Saturday, December 29, 2007

Comics.

Lots of people call me a comic. I'm not sure if I am. I'm certainly not a stand-up comedian...I can count on one hand the straight stand-up gigs I've had. I might have been good at stand-up if I had given it a serious run, but stand-ups have a strange neurosis that I've never been entirely ready to embrace. They are generally the most depressing people in the world. I might have fit in too well and gone over the deep end. I drifted toward improv vs. stand-up. Improvisers are usually a little more happy - at least they work well with others and laugh at each other more.

Most people don't care to know the difference in an improviser and a stand-up comedian. People under fifty years old often say that I remind them of Ray Romano. I think I might look like him a bit, but it's probably more of my delivery that reminds them of him. I take it as a compliment.



Older people often say that I remind them of Bob Newhart. We don't look alike. So I take that as a huge compliment. I've decided that he is my favorite comic of all time. People ask who my favorite comic is all the time, so I had to pick someone. He's a minimalist. He says the least amount possible to get the most laughs. His classic phone bits are my favorite, because generally he makes himself the straight man to the funny person on the other end of the line. He lets your imagination deliver the silent punchline. He trusts his audience to think funny...risky and revolutionary.

I'm going to work on the minimalist thing more as a storyteller. We'll see what happens. Here's one of Newhart's earliest bits where he considers what Abe Lincoln's press agent would be like. I think it was ahead of its time...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I'm waiting on my kids to fall asleep so I can bring their presents into the living room. It's a very "hands on" Christmas this year. Eli is getting a real workbench for the basement complete with real tools and a few things that could permanently injure him, like a hand saw and a starter drill. His Uncle Phaff constructed the bench and shipped it up from Indiana last week. Aidan is getting a working art easel and some heelies...so he will likely injure himself as well.

We did our first Donut outreach at The Vineyard tonight. For eight years the church has taken dozens of Krispy Kremes to people who have to work on Christmas Eve. We went to the McDonald's and Blockbuster by our house. They were both much more excited than I expected. The girl at Blockbuster gave Eli and Aidan big hugs and seemed genuinely thankful. Then we came home and I spilled coffee on our new couch. That brings us all up to date with me sitting here waiting for my kids to fall asleep.

For all the readers near and fear - from Vegas to So-Cal to the Midwest....and all you others everywhere you've ended up, have a happy and healthy Christmas. Be just sentimental enough to look forward to the day when this Christmas will be a distant, hopefuly happy, memory. And for you fellow rebel pilgrims, don't forget that this day is our D-Day, our Normandy - when the beachhead of the divine conspiracy was intially established in the DNA of an infant human being. That day commenced the battle of battles to emancipate the captives and destroy all evil at work in the world. Here's to another year of the Kingdom of Love forcefully advancing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gig.

I booked my first professional acting gig here in Cincinnati. I did a voice over today for a new video game. I'm not sure of the name yet, but it's an Iraqi war game. I played two different roles - a younger southern solder and an older major. I haven't done a lot of v.o. work and I had a blast doing it. The production company for the game is based in NYC and they normally book talent there, but this time they decided to lay down the audio here in Cincy. Pretty cool.

Bruce is going well. It's hard to believe that we close tomorrow night. A three-day run is about as short as they come.

The kids have 16 days off school starting tomorrow! I'm taking about five off myself after this weekend. It should be a welcome break.

And oh, yeah...Broomball Rocks!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Opening Night

A Cat Named Bruce opens tonight. It feels like a legit opening night...when you are so tired from rehearsing that you can't imagine going on in a few hours. I'm feeling especially blessed this week to be able to have a job that allows me to do most all of the things that I enjoy. Brad Wise and I conceived this play hoping to simply bring some joy and laughter to people., embedded in a very simple message. I think it accomplishes that. Any major collaborative creative effort evokes strong emotion in me. I can remember trying to explain to some of my castmates back in Las Vegas that our somewhat campy, casino-based improv show was actually a spiritual exercise because it demanded honest community and continual creativity. Those things mirror the Trinitarian Creator so closely that you can't help but sense the presense of God in a situation that is tapping into creativity and honest community simultaneously. I felt the same reality with Bruce at dress rehearsal last night. Hopefuly those who come will also be brought into the dance and sense what GK Chesterton claims is God's greatest and most fundamental attribute - his mirth.

Afterall, plays are called "plays" for a reason. If adults played more - authentically pretended - fought more dragons, saved more damsels, visited strange worlds and invented new creatures...if we all honestly embraced the awkward and beautiful creator child inside, maybe we would start to understand a Creator Father who invents aardvarks, zebras and human beings...a God who reproduces sunsets, ocean tides and baby ants....a God who likes colorful fish in the darkest ocean and monochloral planets flying around a magically suspended fireball in perfect eliptical orbit.

Or, as Chesterton puts it:

"A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." -Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Week of Bruce

Some teaser videos below. For you locals, showtimes are this Thu, Fri and Sat at The Vineyard. More info at www.acatnamedbruce.com.





Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Picture


Look at our cute kids here so I don't have to send you a Christmas Card that would look exactly the same, only made out of paper instead of your computer screen.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alma matters

Click for More Information on CCU

I visited the old alma mater on Price HIll today for the first time in a decade or so. I saw more familiar faces than I expected and had a very enjoyable lunch with Dr. Weatherly at the new Skyline. (The old Skyline in Price Hill was torn down...very sad. It was the first one ever.) I ran into my old friend Robb Faust in the bookstore...where he's been for the last 13 years now. Another professor (Dr. Shannon) was also at Skyline. It was a sentimental and rather therapeutic afternoon.

Talking with Weatherly made me wish that I could have known the right questions to ask him 15 years ago when I was studying under him. I left struggling with the irony that, for most any profession, we really need the education more after we start working in our field than before we start. I'm wired to learn things much better once I see that I need to learn them. It took me a few years of trial and error after college to be broken enough to want to learn the things that people were probably trying to teach me in college. I wonder if most everyone goes through that.

After the lunch I drove the 1.2 miles to the Garfield Park area of downtown Cincinnati for a voiceover audition. Then back to finish some loose ends at church. Somehow the last five hours have been a miniaturized version of my life story...without the good weather.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yikes.

Got busy...what with Bruce coming and all. Tis the season to work 14 hours a day, I guess. It's all good though. The rehearsals have been a blast and I'm enjoying getting to know all my castmates better. I actually have a few commercial auditions tomorrow as well. I'm feeling my thespian oats.

There are some promo videos for A Cat Named Bruce at the website - click below to check them out.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Just another magi monday...

I spent the last few weeks reading in the neighborhood of 500 pages on the Magi from different scholars and commentators. I found Michael Molnar's book The Star of Bethlehem: The Legend of the Magi very interesting. I'd have to say that "interesting" is the best word to describe what I learned about the Matthew Magi event. Interesting stuff for someone like me - a closeted science geek and an outed history and theology geek. The problem is that sometimes the interesting things of life do not always translate to practical help for the masses.

My problem this week as I prepared to teach was to allow these interesting facts and theories about stars, astrology, Hebrew midrashic tradition, Roman politics and ancient customs to eventually evaporate away in light of the story itself. Matthew didn't set about to write a science book, and though I believe Matthew to be a competent historian, he wasn't trying to give a detailed history of the Magi event, per se. He actuallly seems to take the opposite approach, seeing value in clothing them in mystery and intrigue. He states plainly his plan in the first verse of his book- to tell the story of Jesus, as the son of Abraham and the son of David. (And, as he shows us in time, the son of God.)

There are, no doubt, shadows of the Moses and Balaam stories in the Old Testament woven into the account of the Magi. I believe that to the first century Hebrew mind these references would have been easier for them to see, and therefore, easier for them to interpret. I avoided them altogether in my weekend message for fear that opening the subject in such a constrained time limit might only confuse people. The Moses parallels are the most obvious, primarily centering on the parallels between Herod and Pharaoh. Matthew connects Herod's infanticide (a Moses parallel) with the holy family's flight to Egypt and their return. It all seems to point to God's redeeming his people again as he did with Moses. We will learn as the story progresses in Matthew that this redemption is actually one of eschatological significance - the beginning of the final redemption for all who would follow Jesus. So, if you want, he's not just the new Abraham and David, but the new Moses as well.

Interesting for me, I guess. But I still think the main idea surrounds the fact that strange Gentile astrologers find the Messiah and worship him before God's people do. There's something big to that. It's also a highly political story that sets up the central political conflict between Messiah Jesus and his Kingdom and Herod (and all he represents) and his kingdom. They tried to kill him from day one, until he finally allowed them to have their wish. Then he died. Then he won.

On a completely different note, I just heard that the Cat Named Bruce website is now live at www.acatnamedbruce.com. Click the icon below to be magically transported there.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More snow pics


Snow!


As you can see in this picture, it snowed here today. School was canceled. (They never canceled school for two inches back in my day.) The kids were trying to build a snowman and sled in our flat backyard when I left for work this morning. The snow is novel and interesting, but it is starting to feel extra cold now. I'm that annoying guy who moves to a new place and can't stop talking about the weather. I tell myself every morning that I'm not going to mention how cold it is and then it's the first thing I say when I see someone. I'd be annoyed if I was my friend.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mount Vernon and back again.

I had a great time going up to Mount Vernon, Ohio this weekend to speak at The Vineyard Knox County. My old friend Paul Chandler is a member there and suggested to the leadership that I come up to speak. There was such a great vibe at the church and it was great be with them. I left very energized and excited to be a part of what's going on with the Vineyard movement in Ohio.

I was able to drive through my hometown of Worthington on the way there. It's the first time that I have been to Columbus since we moved here. It was strange to realize how close we actually live, probably about 90 miles to the old neighborhood from my house.

I also happened to be in Columbus when Ohio State backed into the national championship game via the WVU and Missouri losses. God is good.

Friday, November 30, 2007

From Elephants to Cats

The Elephant Revolution will continue as I get ready for A Cat Named Bruce, our Chirstmas Comedy at VCC. It will be fun (and probably very needed) to be on stage as an actor vs. a teacher. The two can seem very similar, but are really worlds apart. The best part of acting is that you don't have to be yourself. The best part of teaching is that you have to be yourself. Being able to live in both worlds for my whole life has been a fun ebb and flow.

We are developing a website this week for Bruce and I'll post it here when it is up and running. Show dates are Dec. 20, 21, 22 at VCC.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good Times

We had a nice Thanksgiving with Deb's family and came home Friday just in time to do absolutely nothing. Generally, doing nothing is my favorite part of any holiday. Yesterday we hit the Home Depot and secured a Christmas Tree. It's a good looking humble six footer, though it has a bit of a lean forward and to the left. I'd say that there is a 22% chance we wake up to find it fallen in the middle of the living room before Christmas comes around.

I spoke at Eastside Christian Church this weekend and enjoyed my time there. We saw Bob and Joan Eisenbraun, some friends from Vegas who have settled here and go to the church there. Wendy and Susan Lewis, old friends of mine since I was a kid, also came over to hear me this morning. There has been a constant theme of reuniting with old friends since we moved here. It's fun in a surreal, out of body kind of way. Hard to explain.

My two week speaking "tour" continues next weekend. I'll be speaking up at The Vineyard Knox County in Mount Vernon, Ohio. I'm back up at VCC the following week teaching on the account of the Magi in Matthew. Throw in prep for the original Christmas comedy, A Cat Named Bruce, and I'll be a busy guy over the next three weeks.

Tis the Season, I guess.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sneak Peak

I wrote an article for the current Issue of Vine News. Here's a sneak peak for you loyal RP readers:

There had to be that moment. There’s always that moment.

When my first son was born the moment happened about twelve hours later. My wife slept in the hospital bed and I held him. That was the moment.

When a child comes into your world – invades your world – the child brings chaos. There’s nothing overly sentimental about childbirth itself: the contractions, the race to the hospital, the paperwork, the screaming (from the paperwork), the nurses, the doctors, the needles, the screaming (of the mother), the pushing, the yelling and, finally, the screaming (of a baby).

Then comes the crying, the testing, the cleaning, the relatives! It’s not a quiet day. It’s a loud day. A painful day. A wonderfully, chaotic, my-life-is-never-going-to-be-the-same kind of day.

But there is always that moment. The moment when dad takes a survey of the room and concludes that the chaos is over. (Well, new dads believe it’s over. Us veterans have learned that the chaos is just taking a nap.) That first simple moment when mom and baby are both resting gives dad a window to attempt to embrace all that just happened. That moment when the relatives and friends have come and gone, leaving in their wake a sea of flowers and teddy bears and Baby’s R Us gift cards.

That simple, quiet moment. The moment you realize that this baby changes everything, and that everything deserves to be changed for the sake of this baby. Simple. Profound. Real.

My second son was born two days before the attacks of 9-11. I woke up that morning thinking about my new baby. I turned on the TV and everything changed again. That day was horrible for a nation. Horrible for all of us in some terribly communal way. My moment came that night. For a few seconds that evening I was blessed to forget about the death, the carnage, the violence. I held in my arms a two-day old fresh start. A clean slate. A cosmic do-over called a baby. On the most hopeless of nights for my homeland, I held hope in my arms and watched him sleep. On a day of death, I held the hope of life.

Sometimes hope is simple. We all want hope. An election year is emerging, which means that by this time next year we will have had more than our fill of the constant promises of professional hope peddlers. People, mostly good intentioned people, promising us that their ideas, their experiences, their leadership can give our nation a new birth into a living hope.

Then there’s the loud and constant professional hope peddlers who come around every four minutes vs. every four years. They live in your radio, your TV, and your computer. They litter the highway with billboards and plaster the Sunday newspaper. They are everywhere. Nothing says hope like a Big Mac, or a plasma TV, or a LEGO Adventure Set that can build a working, to scale, Space Shuttle. The peddlers want us to know that we can buy hope. They also want us to know that if we simply can’t afford hope this year, we can apply for the HopeCard Plus and pay off our hope with a 21% APR. We can purchase a new birth into a living hope…can’t we?

No. We can’t. That’s why there is education. So we can learn to be hopeful. Another class. Another book. Another degree. That ought to do it, right?

Strike three. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. The more you learn the more you see that nothing we know can give us new birth or living hope.

Alas, nothing we do can give us real hope.

That’s why we need a baby.

When terrorists ram into the foundations of our life, we need a baby.
When politicians can’t fix things, we need a baby.
When we have bought and mortgaged ourselves into hopelessness, we need a baby.
When we learn that there is no earthy hope, we need a baby.

Not just any baby. We need a heavenly baby. We need a baby from Heaven to save our earthly problems. We need Christmas. Not the “Christmas” that these hope peddlers push down our throats. That Christmas isn’t real. We need the Christmas that admits we are hopeless. The Christmas that admits we need a new birth because we’ve destroyed the lives that emerged from our first birth. We need a Christmas that gives us living hope. Living hope only comes from life – the life of a baby – a heavenly baby. The God Baby.

This year at The Vineyard we are determined to find that baby. We will be seeking him like ancient Magi. We will be running to him like stunned shepherds. But mostly, we will be admiring him. Treasuring him like his mother did. Holding him like Joseph did.

We will seek the baby until we find Him, or perhaps, we will seek Him until He finds us. When we find Him, we will not rest until we find that moment. That moment when the chaos dies and peace slips in the back door. That moment when the world falls asleep long enough to still our hearts. And as we reach for the baby, in that moment, we will see that it is not we who hold the baby, but the baby who holds us. It is not the baby who is weak. It is not the baby who needs. It’s me.

I am the one who needs to be born (again) – I need a new birth into a living hope.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope…” I Peter 1:3 (NIV)

This Christmas we will find a baby who gives birth to hope. Join us every weekend in December as we learn to worship this baby for saving our lives. Also, join us on the evenings of December 20, 21, 22 for the VCC original Christmas production, “A Cat Named Bruce” as we all journey from the chaos of Christmas to the simplicity of love’s advent.

This Christmas holds that moment. Don’t miss it.

My "babies" today (above).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eastside, yo.

My friend Jonathan Wolfgang lives here in CIncinnati. We were in Las Vegas together, but he moved here a few years back to be the pastor of a church called Eastside Christian Church. We would often teach for each other in Vegas, and it appears to be a continuing trend. I'll be teaching this weekend over there if any of you eastsiders want to come hang out.

Before that there is turkey to be eaten and football to be watched. We'll be heading to Indiana to have Thanksgiving with Deb's family for the first time ever. That's happy news, but it will also be our first T-giving apart from our Las Vegas family in 13 years. That was quite a run.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Teach. Learn.

I spent the day reading and writing. That's what Fridays are supposed to be in my world. When your job is largely teaching, learning becomes an even more crucial activity. I've taken rather seriously the Pauline mandate to Timothy:

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."

I would like to think that I have always been faithful to these words. I really have no right on my own to assume they apply directly to me, but I have felt as though they probably do since I was a kid. There have been seasons of my life that these words were easier or harder to contextualize. "Preaching the Word" (proclaiming Jesus?) is easier to figure out in a church (house church, mega church, recovery church, whatever) than it is, for instance, working in a Las Vegas comedy show, auditioning for a Mentos commmercial or interacting with Hollywood producers. I should confess that there were times when I probably did not "preach the word" in the latter examples. Sometimes because of fear, but normally because I had no real idea as to how to do it. I'd like to think that I was always "prepared" to teach though.

I think most teachers, educators, preachers, etc. spend too much time preparing their next teaching and not enough time preparing the teacher. In a spiritual context, this preparation could mainfest as prayer or meditation. It also must manifest as learning. The best teachers are compulsive teachers who were first compulsive learners. The best teachers are able to prepare for an assigment, but are also able to teach at the drop of a hat. Jesus seems to be that sort of Rabbi. So does Paul. I could be way off, but I see Paul coming into a room and just being ready to improvise, to interact, to discern the room, to preach the word. I love that Paul can teach at a synagouge and quote the Torah and within the hour be teaching in the streets of Athens quoting "their own poets." That's a teacher. Same message. Different words.

In the spirit of learning, I spent this afternoon at Caribou Coffee with GK Chesterton, Stanley Hauerwas and my new ESV Bible. The four of us had a good time, but Chesterton (below) stole the show. I'm reading his book The Everlasting Man (1925). HIs masterpiece, Orthodoxy, sincerely changed my life. I have to fight through 80 years of history and cross the Atlantic ocean to get to him, so I know that I can't always fully undersand him. I'll give him this, though. He's smart - and funny. Those are two things that I have (not so) secretly aspired to be my whole life. (Yes, this could be in itself a major problem for me, but we all have to admit these things from time to time.) I feel like the amateur thinker and hack comic that I am when I read him. I'm hoping a small measure of his GKishness rubs off as I finish the text.

This seems like a good time to announce that I have officially applied for grauduate work at the University of Dayton. I'll hear if I have been accepted in the coming weeks. The plan is to take the long road - a class or two each semester. Several professors there have studied under some of my influencers and I'm looking forward to wandering back into academia after a dozen years away. Part of why I haven't pursued more formal education is that I never felt ready to settle on a major. It seems like looking back I was running from a theology degree the whole time, so I'm just going to go for it.

So, here's to learning and to the sober reality that we can never think our way out of our problem. Here's to the grace to be allowed to know in part until we know fully and are fully known.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What is that?

It happened today as I was driving to work. Something fell from the sky. A white particle.

Snow. It's been a decade and a half or so since I have had to deal with snow.

Also, it gets cold here. I was really cold today. People form here say that it wasn't cold today, but they have been brainwashed by the cold agenda. Winter's coming.

Good thing my wife makes good soup.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Greg and Phil

Greg Hubbard and Phil Webster are more than friends. They were (and still are) close parters with me as I have attempted to flesh out Jesus and the Gospel in my life. We spent a few years together in Las Vegas reading too many books and asking too many questions. Others joined us in the effort, but it was the three of us who gravitated as much to "learning" the Kingdom as "experiencing" it. We had friends like Jim, Jeremy, Ernie and Doug who pushed us toward both Spirit power and relational love - or else the three of us may have thought our way out of heaven.

They have both chimed in on the issue of God's economy and I couldn't help but to see a theme in their thinking. As with all other things, it does come back to grace and our own inability to do much of anything apart from God's favor. Here are some quotes to think about:

"The difficulty with all of Jesus' teachings in the gospels is that we can't live up to them. They lead us to utter dependance on God's love to help us in our utter inadequacy. Still, I applaud any effort to teach it for what it really is. I think we all should strive to live up to it. It will only help us experience the Kingdom in a more complete way. But we should also know we'll be safe with God when we fail, because even if we improve, we will fail to live up to these radical standards. That's not a cop out position or an excuse not to try -- that's just reality." -Greg Hubbard (below with Tori)


"You mentioned, being overwhelmed by [God's economy.] I think that is the most appropriate response. If I were preaching on this, I think this would be what I would go for (granted, this is pretty much the only thing I'm going for right now)-getting people overwhelmed by this stuff. It's simply too big for us. It is damning. It is not a simple, "Here's what you can do tomorrow to live biblically;" it is message that damns us (especially as Americans, but probably also everybody who is not destitute). Hence, it is also an opportunity to preach grace. God's economy is gratuitous and we are called to participate in this freedom of God. We cannot muster the energy to act graciously, to live in accordance to a "biblical vision of economy" (or, if we do, it will be full of pride.) The only way we can begin to really participate in God's economy is to first realize that God has forgiven us all. Participation in God's economy is first a response to being incorporated into God's economy. God acts first, not us. I'm rambling now. Anyway, the point is is that this stuff must overwhelm." -Phil Webster (below in Florence)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Videos!



A lot more videos are up now at www.tacklingtheelephant.com.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

St. Luke: Elephant Tackler

Preparing for this week is as overwhelming as last week. Jesus was a social and economic revolutionary. Reducing his radical economic message to thirty minutes is daunting. I am half tempted to pull an Andy Kaufman and simply read the entire book of Luke this weekend and sit down. I'll do stuff like that when I am really old and people think I'm senile. Until then I have some measure of sanity to project.

My first thought was to read Matthew 6, the middle chapter of the sermon on the mount. It's all in there - sharing, giving, warnings against pride and religiosity, warnings against scarcity thinking (worry), commands to forive debts, asking for daily bread, loving enemimes, God is Father, Kingdom has come, Revolution has begun! One chapter - all in there.

Then there is Luke. If you read Luke 6, Matthew 6 comes off as a soft sell. Luke is even more extreme. None of this "poor in Spirit" stuff, just "blessed are the poor because they have the Kingdom." No "hunger and thirst for justice," just straight up, "blessed are the hungry because thier meal ticket has come to earth." Half the "beatitudes" are replaced with woes. "Woe to the rich, they already got all they need." "Woe to the full-bellied gluttons...they are gonna starve in hell." "Woe to the happy, they're about to get sad." Things like "forgive your debts" are replaced with (my paraphrase), "find somebody who needs money and give them a loan...then forgive the debt." Crazy. Goofy. Jesus would fail Econ 101 in every community college in America.

Luke just reeks of economic language. It's in every chapter and usually quite blatent. Only Luke remembers Zaccheus. He gives us our "rich young ruler" and tells us point blank that the problem with the Pharisees is that they love money. (Just one verse after he tells us Jesus went around telling people to choose a god - Yhwh or money. It's one or the other. You can't marry Yhwh and whore out to money.

Luke saves the story of Jesus cleansiing the temple for the end of his telling. (John leads off with it.) Luke's showing us that it is Jesus' economic convictions...his stubborn belief in Isaiah 61 and Jubilee, that lead to his death. He goes from the Messiah and Savior of Isaiah 61 to become the (anti) hero of Isaiah 53. Turns out Messiah was the Suffering Servant all along.

So...I think this blog has only made matters worse for me. It has only added to my thoughts. I had better bury myself back into the text and pray that I crawl out with enough in my hands to convince others to take a look for themselves.

If you haven't yet, click below and join the elephant revolution. Everybody's doing it....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's gonna be all about elephants for a while...

60 Minutes did a story about elephant poachers tonight. It's more of a complicated thing than you might think. The zoo keeper who let me into the elephant cage to shoot this video had this to say about it:

"Imagine that your kids were starving to death because you didn't have any money, but if you could hunt and kill one elephant you could feed your kids on the money from the tusks. I understand why they do it even though I wish they wouldn't." I thought this was a very empathetic statement from the guy who has been taking care of the elephants at a major zoo for over twenty years. Tonight on 60 Minutes they interviewed some guys in Africa who were caught after they killed 14 elephants. They pretty much said that they were poor and did it to get money for their families. They had no idea what people did with the tusks after they sold them. I'm against killing endangered elephants to make jewelry (or for most any other reason), but it says something about impoverished men who will literally go and tackle a live elephant to feed the ones they love. Like I said, it's complicated.

When we set out to teach our church on generosity I had no idea how much I would learn about elephants. I've also learned a lot about God as an economic God. Normally Dave Workman posts some thoughts on his blog after the weekend services and I've tried to do the same here when I teach. I had the unique opportunity for this particular message to write three essays exploring some issue related to the topic at hand. You can find them at www.tacklingtheelephant.com. If you are interesed in reading them, just click the direct links below:

Why Tithing?
Debt Forgiveness as Kingdom Proclamation
Redeeming Gleaning

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tackling The Elephant Website



Now you can learn all about what we are doing with Tackling The Elephant at www.tacklingtheelephant.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pirates, yo.


Eli and Aidan fixin' to find booty in the burbs of Cincinnati.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Second Century Rebel Pilgrims

Lately I have been very intrigued by an ancient document commonly called The Epistle to Diognetus. The author is unknown. Most believe it was written as an early Christian apologetic to a Roman official (perhaps an advisor to the emperor) named Diognetus. Rough dates range from AD 100-150, making it one of the earliest non-canonical Christian letters. My Greek is more than rusty, but I have tried to refresh myself since moving here. I have also leaned into several translations from the last century, but here is a paraphrase that I have costructed. Think of it as "the message" version of chapter 6 of the letter. Let me know any thoughts it spurs in the comment section.

"For Christians are no different from the rest of us. They live where we live, talk like we talk and share our same culture. They do not live in their own cities or speak their own language or engage in extraordinary lifestyles.

Nor do they possess some great product discovered by intelligence or the study of ingenious people. Nor are they masters of some human religious dogma as many others are.

And while they live in our own cities and the cities of our enemies – settling wherever they find themselves – the reality of their own citizenship, so they claim, is a mystery. I must confess that it contradicts all you would expect.

They live in the countries they were born into, but only as travelers on a journey. They share the social responsibilities of the towns they live in, but they also endure the hardships of the aliens there as well. Every foreign country can be there home, but every homeland is foreign to them.

They marry and have children like we do, but they do not abort their babies.
They share their food for meals, but they do not share their spouses for sex.
They live in the flesh, but the do not live for the desires of the flesh.
They exist on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
They obey our laws, but they go beyond the laws in the way the live.
They love all people, but everyone responds by persecuting them.
They are ignored, but they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are owed life.
They are poor as beggars, yet their generosity makes others rich.
They are the poorest of the poor, yet they have all they need.
They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their “dishonor.”
They are spoken evil of, and yet they are vindicated.
They are cursed, and yet they bless.
They are insulted, and yet they respect.
When they do good they are punished as evil-doers.
When they are punished they rejoice as if it gives them eternal life.
War is waged against them as if they were foreigners by the Jews.
They are persecuted by the Greeks, and yet all those who hate them cannot tell you why they do.

In a word, what the soul is to the to the body, these strange “Christians” are to the world."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Carter Caves

We just returned from a 36-hour vacation to Carter County, Ky. It's quite the vacation hotspot. We stayed in Grayson, Ky which is only about 20 miles from Ashland, where I was born and lived until I was 13. I should probably write about embracing my Appalachian roots vs. running from them, but I really only wanted to say that our cave tour guide was named Kenny McCoy. Someone asked him if he was the "real deal," to which he informed us that he indeed was a direct descendant of the McCoys from the Hatfield-McCoy feud. He then told us that a Hatfield worked with him at the park. "The feud was settled many years ago," he laughed as he moved on to explaining the difference between a stalagmite and stalactite. (T for tite = T for Taller. They come from the top of the cave down. Kenny didn't teach me this. I made this up as he was talking because I am a hopeless nerd.)

There is a great lesson about healing when you know that a Hatfield works everyday with a McCoy just a few miles from where they used to shoot each other. I'm not sure what the great lesson is, but there has to be one...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sad


It's strange to watch the community you were living in a few months ago burn. The Irvine fire seems to be within ten miles of our old house. I also had several acting gigs in Malibu exactly where that fire is burning now. To our friends there - be safe and let us know if any unique opportunites sprout up to help from afar.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Preparing to Tackle an Elephant


Next week Dave wraps up the 4ward series at church. After that, I'll teach two weekends in a row on the topic of generosity. We are going to call the series "Tackling the Elephant." The idea is that the reality of the Kingdom Among Us leads us to live a radically generous life. Most of us aren't radically generous though. (That's the '"elephant in the room.") There are a myriad of reasons why, but a major reason is that we simply don't talk about personal and communal economic issues much as a people.

I have been diving into the economy of God in the Levitical Law and the rest of the OT. There is an economic reality on every page of Scripture. We can't really say we are into Yahweh without wrestling with the fact that he is an economic God.

Of course, after we try to get our heads around God's desire for the economy of Israel manifest in revolutionary ideas like kinsman redeemer, jubilee, land sabbath, gleaning margins for the poor, tithing, sacrifices, provisions for aliens and widows, and restrictions on hording food, personal debt and the amount of time worked each week - after we think through that - we come to Jesus who takes it all and re-revolutionizes God's economy. The Kingdom coming brings a new theo-socio-politico-economic community. The economy of Israel is redeemed and fulfilled in Jesus, the Kigdom and the new community (church).

Most of us who follow Jesus in post-modern America have a lot of catching up to do. Cultural Christianity tends to teach on "giving" primarily as a way to raise funds for ministry programs, which is probably part of why we should give, but only part...and probably not the main motivation. I've spent the last few weeks immersed in this stuff and hope to find my way out in 13 days when I will be charged with teaching these things to my community. It feels like I am swimming in an ocean of information searching for the right bucketful to share with others.

All that and I hope to make a video with a live elephant. My job is interesting if nothing else.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hauerwas and Willimon


William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas are professors at Duke Universtiy. I was profoundly influenced by their first book entitiled Resident Aliens. My friend Phil Webster introduced that book to me before leaving Las Vegas to go to Duke and study with Hauerwas.

I just read another book by them that is the best book I've read in a few years. It is called Lord, Teach Us: The Lord's Prayer and the Christian Life. They wrote with the idea that The Lord's Prayer contains all a new convert needs to begin to living as a Jesus disciple within the Kingdom. It's solid.

Here are a few selected passages from the first part of the book:

"Think of Christianity, not primarily as a set of doctrines, a volunteer organization, or a list of appropriate behaviors. Think of Christianity as naming a journey of a people. As you read the Gospels, you will note that Jesus and his disciples are always on the way somewhere else, breathlessly on the move." p. 13

"There are many books that attempt to “explain” Christianity, as if Christianity is a set of interesting ideas or a set of beliefs. By affirming a minimal section of these beliefs, Christianity is supposed to give your life meaning and purpose, or fulfill some set of expectations you had in your mind before you met Christianity. We have nothing against your life being meaningful, but that is not primarily what the Christian faith is about. Rather, to be a Christian is to have been drafted to be part of an adventure, a journey called God’s Kingdom." p. 14-15

"Salvation, Christian salvation, is not some individualized relationship between me and God. Rather, salvation is being drafted into an adventure, having our lives commandeered by God to go on a journey called the Christian faith…Being saved is not some individual achievement, not the result of some flash of personal insight, nor the securing of life’s sense of meaning…Salvation is the delightful surprise of having your little life caught up in the purposes of God for the whole world. Salvation is having your life bent toward God when all you thought you were doing was memorizing the [Lord’s] prayer." p. 21

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogroll

It has been many years since I linked other blogs to my own. I stopped because during the blogging boom (before the blogging crash of 2005), I couldn't keep track of it all. People got their feelings hurt because I hadn't linked them to my blog. Now that blogging seems to have lost some of its initial charm, I feel a little better about re-introducing the blogroll. I tried to track down my friends old and new who have maintained a regular on-line journal. If you aren't listed, it's probably because you seemed to have left the blogger universe, or because I lost track of your journal along the way. If you actually do blog and know me, I'd be happy to add you. It's about 324th on my daily priority list to update my blogroll, but I'll get to it every few months, so send me an email and join the party.

That said, those initially listed to the right are friends of mine in the real world, not just the fake internet one. They all have a voice and have helped to shape me. Feel free to waste the rest of the day getting to know them...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Old Life. New Life.

As a person changes jobs, careers or even, as some in the faith might say, "callings," the person himself doesn't really change much - at least not at first. When I made the change from professional pastor to professional actor in Las Vegas, I spent more time and energy on my new career. I spent a lot of time at the Rio Casino working in a stage show, training in my new field at the Second City and with my acting coach, auditioning and working in film and tv, etc. Even though I was doing all of that, I was still helping to lead and teach at Apex. I was still using my gifts for the Kingdom. When that career progressed and we moved to California, I was still able to serve The Crossing Church and connect there, but most of my time was still spent acting and writing.

Now as I switch gears again most of my time is spent teaching, leading, studying, creating and thinking with folks at church. However, just like before, I still am me. I'm still an actor, though not a professional one much these days. I'm still an improviser, though I don't have a team to play with right now.

It has been interesting to see that part of my life here try to normalize and fit in with my new career. I have signed with a local agent and I've been very surprised at the amount of union work here. I've been on five or six auditions since moving here. They film a lot of corporate industrials - training videos for P&G, etc. It's just enough to keep in practice and maybe have a booking or two per year.

My film project is also still alive and we are still working out some details. We hope to film this coming summer. I've also met a few people with an improv background intereseted in getting something going.

So the old life helps to form the new one. To top it off, I'm lucky enough to get to be very creative at my job as well. Things are good...I'm excited to see where it ends up.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Splagna

I spoke this past weekend at The Vineyard on being outward focused. It brought me to a particular Greek word in the New Testament - splagna. The word is used twelve times or so in the gospels in reference to Jesus. It is normally translated compassion or pity in most versions. If you want to hear more details, feel free to check out the message at the VCC website.

One thing that I wasn't able to dive into was that the word, aside being used about Jesus, was used in three of his parables. Each time, the "hero" of the story experienced splagna before taking the pivotal action of the story. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the man to whom the servant owed a great deal of money experienced "splagna" toward the man and forgave his debt. The servant, in return, demanded a small debt that was owed him by another servant be repaid immediately. Though he received the benefits of splagna from his master (representing God), he could not muster it toward his fellow man. As a result, he lost everything. This is a Jesus theme - God forgive us, we must forgive each other.

This concept also drives what are likely the two most famous parables that Jesus ever told. The first story starts with Jesus being asked a question, "You say to love my neighbor, who is really my neighbor?" In the Parable of the Good Samaritan a man falls to robbers along the road and is left for dead. Several religious, educated, impressive people pass him by and ignore him, but a lowly disrespected foreigner sees the man and has "splagna" for him. He stops, takes immediate action and uses his own time and money to nurse the man back to health. Jesus follows the parable by asking his listener who the real neighbor in the story is..."the guy with compassion" is the reply. Jesus simply says, "Go and do likewise."

There is one more significant splagnatic episode a few chapters later in the book of Luke. Jesus begins to tell his three "lost" parables, concluding with what is commonly called The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son rejects his family and his loving father to take his share of the inheritance early and waste it on wild living. Not only does he waste his father's resources, but he basically tells his father that he wishes he would just go ahead and "die already" so that he could go about with his life. The son loses everything and eventually comes to his senses. He takes the long and humiliating walk back to his father, preparing to beg for forgiveness and possibly receive a job at his father's estate as a farmhand. However, his father has been watching down the road for his return. When he sees him at a distance, his rejected father is filled with splagna and runs to his son, shouting "My son is home! He was dead but now he is alive! Kill the fatted calf and throw a party, for what was lost is found!"


Here's the capper on the splagna discussion: God the Father waits for us and has pity/compassion (splagna) for us when he sees us returning home from our years of rebellion and selfishness. Though we reject him, his gut hurts with mercy for us. I think this parable shows us that the incarnation of Jesus himself was the result of the Father's splagna for his lost children. The advent was his action. Splagna leads to action, even for God.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Church Creating Culture

Mark is an old friend whom I have lost touch with of late, but he's always stretched my thinking. I don't always necessarily agree with what he believes on certain topics, but his stuff on the gospel, culture and kingdom have always helped me.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back at it.

I'm back up this weekend at The Vineyard teaching on "outward focus." I'm looking forward to it. My weekly pattern is that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are packed full with hardly a minute to spare. Fridays are more laid back. It will be good to hang out tomorrow with some books and my new macbook pro to think about this weekend's message.

Tonight is week two of our new group that meets at our house. Looks like God may be birthing a new community there as well.

Good things.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Luke 10 and Irish Pubs


This is Foley's Irish Pub in Reading. Brad Wise and I spent the afternoon here writing a play that will show at The Vineyard this Christmas. We almost met at the church building, which would have been a huge mistake. We were immediately welcomed by the cook and bartender who took a great interest in helping us with the project. Jules, the barkeep, was a tremendous help and it looks like much of the play will be based in her retelling of a "normal" hectic Christmas at her house with her extended family. She was frustrated that after several hours we had yet to find the ending to the story. We promised to come back next week to keep working on it.

Last week I spent some time walking some of our creative staff through Luke 10. I was profoundly influenced by this account of Jesus sending the disciples during my house church days. Very little has changed in my working theology or ecclesiology from those days. What has changed (dramatically since moving here) is my environment. I still believe that God can birth a missional communtiy anywhere at anytime. (I also still believe that we can call this a "church" if we want.) I believe that "persons of peace" still exist and that there is Kingdom power it going out two by two (as Brad and I did today). I'm also just as convinced as ever that the most radical expansion of the Kingdom happens in organic ways outside of our normal church structures. Only God knows what will come of our time today at Foley's, but we were certainly received there and many personal stories were shared. Deep questions were asked. Invitations were given on both sides to continue the relationships.

Luke 10 instructs Brad and myself to stay at Foley's until God is done with us there. So, until further notice, part of my job is hanging out with my friend at an Irish Pub in the middle of a work day. Nice, huh? It also says to expect healings, free food and dramatic life change. I'm all for that too. Maybe in the mean time we can write a play.

Here's the text in question. If, as the Creed teaches, the Church is truly "one, holy, catholic and apostolic," I believe this text is key to understanding the apostolic church in practicum.

Luke 10:1-24 (NIV):

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
13"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.
16"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
17The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."
18He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
21At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
22"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
23Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dr. Tim Keller

My new friend and workmate Adam Dressler has recently given me some CD's by Tim Keller. I had heard about Redeemer Pres in NYC, but these messages (one on money and one on justice) have been my first encounter with his teaching. So far, he has given me several thoughts that seem to fill in some gaps in my kingdom theology...I'm hoping to bum a few more CD's from Adam.

One thing that he said today seemed to resonate with my story:

If a person sits under one thinker he becomes a clone.
If a person sits under two thinkers he becomes confused.
If under ten thinkers he develops his own voice.
If under 200-300 thinkers he develops his own voice and becomes wise.
Regardless, the first two thinkers who confused the man tend to remain among the most influencial.

I think that I'm somewhere between 10 and 200 thinkers - at least on the road to wisdom, and that Keller is the next person whom I'm excited to learn from. See the Redeemer site by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Journey - Leaping and Limping

I was able to teach tonight at the Alpha class at VCC. This was my fourth different "venue" to teach at The Vineyard since arriving. I ended up spending a lot of my time with them telling my personal story of my years of secret skeptism and doubt that dominated my late teens and early to mid twenties. (I was in Bible College and planting churches at the time.) It is part of my story that is easy to tell to seekers, skeptics and agnostics, but hard to confess in a primarily Christian environment. Anyone who has sat under my teaching for a while knows that it eventually emerges, but it is always intimidating to admit a propensity to doubt wihtin a particularly theistic community. It is even more intimidating when you have been hired by them as a teaching pastor.

I wish I would have had more time tonight to unpack my daily "leap of faith" and how I have come to see faith as a daily decision to align my entire being with the story of Jesus. My natural propensity is toward agnosticism, perhaps even materialism (as classically defined, not the current popular meaning of the word.) I re-read Mere Christianity (CS Lewis) this week for the first time in a decade and it resonated more with this current manifestation of Joe circa 2007. Lewis was smarter on a dull day than I will ever be on my best, but our brains seem to be wired similarly.

I left the class tonight knowing that I hadn't played it safe. It was raw and honest, which should be helpful to those similar to me ...and a bit frightening to those who do not wrestle much with God.


I am forever a Jacob, afterall - the self-deceiver ("Jacob" means deceiver) who wrestles with God and receives a new name. (His new name, Israel, means "struggles with God but prevails.") This too, I hope, is my story. You can spot us spiritual wrestlers by our limp...and by the way we no longer try to hide it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Goofy

Current Temps at my various "homes":

Costa Mesa, CA: 70
Las Vegas, NV: 71
Cincinnati, OH: 93

I have this intense fear that we are going to go straight from summer to winter here just to add to my culture shock.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dr. Salvador Antonucci


This is Dr. Salvador Antonucci, Associate Professor of Classics and Greek Studies at Butler Technical College in Hamilton, Ohio. (He's not real. He's me.) Dr. A was invented to open up the Alpha Course here at VCC last week. He burst into the back of the class and attempted to take over, before Dave kicked him off the stage.

I cannot overstate how strange it is to be me. There have been two moments since arriving here when I felt completely comfortable. One was my first time teaching at the weekend celebrations. (I was nervous, but strangely comfortable.) The other was when I fully became this character. I have come to believe that I have the most ridiculous skill set in the world. I'm happy to have found a place to explore it in a different way.

I'm not sure if Dr. A will ever live again, but there are 1,000 other people like him trapped inside of me. (Wow, that sounds a bit like mental illness.)

As Dr. Antonucci would say, "We must repeat the past or else be forced to rewrite the future."

Yeah, I don't know what he means either.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In memory

From all us ragamuffins. It's hard to believe that today is ten years.

Everybody each and all
We're gonna die eventually
It's no more or less our faults
Than it is our destiny
So now Lord I come to you
Asking only for Your grace
You know what I've put myself through
All those empty dreams I chased

And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly ruined me
Will You pick up the pieces
That were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them
And set them free?

And when You start this world over
Again from scratch
Will You make me anew
Out of the stuff that lasts?
Stuff that's purer than gold is
And clearer than glass could ever be
Can I be with You?
Can I be with You?

And everybody all and each
From the day that we are born
We have to learn to walk beneath
Those mercies by which we're drawn
And now we wrestle in the dark
With these angels that we can't see
We will move on although with scars
Oh Lord, move inside of me

And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly runied me
Will You pick up the pieces
That were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them
And set them free?

And when You blast this cosmos
To kingdom come
When those jagged-edged mountains
I love are gone
When the sky is crossed with the tears
Of a thousand falling suns
As they crash into the sea
Can I be with you?
Can I be with you?

"Be With You" - Rich Mullins

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Times - They are a'changin...

The last few days have hinted of Fall. The leaves on our big tree in the backyard and yellowing. The early mornings are just slightly uncomfortable and brisk. I haven't experienced a legitimate autumn since 1994. The smells of autumn ambush me with childhood memories. I've worn shorts on every Halloween and Thanksgiving for 14 years - looks like that streak will be over this year.

I'm interested in seeing how the seasons changing change me. I wonder if there are any emotional or spiritual ebbs connected to it all.

Speaking of the new season, I bought the kids a nerf football and they both seem to enjoy throwing it around and running from each other. It feels like football outside. I haven't "felt" football weather for a long time.

Autumn is easy to romanticize...but winter is coming. I'll have to search deeply to find something in her worth waxing poetic about.

By the way, here's a pic of Aidan with Deb under the aforementioned tree.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good Week

It has been a good week. I'm getting more and more excited about the various aspects of my job. This week has certainly felt more settled. I am finally feeling at home. The Bengals won. Deb and the kids seem happy. Good times.

The last few days have hinted toward a season change - my first real one in 13 years. I think I will really enjoy autumn before the gray oppression that is winter attacks and does not relent for three months.

I'm teaching a leadership training event this weekend for the VCC group leaders, an Alpha class next week, and it looks like I'll be back on the mainstage in three weeks or so. I'm looking forward to each venue as I continue to learn about the church and my place within it.

Tonight I get to hang with two old friends - Tim Parsley and Kevin Rains. It is good to have them here...one of those bonus blessings with the whole deal.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's a Wrap

It was great to get my first teaching time under my belt at VCC. I was overwhelmed by everyone's positive response. It went a long way to helping me feel at home here. I'm emotionally exhausted from it all, but excited about what the future will bring.

If you are interested, the streaming video of all the weekend celebrations are found at the church website: www.vinyardcincinnati.com. Just click where it says "last weekend" to see it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Getting Ready

I'm spending the day preparing for my first weekend message at The Vineyard. I've more or less figured out what I think I should say...just need to trim it down now. Tomorrow is Aidan's sixth birthday. Deb's family will be coming in and it will be good to have a birthday party with family for a change.

I threw up some new phots of Eli at my 747 site. I think photo-therapy is working and hope to get out at least once a week.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Art


I've decided to explore photography as a bit of artistic expression and therapy. I had this idea on our first few days here in Ohio and have created a new blog to explore it. You can read about it and see my first few photos at www.stateroute747.blogspot.com.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I have spent my life changing. Most of you who have known me for more than a year or two can easily see that. When I was younger I desired to be known, at some level, as "the one who is changing." The changes of my youth were often reactionary and dramatic, while being largely sincere and calculated. Somewhere around my 30th birthday I grew tired of being known as the "changing one." Ironically, I have done a lot of changing since then. As I approach middle age (oh, the pain of seeing that in text), I wonder if I am somehow destined to be a changing person or if I have become addicted to change like a junkie needing a regular fix of newness. There is a strange desire for our family to settle now, to nest, to rest from change - at least in terms of where we lay our heads at night.

This is all a preamble to launch into how all encompassing my life has changed this month. It's not just a new zip code, though that is part of it. It's the new job, the new friends, the new schools, the new schedule, (having a schedule at all), etc.

I am not complaining - not yet anyway. I'm actually enjoying the new things. I have just never changed so much so quickly. It has made everything rather surreal. People keep asking us if we feel settled yet, to which my wife immediately says, "yes" while I just stare at them searching for an answer. It's a hard question. (For you newer friends, you should know that I do a lot of staring and very little talking during a conversation. It's annoying, but I can't seem to be otherwise.) I do feel ready and excited to be settled...but not quite settled.

Next week is my first time teaching at The Vineyard. That should help to take the next step in settling in here. I'm teaching on God's Passion for People. I've reread The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen this week and may use Rembrandt's painting to try to unpack God's love:



All this business of change perhaps hinges on the state of our hearts, like everything else. On one hand, God is a God of transformation, revolution, and journey. He's a compulsive change agent. On the other hand, God never changes - this is something that makes him God. Maybe it is the difference in trying to change ourselves vs. allowing ourselves to be changed. The difference between renovation and surrender. The prodigal's first change was to leave the Father and live his own life. His second change was to give up his own life and surrender to love. I've done plenty of both in my life.

Looking forward to seeing what will be...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

School Days


Thus far the kids seem to really be enjoying their new schools. Here's a photo from opening day...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Survived Week One

The adjusting, unpacking and learning continues. Things are going well, but the last few days have felt fuzzy and very busy. I've gotten up in the middle of the night unsure as to where I am, etc. It takes a while for your body, mind and spirit to align and realize you are somewhere new.

The kids start school Monday and we were able to see their classrooms and meet the teachers yesterday. It seems like it will be a good year for both of them.

Also, a small change - my first weekend teaching will be Sept 8 and 9 now...so if you were driving in from California, you may want to adjust your plans.


More to come...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Still Settling In...


Here's a photo of the kids in the Allied Van semi. The driver, Ed, let them blow the horn and play around in the cab.

The essentials of life have arrived - cable TV and the internet. We were able to pick up some new furniture for the living room and it won't be here for a week or so. Right now our living room is our TV on an old dining room table, one bean bag and several unopened boxes. The kitchen and bedrooms are more or less unpacked though. I will have a real office at work for the first time since the Canyon Ridge pre-building days back in 1997 - ten years! Since then I have worked at home or, more likey, at Starbucks. I've also shared a community office from time to time, but this one is rather legit with a door and window and all. It will be interesting to see how I work with an office.

I'm scheduled to teach the first time at The Vineyard on the weekend of Sept. 1. They will video stream it at the website which is linked over on the right side of my blog -->

Almost forgot - we sold our mini van back in socal and bought Deb a Chevy HHR this week. It's silver and she looks kinda like a gangster in it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Landed.

We closed on our house this morning at 9:00 and the movers arrived at 1:30. Spent the day opening boxes and searching for the essential things like sheets, soap and the kids' video game system. We are exhausted but happy to be here. It still doesn't feel very real, and I am have a hunch it will take a while for things to sink in. The kids are about as happy and excited as they have ever been. They each have their own bedroom for the first time and they love playing in the basement and yard.

Tomorrow will be jam packed with everything people do on day two of a move. Off to bed now...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Numb3rs

2,250 - current miles traveled
9 - states visited
35+ - mpg (gotta love the Corolla)
7 - days apart from the kids
2 - days at my parents
2 - days at Deb's parents
120ish - current miles from our new house
95/80 - average temp and humidity on our trip
8/15 - the date our house closes
8/15 - the date our furniture arrives (just found out today - could have been a week later)
4 - pounds gained after a week of farewell dinners and a week of traveling
3 - Number of times I auditioned for Numb3rs the TV show
0 - Number of times I booked Numb3rs the TV show
100% - how annoyed I am by the current numeric formula of this blog...seemed like such a good idea when I started.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Packing Day - Time to Blog

The kids have been shipped off to Kansas City with my mom and dad. The packers are at the house today working hard, while I drink my coffee and write this. This gives me great joy and a little guilt. Our other moves (all eight of them) were all about us and a U-haul, so this one is a little different to say the least. This will be our ninth home in our 12 1/2 years of marriage. That is especially impressive considering we lived in one house for about seven years from 1997-2003. Our ninth house is about 25 miles from our first apartment that we lived in for about five months before moving to Vegas in 1995. I keep thinking of Mr. Bilbo Baggins and his journey "there and back again."

Monday begins our Journey back again. The Allied truck will be loaded in the morning and Deb and I will start the cross country trip in the Corolla, stopping in KC to see mom and dad, and to fetch the kids. We are due to arrive in Cincinnati sometime before August 15, when our house is set to close. I have always enjoyed those rare nomadic moments in life when you leave one home in search of another. There is something very primal and adventuresome about it. It mixes a fear of the unknown, a sentimentailty of the past and and an excitement for the future. It reminds you that you are alive and that life is unpredictable. It is also nice knowing that everything you own fits in a truck and that you can live without it all for a week or two. It makes you want to get rid of everything - until you open the truck and wonder how you managed to survive without Tivo, alarm clocks and your toaster oven.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bush Zombies

And now for something completely different...

Bush Zombies

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moving Fast

We spent some time last week in Cincinnati preparing for the move and looking at houses. We visited several dozen and found one that we really liked on the second day. We put an offer in that night and it was accepted the following day. We are set to close on August 15, which will also be our first day there. Everything is moving fast...and we are literally moving fast. August 6 will be our last day here in Costa Mesa.

Our new pad is in Liberty Township, located about twenty miles north of Cincinnati. After living in Orange County for more than two years, the economic shift was a little crazy to say the least. (Our house will cost much less than the two bedroom apartment we lived in last year.) We were able to find a newer home with plenty of space, including a (nearly) finished basement and a big backyard. Here are some nice midwestern photos of the new place...





The next few weeks will be busy - lots of good-byes followed by packing, driving, visiting some family, driving some more and then unpacking, painting, buying a lawn mower (who knew?) and all that stuff. I'm excited about it all, except the good-byes, which make me a little sad and uncomfortable. More than everything I'm excited to see what the next season will actually be like. It's all so new and, like I said over and over in the last post, so very unexpected.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Very Unexpected Turn of Events

Some things in life you see coming. Some things in life surprise you.

And then there is that third catergory. The few times, perhaps only a handful over the course of a lifetime, that so blindside you that you feel dizzy for a few years afterward. This is one of those times.

As I have noted in this journal, around April of this year something in my spirit began to change. (To explain this change I am going to have speak in terms of "God moving" or "speaking" to me. I do that rarely and cautiously. However, in these events I know of no other way to explain it.) I began to sense a call to openness along with a growing conviction that I was holding part of myself back from the Lordship of Christ. Debbie and I began to talk about what this could mean. It brought us into discussions about my career path and our overall spiritual journey.

On Easter Sunday we visited my mom and dad in Kansas City and attended their church. Nothing too out of the ordinary happened at the service, but I could feel myself reacting differently than I would have earlier in my life. In my early twenties I would have silently condemned this church for being a little "out of touch." In my late twenties I would have certainly condemned them for being overly structured and institutionalized. But as I sat there personally celebrating a birthday that would catapult me straight into my mid-thirties, I felt nothing but contentment. I felt happy for them that they had each other. I was pleased that they were following Jesus the best they knew how. I felt a still small voice that said, "This is good, but you'll do it differently next time."

It was hours later before I noticed that the small voice told me I would be doing "this" (whatever "this" is) again. It got me thinking.

We were home for a few weeks when I confessed to Debbie that I felt like God was wanting me to be open to a fuller, perhaps even a "vocational", form of ministry. We chewed on that for a few days.

All of this is happening as my career is going well. I had signed with a new agent and my film project was growing into a bigger deal. It made no sense to have those thoughts then.

To back up a bit, in October of last year a church in Cincinnati (Vineyard Community Church) had contacted me to see if I might be open to vocational ministry again and I politely turned them down without much thought. I had promised them that if God changed our hearts we would let them know, but even as I told them that I knew God wouldn't be changing my heart. Well, he did. I e-mailed them in May to find out that some of the church leaders were actually in Anaheim that week for a conference. Since they were only a few miles from our house we agreed to meet one night. They had been busy not filling the position over the last seven months, but waiting for the "right person." Debbie and I were able to meet with some of their staff that week and we all agreed to keep praying about what God seemed to be doing.

The next four weeks were full of strange and mysterious events that included phone calls and e-mails from several friends around the world. We hadn't told anyone about this, but it was starting to feel like God was telling people to pray for us. Friends called saying they were waking in the middle of the night and praying for us, others were calling claiming to have seen visions of our family moving eastward and returning to church work. It was all so mysterious and confirming, but very hard to explain.

We visited the Vineyard about a month ago and it continued to feel right to us. Some of the theological issues that have become so foundational to me are very alive there - The primacy of the Kingdom, relational and organic growth, a desire for a church planting movement, experimentation within the gifts and, most obviously, a heart for the poor and hurting. They believe that "small things done with great love will change the world." That feels like something worth believing in. It was a good trip.

Last week they offered me the job of Teaching Pastor and we accepted. We will be leaving southern California in a few weeks to head back home to Ohio, which is something I never thought I would say or write or even think...it is all so unexpected. All this has done nothing but bolster my faith in a Living God and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

We are grieving leaving our friends here and moving even farther away from our family in Las Vegas, but we are also excited about this next season. Leaving acting and Hollywood has not been as hard as I thought it would be. I will be able to finish my film project (Hitting the Nuts) from Ohio. I can also return to improv and acting as a hobby, which is something that I have missed living here. Much of the joy is taken out of art when it becomes a business. I'll also have opportunity to use much of what I have learned in film and video production in my new job.

If you are a Vegas friend, I have written a more detailed personal letter to Apex which will be read by Tommy at the next Gathering. It explains more of my process as it applies to our story there.

As always, I will continue to update you here as the journey continues. My family would like to thank all of our friends, all over the world, who have shared life with us to this point. We would not exchange our unpredicatable story for any other.

Peace to you all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Regarding My Non-Jewishness

I've gotten several e-mails (and a nice comment from Mo) regarding my thoughts below on feeling rather "left out" of most of the Bible as a Gentile (#7). I wanted to clarify my thoughts on this a bit, since it has gotten a little attention.

First, the list of ten initial thoughts after reading the entire Bible contained both feelings/impressions and more rational/logical ideas. This particular comment was primarily a feeling more than some theological breakthrough. As I read through the scriptures I felt somewhat like an outsider reading the faith story of another people. (Remember, I was trying to pretend like I didn't know what was coming.) After Jesus, and more clearly Peter and Paul, invited the Gentiles into the Kingdom, I began to feel like the OT was my story, but my story as an adopted, though very loved, son. I do feel like the entire Bible is for Gentiles as well now in light of that, but I do not think I would have easily reached that understanding without Acts, the letters of Paul and a few stories in the gospels.

I understand that there has been a recent (last few decades) missiological focus on God's concern for the non-Jewish peoples throughout the Old Testament. I have read several essays tracing this attribute of God, and I do not deny it. I would say, however, that it is somewhate encrypted and would be very hard to see without the NT breaktroughs mentioned earlier.

I also think that some people have read my ideas as suggesting that God is not missional in character. I still believe in a missional God and a missional people, but I feel that his primary missional focus was intended to be through the submission of Israel, which never really came about. The Abahamaic Blessing (all nations being blessed through him) has certainly now been realized, or is being realized, through The Kingdom of Jesus. Regardless of what could have been in the old covenant, the new covenent launches us all into a mission to see the forces of evil destroyed by the powers of love, forgiveness and submission to God in Christ.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Journey's End

Wrapped the NT this morning. The whole immersion experience shaped me. I was suprisingly taken to Paul this time around. I feel kind of like Paul in some ways. I read the last half of Acts and most of Paul's epistles in the same day. It was good to do that. I recommend it if you struggle with the Pauline stuff. He really is a redeemed Pharisee in every sense of the word.

I was secretly hoping for a Revelation breakthrough with the other 65 books fresh in my mind, but nothing too profound hit me. It can still mean about ten different things depending on what you want it to mean. Maybe this is a good thing in some ways.

Without much pre-thought, here are my top ten stream of consciousness thoughts at the end of the journey:

1. I should do this every year. Next time during a sabbath and over a week when I can focus.
2. Yhwh does what he wants. That's what makes him Yhwh.
3. The main sin of humanity is idol worship. It was easier to define idol worship in antiquity than it is now. I should think on this more.
4. The "new covenant" is really a big deal. In some ways it is a total U-turn. I have a little more compassion for those who killed Jesus and see why he would say that they "know not what they do." Some of them thought they were really doing God's will.
5. The temple and the ark of the covenant bother me. Why did God want an earthly house and throne? It seems a little confusing and very religious. Maybe this is just some of my new covenant thinking trying to make sense of the old.
6. Jacob's name change to Israel - from "he deceives" to "he wrestles with God" is symbolic of every human being's journey from deceiver to wrestler and also symbolic of all of humanity's journey.
7. The Bible really has almost nothing to do with me (a Gentile) until the middle of Acts. We non-Jews were only invited in because God's chosen people seem to reject both the old and new covenant. This makes me feel very lucky and a little angry.
8. The NT has a few thru-lines going on at the same time through various eyewitness families. I am sure that theologians have names for these family lines, but I have never thought of them quite like this. The Lukan/Pauline line traces the gospel from Luke-Acts-the letters of Paul. The Johannine line from John - epistles of John - Revelation and the Petrine line from Mark - the epistles of Peter. I suppose a fourth Hebrew/Jewish line could be drawn through Matthew - Hebrews - James - Jude. In other words I got the feeling that these are three or four seperate contextualizations of the gospel in the first century that co-existed but had some differences. If you are smarter than me let me know if I am on the right track here.
9. God's people should sin less. I am a big grace guy, but I found in Jesus and all of the rest of the NT a very distinct call to holiness (seperateness). There was a general expectation to no longer be mastered by sin. I need to reflect more on this as well.
10. Holy Spirit. It is abundantly clear in Acts and most of Paul that the Holy Spirit is real, available and in control of the church. The new covenant only works in the presense of the divine. Jesus' message of Kingdom (God reigning now and to come) only works if God is truly present. When Jesus left he sent the Spirit to direct Kingdom affairs. It seems like many of us are trying to have the Kingdom without the Spirit. I'm not sure that is possible.

I could go up to 100 if I had time and thought you would keep reading. Like I said, it was a good exercise. I have read the Bible most every week of my life to prepare a lesson or for some sort of personal growth, but I have never powered through it like this. If I have inspired any of you to do the same, please share you thoughts as well.

Peace.