’t include me, as I need no help with anonymity).  Located at the junction of Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon, it’s pretty convenient to everything except the beaches.

Friday we visited the LA Farmer’s Market, an incredible place full of not only produce but small, modestly priced restaurants with about every cuisine imaginable.  We were in search of Kokomo Cafe and its pumpkin pancakes, something I remembered favorably from an earlier visit.  It wasn’t there!  So we had breakfast at Johnny Rockets, visitted the campus of UCLA, and ate at the greatest burger joint in town, In ‘N Out (the original one in Westwood).  That night we joined some friends for the Hollywood Bowl concert with Brian Wilson and the LA Philharmonic. (See my earlier post.)

Yesterday, we found Kokomo Cafe and went there with our friends for breakfast.  The pancakes were just as good as I remembered.  They had moved into different and better quarters a few blocks from the Farmer’s Market, more a neighborhood breakfast spot.  After packing our things at the hotel, we drove to Griffith Park, a beautiful natural area within the city of LA.  We drove up to Griffith Observatory, which reopened in 2006 after being closed for four years for renovation and expansion.  It’s perched on top of the Hollywood Hills with a great view of LA and the “Hollywood” sign.  Inside, we viewed a show about the history of the museum (a gift, like the park, from mining magnate Griffith Griffith [that’s right, his first name is the same as his last name]), as well as the planetarium show.  It’s a fascinating structure, an engineering marvel, and well worth a visit. 

After the planetarium show, we raced to the car and made our way to the Geffen Playhouse, a newly renovated small theatre adjacent to UCLA.  There was a matinee performance of “Beethoven, As I Knew Him,” a one-man by Hersey Felger.  We knew that tickets were on sale for 1/2 price 1/2 hour before the performance, and we made it to the theatre with 25 minutes to spare and bought great seats in the second row of the mezzanine.  What a great show!  It was educational, entertaining, and of course, very musical.  At the end of the evening, Felger came out and took questions from the audience and, depending on the question, answering them as Beethoven or as himself.  It was far better than I imagined. 

Leaving Geffen, we made our way back to Santa Monica Boulevard, headed for a favorite Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica called El Cholo.  It’s an incredible local favorite, modestly priced and with great service.  The blue corn chicken enchiladas are the best Mexican dish I have ever had.  After dinner we had some time so we cruised Pacific Avenue, past the amusement rides on the Santa Monica pier, throngs of people on each side of the road, the windows open to the smell of the Pacific Ocean.  Reluctantly we headed south for the short drive to LAX and a red eye flight home.  It was a great long weekend away and definitely a trip I’d like to do again.


A Perfect Night: Brian Wilson at the Hollywood Bowl

DSCN0409 There are not many better concert experiences than seeing a performance at the Hollywood Bowl.  Last night my son and I went with friends to see Brian Wilson live at the Bowl, backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and followed by a tremendous fireworks display.  A real treat was that the Philharmonic came on first (right after a stirring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”) and played three works chosen by Brian --- Mozart, Bach, and Gershwin numbers --- before ceding the stage to Wilson and his great band.  The acoustics in the Bowl are tremendous, and even the nosebleed seats have a decent view and good sound as, for the most part, the seating moves from box seats on a gradual slope to a steeply sloped rise up the mountain.  We were about half way back, dead center, with a tremendous view.

Behind us a full moon rose over the mountain.  To the right of the stage, on an adjoining hill, a white illuminated cross was just a great reminder of a Creator who gave us such a beautiful natural environment and gifted us with music and the ingenuity to design such a beautiful place.  And the fireworks display, which was on and over the top of the acoustic shell of the stage, was the best I’ve seen.  During “Surfin’ Safari,” a classic Beach Boys tune, they even lit up a “woody” (one of those 60’s station wagons with wood paneled doors) with surf boards on top.  No humidity and cool temperatures helped make it a comfortable evening as well.

DSCN0418 Brian raced through a series of classic Beach Boys songs, mostly familiar to the general population (like “Surfer Girl,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “Do You Want to Dance”), but led off and closed with songs from his most recent album, which were well received.  Nevertheless, I had the sense that this was less concert than social event for many people.  Down below us, in the box seats, people were dining with white tablecloths, four course meals, sipping wine, and obviously dressed for the occasion.  The annoyance to me was the amount of talking during the performance.  It sometimes distracted me from hearing the music.

But all in all, it was a good evening.  I love the music, and while Brian, at 66, is challenged by performing, it is an inspiration to me that he continues to write music, perform, and record after all that he has been through.  He is awkward at times, cannot hit those high falsetto notes (now assigned to Jeffrey Foskett), and makes hand motions during songs that are a bit spastic --- and yet he still does it.  He is the voice of Southern California, a timeless sound.

DSCN0420 In the last song of the evening, a new one called “Southern California,” he waxes sentimental about “singing with my brothers/ In harmony, supporting one another.”  He’s the last brother alive, and he’s said many times how much he misses them.  And then both his mother and father are dead as well.  When he sings “All these people make me feel so alone,” I can imagine the sadness that haunts him. 

I saw him after the concert (about the fifth time I have done so).  He’s aging, but he can still flash a smile and say hello for the fans.  As long as Brian Wilson sings, the California dream is alive. What a night.


That Lucky Old Sun: Brian Wilson Comes Home

lucky Brian Wilson is an inspiration.  The genius writer, arranger, and producer of The Beach Boys’ early hits retired to his studio in 1965, petrified of appearing before audiences.  After the masterpiece of Pet Sounds, he launched into a more ambitious project, Smile, which, when rejected by the other Beach Boys as too weird and written off by his label, sent him into a downward spiral that, except for short-lived “comebacks,” was where he stayed for three decades.  Three decades!  That’s a long, long, sad story, but the inspiration is that Brain did in fact re-emerge!  In the late Nineties he married Melinda Ledbetter, adopted two children, and in 1998 released a well-received solo album, Imagination.  Then he performed Pet Sounds. . . live.  Then he toured.  Then he finished the legendary, unreleased Smile album, performed it live, and then re-recorded it for release.  It’s still weird --- and amazing.  Two solo albums followed, both well-received, but neither came close to tapping the genius of Pet Sounds or Smile.  Until now, that is.

That Lucky Old Sun, released on September 2nd, is a suite of songs which are a kind of biography of place, Southern California, and of the artist himself.  While nothing Brian could do will ever live up to the larger than life Smile, this album really does come close.  And in some ways it’s better, in that lyrically it’s much more accessible.  (If you want to test this, please interpret the lyrics of Smile’s “Heroes and Villains” for me.)  It’s personal, nostalgic, and sentimental, and it’s brimming with great hooks, harmony, and a little quirkiness. . . and it’s moving.

It’s a travel map to the place that grew up around Brian Wilson.  Venice Beach.  City of Angels.  “Blue pacific, as azure as the sky.”  Olvera Street.  Hollywood.  The Capital Records Tower.  Surfin’.  And the sun. . . that “lucky old sun,” a song that kicks off the record and reprises several time throughout, a song that sets the tone of the album, that gives you the sense that L.A. really can be loved by someone who has lived there 66 years.  There’s a wonderful variety to the tempo of the songs, and even a musical complexity.  I can forgive Brian the spoken narratives, little observations on the people and places of L.A., all written by Van Dyke Parks.  They may be unnecessary but yet don’t detract from a great record.

As great as this slice of Southern California is, the most poignant parts of the record are the songs that are more autobiographical in nature.  Taken together, you are left with a sense that Brian is a man who was lost but has rediscovered his home.  In “Oxygen to the Brain,” he confesses “I cried a million tears/ I wasted a lot of years/ Life was so dead, life was so dead,” and later, “How could I have got so low/ I’m embarrassed to tell you so/ I laid around this old place/ I hardly even washed my face.”  But then he says “I’m filling up my lungs again/ And breathing in life.”

In a beautifully moving song, “Midnight’s Another Day,” he says “Lost my way/ The sun grew dim/ Stepped over grace, and stood in sin,” and that “All these voices, all these memories,/ made me feel like stone/ All these people made me feel so alone/ Lost in the dark, no shades of gray/ Until I found midnight’s another day.”  And yet the best moment comes in a rocking song, “Going Home,” that is really a celebration of his coming home to grace, his finding piece of mind.  The bridge in the song is beautiful harmonically and lyrically: “At 25 I turned out the light/ Cause I couldn’t handle the glare in my tired eyes/ But now I’m back, drawing shades of kind blue skies.”  But the final song, “Southern California,” while sentimental, is a beautiful reflection on his life, where he remembers “singing with my brothers” (both are now dead), driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, the sun, the ocean, pretty girls, music, and surfing (even though Brian never surfed).  It’s a fitting ending to a story and place that seems a little part of all of us.

This is the best new work from Brian Wilson in years.  He may not have the voice he once did, but he still has genius, and he still gets up there and sings.  Maybe all he needed was a little love and mercy, a place to come home to.  HIghly recommended, particularly the CD/DVD package.  (Note also that the Best Buy version of the CD includes three bonus tracks.)


The Good Thing About Trouble

If you haven't figured it out by now, not every physical ailment has a remedy, nor does every heartache, anxiety, or other difficult emotional state have an antidote. Even doctors aren't omniscient, pastors don't generally have many or even easy answers to what ails us, and lawyers. . . well, let's leave them out of it prone as they are to obfuscation. The world around us and the world in us are beset by troubles and, despite the increase of knowledge, trouble endures. You can mask it by buying and surrounding yourself with things to make you feel better, by Prozac-induced happiness, or by a false sense of worth (and transcendence) brought on by the worship of work, sex, reputation and status, or tribe (by that I mean identification with a particular niche lifestyle defined by age, lifestyle, fashion, and so on). But it all comes up empty in the end, a mask over reality.

When I was sitting in a doctor's office recently awaiting an appointment, I picked up a three-year old copy of Newsweek and flipped right to an article entitled something like "The Purpose of Sadness." I was whisked away by a stout nurse before I could finish the article, but the gist of it was that sadness and other "negative" emotional states serve a purpose, that a perpetually induced state of happy euphoria is not, in fact, desirable. That's good sense. That's why Joni Mitchell's music resonates with the troubled, or why the blues as a genre never fade. And it even happens to be biblical.

The Letter to James is one oft-traveled wrinkle in the fabric of Scripture that I have turned to of late, and despite the radical differences between the pre-modern, agrarian society of the first century and our post-modern, largely urban one, it speaks clearly to human conditions that have not changed in centuries. For people who are troubled or in trouble, it commends prayer: "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray" (Ja. 13). Sick? It says we call the elders of the church so they can pray. In other words, tell the church. But once again prayer is what we are to do first and always. Medicine, counsel, therapy --- all may be helpful, but James says the "prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (Ja. 5:16). We are, as James says, "healed" (Ja. 5:16). Really? Are we really healed? By faith we can say "yes," that in all the ways that matter, we truly are healed.

If we cannot sleep, we can pray "help me sleep," but the answer may be "rest in me," and perhaps we learn to rest in Him even though physical rest escapes us. If we are riven by anxiety, perhaps we ask for peace, but maybe the answer is "cast all your cares on me," an existential turning over of every concern to God. If we are suffering pain, perhaps we pray for relief of the pain but receive instead the gift of perseverance. We're troubled. We're beset. We don't know why. We want relief, and now! Sometimes God grants that relief, sometimes not. Sometimes he simply is saying to us that He is interested in who we are becoming in Him, in restoring His image in us, the one so marred by Adam's sin.

None of this makes it easy. Of course, we'd rather have our troubles lifted. We'd rather not have to endure sadness or financial difficulty or growing old or any other kind of fallout of a world bent since Adam. On the other hand, what joy will we miss if we waste our trials, if we attempt to submerge our troubles under a veneer of happiness or activity? James says "Consider it pure joy, brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Ja. 1:2-4). I used to read this and think "Isn't there a shortcut? Isn't there a way I can become mature without trouble?" I don't think so. We want what He has to give us, and this is sometimes the way He gives it.

The title of a new Brian Wilson song says it well: "Midnight's Another Day." There's darkness before day, trouble that brings fresh growth. But there's no new day without night. Pray, says James.