The Resurrection of Analog

Social media is a complete dumpster fire of idiocy and fallacy. However, nothing is truly new, idiocy and fallacy have followed us all of our days. But what is truly sad is the loneliness, alienation, and lack of influence in our impatient digital age. Perhaps it’s time for the resurrection of analog. And yes, I do recognize the irony of this being a digital post shared through social media. 

Is it time for an analog reformation? Let me be clear, to embrace analog is not to embrace nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. There is no goal of rolling back the digital age to some arbitrary point in the past where things were “better.” Whatever point we would pick, we are not willing to sacrifice the improvements that innovation and technology have brought society. Nor is embracing analog about freezing the status quo, halting the digital age where it stands and refusing to innovate or progress. There is no clearly defined status quo to preserve.


Rather, as we indulge our digital urges, might we come to a fuller awareness of all the nuance of the analog world? Every new digital proficiency reveals two or three analog experiences or responses that we’d never really been aware of, that we had taken for granted. Appreciation and intentionality of analog experiences might just bring us deeper connection to the world in which we live. 


Furthermore, analog is very human as it deals with our condition with honesty. We encounter variation minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year. Digital is less human, it’s in love with data, accuracy, and has an intolerance for variances. It seeks to manage. Humans and the human experience have proven difficult to manage. We are inaccurate beings, but also beautifully nuanced. We can be both short sighted and wise, impatient yet honorable, sinful and saintly and everything in between, which gives life purpose and meaning. 

So here are some suggestions for embracing analog. 


First, embrace the human experience fully. Humanity will never be fully digital nor should it be. Life is more full and free when analog and digital are balanced. Get outside, go to the concert, the ballgame, or live theater. Eat something indulgent now and then, play a board game. Analog will bring experiences that a digital rendering will always lack. 


Secondly, don’t settle for mere digital descriptions of reality. The essence of analog is direct and present without the need for translation. Most of human history has been experienced in analog and their lives were just as full as any in the digital age. The description of truth will never be as real as the experience of truth. 


Finally, don’t be seduced by the digital siren call. Digital is not all that revolutionary, and the latest, greatest next digital advancement is not going to fundamentally change anything. Beware that unbalanced digital consumption can blur our very real senses and numb us to analog living. Digital will always be easier to measure and we live in a time where measurement is itself a quasi-religious act that’s easy to control. Humans are created to be free. With freedom comes the unpredictable, the gift of surprise. Digital is a fake sovereign, we should resist the urge to bow before it. Embrace analog, you might just find something real in the some of the simplest experiences. 
 

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Conversations Over Beer

A snippet of analog conversation between one full-time vocational minister and a former one, over a few beers. 

"You know we live in a post-Christian context and Christians need to come to terms with this reality as soon as possible or risk being pushed further to the fringes of society."

"So much of our American Christianity is just the good life defined by the American dream. Working hard, acquiring stuff with a very thin veil of Jesus-overlay."

"I find that sad. We have served them to the point that their comfort trumps the gospel. Did our collective success make them into what they are? Did we win? At what cost?"

"Maybe we've reached more people and given then a lovely idea of 'church' and 'community', yet left them without any of the crushing or outstanding news. Our best news is the American dream? Ouch." 

"That dream is a relic for so many. And perhaps that is the opportunity. There is a reality that gives you more grace, more peace, more joy, and more freedom than anything you've ever dreamed possible. Gospel freedom must be real. But we must immerse ourselves into this mess of society. We helped create it."

 

 

 

Conversations Over Beer

He asks, "What are looking for in people to hire?"

"Honestly?", I reply. "Of course."

"I'm seeking those who know the art of relating. The soft skills, the one who's secure in their identity and isn't looking for a defense. Graceful in their presence and a clear perception of reality. It might sound simple but it's not easy to find in these times. We are relationally challenged, full of guilt and shame that keeps us bound to ourselves, unable to truly serve and therefore know others. Real relationships and when did we have to start qualifying them with 'real', anyway, they are fundamentally rooted in one's freedom to die to self in order to give life to another. You can't fake this, and those who have it are easily known. And I'm on the hunt for them, 24/7."

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20 Years of Fighting for Freedom

Twenty years of marriage to you has been the greatest illustration of unadulterated grace in my life. We started with bricks of law and bondage as high as the north Georgia sky. We have fought and thrown every brick, and a home of grace now stands. Because you have fought me I now taste, see, smell, touch, and hear the daily siren call of freedom. A gift unlike any other. You have brought me countless times to my own glorious ruin and held the hammer to nail my self-righteousness to the only tree of good news. I have been rescued from myself and led in the deeps of untold glories with your hand in mine. Our story is more beautiful because you refuse to accept lesser narratives; regardless of their shape, size, influence or veneers. Thank you for being the greatest fighter for freedom to ever live. 

20 years. Sounds impressive by some standards. But we both know we're not impressive. We're mere recipients of grace. And grace has led us out of the exhausting insanity to hide and to fix. We are free to be nothing, and there, to find true love. To twenty more years of dying and in so doing, flying free forever, cheers! 

 

 Photo: Chris Henderson

Photo: Chris Henderson

Conversations Over Beer

So good....

"There is nothing inherently wrong with the law. It is our sinful inability to adhere to the law that drives us toward something more. Jesus recognized the inability of the law, which shows us exactly who we ought to be, to provide its own fulfillment. Christ did not say the law is bad. He said instead the law is wholly good. But most importantly, he said that the law is no skilled mechanic. It cannot fix what is broken. In our brokenness we innately desire to be comforted and loved. In our desire for love we find insufficiency. In our insufficiency we find a deep need. The healing to our brokenness is in the One who is sufficient, and the love we long for. ...It does not take long to understand that embracing a grace-filled life is something that scares both the church and the world. Neither environment (church or the world) is safe. This is why there is truly only one specific place to stand, even if it continually moves. This is the place of God’s one-way love and its imputing accuracy, which rescues the human situation in every case where it is given play. It witnesses no sector of human affairs immune to the disease, but also none immune to the cure. The timeless truth of grace breathes new life." 

Haiti: Eight Years Later

It’s been eights year since my experience in earthquake devastated Haiti. Ironically, Haiti is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. I’m still unable to put into words the experiences I had over the course of those two weeks in January of 2010. There are nights that I still hear the crying of babies trapped inside the rubble and remember being absolutely powerless and furious over the helplessness. Every time I pass dead animals on the side of the road the scent carries me back to when all my senses experienced unspeakable horrors. I still don’t talk much about the details to anyone nor do I desire to. I experienced Haiti in its darkest “shithole” and I’m proud that it’s still stuck to me.

I still pray for baby Moses, who's life was saved yet orphaned. He should be about 9 years old now. I pray God raises him up to lead his people. I still pray for every child that survived the collapse of the orphanage, wherever they are today. I was assured most would be adopted into French families, but wherever they are I pray they’re healthy, happy, and full of life. Every time I use a Dewalt drill I’m taken back to the triage surgical tent holding medical tools while an eighty-year-old German surgeon used a Dewalt and some stainless steel screws to put a femur back together. That man and his German team saved countless lives. I am grateful for those I met from all over the world and for experiencing a unity of heart that I can only express as heavenly.  

My life has taken many turns and I can probably trace every one of them to this restarting point of my life at 33, a curious number. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago as a new life sprang forth from that moment. And yet my life is strangely stuck in that moment. The playlist that comforted me on nights of eerie quiet in a city of nearly one million people is the foundation of the playlist I listen to every day. I am both more of a man and less of one eight years later. All the lessons I learned a year later are lessons that I still cherish and that continue to teach me. I’ve never been freer yet wrung out. The old keeps dying. I know the new keeps coming and I’m hopeful even in the midst of a lot of darkness. Haiti, eight years later, thanks for helping set me free. 
 

 

The Last Jedi and The Value of Humility

So I made a public post via facebook declaring my appreciation and enjoyment of The Last Jedi. Little did I know that such a bold stand would dominate many of my holiday and beer conversations. I get it, the movie wasn’t flawless and I hear your valid grievances and saw the same plot holes and gaps in pace you keep bellyaching about. But it was not the same old thing. And that’s where I liked it the most. 

It’s incredibly difficult to take such an epic franchise and challenge the entire order. But that’s exactly what this film does. One of my longest gripes with the Star Wars franchise was the stark contrast between the heroes and the villains. They did very little up until The Last Jedi to explore the concepts of justice and moral righteousness within the villains and the value of hypocrisy and failure in the heroes. Now I get it, it’s hard to see our heroes on the big screen struggle with hypocrisy and failure. There is a pharisee (dare I say our own "dark side') within us all that enjoys identifying with heroes that never fail or lose a fight while ignoring our own frailty, imprudence, and defeat. And while we’ve seen the heroes lose a fight in this franchise, we’ve never had to deal with deep and real failure that is within every hero. 

In The Last Jedi, every single hero fails and that brings complications that make for great storytelling and even greater lessons beyond the theater, none so poignant and contextually relevant than the value of being humbled. The dark side exists in all of us, including our heroes. Up until this point we’ve always been presented with a darkness that pursues the good guys, but now we’ve been presented with something far more humbling, the good guys are pursued by a darkness within themselves. Perhaps that’s too heavy for the franchise that could honestly just make billions of dollars regurgitating the same ole space western. But I appreciate the honest attempt to bring a bit more honesty to the universe. Anytime I can escape and enjoy a story with my kids at the theater is a success in my book, but when I can escape and then have something really meaningful to talk about with my kids after the movie, it’s 5 stars. 

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.-Yoda

Don't Forget the Dive

Over the last few years I’ve visited just about every type of location that sells beer in the state of Georgia. I’m struck with awe at the diversity of scenes, people, and places that pour beer. From the highest brow craft beer bar to the stainless walls of tap nirvana to the stickiest dungeons of beer 101 and everything in between. I can honestly say there are parts I enjoy about every bar/restaurant that offers an experience with beer. The best ones are not insecure about the experience they deliver, they truly know who they are and are not trying to be something else. I really appreciate these places, even when they don’t serve Reformation on tap or even in a can. But there is one experience that I think the new generation of beer drinkers are at risk of missing out on. The local dive. 

This is the place where your dad or grandad probably enjoyed a cold one. It likely has some mass brewery neons flickering in the windows. You might see some folks who look, speak, and feel completely unlike you. But it’s a communal place. Most of the folks at the bar know each other and agree with each other even though there might be some raised voices around the conversations they’re having. They’re not scared to talk about controversial issues of the day. They may even offend you when you come in there trying to sell your, as one once said to me, “craft beer $%!^”. But if you can hang in there and take a good ribbing, you might also learn a thing or two about life and wisdom. 

I once had the honor of sitting next to two Vietnam veterans who told me stories of horror as well as some wild adventures on the other side of the world. I eventually got to tell them my story and I left with two new friends. I didn't leave agreeing with their outward perspectives of the world or their preferences in beer, but isn’t life made for just this? Having conversations, sharing perspectives, toasting a few stories and shaking hands on the way out. 

As an owner of an independent brewery, I am passionate about the products we craft and the values and vision of freedom that we stand for. I am proud to represent and introduce anyone to our beers and to share my story. I’d love to have better personal and business relationships with more local dives and offer my beer and my brand values to these establishments and historical beer institutions. But at the end of the day, I get it. They know who they are and why they do it. And in that, they have something to offer every beer drinker. So the next time you’re out looking for a beer, don’t forget the dive.

What are some of your favorite local dives? 

In memory of Ballad Shearer, lover of the folks who patron the dive. 
 

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The One True Thing

More and more I'm quizzed by fellow Christians, pastors, and ministers regarding the nature of Reformation Brewery as "ministry to the culture." Often they come with notepads and are ready for my 5 Tips to Engaging the Culture. I usually begin by simply listening to their questions and trying to gain insight into their ministry and life perspective so that I can contextualize my answer to make sense. The more people I've met over the years, the more I've gained incredible respect for the many different perspectives that Christians and ministers have on life and the nature of ministry. It is truly a mosaic and there is great beauty in that.


However, there is one common thread that I've often found missing throughout these conversations when it comes to Christian living and the nature of ministry. It's this one issue that I go to when I'm trying to communicate the nature of my approach to life and ministry (and therefore business). Furthermore, I believe it's the one issue that connects all of faithful historical Christianity and serves to contrast Christianity from all other worldviews, philosophies, and other Christian distortions. When the thread is lost, forgotten, or suppressed the world suffers. When the thread is heralded, praised, and exalted the world transforms with peace, love, and joy. And it sounds very simple, yet in our day it is rarely recognized, much less exercised. Your Christianity is impotent without this one truth. There is no substitute for it. This one single truth is that all of life is to be lived OUT of salvation and not FOR salvation. Another way of saying it, all of ministry is to be exercised OUT of the gospel and not performed FOR the gospel. Add any "if's, and's, or but's" you will distort this truth and suppress its power. 

Far too much ministry, far too many lives are lived attempting to gain and earn freedom (salvation) by performance. It's why we come with our notepads and crave the silver bullet method for life and ministry. We believe we have moved on from the gospel and that discipleship demands maturity. But the maturity we are gaining is too often self-righteousness rather than childlike faith in Christ. Any discipleship definition void of gospel centrality is bankrupt already. We never grow beyond the good news of Christ or past it, we simply grow deeper in love with it as it breaks us, heals us, and frees us over and over and over again. When we add things to the gospel we suppress the freedom of the gospel and therefore the attraction of the gospel. This suppression of the good news will always lead to new forms of moralism, to-do lists, and law. As a result, there is no freedom, there is no salvation, there is no peace, love, and joy.

This is where I begin to get into the conversation that is the very heart of Reformation. It's been central to reformation since the beginning of time. When the good news of the Messiah is recaptured and made the foundation, walls, doorway, windows, and roof of our message, reformation always happens. It matters not the context (culture, time or place). The gospel is truly universal good news.

There is a reformation of life and ministry in living OUT of salvation. Christian ministry, outreach, and cultural engagement become less project and more comprehensive lifestyle. When Christians are living OUT of salvation instead of FOR salvation they experience freedom. Freedom rooted in the very identity of Christ. This results in freedom to risk, freedom to engage, freedom to love, freedom to live as we are created to live. When there is nothing more to gain than the gospel itself, life becomes the gift that never stops giving. If you want to engage culture, or for that matter life and ministry, you've got to first stop you're "doing" for God and embrace the very goodness of God who has set you free. Life out of freedom will garner you plenty of critics and scorn from a world in bondage to its insecure self, but it might also fill up your church and your life with something that truly matters.

There is absolutely nothing more important or more central to my life and ministry. If I am more than five minutes away from thinking about the good news, I am lost. I need it over and over and over. I've tried growing beyond it and found nothing but bankrupt Christianity. Thankfully the gospel even came into that toxicity and rescued me again from such bondage. I never want to stray from it again. I want to be wise to discern the slick counterfeits and the sirens that call for anything else. I long to live out of its goodness and freedom regardless of who throws daggers. And I want to be so privileged to share it with anyone and everyone until all things are new.

19 Years of Together

Dear Paula,

Today marks nineteen years of marriage. Due to rainouts, we will spend it at a ball field watching our son run, jump, catch, throw and enjoy a game he has grown to love. But before we get there tonight I want you to know I’ve never been more thankful for you, my bride. This one carries a little more meaning. Not because of the number but because of what we’ve experienced in our marriage over these last five months.

For eighteen years and seven months our marriage has thrived under the pressures of pursuing and existing in vocational ministry. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. We’ve grown up together, we’ve shared many struggles together, we’ve suffered through incredible losses together and we’ve also experienced life’s greatest joys together. Being together through these years has been a beautiful part of our lives.

But, as you know, five months ago we made the difficult decision for our marriage and our family to step away from vocational pastoral ministry so I could invest my entire focus on leading a small and growing business. What has occurred since then has been quite unexpected in our marriage. As you helped me process through the wounds and scars that came with pastoring a small community of believers that I loved so deeply, so too came a renewed passion for you. I have fallen even deeper in love with you. As the process has played out I’ve experienced a new freedom and happiness in our marriage. We have laughed, sung and danced like never before. We have cherished and enjoyed our children like never before. You helped me see that the privileged burden of pastoring for ten years had taken a toil on me that I didn’t fully comprehend until the burden was no longer mine to carry. And as the burden passed with our decision to move on, so too came a new joy, a new blessing of being married to you. I believe our marriage has always been Grade A solid. But now it has reached a new height at nineteen years. It didn’t take reading a book on the topic or attending a conference, it didn’t even take new actions on our parts. It just took a new chapter of life. It’s hard to talk about my love and our marriage without the cliches, but five months into this chapter and I’m so truly grateful and happy that our relationship has been set free to keep reaching for new levels. See you tonight at the ball field. I love you. 

Spence

P.S. I tried to make this less “cheesy” than an Ed Sheeran song.

Sorrows

I'm not sure who is more upset this morning, me or my 6 year old son. I have passed down the blessing/curse of being an Atlanta fan. We cheer for all things Atlanta- be it Georgia Tech, Braves, Falcons, Hawks and yes even that soccer team that will be starting soon. I'm a believer in the value of team sports and of being a fan and supporting your city, your people, your community. So much to learn about living and about our faith. There isn't a better, more safe way to teach about sorrow and loss than dealing with the dashed hopes of your team. So I thought I'd share my teaching moment with my family and really just as much to myself. 

Epic losses always lead to sorrows, whether in daily life or your hometown NFL team in the Super Bowl. So many things we put our hope in are at best shaky and fleeting. Yet the pain of sorrows, regardless of their nature, is truly real. In some ways it might seem easier to just shuffle your hope from one shaky place to the next. To just avoid the pain of loss by putting your hope in the next thing. But what if the sorrow is truly healthy?

Never waste your sorrow. Curl up next to your mom and dad, cry if you need to, read a sorrowful book or take a walk to some sorrowful songs. Embrace it, feel it. You'll learn that sorrow won't kill you. And in turn and time something about hope will come around. The kind of hope that is sure, because it's not temporal or movable but rather a completed, finished hope that puts our temporal hopes into proper perspective. It's embracing the final, ultimate hope that God has accomplished through the good news of Jesus that makes living with the smaller hopes and failure truly meaningful. God does not fail. He has declared His work finished and the completion of that declaration is ongoing and will come to fruition. He wins and therefore, because of your faith in Him and His work, you win. We win. It's settled, the victory is ours and we get to celebrate and live in light of it today and everyday. 

I certainly would've rather taught on glory this morning, but I'll take the loss, the sorrow and the struggle to point us to a future and sure hope that is greater still. Now let's hit the "Sorrowful Songs" playlist, Ghosts That We Knew seems like a good one to start with. 

This Falcons Moment

Today I read a great word from Michael Vick on the power of a moment and the power of family. I'm so proud of Vick and his story, it gave me all the feels. I've been an Atlanta homer my entire life and have experienced a majority of the professional sports history of this town. This Falcons Moment has me sentimental and thankful for our city and our larger struggles.

It's not easy being an Atlanta sports fan. But in some ways I think our sports struggles relate to our bigger struggles as a city and a people. And I'm not going to pretend that a long history of problems are going to be solved by a professional sports moment. But this Falcons Moment is meaningful and bigger than just sports. I've been out doing Reformation beer promos during this Falcons run and have experienced it firsthand. The timing has been awesome. It has been a great distraction from the political noise and it has brought us together as a city and people. 

So yeah, "Rise Up!" means a little more to me this year. I'm proud to be an Atlanta fan. You might not understand it but that's okay. I'm going to enjoy this Super Bowl moment with our city, our family, and our shared struggles. Let's win this last one for Tommy Nobis, Leeman Bennett, Billy "Whiteshoes" Johnson, William Andrews, Gerald Riggs, Lynn Cain, Steve Bartkowski, Mick Luckhurst, Bill Fralic, Mike Kenn, Jeff Van Note, Jessie Tuggle, Michael Vick, and the entire city of Atlanta! Let's keep uniting to celebrate. Whether its a victory parade the likes this city has never experienced or over the next Union we have at the local pub. Cheers to Atlanta, let's enjoy this Falcons Moment.  

When Nothing is Owed, Deserved or Expected

Every four years.

"Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."-Thomas Jefferson