Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Call to Seek Understanding in 2010

I have been overwhelmed over the last few years by certain hateful outbursts from Christians - normally aimed toward other Christians. I had been toying with the idea of responding to all of my "hate mail" publicly in 2010 on this blog. I have decided not to, assuming it wouldn't really help what seems to be the primary problem with all of us - an instinct to react before trying to understand the position of the other person.

Today is my first day in the office since Christmas and I was greeted with a rather self-righteous letter regarding three words that were spoken during the Vineyard Christmas Show. In the letter I was told to "quit being so controversial." (You'd never guess the three offensive words, so don't even try - They weren't even said by me.) My response to that is that I have indeed quit trying to be controversial to the best of my ability and maturity. When I was younger I did things for the sake of controversy. Young people do that. They overreact. Now that I am less young, I do things for specific reasons. It seems to me a dialogue about the reasons why someone did something offensive to you would be more beneficial than shooting a stranger a letter, email, or far worse - a publicly viewed comment on a social media site. It is bad when Christians argue without seeking understanding in private. It is anti-missional and self-destructive when it happens in a public forum. We come off as arrogant and ignorant. And most people know enough about Jesus to know that we are being hypocritical when we do so.

A month back I was publicly criticized on Facebook for taking a vacation. The argument went that as a pastor I should not make enough money to take the sort of vacation I took. This may be a fair argument, but it is not fair to do it publicly. Had the person personally contacted me I would have offered my W-2 statements, receipts for my vacation expenses and the reasons why Debbie and I take a trip like this every five years without the kids. After seeing the numbers, that person could (still rather subjectively) decide if I am overpaid. If after that dialogue the person convinced me that I was in truth being overpaid as a pastor, I would take a pay cut. I have done this before for the sake of the mission of organizations I believe in. I'd do it again. Alas, none of this could be discussed because there was no attempt to understand. The reaction was to publicly malign.

I have advocated Facebook and Twitter for the church. They can be useful tools to promote community. Our problem comes when we begin to believe that the person we are relating with online is some avatar living within our computer. Life is not a game. People matter. Matthew 18 and Paul's one another commands apply on Facebook as much as in "real life."

I'm going to commit to seek to understand before seeking to be understood in 2010. I'd love for you to join me.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Virus

Since reading this passage in CS Lewis' Mere Christianity years ago I have annually been reminded of it on Christmas day. Christmas is the moment the earth was infected...

We are not begotten by God, we are only made by Him: in our natural state we are not sons of God, only (so to speak) statues. We have not got Zoe or spiritual life: only Bios or biological life which is presently going to run down and die. Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has-by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on War, Nation and Kingdom

I'm a member of a community of theologians and practitioners called The Ekklesia Project. Recently, I was asked to contribute an essay as a response to President Obama's Nobel speech. I don't naturally write about things that are "political" in the way we normally use the word in society. The following is my response to the practice of War. It is some new work combined with an edit of an older essay. This Advent we desire peace.

Thoughts on War, Nation and Kingdom:

Although I resonate with many of the tenants of pacifism, I am not a very good pacifist. I want to be, but if you try to hurt my wife or kids, odds are, I’ll slug you in the face. That’s all to say, I haven’t got all of this figured out.

When it comes to issues of war, nationalism and imperialism; I can afford to have stronger convictions in part because I am not in a position to act on them – as President Obama currently is. Here again is a transparent inconsistency in me. I want to live in a world where the church leads the way into peace, but I also stubbornly enjoy knowing that I live in a nation-state system that uses violence to regulate “peace” to my personal benefit. Like many, I have some mixed views on the subject. I could be a hypocrite. But hopefully I am just finding my way to a practical expression of my theological convictions.

My primary problem with war is that it is so powerful. (Here, of course, I paraphrase Yoder, Hauerwas and others.) War, we all say, is hell; but there is nothing better than War to draw people together for a common purpose. My issues, therefore, with War and nation-worship rest here. It is such a powerful thing that it becomes a shadow of what is real. War is the fuel that propels the false idol of nationalism.

War reminds us (as Americans) that we are part of a Kingdom – the Kingdom (reign) of what we commonly call freedom, democracy or justice. It also gives us a Mission – an enemy to eradicate and a higher purpose worth dying for. Lastly, War (I capitalize the word as if it were a person or a god purposely) births genuine community. We have only to think back to the days after 9-11 to remember how “close” we felt to each other as Americans. War brings us together. War protects us while giving us hope and security for our future. The only problem is, that’s God’s job.

War is the way nationalists worship.

The problem for Christians is that we have foundational beliefs associated with Kingdom, Mission and Community. The common gods of War and Nation shadow our beliefs so closely that we give ourselves over to them without a second thought. These issues of Kingdom, Mission and Community should matter tremendously to us. Our God, it would seem, is innately connected to these ideals:

KINGDOM:

God is Sovereign. The Creator, Sustainer, and Consummator of the universe. He alone deserves praise, worship and homage. He truly is King of all that was, is and will be.

As King, God has always desired a people to be his followers – or subjects. In this regard, God is truly "political" in the literal since of the word, but his "polis" surpasses the kingdoms of this world, which amount to nothing compared to his Kingdom. God elected Abraham and the nation of Israel to be his chosen people, but Israel could not be faithful to his covenant.

As the entire New Testament testifies, Jesus came to proclaim access to the Kingdom of God, fulfilling and completing the Law and the Prophets of the Jews. He was the one true Israelite. Jesus came, announcing the good news (gospel) that the Kingdom had broken into humanity in a new, fresh, and eschatologically significant way. As the Messiah/Christ (our political King) Jesus offered access into the Kingdom of God to all who would listen to his proclamation, repent and faithfully live under his political authority.

The reality of this new "Kingdom-among-us" radically transformed the lives of Jesus' closest friends and disciples. Since the death, burial and resurrection of Christ the reality and power of the Kingdom of God has been made available to all people who will continue to follow Christ as his early friends did. The Kingdom Jesus brought to us is better than the Kingdoms of the world. War distracts us from this reality.

MISSION:

God, by nature, is a missional being. He is a missionary God. Even within Himself, He is a sending God. (The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Spirit.) The people of God reflect his missional character by allowing themselves to be sent by Him, proclaiming life in the Kingdom and incarnating the love of God in their time and place. Disciples of Jesus follow Him as King and are sent by Him both as his ambassadors and soldiers to the world.

The people of God are called to live as resident aliens in a world that is not their own. Therefore, for every true follower of Christ, their world (their time, place and culture) is their battlefield – where the mission is accomplished. They are reclaiming the earth for their King. They are residents of the Kingdom of God-both the Kingdom of the here-and-now and the Kingdom that is to come. In this sense, Jesus disciples are by nature already armpit deep in world war. We cannot afford to be distracted by another.

COMMUNITY:

God is an eternal community of one-ness. Though He is Three, He is also One. God exists in everlasting love within his own being-Father, Son and Spirit. God created mankind to live in community with Himself. He desires a people. If you will, God is a nation-builder.

Men and women are created with an innate longing for community with God and with each other. However, the human race both originally and continually opts to sin against God. As human beings continue to prefer their own will to the will of God, true community with God and other people becomes impossible for fallen people. However, through Christ, God returned the gift of community to the human race.

Through the faithfulness of Christ, community occurs within the context of the Kingdom of God as followers of Jesus trust the Holy Spirit and love one another in response to first being loved by God.

When the Kingdom of God is proclaimed and received in a given locality, the Holy Spirit forms the people of God into a church. The local church functions as the people of God and as the embassy of the Kingdom of God in a given culture.

The Church is not the Kingdom of God. The Church submits to the Kingdom as its sign, foretaste and agent. The Church is a particularly eschatological phenomenon. This means that the church belongs to the last days (the "eschaton"). These last days came with the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ and will be completed upon his second coming to earth. The church exists in the interim days between the beginning and the end of the eschaton. The church is a pilgrim people on a voyage toward the ultimate and total reign of God as the true and only King.

The church is the sign of the Kingdom in that it is not the Kingdom, but it points people toward the rule of God. The church is the witness of the reality that the Kingdom of God is both already alive among us and will one day fully come. In this regard, the church exists to proclaim King Jesus and his Kingdom to the world.

The church is the foretaste of the Kingdom in that it contains the true people of God. Though the Kingdom has not come fully, it has come already. The rule and love of God may be felt and understood within the church in a real and dynamic way. Life in the church prepares us and fits us for life in the Kingdom.

The church exists as a community of Jesus followers. The community, however, is normally, if not always, counter-cultural to the dominant structures of the time and place where the church exists. The local church sees itself as the "polis" or city of God. Members of the church allow themselves to be led only by God (their true Lord), not by the epistemology, economy or politics of their culture.

More often than not, the politics of Jesus are different than the dominant worldview being lived out day to day by the people of any culture. As a general rule, when the church becomes too central or cozy with the powers that be, the church loses its marginality, its true power as the eschatological sign of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the church should normally have a marginal place in society. It creates its own cultural norms that are often counter to the norms of an anthropocentric worldview. The church strives to live true to the teachings of Jesus and to model his faithfulness to the world. If Jesus was marginalized, persecuted and hated (and he was), those who follow him should expect the same treatment.

Contrary to popular sentiment, the church grows in a more substantial way when it retains its position at the margins of society. The church historically weakens when it converts to a nation-state or a “secular” epistemology.

CONCLUSION:

These are my thoughts this Advent as I ponder the state of the world. I am not an academic or a politician. I have no real answers to how the church universal (or American) should react to the current Wars raging on the planet. I’m just a practitioner and pastor who desires to see Jesus conquer violence once and for all. I help lead a large evangelical mega-church in Ohio full of people whom I love and serve, but who mostly think differently than me on these points. My hope in posting this essay is only to contribute slightly to a discussion that may help me and others like me lead God’s people through a violent and deceptive world.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christmas Show

This year The Christmas Show at the Vineyard will unwrap the nativity story on stage and screen. Six characters in six different art forms and styles that will work together to give you a fresh perspective on the nativity story. A mix of humor, drama, dance, original music and perhaps a couple streamer-launching cannons. tix.vineyardcincinnati.com Check out the videos below...turns out the Nativity Wise Men are a little miffed they were overlooked in the casting process this year...















Thursday, December 10, 2009

Input.

Debbie and I had a great time in Cancun celebrating our 15th Anniversary (Officially it is New Years Eve.). Four nights/five days in a tropical paradise was great. I could have easily doubled that, but I am not about to complain. There is lots to do here over the next few weeks that I am very excited about. I'm speaking this weekend in the second week of the Advent 09 teaching series at The Vineyard. Then full steam ahead to The Christmas Show Dec 21, 22 and 23. It's a free ticketed event, so head on over and reserve your tickets now at this link.

The last year of my life has been full of output - writing my first book, directing/producing a feature film, several dozen teaching engagements, etc. It has been a fun and adventuresome year, but too much output can wear a person down - even a performer type. I read four books on my vacation. There was a time in my life when I was reading about three books per week. That was a high "input" season. I'm hoping next year is a better balance of input and output. Regardless, it was good to read on the beach for a few days.

I have to say that I picked exactly the right books for my vacation. I read a collection of short stories from my favorite sci-fi author, Philip K. Dick. I don't read a lot of fiction, so that was a nice change of pace. I'll tell you the other three books if you don't make fun of me for reading them on vacation - we all rest in different ways:

1. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
- Francis Collins is a Christian scientist who led the Human Genome Project. This book hugely strengthened my faith. I've said before that I struggle with doubt and I think most people just think it is me overstating some minor questions that I have, but it isn't. I'm a real-deal doubter sometimes. Most typical apologetic books don't speak my language, but I loved Collins. I recommend him unconditionally for anyone with a scientific mind struggling with the evidence for a Creator.

2. Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision - First an admission: I have tasted the N.T. Wright Kool-Aid and it is good. Wright is my favorite living theologian. I have a bit of a giddy schoolgirl crush on him. This book allowed me to step back and take a fresh look at Pauline theology. Most people aren't looking for that on vacation, but it is exactly what I needed. I'm going to re-read it soon, but I recommend it for any armchair theologian struggling with Kingdom or narrative theology.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success - Love me some Malcolm Gladwell. I've read all of his books and have enjoyed them. This one probably wasn't as mind-blowing as Blink or The Tipping Point, but I have found myself thinking about the stories in it through the day. I love Gladwell on his audio books. His voice is great.

Glad to be home. Time for some output now...off to start thinking about this weekend's message.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hello from Mexico.


Two seconds of wifi. FYI - the weather is nicer in Cancun than Ohio.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Doing Nothing is Hard.

I think Holidays are exceptionally hard to handle for driven people. Mandatory world-wide down time is frustrating to people addicted to action and interaction. (It's the kind of thing that could make the world's greatest golfer freak out at two in the morning.) I put myself in the category of those addicted to action. Unplugging from the internet for about 36 hours over Thanksgiving was kind of hard for me. I had a few emails come in from some very driven, very successful people in my life on Thanksgiving night. Didn't surprise me at all. When I was primarily a professional actor I would always send a "year in review" update to all of my professional contacts the day after Thanksgiving. It gave me something to do. Hollywood more or less shuts down between Thanksgiving and New Years. It was always maddening to go from auditioning one or two times per day to about once per week. It was depressing.

These days my professional life is more or less defined, but I have felt those manic urges that always flood my mind after a day or two of "rest" - the compulsion to start writing a new book or to edit an old screenplay or to sign up for some obscure art appreciation class at the community college. I've heard that the ancients didn't have a word for boredom. I don't know if that is true or not...but it seems the more people have to do the more capacity we have to become bored.

My summer vacation this year was more working fun than resting downtime. Since then I haven't stopped. I don't feel physically exhausted. I've had days to rest and relax. I just feel like I am on one of those remote control race car tracks that goes in circles at high speeds and never ends. Here's a helpful hint that I have learned - the harder you run, the harder it is to stop. The first few days of trying to "rest" tend to be very frustrating. It's hard to detox from doing. At a similar time in my life years ago, I went on a spiritual retreat - 3 days of silence and solitude in a beautiful monastery in San Jose. I slept 20 of the first 24 hours. That should tell you something.

Debbie and I are heading to Cancun next week for five days to celebrate 15 years of wedded bliss. It is not our normal sort of vacation - we tend to like cities, musicals, movies and urban action. Our tenth year anniversary trip was to San Francisco. That's more us, really. But I think this is what we need - a self-imposed lock down in an all-you-can-eat-and-drink tropical resort sounds about right for 15 years of marriage. I have a hunch the first day of doing nothing may be harder than I expect...but I fully intend to get used to doing nothing before coming back to face winter number three in the Great Midwest.

“Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.” -Winnie the Pooh

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Ethics of Elfland


This morning I re-read "The Ethics of Elfland," the fourth chapter of G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. Chesterton is hard for many people to digest, but understanding him changed my life. Here's a quote that jumped out at me today:

In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.

I dare you to read the whole chapter by clicking here. Double-dog dare you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Classic Improv Moment

My friend Fuller made me think of this scene from On the Waterfront today. Once Eva Marie Saint drops her glove, the scene is improvised. The actors momentarily lost their place and direction, but the director didn't cut. I think Brando's "crickets make me nervous" line is one of the greatest in the history of improv. Just wanted to share it today:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Q City Players - 2 New Shows


Get your improv on:

* Friday, November 20th 9pm at Taza Coffeehouse
Tix are $5
2900 Jefferson Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45219
www.taza.cc

* Sunday, November 22nd at Flavors Eatery
8374 Princeton Glendale Rd West Chester, Ohio 45069
2 Shows: 5pm and 7pm
Tix are $15, which include dinner, drink and show
-Limited Seating. Must call to reserve a seat at (513) 860-9550

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Between Two Kingdoms

My book - Between Two Kingdoms- is now available for pre-order on Amazon, though it won't be coming out until March/April. If you'd like to pre-order your copy you can click on the link below. If you never ever buy one, we can still be friends - just to let you know. I always feel a little funny about marketing my stuff, but lots of you have been asking about it. I wanted to let you know it is available.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Remembering Charlie this week

Here are the details:

Visitation:

Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 4pm to 8pm
E.C. Nurre Funeral Home (Amelia)
177 W. Main Street
Amelia, OH 45102
513.753.6130

If you have a favorite picture of Charlie you would be willing to share with his wife and family, please bring it to the visitation and help us create a photo collage of the people, places, and activities that he loved.

Funeral:

Vineyard Community Church in Springdale
Thursday, Nov. 5th at 10:00 a.m. in the main Auditorium

A note from Dana Cochran: Some of you have been asking if you can bring food, etc. At this time they have plenty of food scheduled for Angie and the kids. If you would like to contribute in other ways, gift cards would be great. (dining, groceries, etc.) You can bring them to the Vineyard Resource Center (offices) and leave them at the receptionist desk. We will also have a basket on Thursday at the South Lobby Info Desk. We will make sure that Angie receives them. In lieu of flowers, Angie has asked that contributions be sent to the Mason Vineyard where Charlie poured his heart into the last 6 months. Mason Vineyard’s address is 808 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hitting the Nuts Trailer

Some of us could use a little funny about now anyway...

Words from Henri Nouwen

As I look for words to respond to members of my community over the sudden and early loss of one of our friends, I have found myself turning back to a mentor of mine. Nobody I have read faced death as honestly as Nouwen. He took the time as he was dying to write for those of us he knew would face our own death and the deaths of those we love. I have few answers, but Nouwen helps me process:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who care

Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

Every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Charlie Matthews

We lost Charlie this morning. Here is a note from his wife, Angie:

Charlie passed away peacefully this morning with family and close friends by his side. His 37 years were packed with so much life and joy. In the coming days we will be sure to post information about services and funeral arrangements. It would mean so much to mean for all of you to be there to remember him.
Thanks for your support through this. He fought a good fight.

With love,
Angie


Charlie loved God and the church. He worked hard at everything he did including this fight in the hospital. All we can do know for Angie and the kids is pray. I will keep you posted here with ways to reach out once I know more.

And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me... Philippians 1

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jeremy.

Over a decade ago I met the electrician of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. We went on a wild kingdom-seeking ride together that nearly cost us both our sanity. I think we'd both say it was worth it. Jeremy spoke at my home church in Las Vegas for a few minutes recently. Nobody talks about Jesus exactly the same way Jeremy does. I'm proud of him.

Monday, October 19, 2009

the jesus underground: church

(That's my buddy Jim Zartman's voice you hear in the video below...feel free to pause it. I won't tell him.)

This weekend I spoke from Acts 2:42-47. I'd say that no other section of the BIble has messed with me more than this one. The picture painted of the early church in action is mesmerizing in its simplicity. Strangers from every nation suddenly thrown together radically sharing all they have within the reality of a supernatural visitation from God himself. Who wouldn't want that? To know that there is a God and that He is present. To be fully accepted and valued within a generous family. To see others join the community everyday as Jesus draws them in. To me...that's the Kingdom come. To me...that's church. Or at least what church can be or will be.

This understanding led me to reject the "organizational church" for about half a decade of my life. On my most frustrated days, I was overstated - condemning those who do the sorts of things I do now - things like taking a paycheck from a "church" or encouraging what I called "program centered ministry." On my better days, I was rather level headed about it all. I knew that I did not have to be part of a 501(c)3 organization to be the church. It was ok for others, but I was done with it all.

Overtime I became more comfortable being around organized Christianity again. Today I'm part of the system. When I came back to vocational ministry, those who thought I "went off the deep end" sent me notes saying that they had been praying that "I would return to church." It was OK that they didn't get it...

Today my more staunch anti-institutionalist friends likely see me as a bit of a sellout. I can understand that. We were on a crusade to prove it could work without all the fringe stuff - we'd wax poetic about churches without buildings, budgets and big shots. I still respect them. I still hope what they are doing works. And whether they see it my way or not...I still think I'm one of them.

In my early twenties I began to see myself as a missionary called to North America. Since then I have, for the most part, lived up to that calling. It was primarily missional thinking that brought me to reject the way I had always thought of church. I simply didn't believe that the institutional church was on track to see a redeemed North America. Somebody had to try something else. It was my missiology (in conjunction with some burnout and restlessness) that fueled my second career as an actor. And it was another missional conviction (in conjunction with some unexplainable Holy Spirit stuff) that brought us back to Cincinnati.

My life vision is to see a church (defined as one of God's new families on a mission) within walking distance of every person in North America. A big organization like The Vineyard can encourage that in significant ways. I've thrown my whole heart into the mission of the Vineyard so easily because it fits perfectly into my personal vision and mission. Personally, I'm not all that into the idea of big churches unless they can produce small ones on a daily basis. And call them what you want - small groups, house churches, church cells, ministry teams...I don't care what you call them. I call them churches. And I want to see one in every neighborhood in Cincinnati as soon as possible.

When it starts to really happen it will be too messy for any organization to control it anyway. That's how we'll know it is from God.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Charlie Matthews Update #2

Sean Michael and I just returned from visiting Charlie and Angie at the hospital. Angie was overwhelmed, but in good spirits. Charlie's vitals were not stable this morning, but they have now regulated. He is sedated and may be for a long while. As we were leaving they were putting Charlie in a special bed that would rotate him and help his lungs to heal. It looked like something from the NASA Apollo program.

Here's a more official statement:

Charlie is now stabilized, and the pulmonologist believes that “he will continue to improve at this time, but not sure how fast that will happen”. They believe that the aggressive treatment they have him on will continue to add to his stability. He is currently being sedated so that he can heal and rest.

Mason Vineyard has set up a webpage to give daily updates. Those of you interested can sign in and get daily info there. http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/charliematthews

Urgent Prayer Request


Please pray for our friend Charlie Matthews. Here's a short update from Dave Workman from a few minutes ago:

I have a critical need for your prayers immediately. The pastor of our Mason churchplant, Charlie Matthews, began feeling flu-like symptoms last week. I spoke for him this past weekend at his church, but a couple of days later he went into the hospital with double-pneumonia. Yesterday they put him on a ventilator and suddenly this morning he “coded”, was revived, and now on life-support. Please pray for him; the Mason church just had their new “re-launch” in a new building, with Charlie as their new pastor. Please pray for his wife Angie and their two young children.

Thanks,
Dave Workman

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Explaining the Innate?

I periodically face a struggle. Several times each year I am asked to teach a class, write an article or simply talk about the art of storytelling. I've even had some limited interest from some folks who want me write a book on the topic. I'd love to do that. Here's the rub: I don't really know much about how I actually tell stories. I've read a few books, but they didn't really help me much. I have never taken a class on storytelling. Everything I do or know is completely innate. The one exception might be my improv and acting training which bleeds through at some level.

I wonder if anyone out there has made this jump. I think about artists or musicians who become teachers of art and music. How did you do that? My storytelling process begins and ends with staring at a wall for an hour, then telling a story. In some ways it feels like trying to teach someone to be 6'2 with brown hair and a hot wife. It's just who I am...not what I purposely decided to become.

Any advice? How do you teach people to do something you don't know how you do yourself? Or maybe, how do you learn how you do something that nobody ever taught you to do?

If you help me, I'll dedicate the book to you :)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Prom Press

A fun piece from a local news station about the Vineyard Prom this past weekend:



And also from channel 9:

Monday, September 28, 2009

We aren't who we were...

This weekend at The Vineyard we talked about the reality that your story is unfinished. You don't have to settle for who you are now if you don't want to. 80-90 people publicly decided for the first time to trust Jesus to change their story. It was a good weekend.

I read a few responses in my message this weekend from a question I asked on twitter/facebook this past Friday. I've compiled the entire list to share with you here. It's amazing to see what we once were compared to what we are now. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below:

Steve – I was once broken but now I am whole.

Stephanie – I was once bound, but now I am free.

Harmony – I was once forgotten, but now I am cherished.

Cindy – I was once in darknes, but now I am in the light.

Trevor – I was once bound by the delusion of worldly grandeur, but now I am working for crowns that do not decay.

Barbara – I was once hell bound, but now I am heaven bound.

Sarah – I was once self-centered, but now I am a servant leader.

Adam – I was once lost, having no hope, but now I am a pastor, living my life to serve and obey his will for me.

Chris – I was once lost, but now I am lost with a light to follow.

Cris – I was once sick, but now I’m healed.

Mary – I was once lost, but now I’m found.

Allison – I was once a mess, but now I am less of a mess.

Martin – I was once on autopilot, but now I am on manuel guide.

Karla – I was once religious, but now I am in a relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Vellanee – I was once hopeless about my future, but now I know the promises God made for my prosperity shall be kept.

Christine – I once found my identity through what others thought of me, but now my identity comes from what God thinks of me.

Laura – I was once wondering if God was listening, but now I am seeing his hand at work all along.

Rich - I once was skinny, insecure, introvert, lustful, given to much beer, angry, resentful, envious, teary, sorry for myself, short sighted (metaphorically), materialistic, possessive, easily offended, and vain, but now I am buff, confident, extrovert, sexually mature, two beer an evening for the health of it, peaceful, respectful, contented, full of laughter, compassionate, eternally focused, relational, generous, teflon, and...still vain (wardrobe and aussie assome volume styling mousse).

Tracey – I was once hopeless, but now I am excited to see what God has next for me.

Carla – I was once indifferent to God and his word, but now I am learning the truth.

MaryKay – I was once “religious” but now I am cultivating a relationship with God.

Leslye – I was once empty and full of hurt on the inside, nothing filled the hole in my heart, God’s spirit and love has filled that once empty hurting heart with peace and contentment and care for others.

Kris – I was one a mound of dirt and now I am a flower.

Laurel – I was once unaware but now I am conscious.

Dan – I was once alone in my inner world, but now I have opened that world to trusted friends.

Tina – I once drifted, but now I am directed.

Amy – I was once dead, but now I am alive.

Cindy – I was once enslaved, but now I am empowered.

Janett - :/ but now :D

Heather – I was once miserable and unhappy with lots of things in my life, but now I am at peace and thankful for everything I have been given.

Kristina – I was once prone to sadness, but now I am prone to joy.

Sawajayne (twitter)– I was once navigating by an old worn out map, but now I’m rolling with GPS.

Vegas710 (twitter) – I was once suspicious, but now I am trusting.

Karlalovesjody (twitter) – I once believed in making my own way, but now I know God will guide me – I only have to listen.

Pomorev (twitter) – I once was aspirationless, but now I am full of purpose.

Kande – I once was restless, but now I’m at peace.

Cindy – I once was hopeless, but now I have hope and someone in my corner.

Annie – I was once defined by my past, but now I am defined by my King.

Stew – I was once cynical, but now I am hopeful.

Jeff – I was once lost, but now I’m found.

Daniel – I was once religious, but now I am His.

Dave – I was once a screwed up mess, but now I am a screwed up mess with hope.

Barbara – I was once disoriented, listening to mu doubts and fears, but now I am focused, listening to God’s directions.

Laurel – I was once doing, but now I am being.

Kathi – I was once so far gone I didn’t believe I needed to exist, but now I am serving a faithful and mighty God.

Angie – I was once driven by fear, anger and control, but now I am set free.

Rita – I was once darkness, but now I am light.

Andrea – I was once all about hearing myself talk, but now I am a reflective listener.

Anna – I was once looking for love from men but now I am fully complete in God’s love and married to a man who loves God as much as I do.

Jon – I was once a talk-the-talker, but now I am a walk-the-walker.

Erina – I was once lost, but now I am faithful in heart.

Peggy - I was once in total denial; thinking that all the bad things that happened was because I was just not good enough - not worthy enough, but now I'm living in the light of God's presence. Knowing that whatever this world sends my way that the awesome Creator of the universe can and will use it for good.

Lisa – I was once alone and in need of no one but now I am never alone and forever in need of a Savior.

Dave – I was once blind but now I see.

Pamela – I was once beat up physically, mentally, spiritually but now I am restored, healed and full of joy.

Emily - I once was trying to live my life by my plans...now I try to let my life be according to his plans. I once was in the darkest of despair but now I am with his help becoming more & more ok with the crazy way he takes hurt to make me a better person.

Tiffany – I was lost but now I am saved.

Robb – I was once broken, but now I am healed.

Jim – I was once trying to be in control of my life, but now I am letting God take control a little more each day…it’s a work in progress.

Cheryl – I was once full of myself, but now I’m full of the Spirt.

Steve - I was once an idiot who thought that women were a means to an end, or a peripheral distraction to some ethereal or lofty pursuit. But now I am married to a lady (in every sense of the term), and I'm growing in Grace...the Grace of God...and of my wife...and I'm grateful for both, knowing that He's the Author (and Finisher) of such...

Angie – I was once angry and bitter, but now I am happy and blessed.

Mo – I was once scratching to stop from slipping into a bottomless pit but now I am dancing in the field of freedom.

Lauren – I was once lost, but now I am home.

Laura – I was once filled with fear and control, but now I am at peace and free.

Monique – I was once an adulteress, but now God has given me a second chance at a second marriage where I am faithful.

Dawn – I was once hiding and filled with hurt. Now I’m happy and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Monique – I was once in the dark held captive in bondage, but now I’m free – the chains are gone.

Michelle – I was once afraid to die, but now I am afraid not to.

Lee – I was once trashed but now I am treasured.

Timothy - I once was the isolated kid sitting in the corner to myself, watching and wishing that the others would like me. Trying hard to fit in to the same story that everyone else was in, but now I thanks to God I challenge people to be different, because one man died on the cross to show me it is okay to be different.

Ryan – I was once a douche, but now I am the obvious created image of God.

Christine – I was once full of discontent, but now I am satisfied

Mark – I was once a pothead, but now I am drug free.

Kimberly – I was once insecure, but now I am known.

Dan – I was once arrogant and prideful, but now I am super humble. Oops.

Sharon – I was once motivated by fear, but now I am motivated by love.

Matthew – I was once a child of divorce, but now I am a dad who gets to model commitment to my girls.

Jeff – I was once unloved, but now I am loved.

Leslie – I was once merely existing, but now I am truly living.

Maggie – I was once made fun of for my dyslexia, but now I am perfect in God’s eyes.

Mike – I was once perfect (or so I thought) but now I am aware of my brokenness and hopeful that God will use that.

Roger – I was once untrustworthy, but now I am hopelessly in love with one woman.

Tahnee – I was once full of rage, but now I am forgiving.

Debbie – I once wanted to die, but now I surrendered to God and he saved me.

Kathy – I was once afraid of God, but now I know he loves me.

Tom – I was once scared of the future, but now I know he loves me.

Andrew – I was once bored, but now I have something that excites me and fascinates me.

Cris – I was once a nagging bitch, but now I am a loving wife.

Vanessa – I was once a whore, but now I am a pure spotless bride.

Jonathan – I was once a fake – a real hypocrite, but now I know God has loved me in spite of me.

Jerry – I was once a pretty good guy, never really feeling a need for anyone to save me. But now I am aware of how holy God is and how unworthy I am to be in his Presence. I’m thankful that I’m riding on Jesus’ coattails to heaven.

Sybil -I was once hopeless, plagued with depression, social phobia and anxiety, surrounded by broken and dysfunctional relationships, dying; wanting to die daily, seeking help and insight from every corner of the world, looking for validation; only to find emptiness, discomfort and judgment because my mind, my body and my spirit were unhealthy and kept me in a cesspool of despair without much vision for anything else. BUT NOW I AM now a child of God and in love with life, free from death, at peace and full of hope; with so many dreams and goals that my days aren't long enough! I'm able to see bits of Heaven on Earth and God's love in others who come when I need them most. I wouldn't want to mislead anyone- renewal wasn't a quick overnight success for me. However, it has been the most amazing journey!

Anonymous – I was once suicidal, but now I am excited to have eternal life.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (The Message Version)

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Prom is next friday!

Last year it was amazing. This year it will be too. You don't want to miss it. More info here: Vineyard Prom

Or this video pretty much says it all:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gen. 28: A re-imagining.

For a moment he thought he was in his bed. Then he remembered. The morning sun, already scorching his eye lids, reminded him where he was. When he opened them, all he could see was blue.

The sky in the desert can tease a man. It seems so beautiful and harmless. But Jake had friends who never returned from a journey like this one. He knew the dangers that waited for a lonely traveler this far from home. But for him, the dangers in the wilderness were tame compared to what...or more accurately...who he was running from.

He rose to his feet and scratched his neck. He wasn't used to not shaving in the morning. He hated the stubble. It reminded him of his brother.

He slung his leather satchel over his shoulder. In doing so he noticed the stone on the ground. He stared it down as if it were a coiled viper.

Wait a second? No, it couldn't be. Maybe...it was...

His hands trembled. He slowly lowered his satchel to the desert floor, eyes still glued to the simple stone that had doubled as his pillow throughout the night.

Jake wasn't the type to believe in the supernatural. His mother had taught him that what is real is real. No need for soothsaying or fairy tales or magic tricks. His father was into all that. So was his grandfather. But he was the grounded one. He was his mother's son - the rational one. He was fleeing the ancient myths of his father. But now the myths were stalking him in his sleep.

He gulped as he eyed that stone.

"OK," he said to the empty morning sky. "If that was real. If last night really happened, then...prove it. Give me food for my journey...and clothes to wear. Give me success and money and a family. Give me everything I deserve...then I'll come back here and find this stone. And then...and only then...I'll believe in you. Hell, I'll even come back here one day and build you house if that will make you happy." Disgusted, he looked toward the sunrise. "Then you won't have to live out in the desert and torment people when they come through..."

Throwing his bag over his shoulder, he turned eastward toward his uncle's estate. If it were possible, it was even hotter than the day before. He shot one last glance over his shoulder at the stationary rock. Then he mumbled as he walked away, "stupid dreams..."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Performers Beware


At some level we are all performers. We play for the audience in front of us - our boss or family or friends. We all tend to think about other people's perception a little more than we should. Life is a tricky balance of performing (doing) and not performing (being).

Some of us, whether through DNA or early childhood development, are hardwired to be performers. We gravitate to the stage or screen. We instinctively know that getting a "B" isn't really an option when an "A" is on the table. We obsess on finding those things that we do well...and when we find them, we do them over and over, striving to do them better each time. Without performers the world would be a rather boring place. In America we tend to elevate the stories of high performers, especially those who seem to come out of nowhere. We love telling that story. Perhaps too much.

It creates a tension in the heart and soul of a performer personality. No doubt I am one. Most everything I do has a performance element to it. I teach lots of people on the weekends at my church. Some of those people tend to comment on my "performance" one way or another after my teaching. In a split second, any teacher can lose sight that his job is first and foremost to introduce ideas to his students that have the power to adjust the trajectory of their lives. The teacher's job is not necessarily to perform for their students. It's easy to forget that. In my spare time I write books, make movies, act and do improv. Those are all high performance activities. They all actually require an audience to "work." To me, this is proof that I am one of those hardwired performers. When a person rests from a performance centered vocation by performing in other ways that's kind of dead giveaway.

It's easy to judge a performer personality as self-absorbed. I suppose most of us are at some level. But, who isn't really? The reality is, most of my high performing friends actually drift more toward self-hatred than self-love. We seem to be trying to out perform or innate ugliness and perceived worthlessness. It's generally not very pretty when you get too close to a hardcore performer. Most of us perform from our deepest pain. Some of the greatest actors, comedians and improvisers I have worked with are incredibly self-conscious and needy. Most are completely unaware of their own greatness at their craft. Some even pretend to be great as a way to cope, but in a vulnerable moment they will admit a desperate loneliness.

All of this is coming from my return to VCC this weekend. I desperately wanted to return "to the stage" and perform well. Honestly, not for me or my ego, but for my church. I wanted to do my part - to use my gift - to help people experience the only one who looks past our performances to see our true being. For those of you who don't know, when I teach I do it four times over a weekend: one on Saturday and three on Sunday. I wasn't particularly pleased with my message Saturday night. Sometimes it just doesn't feel right. I put several more hours into it and showed up Sunday morning with what I felt was a better version. As I was walking into the building Sunday morning, a friend of mine told me that what I had said Saturday night "changed his life" and "was by far my best teaching ever." I wanted to argue with him, but he seemed genuine. (To my credit, a few others whom I trust admitted it needed a little work, so I don't think it was just me being too hard on myself.) All to say, maybe in God's economy it is a lot more about showing up and doing your best in the moment. He has a way of working through an "average performance." Odds are He sometimes prefers it.

But I wanted to redeem myself with my three more chances to perform on Sunday. Then at the 9:00 a.m. Celebration my microphone didn't work for the first five minutes of my talk. With our new time structure, a five minute delay meant cutting 20% of my message on the fly. So again, at 9:00 I was scrambling to deliver the reworked message with even less time. At the 10:15 Celebration I nearly fainted during my introduction for some unknown reason and had to sit down on a stool to regain my balance. I think I played it rather cool, but it got into my head for a few minutes. At the last Celebration (11:45) I was ready to finally "do it right" Unfortunately, there was an up and coming performer in the crowd - a toddler determined to prove that you don't need a microphone after all to get the attention of a few thousand people. I never know what to do in those circumstances. I tried to speak over him, then I tried to wait him out, but he had a good fifteen minutes of intense vocality in him. That kid is gonna be a star. I think he won the battle Sunday morning. I should have asked the family to step out...but trust me, theologically speaking, that totally sucks to do.

I left the whole weekend experience feeling a lot like my beagle after he pees on the carpet. Rather embarrassed in a confused kind of way. I think I did my best...but a true performer will never admit to that. We are the first to see what we could have done better: a few more hours of prep, testing a microphone before turning it on, using the kid-screaming-teaching-moment to say how great our children's classes are, etc. Maybe even a little more protein in my breakfast would have fought off an unexpected bout with vertigo. I could have done better. We can always say that. That's the worst part of being a performer. We think our performance matters a lot when sometimes it only matters a little.

Then the e-mails started flooding in this week. Countless people saying that this was their first weekend at church in years. All of them saying they will be back. Most of them saying they cried their way through the Celebration because they felt so close to God. I wanted to tell them that I wanted to cry too...but it was for different reasons.

And so, the mantra that my mentor Dave taught me rings loudly in my ears today: "Get over yourself." Maybe that truth is even more central for us performers. God made us this way. He gets it. He's a good dad. He loves me just as much when I am sitting on my couch doing nothing as he does when I'm receiving the accolades of some crowd somewhere. I love my kids just as much, maybe more, when we are having dinner or driving in a car than when they hit a home run or bring home a nice piece of artwork from school. I love them, not what they do. I love them because they are mine. You'd think I'd understand by now that God (and in theory God's people) love me that same way.

It is a tricky balance for us all. What you do is not who you are. But what you do also matters. So do it well...but performing never trumps belonging. Ever. So, get over yourself performers and let yourself be loved this week. It's the only antidote for your unspoken pain.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Amazing (unfinished) Stories!

When I was a kid, I was into comic books. To be completely honest, I was more into the idea of striking it rich by getting in on the ground floor of some comic that would be worth millions one day. I had an Alex P. Keaton stage circa 5th grade when I was fascinated by capitalism. It still rears its ugly head now and again.

But beyond any 10-year-old investment strategies, I grew to like the stories in the comics themselves. I was a product of my generation. I loved G.I. Joe and Transformers. (No comment here about the current movies...must press forward...) Reading comics made one slightly superior to the kids who only watched the TV shows. "The comics are real," we would tell our TV-watching friends. If Destro dies in the comics, he's dead no matter how many times he parachutes out of his helicopter in the cartoons. The comics had ongoing story lines that seemed to stretch forward from week to week. I can clearly remember buying GI Joe #27 as a two-parter dealing with the previously untold origin and relationship between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. Stop me if I get too geeky. Too late...



The point is that I had to wait one month to see how the story would end. But eventually, the story finished. All stories do. Even yours. Your story is a comic book with only so many pages. Maybe 20 or 30 or 100. But someday my and your story will end. At least the part of our story on this side of death will end. Your story isn't finished yet.

This weekend at VCC we launch into a new series called Amazing (unfinished) Stories. We are gonna tap into our inner comic book geek for four weeks while also exploring what I believe is the deepest desire buried in the human soul - the desire to live a life that matters...to live within a story will ends well.

Jesus knows a thing or two about ending a story with a bang. He more or less invented the surprise ending. So join us this weekend...and bring a friend. It's never too late to change your story.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Am I Feeling? Glad you asked...

I arrived home a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning knowing that Hitting the Nuts was in the can. I have two hard drives each containing 20-30 hours of raw footage that will become a 90 minute movie. I head back to work at VCC on Wednesday thanks to Dave forcing me to take an extra day off on Tuesday before returning. The hours until then will be the creative equivalent of a decompression chamber. I'd hate to get the bends.

The last three weeks clipped along faster than any other time in my life. Six day work weeks ranging from 12-18 hour working days morphed into one marathonic (yeah, just made that word up) adventure. The last thing I remember it was August 8th. Now it's nearly September.

People are asking how I feel. And I suppose that this post is in part an answer to that question.

I'd love to start with happy or excited, but I mainly feel tired. I've slept a lot over the last 36 hours and plan on more of the same in the days to come. The next feeling to register is relief. That may also seem a little odd. Perhaps it is a personality trait more than anything else, but I feel like four years of internal and external pressure has lifted. I feel somehow lighter and younger. The project is not completed, but now I know it will be. I hated having to answer for why it took so long to begin shooting to all those who would ask me over the years. It was a complicated story that I never enjoyed retelling.

Moving past exhaustion and relief I find a spirit of gratitude in my heart. I wrote in my previous post about the gratitude I have for my cast and crew, but there is also a huge feeling of gratitude directed toward God, my wife, friends, and church. I feel "lucky" if that is the right word, to have had their blessing to pursue this endeavor. Even if I never have the opportunity again, I have now done what lots of other people desperately want to do. I wrote, directed and produced a feature film. It is a blessing to be able to say that. I'm grateful for my own path and story that allows a pastor to make a mainstream comedy movie. I'm a man of complicated, some might say competing, desires and abilities. To see several realized at once is a great blessing.

Pressing even more inwardly, I realize that I feel a communion with God that I did not expect. Our film set, in my opinion, was a spiritual place. Heaven met earth time and time again. I heard the same speech from virtually everyone who came into town to make the movie. It went something like this: "I've never been on a set where people got along this well and supported each other and seemed to genuinely love each other. It was unlike anything else I have ever done." I heard that no less than ten times. Like I said earlier this month in this blog, this movie isn't a "Christian" movie. It's a regular old PG-13 American comedy. But when Kingdom people gather, heaven happens. It oozes even on those who have no words to describe it. The Kingdom came this month in Cincinnati.

I personally saw a glimpse of the afterlife on set. I don't want to freak anyone out by getting in too deeply here, but I had a faith breakthrough. For three weeks every time I turned around I saw the eyes of someone I loved. And I saw them loving one another. Because I was the one who pulled them together it was as if my personal story came to life in front of my eyes. It felt like eternity. So many friends from so many seasons of my life in one time and place. My wife and kids, my parents, Deb's family, my old friends Jim Nyberg and Jeremiah Smith from Las Vegas, improv playmates, friends from LA and Orange County and New York and Columbus and on and on...and all of them wrapped up in a blanket of the true community that I have been engrafted into over the last two years at VCC. Add in the countless faces I did not recognize a month ago who are now genuine friends and I nearly overdosed on love. It is impossible to explain with words. I only hope that each of you can find some excuse to get all of you friends in the same zip code for three weeks. It's life altering.

The entire process did leave me with a touch of sadness. So many people I love got on an airplane and left me. Who knows, really, if I will see them much more in this life. I have nearly dismissed the afterlife theologically speaking for the past decade. Not that I didn't believe in it, just that i didn't see the big deal. I have always felt like we Christians tend to overlook the present availability of heaven while focusing on the heaven to follow death. (I still think this is a big mistake on our part.) But this movie - an otherwise pointless poker comedy - taught me that the afterlife matters. I have tasted what it could be like and it is good. Relationship is eternal.

P.S. - if you are a distributor stumbling upon my blog, by "otherwise pointless poker comedy" I mean the funniest and most marketable indie comedy to be released in 2010. Call me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gratitude

I must say "thank you" 1,000 times a day during the shoot. The last four days of the Hitting the Nuts shoot have been especially difficult. We found a great location for our poker scenes...the only problem was the lack of air conditioning. Despite our best efforts of bringing in AC units and fans, the temperature averaged 85 degrees during the shoot. To make matters worse we lost power for a while yesterday and had a few extra technical difficulties resulting in a 16-hour day. I had told everyone at the beginning to expect 12 hour days...12 hours is hard. 16 is brutal. Especially in the heat.

As I watched my cast and crew (my friends) sweat and work for my project yesterday I grew more and more grateful for them. Not just grateful that they would continue working, but deeply thankful for their dedication to me and the common goal. I kept walking from person to person thanking them. I didn't know what else to do. Many of them thanked me in return. It was an exercise in humility for me. What have I done to deserve such an amazing network of friends? Who am I to be served in this way?

Being a director and producer on a bigger project can easily go to your head. People are constantly doing nice things for me on set. Positional leadership is a rather odd thing. I don't like it much. It feels undeserved. I'm trying my best to lead everyone on the team as I would want to be lead. It's a massive task, but I think yesterday showed me some of the dividends.

We have one more full week of shooting. That sounds like a lot and not much at all. I will be very happy and sad when it is all over.

P.S. Listen to my NPR radio interview about Nuts by clicking here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Production Stills from HTN

Five of Five Hundred photos from the first four days of shooting...







Lots more photos on the official HTN fansite on facebook: Click Here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

CIncinnati Enquirer Article

John Johnston did a nice piece on HItting the Nuts for paper this morning to coincide with day one of the shoot. Check it out here.

First call is noon today in Sharonville.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's not (all) about making a movie


This is it. I'm officially on vacation from The Vineyard and all about making Hitting the Nuts for the next 22 days or so. We start shooting Monday, but there's still a ton to do before then.

People have more or less been asking me why I am doing this. Why spend your summer vacation making a movie? There are lots of answers to that, but I figured I'd let you know some of the biggies:

1. Stories (and storytelling) matter. Ultimately telling stories change people in a myriad of ways. Not all stories that are told have to have a world changing agenda. Just the act of telling a story changes people. Stories make us think. I get to tell stories in many different ways - I'm a teacher and a writer. Making a movie is just anther way to tell a story. I think it may also be the most communal and collaborative form of storytelling in human history.

2. This movie is funny. A huge part of my background is rooted in improvisational comedy. I have blogged about this many times before. Improv gave me some hooks to hang onto at a time in my life when I was desperate for real joy. Improv taught me to play like a kid again...and now I get to make an improv movie and play with my friends for three weeks. In that respect this is my version of the Harley trip across the country or the golf vacation to St. Andrews or visiting every major league ballpark in three weeks. It's what I love to do...this is the dream vacation.

3. It is a matter of personal integrity. I wrote this script four years ago, stood up in a few investor meetings and told my early investors that I would make them a good movie. Many people both believed in me and believed me when I told them that. They expected a movie. It took a few years longer than I wanted, but now I get to deliver on those promises I made. I could have easily told them that it just didn't work out. Sometimes I wanted to give up. But that is not who I am. To be true to me, I had to finish this thing. And so there's that part.

4. It's a faith thing. This might be the hardest reason for some people to figure out. How does a mainstream PG-13ish poker-related comedy relate to my faith? It's not a Christian movie. It's just a movie movie. Well, that's exactly how it relates to my faith. One of the most frustrating things to me is when Christians only do "Christian" (read "nice, safe or ultra-moralistic") things. That attitude, in my opinion, is quite antithetical to the radical example of Jesus and his earliest followers. If we are really the ones holding the keys of redemption to the world we ought to be living in the real world - making real art, starting real businesses, working along side real people. We ought to find ways to create beauty (or comedy) as a witness to the Creator. If the economy turns south, we ought to find ways to provide real work for people in the real world. These should be the things that we are known for. I'm not against Christian themed movies. My next project after this one is more or less that. But I am also for Christians doing art and business that is simply good art and good business.

Those are the biggies...but there is one more unexpected side effect to all of this movie making madness. I didn't see it coming, but I would add it as #5:

5. Collaborating with others in the city. Most people in my life on a daily basis are part of VCC, my church. I have met more non-VCC people in the last two weeks in Cincinnati than in the entire two years I have lived here. Some of them are becoming friends. Just finding locations has allowed me to become friends with JC and Lynwood Battle. They have an amazingly progressive funeral home in Avondale called JC Battle and Sons. The stuff they do is amazing. They have a dream for their community to change and for people to see their business as a place to belong. Then there is Glenn from Phat Man's Dairy Bar on Route 4 near By-pass 4. He's a good guy who is gonna let us film there one day. Same with Bill over at the Athenian diner on Reading Road in Sharonville. He's so excited to open up his place. I could go on and on...I feel like I have the city covered now. If I am in Milford or Cleves or Western Hills or Hamilton I have friends I can drop in on. This whole project in some strange way is making me feel like a real Cincinnatian for the first time.

And I haven't talked about the amazing Amish family near Friendship, Indiana who opened up their home to us yesterday. They gave us fresh pie and coffee. They taught me how to drive the buggy. They taught my kids how to ride a pony. They listened to the plot of my ridiculous movie and laughed...then they offered their barn to shoot in and literally gave us the clothes off their back so that our actor kids can look like real Amish kids. I am simply not the kind of guy who is going to visit an Amish farm or an inner city funeral parlor unless I'm producing this movie. It's not (all) about making a movie. It is also about all the other...possibly better...parts along the way.

T-minus 58 hours until the first call of "action." With all that is about to go down I may be tweeting more than blogging over the next month. Follow me on twitter if you want to hear how it goes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Don't kick the dog...and other lessons


Less that one week from principal photography on Hitting the Nuts. Rocking the Amish beard now. And returning about a bazillion emails an hour. Pre-production on a feature film is wonderfully chaotic. I'm one of those people who loves it when life comes at you so fast all you can do is react. I always thought that would be the best part of being President. It was my favorite part of The West Wing anyway.

That said, I hate it when I get stressed out with work and start to get frustrated or lose my temper with other people. (Usually those I love most - my wife, kids and dog...especially the dog. Not that I especially love the dog, but that I especially get angry with the dog. You probably knew what I meant though. I digress.) You'd think approaching my thirtieth year as a Jesus-follower I'd have that figured out by now. The reality is that when I get really busy and overwhelmed I start to change back into the immature guy I used to be. I hate that. My prayer is that I can excel as a project leader through this production while maintaining a gentle and calm spirit. That's the person I want to be...this will be a good test.

Beyond any stressors or character flaws, I'm having a blast. This is gonna be quite a ride...

Monday, July 27, 2009

2 weeks until "vacation"


The Vineyard has a generous vacation policy. Last year I was able to take three weeks in August to take a family trip to Disney World and hang out at home. This August I'm taking off three weeks to make Hitting the Nuts, a movie I have been working on for nearly four years. I predict that It will be the most wonderfully exhausting vacation ever. I'm really excited to finally shoot this movie that has been trapped in my head for years.

There is absolutely no way I could be doing the pre-production work now without the greatest team ever assembled in the history of Southwestern Ohio low budget indie films. This whole project gets more beautiful and amazing as more and more people join the team. The most fun thing for me is to see how all of my friends from my whole life are converging to see this project happen.

I spent my "day off" today finalizing some of our key locations. We found a school basement in Cleves that will be perfect for the basement of a funeral parlor and a little ice cream shop by my house that will double as a fried chicken restaurant. The people in Milford have been wonderful. We'll be shooting several scenes there at various restaurants and bars. We've got Cincinnati pretty much covered.

Then there are the actors - all the key roles are being played by friends of mine from LA, Vegas, NY and here in Cincy. It is amazing how our "industry" really works. Actors go on auditions all the time, but it is when your buddy makes a movie that you get a truly good part. It's ridiculously fun to be loyal to your friends. The same is true with most of the crew positions. Mark Denney, fellow Vineyardite and the director of my first feature film - The Road to Emmaus, PA - is the cinematographer. My buddies Sid and Sam from SoCal are the camera ops. Even my old friend Jeremy Settles from Las Vegas is helping us with some gear we need. Lots of others are blowing me away already with their talent and dedication. I'm just saying...my vacation is gonna be a blast.

Btw, there's still room for some extras if you want to be a part...just email Missy at dlomceo@gmail.com and she can plug you in...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Social Commentary

Fellow VCC'er Shannon Shackelford is part of our arts community. I asked her for permission to post this photograph on my blog. I found it interesting on several levels - any thoughts?

To see more of her stuff check out www.shannonangel.com or her Flickr page.

Friday, July 17, 2009

7 Years of Blogging - A Retrospective

I've kept this web journal for seven years now. A lot has changed in my life over those years. I'm really glad that I documented it, especially since I can't hardly remember things as I get older. I was in my twenties when I started blogging. I had a brand new baby boy and a two year old back then.

This post isn't so much about how much I have changed, but how much social networking has changed on the web in seven years. I loved blogging early on because I was an introvert who also enjoyed communicating my thoughts and ideas to people who might listen. Blogging allowed me to speak to my friends and family without actually calling them on the phone - and all at once. It was quite the social coupe for a guy strangely afraid of phone calls. Early on the thought of someone reading a blog who didn't know me seemed almost impossible...I mean how would they even find it in the first place? (I think that Google came to popularity soon after that.)

I remember feeling a big tension when blogger added the comments feature. All of sudden I had people talking back to me. That made it lose some of its introverted bliss. Now I had to actually engage in a two-way conversation...yuck. Plus, because of the nature of my opinions some of my comments were from anonymous haters. I turned comments off for a long time, but brought them back when they allowed the option to restrict anonymous comments.

When I moved to LA in 2005, blogger became even more important to me. There were several years where most of my posts were about my acting career. I enjoyed feeling like I could share that whole experience with those friends who had an interest in my life. Looking back on those years, this blog may have lost some of its insight, but maybe it just reflected where I was. I have had more insightful seasons than others. I do think it was more personal then...for better or worse.

Over the last 18 months, Facebook and Twitter have had a noticeable affect on this blog. I bought into Facebook early on. I like it a lot. It reminds me of why I started blogging in the first place. To my friend Brad's disappointment, I also Tweet. Though I am not sure if it will sustain itself over time. Since those networks allow me to post short daily thoughts, I've blogged less over the last few months. I am not sure what that will mean for the future of blogging, but I have no intent to quit.

Life is jam packed this summer...in a good way. I'll check back in here as I always have...even if it takes a few more days between posts.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sneak Peek...

I turned in the second edit of my book to Standard Publishing last week. It is tentatively titled The Basiped Chronicles: The Long Night. Before that, we were calling it A Tale of Two Kingdoms. Regardless of what we call it, here is a small snippet of the first chapter. I can't share much of it online, but it's been such a part of what I have been doing lately, I wanted to share a little. It hasn't been finally edited yet, so even this will likely change some:

A flaming arrow buzzed through his gray stringy beard, barely missing his jugular. Head down and eyes closed, the old man sprinted through the darkening forest. His enemies pursued him on both sides. Guided by an inner quiet force, he blindly hurdled fallen logs and ducked his head just inches beneath low hanging tree limbs. The fiery darts assaulted him from all directions, embedding themselves into the outlying pines and firs as he sprinted past them.

Another flaming arrow reflected off the tail of his patched brown overcoat as if it were made of iron. The man sprinted faster, squeezing his eyelids tightly together as he ran.

He mumbled to himself as he flew along, “C’mon….c’mon. Get here already. I can’t hold on much longer.”

That’s when he heard it.

Tha-thud. Tha-thud. Tha-thud.

The sound grew louder and closer from behind him as he ran.

Tha-thud. Tha-thud. Tha-thud.

The man slowed to a jog. He opened his eyes for the first time in about an hour, turned to face his oncoming deliverer and smiled. As he turned he saw exactly what he had hoped for: his master, the warrior Prince of his Mountain Kingdom, barreling full force on horseback in his direction.

As the Prince drew near, the old man noticed fresh wounds on his master’s hands and arms. Bulging sweaty biceps bore the bloody slices of the enemy’s sword. Even his enormous white stead was wounded in the battle, with several simmering arrows still embedded in her hindquarters. The Prince wore plate mail battle armor, leather gloves and a plated helmet with an iron faceguard hiding his thick brown beard and long hair. He held his double-edged sword, called The Dunamas, in his right hand and the reins of the stallion in his left.

The old man stood mesmerized by his Prince’s approaching glory as another flaming arrow buzzed over his head. It wasn’t until the Prince said the man’s name that he again became aware of his surroundings.

“Pops!” the Prince yelled. He slid his sword in his scabbard and reached out his hand as his horse snorted. She sprinted at full speed toward the man. “Grab hold of my hand!” the Prince yelled.

Pops extended his hand. With one motion, the Prince snagged his friend and yanked him up to the rear of the horse. She never slowed her gallop.

“Hold on,” the Prince warned.

“Ho, Justice! Ho!” the Prince ordered his warhorse to halt and she promptly obeyed.

He intently surveyed the silent dark forest from her back. Then he screamed into the blackness, “Come out! Face your enemy and stop hiding like cowards!” At first nothing happened, but after a few moments the leaves and bushes began to rustle on either side of them.

“C’mon, come out now and show yourself,” the Prince spoke as if he were coaxing a housecat from its hiding place. Suddenly, a dark figure appeared in front of the Prince’s horse and to his right. A tall and menacing creature emerged, so black that he blended in with the night sky. He held a smoldering arrow at his side that lit up his right arm and thigh.

“Basiped?” he blurted.

“No,” said the Prince. “I am not. But I am their guardian.”

The dark figure snorted and kicked. He spat and muttered in an ugly unknown language. He lifted his flaming arrow, attached it to his bow and aimed straight for the Prince’s heart. Pops ducked behind the Prince in fear. With a twang, the arrow shot at the Prince. He quickly drew his sword, and sliced the arrow into two shards inches in front of his face. In a flash, the Prince dismounted and rushed his attacker. He suddenly beheaded his enemy with one arcing slice from The Dunamas.


more to come in March of 2010...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greenlight.


Three years ago I wrote a screenplay. It took me about three weeks. Three years later, we're making it into a movie. It has been a loooong process, but I'm excited to announce that we will be shooting Hitting the Nuts this August in Cincinnati.

I've saved up enough vacation time to take off three weeks from VCC to make it happen. Friends are coming in from LA, Las Vegas, NY and Chicago to fill out the cast and crew. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my summer vacation this year. The idea of "chasing dreams" gets a lot of lip service out there, but for those who have done it...the chase can get very long and hard. That was the case with Nuts. I've always been excited to tell the story, but it was a long and sometimes frustrating journey to get it to this point. Now the easy part - making a movie.

If you'd like to help out during the shoot, we are looking for some background actors (extras) for day shoots between Aug 10-29. Email our Assistant Producer, Missy Whitis, at missy@housethatjackbuilt.org to get on the list.

I'm sure I'll have more things come up where people can help out as we get closer. I'll post things on here, facebook and twitter as they come up.

A special thanks to those of you who have been supportive over the last three years. It means a lot.