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My free trial period for Sirius XM radio ended today. I will miss some of the stations. One of them, Tom Petty Radio. It makes for a good day if you can listen to Tom Petty by the simple push of a button. His station reveals he had disc jockey skills. He loved music. He was funny. And you get the feeling he was fun to hang out with. It is certainly fun to hang out with him on his channel.

It’s not like I’ve listened only to Tom Petty the past two months, but I have listened to enough Tom Petty to know that a whole lot of people could sing along to a Tom Petty greatest hits album. His catalog is full of familiar songs. My favorites might not all make it to a greatest hits album, but here are some pretty good reasons to listen to Petty. Eleven reasons to be exact, from the most recent to the earliest.

I Should Have Known It (2010), If we took a Tom Petty song and made a mash up with a Led Zeppelin song this is what it would sound like. The most recent song on this list, it just shows that I never tired of Petty.

Tom Petty knows how to cover a song and his version of Little Red Rooster (2001) made famous by The Rolling Stones is just plain good stuff.

Wildflowers (1994), Probably my favorite Tom Petty song because… well it’s just my favorite. I think he is singing to himself.

Out in the Cold (1991), if you want to just hear Petty rock, this is a good start.

You and I Will Meet Again (1991), There is some hope and sentimentality that just makes me want to hear this song again and again.

Runaway Trains (1987), Vintage Petty, listen to this song. You will thank me.

Have I mentioned Tom Petty can do a cover? His version of The Isley Brothers Shout (1985) will make you throw your hands up.

A Thing About You (1981) reminds us he was pretty good at his kind of rock.

Louisiana Rain (1979), Petty is exhibit A that you can take a boy from the south, but you can’t take the south out of the boy.

American Girl (1976), The song that introduced me to Tom Petty. I have heard it a thousand times and will still stop the radio dial if it comes on.

Rockin Around (With You), Petty and the Heartbreakers had fun from the very start. This is from 1976, the first album by Petty and the Heartbreakers. Who could have known what the next 40 plus years would be like?

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Somewhere in between Jacks Mountain and Shade Mountain there is a plot of mesic-hydric forest. At this time of year, it tends to be crunchy underfoot. A recent snowfall reveals a fox has visited here. We are told more snow and ice and wind and sub-zero temps are on the way. It is a good time to hang a trail camera and fill the bird feeders.

The feeders have been pulling in a regular congregation of black-eyed juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. Also, downy and red bellied woodpeckers. Trail cameras have recently spotted a red fox and a nice buck. One picture captured six deer in one shot.

Whether the projected storm comes or not, I project a full moon to occur just after midnight Sunday. Our first (and only) lunar eclipse of the year. I am aware that some prefer to call these “blood moons.” Whatever you like to call it, the moon’s proximity to earth makes it a “Super Moon.” Added to that, the traditional name give to January’s moon is the “Wolf Moon.” That makes this event a “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” That might make anyone want to howl. Even if some of us choose not to howl, I’ve heard that some are planning “glow in the dark pajama parties.” (I think I’d rather howl).

Yep, somewhere between Jacks Mountain and Shade Mountain (and wherever you might be) there will be a “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” I wonder how that will affect the local wildlife? Whatever they do – I hope they do it in front of the trail camera.

It is January and it is cold. The wind makes it feel even worse. Fortunately, I am a fan of layering. Base layer, fleece, and a down vest topped with an insulated barn coat is a good counter to January weather. Unfortunately, I have had a persistent itch that seems to crop up inside my right shoulder blade. Not only is it in one of the most inconvenient places imaginable (how can anyone reach that spot?), it seems to crop up at the most inconvenient times.

The Farm Show is a good way to get out of the cold. I walk through the indoor barns to see livestock and remember things that have happened here before. My daughter Karissa once hid from us and was found in the pig barn, snuggled up in a stall with a sow and piglets (perhaps a good way to stay warm in January). My daughter Keightley once fell asleep while on my shoulders and spilled her unfinished milk shake down the back of my neck (not a good way to stay warm in January). On this occasion I rode the mechanical bull and played tug of war with a Belgian. I ate rabbit, barbecued goat, and took home a quart of trout chowder. Some of that is more true than others, but I did stay warm.

In what might be another effort to stay warm, I have been reading books about cooking over fire. Weber’s Way to Grill and Around the Fire may not actually warm me up, but they do give me an urge to start a fire. Since an early age I have encountered the same problem. I couldn’t watch football on television without wanting to go out and play. I couldn’t read Old Man and the Sea without desiring to catch a Marlin. I watch The Revenant and want to fight a bear. I read Around the Fire and it makes me want to cook food over fire.

So I put on beef chunks to add to a minestrone soup. I put on potatoes with garlic and oil for mashing. I put on sausages and rib meats to add to a red sauce. I put on corn and black beans to add to a salsa. I put on venison backstrap to add straight into my mouth. As warm as the fire is, its warmth is only temporary.

So sometimes the best thing to do is start moving. To put on layers and get out for a hike. The energy of movement does its job and generates warmth that is trapped inside the layers. To make things even better, the chill on my face as I watch my breath go out into the sky reminds me that the rest of me is warm. This is my favorite way to stay warm in January. Everything is good, that is until I feel an unbearable itch inside my right shoulder blade. Four layers down and in the most difficult place to reach. At least I’m warm.

 

Sports movies are a popular genre. Not only are there a mess of them, but everyone thinks they know what the best ones are. While I am not going to make a list for you, I will say that if your list does not include the following movies you probably do not know what a good sports movie is. Fact is, I can’t take full credit for this list. But, after a Thursday evening dinner conversation, a Saturday morning breakfast conversation, and a consult with my mom, here are some movies that should be on everyone’s list.

For starters, the following movies are acceptable on any list of twenty movies or more. Bull Durham, Leatherheads, Friday Night Lights, 42, A League of Their Own, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Brian’s Song, Tin Cup. If you want to include Rocky or Field of Dreams due to their classic Americana feel, I understand.

If your list is limited to fifteen, the following are pretty good choices. Major League, The Sandlot, The Rookie, Cool Runnings. If you include Caddy Shack or Chariots of Fire at this point for classic value, that makes sense to me.

If your list is a top ten and you want to include a classic, Pride of the Yankees is an excellent choice. But you have got to include the following. Remember the Titans (my mom insists this is the best sports movie), Hoosiers, The Natural. One more, if you do not include Miracle on your list, you don’t really know about sports or movies.

So, go ahead and make a list. You can use the above movies as a test. If your list includes five of the above movies, you are at least capable of recognizing a good sports movie when you see one. If your list includes ten of the above movies, consider yourself above average in your ability to make a good list. If your list includes them all, pat yourself on the back, you can consider yourself an expert.

 

An Ally

I feel like a have a new friend. At least an ally in the mission we call church. Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, writes “True Story” for The Point Magazine. And I am grateful.

Harrison Warren claims that Church pulls us into a story where we belong. We are included in a family, part of a forgiven people. In the church we find friends and food and ritual and meaning. But even more, she says, church is where we find mystery that cannot quite be described. A mystery of “the Trinity forming, humbling, remaking, and sustaining this creature called the church.”

Yes, the church does include pragmatic things like meetings and e-mail and budget and parking lots. But also mystery. As she says, Westerners tend to speak about mystery “as if it’s a code to crack, the true-crime novel we haven’t finished yet.” Instead, she says it is “crackling with possibility and saturated with God’s goodness.”

The church may be a place saturated with God’s goodness, but it is not a place we go to profess virtue. Instead it is a place to confess our lack of it. It is also a counter-cultural demonstration of serving others without expectation of anything in return. These are radical thoughts in today’s culture. She quotes her favorite headline from the Onion, “Local Church Full of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week.” She enjoys the quiet, ordinary goodness, the silent ways we care for one another.

The church does not merely communicate information, the church creates the conditions for “personal and communal formation.” This is not a cognitive exercise but a story full of celestial wonder. The church is not part of some “divinely inspired game of telephone, where we simply whisper a message to the next generation.” It is a story that “comes to us through ordinary people over dinner tables, at work, in songs, through worship, conflict, failure, repentance, ritual, liturgy, art, work, and family.” It is a story that comes to us through sacraments where mystery is communicated through ordinary things like “water and skin, bread and teeth.”

On the one hand, church looks like “God’s kingdom coming among a community of ordinary people: tax attorneys and auto mechanics, stay-at-home moms and the homeless.” Yet, on the other hand, she envisions the communion table as a place that stretches through time and space so we are eating and drinking with the family around the world and throughout history. Sharing bread and cup with the likes of Magdalene, Augustine, and Dad.

She does not go to church for the grape juice and fried chicken or the fellowships and potlucks or for the friends and community connections. Harrison Warren stays in the church because the church is still “making her.” Her understanding of the world is shaped by the story she has learned there.

She realizes that church history includes Crusades, colonialism, sex scandals, abuses, racism, oppression, power hungry pastors, and Christians who are simply downright mean. She knows that church has likely cost her some likability among people in educated, progressive circles. She understands that church has probably motivated some ethical decisions that delayed her immediate happiness. So, she asks “why not choose a different story?” Her answer? She actually believes Jesus rose from the dead. She believes the Christian story to be the “True Story.”

“Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year old school girl. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

We can’t get to Christmas without traveling through Luke chapter one. And we can’t read Luke chapter one without noticing how active the Holy Spirit is. While preparing for Christmas we find that John the Baptizer, Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah are all interacting with the Spirit. In fact, Luke wants us to know they are filled with the Spirit. Of all the gospel writers, Luke is perhaps most interested in the Spirit. By the time we get to the book of Acts, it almost seems that the Spirit becomes his primary character in the narrative.

In contrast to Luke, Mark’s Gospel places some emphasis on darker spirits. Reading Mark, one is often in the company of evil spirits. It is interesting that the gospels suggest supernatural forces, both holy and evil, desire to inhabit humans. Perhaps a reading of the gospel should prompt the question, “Who will inhabit humans?” “Will it be evil forces or will it be the spirit of God?”

Evil spirits desire to inhabit humans. But it appears they have some problems with what they really want. In Mark five a man living among the tombs had an evil spirit and was constantly gashing himself with stones. In Mark nine it is an evil spirit that sometimes slams the host, a young boy, to the ground.  At other times it throws him into fire and the water to destroy him. It seems that evil spirits living in the host also have some desire to destroy the host. This may be the dilemma of evil spirits. They lack wisdom. They cannot become a unity and work with their host. They are fractured and foolish. They are far different from the spirit of God.

In contrast, the Holy Spirit also desires to dwell in humans. But here we find a different story. The spirit of God desires life. The spirit of God strengthens and nurtures. This becomes more obvious to us in Acts chapter two and afterward. Yet, here, chapters earlier, we find the Spirit entering humans. Luke chapter one tells of life entering a barren situation. Life enters where it is thought to be impossible. Before we get to Christmas. Before Mary gives birth and wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes. Before we learned that shepherds were watching flocks by night. Before we hear the angels sing Gloria in excelsis. Before we get to Luke chapter two and the birth of the newborn king, we find four people who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

This is no small thing. The story of Christmas is the story that history is changing. This is a story about God on the move. An announcement that a new kingdom is taking shape. There is a light in the darkness. God is bringing life into an arena where there was death. Christmas is coming. Hang onto your hat.