Matt Richard’s Minute Messages: A Great Devotional Resource

Minute Messages: Gospel-Filled Devotions for Every Occasion: Richard,  Matthew: 9780758666970: Books

I wanted to write a quick note about Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard’s newest book, Minute Messages: Gospel-Filled Devotions for Every Occasion. I had the joy of reading an advance copy in order to write an endorsement for the book’s inside cover.

I’m a big fan of Pastor Richard’s (you can check out his blog, PM Notes, here), so I was really excited to hear that he was coming out with a devotional book. I think sometimes people can get overwhelmed by trying to set up a regular devotional practice—for a lot of us, we either lack the time or concentration to jump right into something seemingly long and complex. The whole point of Rev. Richard’s devotional is to provide something succinct—but not sappy or legalist!—to start off your morning, work day, church meeting, after school club session, whatever. Using the one-year lectionary as well as Luther’s Small Catechism as a basis, the reader can also choose from many devotions specific to certain times of life. There are a number of devotionals for times of distress, too, which would make it nice for a sick loved one, and the content is short and clear enough to be edifying to children, adults, and the elderly alike. Also included is a short form prayer office to use with the individual devotions. I use mine with the short individual form of Morning Prayer, which can be found in a number of devotional resources, as the “reflection.” There’s a physical and ebook edition, though I must say I really like the print version. CPH did a great job designing a highly usable, eye-catching devotional.

You can check out the purchasing options (and read my formal endorsement!) over at CPH’s website here. This isn’t an affiliate link, and I don’t make any money if you buy stuff.

A Simple Explanation of Angels

A Simple Explanation of Angels - Kindle edition by Lackey, Molly. Religion  & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @

I’m a bit late in posting about this on here (whoops!) but I recently authored a tract with Concordia Publishing House entitled “A Simple Explanation of Angels.” It’s available in print in 20-packs and as an ebook download through Amazon.

As always, it was such an honor to write for CPH and I had a great time putting the tract together. I hope you find it helpful and edifying!

Salvator Mundi

A short post today! I wanted to share a piece of digital art I made recently with you all.

Salvator Mundi by Molly Lackey

The title is Salvator Mundi, which is Latin for “savior of the world.” I’ve wanted to try doing an icon of some kind, and I decided to do a riff off El Greco and Da Vinci’s icons of the same title. I did this on my iPad with Procreate, which I’m still a super newbie with. Anyway, it was a lot of fun to make!

Tuesday Tidings: September 14, 2021

Tuesday Tidings: September 14, 2021

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! A combination of a migraine attack and a glut of work knocked me out of my rhythm, but I’m more or less back to normal now.

Check it out on Goodreads

What I’m Reading: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. I’ve been working through this little book on everyone’s favorite psalm from the perspective of a real-life shepherd. It’s a pretty light read, but it’s interesting. I appreciate his insight into how David might have been alluding to specific elements of sheep keeping in the psalm, and what that means about our relationship with God.

What I’m Watching: “Education in the Age of Science: A Critique” by Lawrence F. Kohl, PhD. I went back and rewatched a lecture given by one of my favorite undergraduate professors, Dr. Larry Kohl. The lecture is all about ways that education has been affected by our infatuation with technology and mathematical efficiency. His main argument is that we have been applying methods and metrics from STEM fields that are unsuitable to liberal arts education. It’s a favorite of mine, and there’s a lot of good books he alludes to that are worth checking out, too.

What I’m Listening To: Max Richter’s The Blue Notebooks. I don’t listen to a whole lot of “contemporary classical” (that’s such a silly name for a genre…), but I do like Max Richter. My favorite track off this album is probably “Vladimir’s Blues,” which is a piece inspired by butterflies. I find his work really calming and contemplative; it’s good “thinking music.”

What I’m Thinking About: Deep Work. I’m listening to the audiobook of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which is all about people who do “information work” (like me, as a writer, editor, and social media assistant) and not multitasking and instead taking time to focus on cognitively engaging work for sustained periods of time (“monotask”?). I really struggle with over-checking email and not “clocking out” of work (made even more difficult when you work from home!), which makes for a lot of anxiety. I’m trying to approach things from a “deep work” perspective in order to approach work more calmly. Right now, that looks like spending my morning with an extended devotion, then a couple hours of concentrated writing and research for larger projects, then switching gears to editing and stuff in the early afternoon, “signing off” for the day, and then doing fun stuff (like this!) in the evening. So far, it’s been a really good change!

What I’m Working On: Starting a “Big Project.” I can’t really get into it, but I’ve started on a big project that I’m really excited about. I hope to be able to share some more information with you soon, though! I am also trying to get back into doing more art, though, which I can (and will!) share with you in the future.

That’s all for now, but I’ll be back later in the week.

Have you started any cool new projects lately?

Tuesday’s Tidings: August 10 2021

Tuesday Tidings: August 10, 2021

This week, I’ll be starting a new weekly post on Tuesdays. It’ll be brief, just an overview of what I’m up to, enjoying, and thinking about.

This week’s focus is settling in. We moved for Jonathan’s vicarage (like an internship) a couple of weeks ago. The boxes and whatnot are all unpacked (and have been for a while), but it’s still been a bit of an uphill battle trying to get to feeling settled in, normal, at home. I’m not surprised; stacking the end of grad school on top of a big move is a lot, especially when the end of my time as a graduate student was pretty hectic! So, this week is all about setting up old (or new) routines and getting more comfortable in this most recent stage of life. So far, so good; turns out Jonathan is right, and I do feel better if I get dressed first thing rather than sit around in my pajamas for most of the day!

Watching: we’re on our second watch-through of Inspector Lewis, a British detective show. I introduced Jonathan to the British mid-to-high-brow detective genre, and we’ve both really enjoyed it. It’s actually the spin-off of the classic Inspector Morse, which I highly recommend. Murders abound in the historic university town of Oxford, often in twined in a deep tapestry of art, culture, intrigue, secrets, and sin. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox have fantastic on-screen chemistry, and the writing is fantastic. We just finished the first episode, which concerns a mysterious bacchanalian student group and a series of unusual killings.

Listening: I’ve been bouncing between a couple of things so far this week: Johnny Flynn and Handel’s Messiah, which I’ve never actually listened to before!! I enjoy Johnny Flynn’s combination of folksy rock and thoughtful, literary lyrics, and I discovered that a singer I really like, Benedikt Kristjánsson, was involved in a performance of Messiah. Both have been on rotation.

Here’s a Johnny Flynn song I like a lot.
Wendell Berry

Reading: I’m working my way through Wendell Berry’s classic work, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. I read Berry’s Life is a Miracle in college and loved it, so I decided to read the book that put him on the map. So far, it’s really good. He is thoughtful and eloquent but down-to-earth and deeply realistic. The book is a critique of modern culture as much as of industrial agriculture, and it’s sometimes disorienting to consider that the book was written in the 1970s.

Looking Forward: This week, I’m looking forward to getting back to some neglected skills and hobbies. I’m hoping to start back up again doing some German and Latin, which I haven’t really had a chance to exercise since finishing up my MA thesis. I’m also trying to get back into doing more art, since I’ve got a good bit more time at my hands now. Hopefully that’ll translate to finally getting some permanent site art up, too, so stay tuned for that!

Closing Question: What’s something you’d like to do if you just had more time, even if it’s something small? Is there a way to make time to do it? I’ve been wanting to start painting again, so I’m trying to schedule some time throughout the week to do that.

Tune Your Harps to Cheerful Strains

i think i like surrounding myself with things that affirm life as meaningful

There’s a famous dictum that comes out of the early days of coding and computer building: garbage in, garbage out. In its original context, it had to do with a phenomenon where poor input data resulted in flawed outputs. Growing up, though, I heard it most often applied to music, of all things.

Most of the world has utterly unprecedented, constant, near-instant, near-infinite access to music. Growing up we had car radio, then customizable satellite radio; MP3 playlists burned onto CDs, then streaming playlists on smartphones. If you don’t mind ads, you can instantly call up pretty much any song ever performed online legally and for free; if you do mind the ads, you can do the same advertisement-free for pennies a day (or pirate it all illegally, which is also easier to do than ever). Obviously you already know all this, but our ancestors—even our grandparents—would be astonished at this development.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and utilize this recent capacity for instantaneous music selection. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a playlist on Spotify right now, in fact. But I started to wonder, is there is a dark side that needs to be addressed? With the removal of all the resistance to finding and listening to music—whether that was trekking down to a concert hall or running to the record shop—has something good been lost?

Practically everywhere you go, there’s a speaker somewhere playing some kind of music. We’re in the car, at home, at the gym, at work, wherever, and if nobody is actively talking to us—bam! In go the headphones, on goes whatever playlist or album the algorithm showed us first today, or whatever radio station the car is dialed into when we start the engine. Perhaps this isn’t always bad. Again, I’ve done this plenty of times, whether it was to muffle the sound of an obnoxious roommate or neighbor, to create a sense of privacy in a crowded library, or to try to relax after a stressful day. I don’t want to give up the ease-of-access that allows for these moments of escape. But I eventually had to admit to myself that sometimes that access was bad.

A lot of our music-listening is done uncritically because it’s easy and instant. Music has become a sort of white noise: a lot of times we’re not really listening—it’s really only on the outskirts of our consciousness, but it’s there influencing us nevertheless. Sometimes it’s obvious that this is bad; my husband and I went out to a coffee shop recently and both brought books to read, both of which required a hefty bit of focused reading to get the most out of. Like most coffee shops, the place was playing some mix of “alt/indie Millennial pop/rock” (you know, the stuff you had on at least one Pandora station circa 2010) at a decently loud volume. The tyranny of pop music has made it difficult to really chew on a deep thought or have a serious, intelligent conversation in most public places (and is likely deadening our capacity for music appreciation, too).

I think there’s something worse—perhaps even a little sinister—going on, though. When we get numb (or, worse, addicted) to listening to music, we become numb to what exactly that music is communicating. I know I had. The college lifestyle encourages a sort of insane, round-the-clock consumption of music. And putting aside, for the moment, the discussion about how that alienates people from one another—which is likely also true—it’s worth thinking about what kind of consumption that encourages. You get bored listening to the same stuff when you’re listening to music that often, so you start seeking out novelty. You start clicking around on whatever random playlist or station the algorithm offers you, whatever is trending and popular, and slowly, over the course of weeks, if not months or years, you find yourself listening to stuff that’s more brutal, more grating, more vulgar, more inhuman than you were before. At least that’s what happened to me. And the more music I listened to, the less it seemed to console me like it used to; the less it made me feel better, and the more it made me feel worse.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Odd as it may sound, that phrase has leapt into my mind from time to time with some pangs of conscience over the past couple of years. I started realizing that, yeah, I felt kind of miserable all the time, and maybe the miserable music I was listening to wasn’t helping matters. Maybe music is good when made and enjoyed correctly, but maybe it can also be bad. Maybe poor habits of consumption can lead you into a musical and moral quagmire, a place bare of the good, true, and beautiful that has nothing to offer your dilemmas other than sugar-coatings followed by more dilemmas.

I’d listened to smatterings of classical and sacred music in college, but the pressures and stresses of grad school and the last year pushed me to listen to more of it, as well as think a little more deeply about why I was listening to it. I found that the pop stuff I used to have on loop while working affected my mood in a different way than the new stuff. So much pop music now, whether or not it comes out and says it, is just so bleak. The whole thing, musically and lyrically, is functioning in a world without concrete meaning or absolute truths and goodness—and you can’t ignore that forever.

I’ll provide an example. Here’s a song I had on a playlist I used listened to decently regularly:

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think Billie Eilish has talent and creativity. Some of her stuff is off-putting to me, but some of it isn’t (hence, why I had this song on a playlist). This is definitely one of her more “upbeat” songs, and I chose it because I don’t think this music video is as actively disturbing as some of her others; she isn’t being burned with cigarettes or putting spiders in her mouth or coughing up slime. (If you are not familiar with her music videos, all of those are real things from three different videos.) Her work is certainly more musically interesting than a lot of the stuff that was popular when I was a teenager (her primary demographic), and it’s also less lyrically facile than what they used to play at school functions back in my day. So while it’s not as empty artistically, there’s still a sort of an empty view of the world—it’s dark, it’s bleak, it’s a bit alienating.

That’s not to say that you can’t deal with serious, dark things in music. Here’s a piece of music I found in the past year or so that’s captivated me:

This is “When I am laid in Earth,” or “Dido’s Lament,” from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. If you’re unfamiliar with the mythic source of this composition, the short version: in the Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid, an account of the legendary beginnings of Rome, the queen of Carthage, Dido, falls in love with the Trojan hero Aeneas. Aeneas is told by the gods that he can’t stay with Dido (he’s got to go found Rome, after all), and Dido sings this song before killing herself as Aeneas sails away.

So, yeah, kind of a downer…and yet, isn’t there something really different about this song in comparison to “bellyache”? This sadness touches on something deeper, more meaningful? I think that stems from a fundamental difference in how Purcell and his contemporaries viewed their world versus how our own contemporaries view ours. Billie Eilish’s sadness is malaise, it’s nihilistic, it’s bored. Purcell’s grief is redeemed, as it were, by its nobility, its tragedy, and its poignant beauty. Listening to Eilish on repeat makes me feel sort of numb and depressed; listening to Purcell on repeat would probably also make me sad, but in a somber, momento mori kind of way, the serious, not-despairing kind of feeling you get from looking at a still life painting. Sure, it’s sad, but there’s still something here that affirms life as good; it’s the kind of sad that makes you want to hug the people you love—a kind of sadness which is good—not the kind of sadness that makes you want to stare at the wall and yell at your mom—a kind of sadness which, I think we all can agree, isn’t good.

There’s plenty of not-sad classical music, too, and there’s plenty of more contemporary reimaginings of classical, baroque, renaissance, or other eras of music. The godfathers of “Gypsy Jazz,” Django Reinhardt and his group the Quintette du Hot Club de France, here with Eddie South, considered to be the first jazz violinist, have a delightful little riff on a Bach piece:

This isn’t “old sounding,” it’s not “formal,” it’s not “stuffy”—but there’s something about this that makes you interested in living life, in other people, as opposed to feeling churlish and hostile to the world around you. It’s not about being edgy or catchy; it’s trying something very new for the time, to be sure, but it’s still trying to sound good, to be beautiful music, just in a new way. It’s very human music.

And, before you ask, yes, I do think there’s music that’s being made now that fits this description, too. Not only are there some really interesting re-interpretations of classical pieces of music, but there are some musicians making their own stuff that I think is human and good. I think Johnny Flynn is a great example of music that, while definitely having strong roots in older musical traditions, is new, creative, interesting, and good:

There’s poetry and movement here. It’s lyrically and musically interesting, creative and new, but not sacrificing tried-and-true musical pleasantness for novelty. It’s decently simple: it’s a love song. It’s sweet. There’s meter, rhyme, melody, harmony, familiar movement, and none of it is terribly complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s so very refreshing, so evocative, so good.

Maybe I’m over-thinking this—that’s always a possibility—but I don’t think that I am. I have noticed that, as I’ve become more aware of the things I spend my day listening to (and maybe even choosing not to listen to music my every waking moment and instead learning to enjoy quiet and silence), it does help my mood.

Like it or not, “garbage in, garbage out” is true for more than just computers: the stuff with which we surround ourselves day in and day out influences our mood, our thoughts—maybe even our heart. I think I like surrounding myself with things that affirm life as meaningful; I think I like creating a listening world that encourages gratitude and reflection; I think I like to tune my harp to cheerful strains:

What about you? What do you think? What kind of music helps spark wonder and joy for you?

Where have you been?

Welcome back to abovetowne.

If you are reading this blog post, there is a good chance you have noticed (or are now realizing) that I have gone on a rather protracted hiatus from writing on this blog. You may well be asking, “Where have you been?”, a question I have been posing to myself a lot over the past couple of weeks, as well. I have some thoughts on this, and I hope you will indulge me in a bit of self-reflection here—though I promise to keep it brief and to return to more typical work after this.

I began this website at possibly the worst time in my life to start a blog, about one year ago in the summer of 2020. A year previously, I had gotten married to my college sweetheart, Jonathan, and, a week into our marriage, we moved to St. Louis, where we would both be attending graduate school. After a summer internship at Concordia Publishing House (an experience I absolutely and unreservedly loved), I began a doctoral program in Early Modern European History, which was what I studied as an undergraduate. Within a few months, I realized that I was not cut out for academic life.

This struck a pretty harsh blow to my sense of identity; I was a high-achieving student—and always had been—with a keen interest in learning, writing, and teaching. But all the excitement I felt, all the creativity and joy I had experienced in classrooms throughout my life, quickly faded away, leaving me depressed and confused. I decided to change programs and instead get a Master’s degree, which would only take two years to finish, and which I did finish last month. As you can imagine, the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years were each deeply challenging in their own ways, adding to the anxiety and difficulty I felt, both as a student and as a teaching assistant. I also was working multiple part-time and freelance jobs in order to support Jonathan and myself, which certainly added to the chaos. In addition to all that, I had an ovarian cyst rupture in August 2020, which my doctor thinks may have been due to the stress I was feeling. This event began with a morphine drip and a CAT scan at an Urgent Care and ended (well, sort of—it is technically on-going) with the diagnosis of an unrelated but still unpleasant and painful gynecological condition, which, you guessed it, is also worsened by stress.

After about a solid month of finishing, defending, and submitting my thesis, wrapping up the semester with my students, and attending to a number of pressing projects at my other jobs, I have finally caught up, at least enough to take a breath and look around for the first time in what feels like forever. For reference, I have been doing schoolwork on weekends most of the year since the ninth or tenth grade, nearly ten years now! And while this sudden lifting of my workload after such a long time is in many ways a relief, it is also a bit of a shock.

I’m realizing that, for nearly a decade of my very short life, I have exerted absolutely crushing pressure on myself. Workaholic doesn’t really capture it; I idolized my academic work, to the point of sacrificing nearly everything else—including, as I painfully realized last year, my health—in its pursuit. And, like most sins, in addition to being simply wrong, it also wasn’t good for me, in body, spirit, or mind.

This has taken me a long time to realize, to which my ever-patient husband can attest. And still, this realization alone is not enough; there is still the monumental task of figuring out how to do the right thing going forward. I’m realizing how stupidly anxious I’ve driven myself to being—how pointlessly I’ve tried to push down and ignore the values that I hold dear, even my personality and interests. Not only that, but there were even parts of me that started changing, and not for the better, in this prolonged disordering of priorities and needs.

I want to do art again. I want to read for pleasure again. I want to share how I really think and feel again. I want to speak openly about my faith and about Christ again.

It’s a slow process figuring all of this out—figuring out where I’ve been and where I’m trying to go. I hope to share some of what I’m doing with you all now that I have the time and am in a better spot. I’ve got a lot of things I’m really excited to share with you, and I’m thankful for your patience with me during the very quiet first year of this website.

I’m excited to finally explore abovetowne with all of you. 🙂

A poem (or hymn) from the evening

I made myself a little corner of quiet the other night and wrote a little poem, or hymn, depending upon how you look at it. I hope that it gives you a moment of comfort, consolation, and peace.

My Lord has written His sweet name
Upon my feeble heart;
His promise every day the same:
Never from me to part.

In waters pure my Lord did take
My every sin away,
For He did full atonement make
And for my soul did pay.

Jesus, the Son of righteousness,
Ascends to heav’n above,
Yet dwells here too, with forgiveness,
In His bless’d meal of love.

Praise Jesus Christ, Savior most bless’d
And Holy Spirit, Lord
And Father, three-in-one confess’d;
I am to Thee restored!

Words of Strength and Promise

I recently contributed several devotions to an upcoming teen devotional, Words of Strength and Promise, coming out early 2021 from Concordia Publishing House. It was such a blessing to work on this project, and I hope that it brings readers the Law to convict them of their sin and the Gospel to point them to Christ Jesus, who has taken away the sins of the world, and your very sins, too. You can check the book out and download a sample here:

Some music to brighten your day

I made a playlist a few days back to share with the students in the class I TA for. I listen to a whole lot of music—I’ve got one of those old timey-looking Bluetooth radio/speakers and I play stuff through it when I’m home working, reading, or writing. I thought I’d make a really eclectic playlist of stuff that’s all just really good music. So, enjoy.