Monday, January 31, 2011


One of the show's Laura and I started watching during our sitting times with Jude is A&E's Hoarders. The title of the show should give a fairly strong indication of what it's about.

But why am I thinking about it this morning?
My inbox has always been notoriously... full...
Right now, I have nearly 1500 messages there (don't worry... only 21 or so are "unread").

It got me to thinking about my dad. This isn't going to be one of those touching remembrances or a (perhaps) heartfelt lament of what it will be like raising our son having never met his paternal grandfather.

No... this is a little along the lines of the inheritance of sin.

So there's this verse in the Old Testament of the Bible that says, "And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them." (Lev 26:39).

I really should mention that the context of the verse isn't dire hopelessness, but a hope found through repentance and the promise of forgiveness from God to His people.

But I'm thinking about this for a few reasons this morning. On the one hand, I think, "What sorts of things will I pass on to my son?" It's really caused me to second guess some of the things that I say and some of the ways that I act when I'm around him. On the other hand, it makes me think of the baggage I'm carrying as well.

I think there are some who would veer to heavily on the personal responsibility side to say, "Well, you just need to 'man up,' (in some respect) and take responsibility for what you do." There is another dichotomy that might say, "Well, you can't help what you do because you've been formed and conditioned by the context in which you were raised." Then there's the middle ground - the ground that I think a lot of us would stand if we really thought at some length about issues of sin. That is, that nature and nurture both play a part in the actions we perform and the motivations that drive those actions.

Specifically, there is the inner influence of the me that believes that comfort must be found (though, comfort is a good thing). That same self might decide that comfort shouldn't... or wouldn't... be found by seeking the Lord. So the outward me comes into view to say, "Look, remember how you may have been taught in the past? Think about the things that bring comfort... the things that bring security..."

In the house I grew up in, there wasn't a lot that went to waste. If we saw something on the side of the road that looked even remotely valuable, then it was valuable enough to be picked up. Granted, we weren't nearly as bad as the hoarders depicted on the A&E show, but we had our moments. We had a garage full of miscellaneous wood.

There were planks of different sizes.
There were sides of old plywood boxes.
There was furniture.
There were old pipes.
There were boxes full of rusty hardware.

I remember that there were times where I couldn't walk into my own room (this, however, was my own fault) due to the piling of things on the floor. And even now... it's really difficult for me to throw away some things, or to give others (that are in decent condition) away as there "...might always be a use for that later."

So this is a light thing, but perhaps heavy in its implications. My own father did not grasp for Christ in this life. And sometimes, I see the actions he pursued to bring comfort and security being amplified in my own life (perhaps they're amplified because they are introspective?). His days were spent by working hard when he was at "the office," and being served and entertained while he was at home. His weekends were spent foraging and gathering and seeing success as what had been accumulated through all of his aforementioned hard work.

And I see a lot of him in me.

On a somewhat side note, I think that we (being inclusive of you if you are of the people who subscribe to this faith of following after Christ) may have a tendency to gloss over sin and to shoot straight to the primary growth of the root rather address the reality of what comprises the secondary growth. Often, then, the answer is "Well, you need to love Jesus more," or, "You need to to worship Jesus rightly," or, "You need to understand that your real problem is you own base sinfulness and not just the effects of that base sinfulness." However earnest the "encourager," in these situations might be, what is often not taken into consideration is the fact that people who believe themselves as Christians are people who are wrapped up in a process of being changed while still living with the residual intricacies and problems of the sin that remains in their (our) lives.

As such, salvation is not the magic wand that removes the sense and belief of the power of comfort apart from God, or security apart from God, or acceptance apart from God, or anything else apart from God from the exercise of our day to days on this side of heaven.

But... a lot of times... we think it is.
A lot of times, it becomes really easy to judge people whose outward lives are a mess.
A lot of time, it is easy to deny the fact that Jesus saves people whose lives are an outer and inner mess.

More than that, there can be a total denial that culture, family, education, history, philosophy, etc. has the power that it does in shaping who we are and are to become.

What Christ has committed to in the incarnation, what he has committed to in His expression of true Humanity and true Spirituality is to call us instantaneously righteous by his death and resurrection while simultaneously living with us through our ineptitude in the process of living a life with him (I've heard a lot of people - professors and pastors - call this the "already" and "not yet" of Christianity. That is the reality of this life of living in faith of following after Christ.

But still... I really need to clean out my inbox.

** I was doing a search for a goofy picture I could add to this, so I searched "Jesus Hoarder" and ended up pulling a great snippet from Ed Welch at CCEF - you can read it by clicking here. He states (shortly) that hoarding is a little unique to western culture and gives some points to work with if you (or someone you know) is struggling with hoarding.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Entertainment Part Deux

This is a follow up from my last post about entertainment. More specifically, it's about some of the music I listened to and what I'm listening to now.

First off, an album that I downloaded twice (the first time I purchased it, I left it on Laura's
computer... the second time, it landed into mine):Come O Spirit! Anthology Of Hymns And Spiritual Songs Volume 1. So... We apparently purchased this album a year or so and then again this January! In any case, we actually sing many of these during the many of the services of the church we attend here in Philadelphia. What gets to me with many of these hymns is how well the tunes (the musical arrangements) are matched to they lyrics. I think there's a lot of good theology here and it seems to be heart-felt from the singers' perspectives... a least I'd like to think that it is and does. There's nothing really showy about how they perform, and in many areas there really seems to be a minimalist approach to the music - but the music and the words work to really encourage my soul. You can also find the chords to the music (for free) by going directly to the source at Great Comfort Records.

Another album I've really enjoyed over the past year is The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time (type is theirs', not mine). I've written more in depth review on (you can check it out by clicking here), but my first sentence from that review really sums up what I think about it by saying, "In a musical world of emotional opining and slow beats, this album tends to stand as a breath of fresh air for me." The Apples remind me a little of the Beatles in electro-pop fashion. That may be hard to swallow (or believe) - but again, it is my opinion that they're pretty nice.

Other albums worth listening to (though, not worth writing about right now as much has already been said about them) are Sufjan Steven's Age of Adz and his EP, All Delighted People in addition to The Decemberists' The King is Dead.

Actually... I will comment on the last album.
I haven't been able to stop listening to it. It is lyrically rich and while keeping the storytelling short and interesting. If you haven't purchased this album, you probably should...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflections: Entertainment...

Still posting from Corrin's prompts. Today's task:

Entertainment: What music do you currently listen to? Why do you prefer this genre? What kind of TV shows do you watch? What do you love about them? Do you have a favorite movie that you have really enjoyed watching this year? Game? Pastime?

There's a lot to talk about here... so today, I'll stick with TV.

Laura and I don't own a television.
We never have.

The strange thing about this is that we both grew up around televisions. When I was growing up, I spent my summers sitting in front of a television. People who talk to me will often say, "Wow, you're from Alabama? (after they find out that I'm from Alabama, of course) I can hardly notice an accent." I quickly respond, "Yeah, it's because I was raised, in part, by television," because I know it gets a laugh; trustme, this has been tested many times. Laura has mentioned that at times, her family would leave the television on just for the background noise. My dad would rest in front of his television on the weekends and literally fall asleep while watching westerns, war movies or science fiction.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reflections: Children...

Today's post is prompted by Corrin's new list of Reflections.

Children: Who is the most important child in your life and what have you learned from them? If you have your own children, is it everything you thought it would be? What do you want to teach them in 2011?

Unless you happened to stumble onto this blog out of "the cloud", you knowthat 2010 brought about the birth of our son, Jude. So the obvious answer to the first part ofthis question is that our son is now the most important child in our life.Laura and I are still processing those things that we are learning from him and parenthood in general. When I first saw him, and sometimes even now, I am absolutely amazed that in some sense, we made this person (though we confess that it was the Lord who knit him in the womb).

Several people have told me that the first thing they did was to count the fingers and toes of their children (some say by instinct). This is not the first thing I did. In fact, I don't recall a time where I began numbering my child's appendages. For me, the first thing that happened was a flood of emotion and the overwhelming reality that my wife and I were now parents. I try to say this without sounding superficially religious... but there was a real sense of the presence of God during that time. More specifically, I felt that I knew his fatherliness in a way that I had not before.

In October 2009, we lost our first baby due to miscarriage. She was only 9 weeks along, but it was a really difficult thing for us. I say "she," as testing after Laura's operation proved that the baby probably had what is called, "Turner's Syndrome."

That was a time where Laura and I cried a lot together.

There were complications with this pregnancy too. I remember driving to the hospital with Laura for one of her regular check-ups. I remember not wanting to pray - not wanting to be let down by a God who I felt did not listen very often. I remember thinking "Please...please...please," while also believing that once the ultrasound was performed, we would see another lifeless fetus.

I remember that our sadness was thick.
Much of our ride to Pennsylvania hospital was in silence.

In waiting room of the lab where they do the first trimester ultrasounds, we sat. We were given a room and we waited.

The technician came in and pressed the cold machine to my wife's belly. At first, nothing. Then, a flutter. Then... the familiar sound of a heartbeat and the mentioning of, "looks like you have a healthy baby."

I am learning, through this experience and the birth of my son just how completely fickle my faith can be. Jude's birth did not affirm that, "If you pray, God will listen and answer." While I think prayer has been better for me, I think it is still something I am working through.

No, Jude's birth gave me a glimpse (I think) into the heart of God. I loved my son in a way much different than I love my wife and it affected me in a great way to think that there is a fatherly love for me from the Lord as well. At the time, I was also working through a class in Reformation Church History. One thing continually sticks out to me from the writings of Martin Luther (and this is a summary) in that God takes that which is unlovable and makes it lovable. There is (as my professor said) no good analogy that we can make that compares our own love with our understanding of God's love for his people.

It hit me squarely that I love Jude because he is very lovable. He came out with a full head of hair, a generally wonderful disposition and a smile that is indescribable. When I hear him cry, I want to go to him because he is lovable.

I, on the other hand, am not lovable. My heart is laid bear before the one by whom all things are made, and yet he still comes to me when I cry out to him.

He has made that which is unlovable lovable.

I don't say this lightly... Jude reminded me that God does love his people... that perhaps there is even love for me. He is teaching me that the patience of a father is not even a shadow of the depth of the patience of my Father. These are difficult lessons; while I know my dad loved me I also grew up under circumstances that were not often ideal. Our home was tumultuous and there was not (and even now, even almost six years after his death) a lot of love that came out of the place I was raised (this, perhaps is a topic for another time - and don't get me wrong, my mother is a very loving woman). All to say, Laura and I want Jude to grow up in a home where there is real forgiveness.

We want a home of openness without holding grudges or of judgment behind smiles.
We want a home of graciousness rather than argumentation and bitterness behind yelling matches.
We want a home where life, peace and completion overcomes the curse of death.
We want a home where Jesus is central... where He is more... where we are less.

And we are still learning how to make it there.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Reflections: Fashion...

Blogging through the week will be a little difficult going this month for me. I started winter Greek this past Tuesday. This essentially means that I am trying to complete a semester's worth of greek (two hours worth) over the course of January.

All to say, bear with me.

Today's assignment from Corrin's blog: What is one current fashion you love and one you hate? Share a photo of a fashion blunder you have made.

I actually chose this one because I have a photo of a fashion blunder that reaches back into my college years.
I actually do not have any sense of current fashion.

So, to the first two questions, I acquiesce to my wife (who is an interactive designer for a well known lady's clothing brand).
(interlude: While my wife is actually thinking about these questions, she has asked me to clean the bathroom... so I turn my computer over to her)

Laura: Sorry, Gene I'm in the same boat as you. I really tried hard to think about what is currently fashionable and came up empty. I'm so immersed in the mommy world of my maternity leave that the only fashion I'm aware of are jeans with an elastic waistband and oversized black t-shirts. Anyway, if you looked back to my college days, you would know how ironic it is that I work in the world of fashion. I lived in baggy pants and paint-stained t-shirts. :)

Gene: Well... anyways, here's a picture of a fashion faux pas from the past (and if you'd like to look back at our college days, you can check out some of our pics by clicking here):

Monday, January 03, 2011

Reflections: Laughter

I don't know how to say it... it's small... subtle things. I feel like our humor has become similar the longer we've been married.

How so?

Sometimes, everyone in a room will be silent, but you and I will be laughing. There was a time that we were at Bryn Mawr [The Birthing Center] and we were watching a video. Everyone was silent during this one part but you and I were just laughing.
Ironic things that we sometimes laugh at.
I don't know how to phrase it, but it's just life's ironies... I don't know...

This is a question that I punted to my wife tonight to answer. The
italicized are her responses.

I really think I laugh at a lot of the same things others do... but I think that there has been a transformation at what I laugh at and why I laugh. I remember sitting in an English class in MiddleSchool... we all had to read an essay we had written. I think my essay was on disassembling and then reassembling a lawn mower engine (it was something I had recent experience in and a task that is uniquely dull and tedious). When it was my turn to read, I remember standing.

And then I laughed.
I laughed uncontrollably.
I laughed because I was unbearably nervous.
The teacher told me I could sit back down.

That nervous laugh left me over time. I can actually stand up and say nearly anything in a crowd (sometimes).

What my wife was getting at though is that there are still a lot of instances where I will laugh and no one will know why (sometimes she doesn't understand either). My imagination runs when I see or hear things and often it creates a context that might or might not exist.

So... I laugh at possibilities of humor.
I laugh at the things in life that a lot of people think of as normal.

Normal is funny to me because I'm usually thinking about the things that lead up to the event, or maybe what might follow. Sometimes I'm thinking about something totally unrelated to the people I am talking to because of something else that happened somewhere else with someone else that happens to be very similar to what is happening with the people I am talking with.

I've been told more than once that this makes other people nervous.

I love to laugh though. I laugh at a lot of things. Laughing means that I'm not hurting and (hopefully) the people I am with aren't hurting. Laughter makes me think that God has a sense of humor even as all of use are created in His image (I laugh at things that happen in the Bible to0 - some of it is ridiculous while still miraculous - when was the last time you were spoken to out of someone's ass; it really happened per the Old Testament! Check it out here in several translations.) Laughing is a stark reminder that even though my soul is broken, there is hope in a world where Jesus promises that one day there will be peace and wholeness.

I like to laugh until I cry. I like to laugh with other people. I am pretty simple to please and will often and admittedly laugh at very crude things.

Laughing is proof of my humanity even while I will act sub-human.

Here are some other things that make me laugh. Hopefully this non-exhaustive list will help you to laugh too:

Sunday, January 02, 2011

On Compliments

Working through Corrin's Reflections Project. Today: "What was the best compliment you got this year? What compliment would you secretly like to get? Be as honest as possible."

The most honest answer I can provide is that I often despise compliments as much as I despise criticism. There is a dark feature of the way my self tends to operate (I think this is an appropriate usage of the possessive noun "my self," rather than "myself"). My self tends to shy from receiving compliments. When compliments are bestowed, I think that my self will often work to down play those expressions or even dismiss them altogether.

There is not any one compliment I could remember that I received over the course of the year (actually, there are a few, but they're all recent... so I think it qualifies as not being able to remember the rest).
I cannot think of one compliment that I would secretly like to receive over the coming year either.

Part of this is borne out of a certain self image - half way puritanical even. There is the thought that to say or accept anything good said about myself would be a work of abject hypocrisy. I say this because I know myself and I know the sort of sludge and muck that rests beneath the surface of the outward appearance of what seem to be victories and failings.

But here's the reality: this view of my self in the rejection of criticism and compliment is borne more out of a pride that neither allows others the freedom nor right to observe what is good and bad about what they see in Gene Twilley. That pride is a sort of denial of the gospel of Jesus in that it attempts to extinguish the lights that shine on my neediness. As it is, self-definition is the idol who rules the roost and fights hard against any real sense of community, or of dependency, or of real humanity in the depths of my own soul.

This is the antithesis to humility.
This is the antithesis to the Spirit of Christ within me.

The two: a denial of compliment and a denial of criticism is so intertwined within me. "How?" one might ask. "How," I would respond, by merit of the fact that if you have the freedom, right or privilege to not only see what might be deemed as good in me but also declare it, then you might also have the right or privilege to see and declare what is bad in me. If that's the case - if my laundry is hung out before the both of us, then that which is damnable really needs to be addressed as it makes for a bit of awkwardness for you to see something in me, say you see it, and for me to leave it out there hanging. And if that's the case, if I can hear and respond gracefully to your criticisms and compliments about me, then I (and this is specific to me) am really getting the gospel of Jesus in that I am understanding the need I have for you in my life.

Objectively, I get this.
Practically, this is a little more difficult for me.

And I'll be honest saying that there are people who do not subscribe to the same set of beliefs that I do who excel in taking criticism and compliment. This is an area that has some elasticity in the spectrum of life. In my spectrum, it just happens to reflect the muck that resides in me.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year, New Post

A friend's wife (and by extension, friend herself) wrote a comment to me as what I deemed a challenge to start blogging again. You can check out her challenge by clicking here. Essentially, it is a thirty day jaunt of reflecting over 2010 (while not being married to having to blog everyday).

Today's assignment: Describe the best moment, the one you really want to remember, from 2010. Paint a word picture and then share an actual picture.

I think that the easy thing to say would be, "The birth of our son." While this event is, undoubtedly, the most memorable and the best even that has happened to the Twilley's in 2010, I'm not going to write about this event (maybe some other time... but not right now).

The middle of the summer was burdensome by measure of heat. Philadelphia is a surprisingly hot city during the summer months. Sometimes, I check Birmingham's weather just so that I can reassure myself that even though we're 900 miles away from where we used to live, the temperature is still (at times) unbearably hot.

I wake up early because I'm used to waking up early for my job. My commute is easily one hour in the morning, many times more. In the afternoons, I am on the road for one and one half hours... sometimes two. As I said, sometimes I wake up early. When I do this on the weekends, I walk the dog so that I can come back and make breakfast for my wife and I. On Saturdays and Sundays, I find that I am strangely unfamiliar with my own neighborhood.

There is a depth of silence that is often yearned for (by some) yet seldom experienced. The silence with the warm morning air is strange and burdensome to me.

My own neighborhood is alien to me.

I worked for Allstate for nearly six years. There is so much that I learned from my experience there... so much that I gained and so much that I gave. But this day marked a new chapter for these Twilley's in Philly.

I walked in to the office. My desk was cleaner than it had been since I moved to Philadelphia (in honesty... it was cleaner; when I moved here there were actually tobacco stains in my desk drawers and on the desk itself). The office was a little different than when we moved here three years prior, but not by much. There were a few new faces, but work, gender and geography really always kept me from developing any sort of more meaningful relationship with many of the folks in the office.

I was actually asked if I could close any loose ends I had early (by noon) because the IT manager had planned on letting me leave earlier than expected (I think everyone else was off for the fourth of July).

June 29 was a weekday. It was also my last day working for Allstate Insurance Company.

June 30 was also a weekday... it was my first day as a full time student at Westminster Theological Seminary.

I had actually taken some night classes at the school and two distance courses during a time of heavy travel at work. I mention this only because being a student is not what made June 30 so momentous for me. What June 30, 2010 meant was that I could start being a neighbor. It meant that traveling to New England and various parts of Pennsylvania was no longer my M.O. It meant that my wife and I could really start focusing again on our marriage in ways that we haven't truly been able to over the course of the past three years. It meant that I could fall in love with my city again.

The ramifications behind this are multitudinous so that they would make this post beyond bearable in length. While working for Allstate was a great experience for me, at the end of the day it was no longer for me. Starting school full time meant a freedom for me that wasn't afforded through a life of long commutes and extended travel. Being a Wesminster student is not what makes all of this so great - it is more of the idea that I can finally live in the city where my home is... if that makes any sense.

I'm sure that more of those ramifications will come out in future posts... but this is enough for now.