Best of 2017

December 21, 2017 — Leave a comment

As 2017 winds to a close, here are my best of the year:

Image result for james ka smith what you loveBest Christian Life Book – You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. Smith’s love and promotion of orthodoxy through the church and her traditions is worth a hearing. For years I have resonated with much of what he believes is the antidote to the consumeristic, biblically-anemic spirit seeping throughout the Western church. Made me love good liturgy all the more.

Image result for adam and the genomeBest Biblical Studies/Theology BookAdam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight. In the first section, Venema, a professor of biology who specializes in genetics, does an honorable job of putting the cookies on the bottom shelf for the lay reader who know little of science in general and genetics in specific. He avails us of the latest research as it concerns human origins and the challenges that present themselves to those who hold to Christianity (Venema is a follower of Jesus). The weakest part is when McKnight, a New Testament scholar, offers his alternative views in light of modern scientific findings. Overall, if anything, this book should provoke the church, and her intellectuals and theologians within it, to better engage the discussion of human origins and the biblical account.

Image result for A Soldier of the Great War, Mark HelprinBest Fiction – A Soldier of the Great Waby Mark Helprin. I had heard of this book years ago when a Wheaton professor of English said it was his favorite book of all time. I didn’t think anything of it until one of my friends, who I hold in high esteem when it comes to literary recommendations,1 told me I must read Helprin’s novel. I did and would put it in one of the best modern novels I have ever read. It is such a beautiful read that it literally left me in tears at parts. I read that Helprin’s work was blackballed from Pulitzer consideration because of his conservative political views. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. I would say this is easily Pulitzer material to me.

Image result for crossing to safetyBest Fiction (Honorable Mention) Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. The same friend who told me to read Helprin also told me to read Stegner’s work. The result? He was two for two on recommendations. Crossing to Safety is a moving novel about friendship that stays with you long after finishing the book. There’s a part of me that wished I read it with my close friends as a book club just so we could talk about what makes a real friendship. An absolutely fantastic read that I won’t forget.

Image result for goodbye to a riverBest Non-Fiction – Goodbye to a River by John Graves. This “semi-historical” book (technically filed under fiction), is about the author’s last canoe trip down the Brazos River in 1957 before flood-control dams are installed, thus changing the river forever. It is part memoir, part history. It is considered a Texas literary classic. In reading it I felt not only carried along Graves’ slow, meandering journey down a river I knew while a student in Waco but also felt pulled back in time when Indians roamed Central Texas. Melancholic, enchanting, and just what I needed.

Image result for dark matter coverBest Just for Fun Book Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Flat out fun! Just when you think things can’t get any crazier, they do. Read this is a day or two and loved it for the mindless, fast-paced fun it is.

 

 

Image result for stapleton vol. 1 coverImage result for stapleton vol. 2Best Album From the Room, Vols. 1 & 2, Chris Stapleton. Maybe one of the best country albums I’ve heard in a decade. Stapleton walks with confidence into the “outlaw country” road that Nelson, Haggard, and other blazed before him. Every song is good. Every. Song. With that said, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’ is as good as it gets with honesty, artistry, and musicality.

Best MovieWind River. I’m a fan of writer Taylor Sheridan. The native Texan has previously written both Sicario and Hell or High Water. Both flicks been some of my favorite in recent years. With themes and images that are disturbing, Sheridan makes an movie that is more about humanity, loss, and grief than simply “a thriller.” To be fair, I haven’t seen many other movies this year.  I have yet to see Dunkirk, the movie by my favorite director, Christopher Nolan. So, this entry might have changed. For now, Wind River takes the spot.

Best Moment of 2017 – My brother’s swearing-in as a U.S. Congressman in January. Pretty special to have your family member in the halls of Congress. Plus, my kids had a blast in D.C. seeing the sights as their uncle became a congressman.

Best Moment of 2017 (Honorable Mentions) – 1) Finishing my book which will be released the first week of January 2018. 2) The Astros winning the World Series!

 

It’s safe to say I’m a big Texas fan. Unapologetically obnoxious to be honest. I adore all things Lone Star State. I read Texas history textbooks for fun, make runs to the Bullock Texas History Museum whenever I’m in Austin, and am grateful for the fact that I was born in the Republic. The last fact makes me a native Texan which, for a Texas geek, is a nice feather in the cap (though I readily acknowledge I had no choice in the matter).

With that said, I’ve always been curious as to how many generations of a Texan I am. Three? Four? Maybe Five? I didn’t have a clue. That was until my aunt recently gave me some genealogical work from another relative. My task: find how many generations I could go with an unbroken line of native Texans up to the initial immigrating ancestor. What I found surprised and elated me.

Let me count native Texans from the past to the present:

  • 1st Generation: My great4 grandfather John Slocumb and great4 grandmother Sarah Slocumb (nee. Shoat) are the first Texans. They moved to Bastrop, Texas, sometime before 1848. Some data points to the possibility they originally hailed from Louisiana. I found no date of their arrival in Texas.
  • 2nd Generation: Sarah gave birth to my great3 grandmother, Elizabeth Slocumb Morin on May, 13, 1848, in Bastrop. Elizabeth married my great3 grandfather, A.C. Morin, a carpenter and respected citizen of Houston (who, at his death, lived at 1514 Washington St., but originally was from Philly).
  • 3rd Generation: Elizabeth “Bettie” aka “Nannie” Morin Brown was born in 1868 in Houston. She is my great2 grandmother (who my mom knew, since she lived up to 1960). She married my great2 grandfather, George P. Brown, Sr., (originally of St. Louis but had moved to Houston where he met Bettie).
  • 4th Generation: George P. Brown, Jr., aka “Partie” (say par-TEE) was born in 1887 in Houston. He is my great grandfather and married my great grandmother, Erma Lee Franks.
  • 5th Generation: Elizabeth “Betty” Brown Cook, my grandmother, was born in 1913 in Houston. She married Jesse Vernon Cook.
  • 6th Generation: Betty Cook Arrington, my mother, was born in 1938 in Houston. She married my father, Gene Arrington.
  • 7th Generation: Me: Yancey Cook Arrington. I was born in 1971 in Lubbock.
  • 8th Generation: My sons: Thatcher Cook, Haddon Davis, and Beckett Trace Arrington, were born in 2001, 2004, 2006, respectively, in Houston.

My great-great grandparents’ house at 2403 Caroline St. (circa 1890; demolished in 1963) when Houston had a population a little over 27,000. It was built by my great-great-great grandfather A.C. Morin. I believe my great grandfather (Partie) is the individual in the carriage, his father George and mother Bettie to the right. The infant is Partie’s brother Cleve. (Photo credit: Rebecca Gregory) P.S. – My mom, who remembers this house well, said to call this home you had to tell the operator, “Fairfax 36078.”

Needless to say, I was thrilled with my discovery that I was a seventh-generation Texan!1 Interestingly, four out of the six native Texan generations are Houston births. Five out of seven if you include my children. All of it’s been fascinating to see. It also makes me geek out on Texas stuff all the more.

My second book, Preaching That Moves People, is scheduled for release the first part of January. For eleven chapters, I share what I consider to be a fairly unique way of looking at sermons in order to maximize their impact on hearers. The key isn’t merely thinking through messages but learning how to feel through them – to trace and leverage their emotional flow.

However, as with any book manuscript, there are sections and even chapters that don’t make the final cut. I thought some of it might be worth putting on my blog. In this post, I wanted to share some of my (unedited, rough draft) thoughts on sermon introductions and conclusions. It’s probably even a little rough for a blog post, but maybe some of these unfinished thoughts will be helpful. Here you go:

The “do’s and don’ts” of sermon introductions and conclusions are fairly common.  A simple search on the internet produces scores of resources, most of which share the same answers. Let me offer some reflections that deal specifically with how introductions and conclusions intersect the sermon’s emotional flow.

On Introductions

What I try to look for in a sermon introduction is how it puts “the why” of the message before for the congregation. Preachers should use their introduction to answer the question: Why would congregants need to listen to this message? or Why should listeners take this journey with me? This is just one more reason why [as stated earlier in the book] creating tension is critical in the sermon’s beginning. It necessitates having a why for the congregants at the start of the sermon.

I also prefer messages that address sermon content immediately instead of beginning with announcements or random comments for church ‘insiders’ that have nothing to do with the emotional flow of the message. Often such moments are counterproductive to engaging listeners emotionally. If you are going to start your message via an introduction, actually INTRODUCE the message. Like a good flight, a sermon’s introduction should launch listeners into the journey of the message, not waste time meandering on the tarmac.

I also believe it’s a good thing to memorize your sermon introduction. Staying with the flight imagery, memorizing the intro provides a strong takeoff where the preacher begins the message looking into the eyes of his listeners rather than having his gaze disconnect from them in order to repeatedly find where he is in his notes. Beginning the message by keeping one’s eyes upon the listeners establishes a strong emotional connection between pastor and congregants. Preachers can return to their notes once they’ve successfully entered into the cruising altitude of the body of the message.

On Conclusions

This is also way I think it wise to memorize conclusions. Like the start of the message, you also want to conclude it looking at your listeners, not your notes. Remember, the goal is keeping a good connection emotionally with the congregants. Maintaining eye contact with them better fits what a conclusion should feel like emotionally, especially if there is any kind of congregational appeal. Those who are adept at feeling their way to the sermon’s end may not need to memorize their conclusions but usually those kind of preachers are the exception not the rule.

If conclusions are like a plane’s landing, then the landings in your messages need to feel like landings in real life. In what way? Well, for starters, you should only have one. You wouldn’t want an actual flight to conclude with the pilot attempting multiple touch downs. Unnerving to say the least. At some point you would question the skill level of the aviator. The same goes for preachers and sermons. Messages should have one ending. If they don’t, it may lead the congregation to wonder how proficient you are at preaching.

For example, don’t tell everyone you are just about to wrap up the message then continue to preach for another fifteen minutes. Congregants now have to play a guessing game for when they think you will finish. I wrote this to a buddy I was coaching, about a conclusion he gave in a specific message:

You said you were closing and went an additional ten more minutes. You actually preached another mini-sermon complete with an entirely new text and exposition. This just tells people either you don’t know how to end a sermon or you’re unable to do it. It also gives them permission to “check out” of your talk if you go longer than four to five minutes.

This isn’t a unique experience. I’m amazed at how many times I thought a pastor was going to finish his message (because the sermon seemed to be concluding in both its emotional trajectory and pace) only to find him re-ascend into the skies at the expense of his listeners. Don’t do that. A good rule of thumb is to never introduce new material in your conclusion. Leave it for another sermon. Remember, land the plane once.

As many times as I’ve heard preachers land multiple times in a sermon, I find more messages where no landing has taken place at all. The introduction is fine. The body of the message flows wonderfully well. And then, with a sentence or two at the conclusion, the sermon ends – and by ‘ends’ I mean it crash lands. The conclusion feels so emotionally abrupt and unfinished that it does an injustice to the all the time spent preaching before it. Often these crash landings happen because preachers don’t manage their time well in the pulpit. They just run out of sand in the hourglass. It’s a costly mistake because while the the pastor knows it, the congregants feel it.

Another reason could be that some pastors never take the time to actually craft emotionally satisfying conclusions to their messages. Maybe the work of exposition and structuring of points takes up all the time they have to prepare. But this is to miss a huge part of the emotional dynamic of the message. If you want to preach sermons that move people, you must take into account how both introduction and conclusion respectively start and finish the message’s emotional flow, and do them well. They’re like two wings on the airplane, if you want the message to fly well, you probably need both of them. (For the record, this is one more reason why it’s wise to identify them when charting a message’s bandwidth.1