What does honest faith look like? If I head out to the margins, the places at the edge of things where our messiness and Christ’s forgiveness meet, I have the best chance of finding the answer to that question. From time to time, I’d like to introduce you to people I know who’ve followed Jesus out to the margins. You and I may not sign off on each of these friends’ choices or convictions, but I hope their stories will spur you to wander out to the margins yourself. (If you do, let me know who you find there!)
I first “met” Tim Fall when I noticed he was a regular commenter at the Christianity Today Her.meneutics blog. I’m honored to be a contributor at the site. Some of the topics covered by the blog writers have sparked some intense reaction in the comments section. Tim’s words have been consistently encouraging and thoughtful. On occasion, when a commenter has gone a little ad hominem, Tim has graciously challenged the person’s ideas with an eye toward aiming the person back toward the point of the post.
I was very glad to learn that Tim began a blog of his own dubbed “Just One Train Wreck After Another“. He’s created a blog filled with well-crafted insights on Scripture, culture, vocation and family, and I commend it to you. Though he’s got a corner of the web all his own, he’s continued his ministry of encouragement to many other bloggers and their readers. And he’s done so while doing a very demanding day job as a State of California Superior Court judge.
In doing so, he has demonstrated that there are many different ways to travel out to the margins. Sometimes, all it takes is a laptop and a net connection.
Tim was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his vocation, his ministry of encouragment, Jane Austen and his voracious reading habits:
Q. Please tell us a bit about your day job, and how long you’ve been on the bench.
I’ve been a judge since 1995, and I love my job. My law practice was with a civil firm: no criminal, no probate, no family law, no juvenile cases crossed my desk. Now I’ve handled all those and more on the bench. Mostly I have a criminal assignment, so that means I handle crimes ranging from petty theft to murder.
The logistical part of what I do is this: I get to my desk in chambers by 7:30 most mornings. Courtroom work starts at 9:00 and I can either be in trial all day, or have anywhere from half a dozen to fifty or so shorter hearings, or I can be doing desk work most of the day. If in the courtroom, we stop at 4:30. I get out of here around 5:00 or so.
The realistic part of what I do is this: judges hear awful, awful things every day. Whether someone is the victim of a crime or accused of a crime, seeking child custody or protesting having their child taken from them, suing for injuries from a negligent driver causing a car accident or the one being sued, people who come to the courthouse are here because there is some crisis going on in their lives.
For me, since I have a criminal assignment now, that means I hear about death, theft, child abuse, rape, the ravages of drugs, the toll mental illness takes on people and their loved ones. I deal with hearing all of this in explicit detail every day.
Every single day.
Not everyone can do this job – and there are a number of jobs I find unimaginable for me to do too – but it is one that God has equipped and suited me for.
Q. What is most meaningful to you about your vocation?
I keep people from bashing each other in the head.
Seriously now, if we didn’t have a court system, people would take the law into their own hands, perhaps by bashing each other in the head.
I also think that judging is Godly. Abraham himself called God a judge, as did a number of the psalmists. And one of Moses appointed judges to help him govern Israel, and God apparently blessed that as well. So I’m carrying on a long tradition.
Another part of my job that has developed increased meaning over the years is being able to train other judges. I’ve become recognized statewide as an expert in judicial ethics (introduced as an “ethics guru” at a conference session recently) and I’ve taught the subject to hundreds of judges all up and down California over the past decade.
Q. You’re a voracious reader. What are you reading right now? What books have you especially enjoyed reading in the last few months?
I’m in the middle of G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man right now. He does a wonderful job explaining how sophisticated religious exercise has been since the beginning of recorded history, and how we can assume that this sophistication extends before that as well. He is going to get to the import for Christianity in particular in the second half of the book, but I’m not that far along yet.
I just finished a re-read of Jane Austen’s six novels. Lost count of how many times I’ve been through them, but I can say that Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are still my two favorite. One is full of pluck and humor and biting insights, and the other is mature and filled with an almost painful beauty that resolves into bliss by the end.
The two most important books I read last year are Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (which I reviewed here) and Carl Trueman’s Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread; oh yeah, I also reviewed Keri Wyatt Kent’s Deeply Loved, but that was only after I could get it away from my wife who snagged my copy for her own forty days of devotions before I had a chance to read it. The year before, I’d say they were Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel and Richard & Catherine Kroeger’s I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence.
Oh yeah, I also read a bunch of fiction too
Q. You explain in your “I am the 1%: Why a Man reads a Women’s Blog” post how you found your way from literature sites to theology sites put together by women, like Her.mi. What led you to become a regular commenter at that site as well as some of the others you frequent?
I like trading ideas around, and the sites I frequent tend to foster that. The ones I most appreciate are those that have a community feel to them, and that’s what I try to build at my blog as well. What really keeps me coming back is that on top of the community aspect, the sites I value are full of good writing on important subjects about faith and its intersection with what happens in our lives.
Whether the site’s subject is theology or parenthood or anything else, if it’s about God then I’ll usually find something to learn and grow in. If I don’t find that, it is probably more a reflection of me than the blog host.
Q. So many lurk…so few comment…and even fewer commenters have anything positive to say. You seemed to make a point of showing up regularly and finding something very Philippians 4:8 to offer in your words. At times, you would graciously take on some of the rougher commenters. At other times, you’d celebrate hard work, good ideas or creative and faithful expression. Can you speak about how you’ve chosen to approach commenting in an era where troll-like behavior is the norm?
I’ll start with the numbers. When I compare the number of site views for pages and posts on my blog with the number of comments people leave, it comes to a ratio slightly more than 10 to 1. Over ten views to get one comment. I respond to most comments at my place, and I’d love to have more to reply to.
On how I comment elsewhere, I take a page from a pastor I heard once. He said that people get beat up all week long, and he did not want them to feel the same would happen when they sat listening to one of his sermons. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t hear hard things or be challenged, but they shouldn’t have to fear a bludgeoning is on the way. That’s how I look at commenting. People can use some building up, whether that comes from appreciating their writing or whether it comes with a challenge or effort to correct.
Q. You’re a busy guy, and you’ve consistently chosen to use some of your valuable time to contribute via comment to the sites you do. Why?
People work hard on their blog posts and I benefit from that hard work. The least I can do is show my appreciation. Also, I see writing as a ministry whether it is by posting my own articles or contributing to a conversation about another person’s post.
Q. How did you decide to begin blogging? (At last, I might add!) What’s been most gratifying about this exercise for you? What’s been the biggest surprise?
I had been writing guest posts for a number of other people, first for Jenny Rae Armstrong and Aimee Byrd. Jen started the whole thing, actually. Toward the end of 2011 I sent her an article I thought she might like for blog fodder, and she emailed back and said she was busy but that I should write it up. So I did and she ran it. Aimee Byrd read it and said now she wanted an article too, so I sent her one. Both of them have had me back for more guest stints.
After that I stopped waiting to be asked. I’d write an article, contact a blogger I read regularly and asked if they wanted it. I was kind of like a bothersome cousin who keeps crashing on your couch because they got kicked out by their latest roommate once again. Only I never had a home of my own in the first place.
It’s that “At last, I might add” that probably spurred me on to finally start a blog of my own. Lots of people (yeah, I’m looking at you, Michelle) started asking me when I was going to start a blog of my own. After about ten months of couch surfing at other people’s sites, I decided to give it a go last September.
I am tremendously gratified at all the encouragement I receive from the people who stop by to read, whether they comment or not (although comments are even more encouraging!).
The biggest surprise is that occasionally bloggers I never knew existed will pick up one of my posts and link to it. I think that means that God is using my writing to make a difference in someone’s life in ways I could not foresee. I am so glad for the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit in all this.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
Our God is awesome, gracious, loving and full of blessings. I see that a lot in my life, including in blogs like yours and those of so many other friends I’ve met this way.