I turned 45 this past year. It is hard for me to believe because moments in my memory are so accessible. I remember sitting in the front row in first grade, being threatened by a bully the next year, listening to a fourth grade teacher rave unhappily about our bad behavior, having a fight at a bus stop in middle school, sitting nearby when a big kid snapped and pounded his tormentor . . . Some of these memories are violent, aren’t they? Well, they are from my time in public school. But I also remember my mother’s Christmas cookies, my dad catching probably hundreds of thousands of balls thrown by me in the backyard, and spectacular stained glass windows in an Episcopal church we attended for a while.
These memories are so fresh and yet at 45 I am feeling my own mortality. I may have sleep apnea. My knees are a mess. I have a vicious caffeine addiction that I have nearly extinguished (for the fourth/fifth time?). I had massive back problems which seem to be largely solved by getting a new mattress. That’s a long way from the days when I could crash on the floor of a friend’s house.
2015 began and ended with the flu. I had a severe version about year ago and a much attenuated round this December. Thank God for a wife and a primary care physician who pushed me to get the vaccine. It worked this year.
I tried something new in terms of working out in 2015. I have long been a big walker. One of my favorite things is to walk about five miles while I listen to music or podcasts. There were two problems. One is that I got tired of having to protect my increasingly vulnerable skin from the sun. The other is that all the pavement pounding seemed to be exacerbating my back problems.
As a result, I finally acceded to my wife’s desire to join a fitness club. We started going to Gold’s Gym. It has the advantage of having treadmills with television. That way, we can get our kids to walk while the Cartoon Network plays in front of them. They appreciate it since we cut the cord this year.
I thought I was going to be a bike and treadmill guy, but it just didn’t capture me. Walking inside is not as good as walking outside. So, I ventured into the room with weight machines. Since June, I’ve been lifting. And I have to say — listen my fellow chronic fat fighters — nothing has been better for me in terms of reshaping my body than lifting weights. My arms, shoulders, and chest are bigger, while my waist is smaller. I feel taller, more like a healthy beast (at least when I’m not waking myself up with some titanic snore in bed). The bottom line is that I have had years where I put an enormous amount of walking miles on the scoreboard, but didn’t experience nearly the body improvement I got out of lifting.
The great thing is that it didn’t even require much in terms of overcoming intimidation. I have done most of the lifting in the room with the nice, padded machines. Only in the last month have I begun to venture down into the basement where the hulks of Gold’s Gym dwell. I had to go down there because I made it to the point of using 30 pound barbells and everything upstairs is lighter. It’s a little weird being down there with people who feel like dedicated professionals, but they go about their business and you go about yours.
A lot of my writing this year translated into speaking. I began the year speaking at Trinity International University (at the seminary) in Chicago (with snow!) and ended it at a small, start-up great books school in South Dakota. In between, I delivered a presidential inaugural address at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. The place is often a hotbed of controversy because of Douglas Wilson’s amazing ability to generate it. I have to say, though, that the town was beautiful and the community around the college seemed very warm and productive in terms of learning. One stop took me back to Houston Baptist University where I had the chance to give “A Graduation Speech before Graduation.” I’ve sat through so many commencement addresses, I have developed a pretty strong sense of what I’d like speakers to say. So, I said those things to students at a chapel service in the beautiful Dunham Theater.
In addition to the speaking, I wrote online mostly for The Federalist, which is a website created by Ben Domenech. Ben is well known as the editor of The Transom (a daily email service) and increasingly as a national media personality. I recruited him to create and edit The City back in 2007. He and I collaborated on that publication (with me writing the back of book reflections) until this year. Now that neither Ben nor I are at HBU, the college decided to put it under the control of its own personnel. We had a nice run of about seven years. Some folks might be curious about my choice of The Federalist as an outlet because it can be a bit edgy (despite being conservative and Christian friendly) in terms of some of the items it publishes. My logic has been to go where the readers are. And The Federalist has readers. One piece I wrote a couple of years back on the liberal arts was shared thousands of times of Facebook. Bill Buckley quit writing for Playboy when he figured out there were very few actual readers for him to influence. I don’t have that worry with The Federalist. Its readers are thinkers and the content is about the text, not pictures.
The dominant theme of the speaking and online writing had to do with Obergefell. During these last several years, I have been somewhat unique as a Christian conservative in the sense that I worried very little about gay marriage (in and of itself), but worried a great deal about the impact of gay marriage on religious liberty. I think those concerns have been well-founded. Gay marriage has the potential to be a lever for removing Christian institutions (other than the churches narrowly as churches) from the entire non-profit charitable and educational life of the country. While the majority decision in Obergefell offered some reassurance on that score, the warning issued by the Chief Justice in his dissent has a piercing ring to it.
I wrote a chapter for a book put out by the Gospel Coalition on whether Christians can still change the world after Obergefell. In addition, I wrote essays for the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (“Was Carl F.H. Henry Right?) and for the Journal of Markets and Morality (on whether the idea of Christian America was invented by corporations). Both of those are forthcoming.
Finally, but not comprehensively in terms of the work, I served as a judge for the Christianity Today Book Awards. One thing I have learned from that process is that if you think you have a good book to offer, then you should encourage your publisher to nominate it. While all the books I reviewed were quite good, I’m sure several others would have been worthy of inclusion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I agreed with practically everyone else that Russell Moore’s Onward deserved the nod. But I also liked Stanley Carlson-Thies and Steven Monsma’s recent effort on religious liberty.
On the personal side, I had two opportunities to spend time with Rod Dreher. His book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, absolutely wiped me out emotionally when I read it. We met at an ERLC event and then again when he came to Union University. He suggested I drive through Louisiana and visit at some point. Maybe he’ll become our conservative version of Wendell Berry with folks driving over just to take in the spirit of Walker Percy amid the pines and set a spell.
Leaving work aside, I think I’ll finish with something that meant a lot to my wife. Ruth wants to travel. I don’t like traveling. Too much fuss for me. But I recognized that I needed to go along with it this year. We planned a trip to Colorado. Denver was a lot of fun, but the really special part was the YMCA in the Rockies. Possibly the greatest real estate purchase of all time. And guess what? This is a YMCA where the C still stands for Christian. Most people were there with conferences, but we were just there as tourists. We hiked, saw wildlife (such as elk and moose), fly-fished (where I caught nothing and Ruth caught seven), heard a John Denver tribute band, played Bingo, and sat by as son Andrew pursued Josh McDowell into a bathroom to ask if he knew his dad.
See you in the funny papers. (I just realized everybody under 40 has no idea what I mean . . .)