Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cynicism vs. Sentimentality

I rarely blog on a Saturday night on a weekend when I'm teaching. It's a strange time to be me. I prepare as best I can to lead up to teaching on a Saturday. Several months of planning and preparation lead to one moment and then it's over. But the stranger part is that the moment comes again twelve hours later. (Then again right after that. Then again after that.)

On Sunday, there isn't really enough time to change much or even think about how the last Celebration went. I just try to stay focused and make subtle adjustments. After Saturday night though, I have twelve hours. Normally I'll think about how things went on the way home and wake up an hour early to rework the parts that need attention. On rare occasions I don't need to do that at all...and on a few occasions I've totally changed everything. Tonight feels more or less like a normal Saturday. I generally said what I wanted, but it all felt a little disconnected. I have some ideas on how to fix that. Part of my challenge is that I don't write much down so I have to remember what I said and what needs to change.

One idea that I plan on exploring more tonight is the idea that, when it comes to Christmas, most of us our wired to be either overly cynical or overly sentimental. As for me, I have an amazing capacity for cynicism. I sort of excel at it. I'm an INTP on the Myers-Briggs. There's no doubt that if we added the a fifth category of cynicism/sentimentality that I would be an INTPC. I see everything wrong with Christmas. Trust me.

It seems to me that the polar opposite of cynicism could be sentimentality. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian hero of mine, says that sentimentality, not atheism, is the greatest enemy of the church. He equates sentimentality with practical atheism, saying that when we no longer truly believe the gospel we substitute the reality of the Jesus event with meetings, songs and patterns that create "warm feelings" to replace honest conviction.

Living in a world without sentimentality or cynicism seems unrealistic, and frankly undesirable to me. However, allowing our cynicism or sentiment to control us seems like a plan for disaster. I committed tonight to be less cynical this Christmas and challenged the sentimental people to pull back enough to have fresh eyes to see beyond nostalgia toward the remarkable claim that a baby entered human history on a secret mission to destroy evil with the power of good.

My prayer for VCC this month is that this Christmas will be looked back on as a season of salvation. That's something we all need and no amount of cynicism or sentiment can fill that need...only Jesus can.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Idea, Chris Day

I have a new friend named Chris. He's the cat's meow. His blog is almost always funny, but lately he has taken a serious turn. He had a simple and compelling idea on his last entry. I encourage you to click over to his blog and do what he asks you to do. I'm going to follow his directions and then follow suit and do the same thing here in a day or two. Lets see what happens...I think might be the VCC outreach idea of the year. Simple, modern, real.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pilgrim Season

This is the time of year that people stumble upon my blog searching for information about pilgrims. I get an email about once a month showing the common phrases that people type into search engines to get to here. The closer to Thanksgiving it gets every year, the more I get things like "how did pilgrims rebel" or whatever. People love pilgrims in November.

I came to see the phrase "rebel pilgrim" as a noteworthy description of the person of Jesus, and by reflection and imitation, his learners/followers. I was profoundly influenced about ten years ago by a book called Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. I don't think that the phrase "rebel pilgrim" is in the book, but it came into my vocabulary sometime after reading it. You could do worse than getting your own copy for a nice little Thanksgiving present:

A pilgrim is, of course, a traveler or wanderer. Jesus is fundamentally a journeyman. He traveled from heaven to heaven via planet earth. Not only did he travel through, but he brought heaven with him on his journey. He spread heaven everywhere he went and the embers he left behind have fanned into flame. Soon the earth will be engulfed in heaven's loving fury. It's been forcefully advancing since the days of John the Baptist.

Jesus wasn't just a pilgrim, but a rebel pilgrim. He didn't travel to a new world so that he could settle there and live a better life. He didn't leave heaven to get away from heaven, like the colonial pilgrims escaped Europe to start anew. He left heaven as a missionary...he left heaven to bring heaven to earth. That's a different kind of pilgrimage. It is a fundamentally missional activity. From day one, his message was anti-establishment. He came to earth to declare earth broken. He came to reform and restore. He came as a conquering King, not a desperate settler. He came to gather a people, not to abandon a people.

So, I follow the King of the rebel pilgrims. He calls us to be his people. A pilgrim people on a journey that doesn't end until heaven conquers every nook and cranny of this world and the next. A people who reject the story of this world for the story of another world. A people who reject their own stories for the story of Israel and the church. This place and time we live in now is Middleland. A place that is not hell and not heaven, but offers a taste of both. This is the land of our sojourn. The land of our travels. This is the ocean we travel to get from one end of the eschaton to the other. And this is the role of the church: to bring the rebel pilgrim people across the ocean of history's end to arrive at the shores of our home...a home that only our King has seen in full, but that we all have tasted in part.

Friday, November 21, 2008

God Gives Back

Filming started this week for the {re} gifter, VCC's Christmas film/stage combo. I have had an extra busy week with speaking and teaching engagements most every night. I wasn't able to get down to the set until last night and I was blown away.

I've been on a few dozen legitimate film sets in my life - everything from mega-budget, major studio productions to film school projects. I've shot my share of commercials and TV shows too. The point to all of this is that I know what a real film set looks like. I used to drive around Hollywood and see various projects shooting on location. I could almost always guess the level of "legitimacy" by just watching for a few seconds. If the "director" was also in charge of snacks, for instance, that's a big clue.

Last night I drove down to Norwood and turned right on Ashland Ave. to see a very legitimate location shoot in action. Perhaps it was extra striking because it was in the middle of Norwood and not the pier in Santa Monica, but I was floored. A crew of twenty people were moving about the exterior of a house that had been transformed into a Christmas extravaganza worthy of Chevy Chase's admiration. There were grips and gaffers and PA's and AD's and everything you would expect.

If I'm in Hollywood, I'm guessing mid-level indie film. I'm expecting to see Parker Posey or Philip Seymour Hoffman in front of the camera. I'm thinking $5M budget.

But these were simply my friends. Volunteering for their church. Giving their weeknights for three weeks to see this happen. These are people with day jobs and some people who just lost their jobs. These are servants pulling together community-driven art with virtually no budget. I was literally shocked into ecstasy. I couldn't believe that God would let me be a part of something like this. I was more excited than I ever was working on a set as an actor. I remember leaving LA and thinking that I might never be on a legitimate film set again. I had to be OK with that to take this job. It was part of the sacrifice to obey God and move here. Silly, silly me. He always gives back. God is the ultimate re-gifter.

From what little I've seen this is the best looking stuff that I have ever helped produce in my life. It's wonderfully written and directed by Brad Wise, and beautifully shot by Mark Denney.

I remember someone telling me when I was younger that in the middle ages, the church saved the arts but in my generation the arts will help save the church. I don't really think the arts can truly save the church, but I think they can open windows for the Spirit. I think that the arts, particularly the most culturally engrained arts like film and music, influence culture and create platforms to tell our story. I'm just saying there's a chance Michelangelo would have been a filmmaker were he born in this generation.

You can see the {re} gifter live December 21, 22 and 23 at VCC. Tickets will be free and available online starting December 1. I'll post a link when the website is up and running.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

See ya there?

Stuff I'm doing over the next few days...

1. The Lift - I'm speaking there tomorrow night. Come one come all.

2. Q City Improv Show - Friday NIght at 8 pm at The Ballet Tech. 6543 Montgomery Road. (See post below.)

3. Turkeyfest. Fill a box with food and meet me at 10 am at VCC. Even if you didn't get an officially sanctioned Turkey Box, find your own and fill it up. We have 1,200+ Turkeys flying out at the same time to people who need them.

4. Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls, Oh (near CLE). Speaking there this Sunday and then they are going to screen The Road to Emmaus, PA that night.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Q CIty Improv this Friday!

Q City is back. The improv troupe that I play with is doing our first show with our new team. Our buddy Chris has moved away, but we were able to add Chris and Isaac to the team. They are ready to make stuff up on the spot with Sean, Eddie and yours truly.

Think of this as my non-sanctioned garage band. It's not an official church thing - some of the team are vcc'ers and some aren't. Expect PG-13/prime time network TV material. Unless you watch Dancing with the Stars in prime's nothing like that.


This Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 pm at The Cincinnati Ballet Tech Studio: 6543 Montgomery Road
Cost is $5. Come a little early for better parking.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Get Salvaged This Christmas

When I was a kid my dad worked for an independent oil company. He was the district manager over several gas stations in Kentucky and West Virginia. Most of his time was spent driving from station to station doing whatever it is that mangers do. From time to time I would travel with him, particularly during my three weeks of Christmas break from school. I have vivid memories of watching the winter landscape fly by the passenger window at 65 mph. The pockets of snow tucked into the crannies of Appalachia. The belching white smoke of the factory stacks. The overstuffed trucks and trains pregnant with chunks of freshly harvested coal. It all blended with the chill of winter to create some of my earliest December memories.

There is one other memory of those endless drives that has never left me.

On one particular year, some well meaning, law breaking Christian had taken the time to spray paint “Jesus Saves” on every bridge, overhang and cement foundation in the tri-state area. As a ten or eleven year old kid I would notice the theo-vandalism every few dozen miles. It made me think. Less about Jesus and more about the rogue evangelist who devoted his or her entire life to stealthily defacing government property in the name of spiritual revolution. As a kid I was torn between admiring this rebel zealot and denouncing him as a born again whacko. (I thought too much as a child…)

I wondered if that was the best way to introduce people to Jesus. While as a recent convert, I admired the faceless evangelist’s brave attempts; I wasn’t about to go back to Mrs. Taylor’s fifth grade class that January and paint “Jesus Saves” in strategic places on the Russell Elementary School playground.

Maybe it was those long drives sitting in silence with my father, listening to Christmas music on the AM dial, and being regularly bombarded with a simple gospel message that formed me into what I am today. God has a way of taking something that rote and turning it into a life passion. He can take something painful and masterfully transform it into hope. He takes our weaknesses and refines them into strengths.

And here we see what that daring, though potentially misguided graffiti preacher was telling me all along: Jesus Saves. He redeems. He restores, recycles, repurposes, reclaims, re-uses and releases. Jesus doesn’t simply save us one day when we say a prayer and then retire from his work. Neither does he simply sit around waiting to save us some day in the future after death when he opens heaven’s gate. He is saving us. Yesterday he was saving us. Tomorrow he will still be saving us. And, most urgently, he is saving us today. Right now. He is in the process of taking all that we were and turning it into all that we will be. He’s the master artist who can take a pile of junk and slowly mold it into a breathlessly beautiful masterpiece.

This is, after all, what his name means. Jesus means God Saves Us.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-22 (NIV, emphasis mine)

This Christmas season at The Vineyard, we are going to explore this idea from every angle. We are going to let Jesus save us. Save us from ourselves, our pain, our worries, our sins. Save us from the world around us and the plans of those who would do us harm. Save us from the temptation to settle for a life without passion or meaning or influence. This year, we all get saved…again.

On the weekend of November 29/30, we will be launching a new series called “Salvage…restored, recycled, recovered, released.” We will examine how this baby born so long ago into the trash heap of humanity is still able to take the junk of our lives and redeem it with eternal purpose.

The four-week series will culminate with The {Re} Gifter, a family friendly Christmas experience. Part film, part stage play, part interactive art exhibit, this experience is our version of spray painting “Jesus Saves” on an interstate cement post. We simply want to introduce people to The Vineyard and to the story of Jesus, the One Who Saves. We want them to simply start thinking about a God who loves them. Over 100 volunteers are working feverishly to produce an event that you can feel confident to invite your friends to. Think of it as a way to begin a long and ongoing conversation about Jesus with your family and friends in a non-threatening and entertaining way.

The {Re} Gifter will show in six shows over three nights: December 21, 22 and 23. There will be two shows each evening at 6:00 and 8:00 in the VCC auditorium.

This Christmas could change everything. What was true in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains twenty years ago and in a simple Judean manager two thousand years ago, is still true today: Jesus Saves.

Let this be the year that you invite someone into the journey of salvation with you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Doritos Commercial

My friend Sidney is in a spec commercial contest for Doritos. The more hits he gets on the site, the better his chances of winning. So if you have a few seconds click on over and watch Sid's vid.

Sid and I have worked together a lot and he's as good of a guy as he is a director. I had him and Sam, another friend, come into town to shoot a few viral commercials for Center City Collision a few months back. You can check out one of those on youtube at this link...but only after you show Sid some Nacho Cheese love.

Friday, November 07, 2008

We're Rolling...

Last night we had one of the most exciting meetings since I came to VCC. It seems as though God is continuing to bless us in the area of film and video production. Mark Denney, director of The Road to Emmaus, PA, has agreed to direct our the video section of The Re: Gifter, our Christmas experience. Mark's a real professional and it amazes me that he will do these things as a volunteer. His wife Bekka Prewitt-Denney is also working as 1st AD. She's a local professional actress and has all the skills to be a great AD. Isaac Stambaugh is helping produce and working as 2nd AD and Brad is directing. It's such a great team...but that's just the beginning. Dozens of VCC'ers have emerged to work as production assistants, make-up artists, set designers, location scouts, audio mixers, gaffers, etc. Brad and Bekka have been working hard to build the team for weeks, but from my perspective it just seemed to appear. It was a wonderful and encouraging thing to see it all begin to materialize.

The cast of the film is very small...just a few people. We are set there, but there are still plenty of places to add new people, especially anyone with professional sound or lighting experience. There's a full stage production crew building too, so if you have any interested in volunteering now is the time to jump on board. It's gonna be a blast. Contact Brad Wise and he can get you in touch with the right person to join the team.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Good Weekend

It was a great weekend at The Vineyard. We kicked off a new Holy Spirit series with the weekend Celebrations and then the local premiere of The Road to Emmaus, PA. Around 1,500 people came to the two screenings. As a filmmaker and producer, it was fun to see the countless hours of our talented volunteer film crew pay off with such a warm reception. As a pastor, it was good to see my church wrestle with hearing God's voice. I was also able to meet lots of new people who came with a friend to see the film. I hope the film will be able to create more questions than answers for both seekers and believers alike. I tend to believe that if people would just ask more meaningful questions they will eventually find what they are looking for. I think Jesus said something like that once: Seek to find, knock to answer, ask to receive.

I'm getting requests from friends around the world who want to see the film and some locals who weren't able to come. We are talking with some film distributors now, but If you want to get a copy currently the only way is to go through the Vine Bookstore at VCC. Just head over to and call the office or e-mail the bookstore and they can send you one of the early releases.

Producer Joe is moving onto thinking about The Re: Gifter, VCC's Christmas experience that is 33% stage play, 33% HD movie, 33% Interactive science museum. (Not sure what the last 1% is yet.)
Pastor Joe is moving onto preparing to teach this weekend on the Holy Spirit as the one who convicts the world.
Plumber Joe is counting down his last 36 hours of fame.