Saturday, January 31, 2009


I can remember getting my syllabi (yeah, I just used an awesome plural word) on the first week of every semester in college. It always felt a bit overwhelming to see the papers I would have to write over the next four months. I'd have six or seven classes with a paper or two for each one. The "big" assignments were ten pagers. I'd usually have one or two a those per semester. Add up all the pages for every class and you'd get 30-60 pages. How was a guy supposed to do that and work twelve hours/week at the campus post office plus play basketball and/or ping-pong every night? (I went to Bible college so "partying" was defined a bit differently for us.) The point is, life was really hard back then. Good thing I have more free time to write these days.

I thought about those stressful collegiate days quite a bit as the pages of my book started to add up over the last few weeks. My deadline was 5:00 today and I'm proud to say that I turned in my homework 6 minutes early. Now the editing begins. The content editor will read it and suggest ways for me to fix the story itself. I'm actually excited about that part, though it certainly has potential to be a bit painful. After that it goes to the copy editor who fixes the grammar, spelling, textual errors, etc. My childhood friend Laura Derico was asked to copy edit, so that's kind of a cool side story to all of this.

The title is still tentative, but I decided on the following for now: The Basiped Chronicles - Book One: The Long Night. The evil enemies of my heroes call them "basipeds" though I never explain what it means. You closet etymologists can figure it out.

Here are the stats if you are into that: 36 chapters, 242 pages, 52,162 words.

It may all change, but that's where we are now.

Standard Publishing has been wonderfully supportive thus far. Best I can tell, this is their first fiction title, or at least the first in recent memory. That speaks to me about their faith in the story. I'm excited to work with them to create something meaningful.

You have certain days in your life when you realize that you are fulfilling a dream. Today was one of them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fairy Tale'n

Well, today was the day I was to finish my fairy tale. I am almost done and will turn it into Standard Publishing tomorrow. Of course, I mean "done" with the first draft. I'll post the gritty details tomorrow. My brain hurts from the sprint to the finish, but while deciding on the introduction I found two quotes that I am going to let stand alone with no commentary. I thought I'd share those with you now. They are by two men who changed my life by writing books before I was even born. One man changed my life with his fairy tales. The other with his book teaching me that fairy tales are more true than anything else that could be written.

“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

- G.K. Chesterton

“My dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result, you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…”

- C.S. Lewis in the dedication of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Classes Cancelled Tonight

God's wrath has hit the city in the form of cold white powder falling from the heavens. No classes at VCC tonight. The four-week classes I mentioned this weekend will now run for three weeks starting next Wednesday. All other Vineyard University classes are also now starting next week including Alpha.

It should be sunny and 75 degrees by then.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Inner Life

I taught this weekend at VCC on the "inner" life. Most of us would call this the "spiritual" life, and I do as well sometimes, but doing so can sometimes have us forget that the physical, relational and emotional life is also spiritual. The inner disciplines have been an on again/off again fascination of mine through the years. Not to say that I have them figured out, or even that I practice them the way I should; but, I am, for lack of a better way to say it, "into them."

I thought it might be best just to give a series of web links here pointing toward some of my influential teachers and resources on the topic. Pick one that sounds interesting and surf away...

1. Henri Nouwen. I referenced Nouwen as a spiritual guide this weekend in my talk. This link takes you to the Henri Nouwen Society. Here's the book I referenced this weekend: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

2. Renovare (Richard Foster). Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, is a modern classic and should be mandatory reading on the subject. Two of his other books, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
and Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, also dramatically affected by spiritual development. This link takes you to the Renovare website which is a ministry heavily influenced by Foster and Dallas Willard, another thinker who radically influenced me early on. His work specifically on the disciplines is called The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.

3. John Ortberg. John is an author and the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian in San Francisco. He's one of my favorite contemporary Christian teachers. This link will take you to the video streams of John's teachings. Watch the first two of this year (the series is called "Flow") for teaching on the disciplines.

4. Life Together. Dietrich Bonhoffer's timeless classic.

5. Locally, my friend Dave Nixon is available for spiritual direction and retreats. His organization is called Sustainable Faith. He's also teaching a four-week class at VCC starting tomorrow night, assuming the current ice storm doesn't destroy the city.

6. Bible Gateway. It's a simple concept - the BIble online in many different versions. I recommend it to people trying to figure out which translation resonates best with them. Versions like The Message and The Living Bible may not be ideal for Bible study, but most people just need to know the stories before they can study in depth. They are great for that.

7. The Artist's Way. Julia Cameron's book actually changed the way I pray and think about God. It's not explicitly Christian, but I recommend for any Jesus follower who is also an artist, writer or creative.

8. Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community

9. Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

10. Thomas Merton. I think this is the official site. A lesser known book from Merton that I'd recommend is The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (Shambhala Library)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Arise, Peter. Kill and eat.

On some weeks of the month I have an all-day meeting on Wednesdays. This week was that week. It was a fine meeting. A few times each year I have an all day VCC Elders meeting. Today was that day. So, if you are keeping score at home, that's two all-day meetings in three days. For the record, I am not complaining. I'm going to go so far as to say that I actually enjoyed today's meeting. There are a lot of great people leading VCC and I'm honored to be one of them. I left rather grateful and excited about the future.

At the church Shareholders meeting last week someone prayed for me and told me to consider the following story from Acts to seek direction as we lead the church for the next season:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Peter eventually realizes that this vision is meant to convey that non-Jewish people may freely enter the Kingdom through Jesus. Though God once called only the nation of Israel to be his special people, now he calls all his people, Jews and Gentiles, "clean" through Jesus' work. This was the earliest controversy of the church. Some felt that Gentiles should basically convert to Judaism before following Jesus, while others (like Peter and Paul) opened the Kingdom to anyone with faith in Christ. The matter was more or less settled at a big wig early church meeting with Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James and the other leaders a few chapters later in Acts 15.

So what? Good question.

It's true that there aren't many Christians running around trying to convert people to Judaism these days. Here's the question that this story points me to now - is there anything in our/your church that, if God asked you to do, your response would be "Surely not, Lord. I have never done that." I think if we are honest, most American churches have a longer list of things that they will not do simply because they are a church. Maybe we need some reptile-eaters out there these days. Maybe some of our churches need to be bold and do things that churches aren't supposed to do. I don't really have thoughts on what these things are...I'm pretty sure it's not dealing drugs or making adult films. I just know that God is in the business of asking his people to do seemingly ridiculous, sometimes near scandalous things for the sake of his plan.

So...for you church leaders out there. what would be let down from heaven in your blanket?

Once you figure it out, arise, kill and eat.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day 2009

I heard Barack Obama say something to the effect that we live in a world where our parents can't believe that there is a black president, but our children can't believe that there has never been one before. That's pretty good...and, if true, an optimistic sign of where we are heading.

Like almost everyone else I know, I walk around telling people that I am not a racist. I have genuine friends of all backgrounds. I don't think I am prejudiced, but I probably am. Maybe we are all in denial. Maybe we are all a little afraid of people who don't look or act like the people we grew up around. A lot of my friends, black and white, are islamaphobes. Some of my friends are homopobes. Some of my gay friends hate Christians. One of my friends is even filled with hatred for the Steelers. I guess it's complicated.

As a white guy in America, I can try to apologize for white guys throughout history who mistreated their fellow human beings for the worst reasons of all. I had a black friend a few months ago tell me that he hates it when white people apologize for slavery. I can see both sides of that one. Maybe my problem is that I don't fundamentally see myself as a white guy, but as a slave of Jesus. I am more prone to apologize for what my people (Christians) have done to promote or ignore racism than what my white forefathers have done.

The unavoidable truth is that the main reason I am a suburban middle-class American is because I was born to a white middle-class American family. If you track my story backward it will eventually lead to the story of slavery. My ancestors were white and got a head start in the American experiment. That is a true reality that cannot be ignored. At some level, I benefit from the sins my forefathers. It seems to me, however, that to respond to that reality with guilt or self-hatred won't get us anywhere. All I know to do is to trade in that story for the story of the cross. To die to the sins of my past. To invite others of all races and stories to die to their story in favor of the Jesus story. To be engrafted into the story of Jesus, a Jewish rebel pilgrim. In doing so, we find that Abraham and Moses become our new forefathers...our new story. I think this is what St. Paul's ministry was largely about: inviting us Gentiles into the Yhwh story through Messiah Jesus.

I think that today and tomorrow represent a true redemption within the American story. Historically speaking, what is about to happen tomorrow is unthinkable. As an American, I am glad that I get to see it in my lifetime. As a Jesusite, it causes me to look forward to a day when the earth will be fully ruled by King Jesus and his Father, my God. When he fully reigns it will look something like this:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Revelation 7:9-10

Friday, January 16, 2009

J.J. Abrams

This 18 minute talk is great for writers, creatives, innovators, storytellers, and LOST fans. (It gets better as it goes...) I hope you take the time to watch it and think about how to use your own "mystery box" in the next story you tell. If you work for me, you don't have a choice...this is homework :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Commissioned to Tell Stories

God's Message came to Ezekiel: "Son of man, make a riddle for the house of Israel. Tell them a story..." Ezekiel 17:1

I am asked about once a month to suggest books on storytelling for people interested in learning more. I rarely have a good response. I learned to tell stories from Mark Ellwood, my high school history teacher. I learned more from The Second City and The Groundlings. I learned about story as a kid from the wisdom of Joseph Campbell as translated to me via the imagination of George Lucas in the Star Wars Trilogy. Then I learned even more by reading the narrative of the Bible, particularly the gospels. To be honest, I've learned the most about storytelling by telling stories. It's kind of like driving or eating just get used to it and then you are good at it.

Today I rediscovered someone else who taught me that storytelling is fundamentally a missiological activity. Lesslie Newbigin says the following in his tiny book, Truth and Authority in Modernity:

"Perhaps one final point needs to be made. If, in the postmodern world, we tell our story, we will be met with this rejoinder: "Yes of course. That is your story. But there are other stories. Why should I believe this one?" How does the Christian respond to this? Clearly we must resist the temptation to propose some supposedly more fundamental and more reliable truth on the basis of which the story of the gospel could be validated. Certainly we may try to show how the biblical story makes sense of human life in a way that no other can; but even this becomes clear only when one is a part of the story. In the end, the only answer we have to give is along such lines as these: "I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you...That invitation will come with winsomeness if it comes from a community in which the grace of the Redeemer is at work. Whether or not it is accepted is not a matter in our power. To be anxious about it, to fret about it, is a sign of unbelief. The one who invites is in control, not we...We have to tell and live the story faithfully; the rest is in God's hands. What matters is not that i should succeed, but that God should be honored."

Seven years ago, I wrote this in the margin of that book: "If believed, this changes everything."

Turns out, for me, it has.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Yes, No.

One of my favorite SNL sketches last year. It was the very last one of the episode, where sketches usually go to die. It took me a while, but I found it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Eyes Have It

I've had the kind of sickness this week that slows you down in an annoying way. A throat infection that moved to my eyes...just annoying more than anything else. I can't read or write for more that a few minutes without my eyes burning. I've slept a little more than normal this week and feel great from the neck down. I picked up some magic drugs at Walgreens a few days ago and feel a little better today than yesterday. (Side note: some Walgreens now have nurse practitioners stationed next to the pharmacy to treat colds, flus, etc. It was cheaper and faster than going to the doctor. Whoever thought of that should get a raise. I recommend it.)

The big bummer for me is that the first week of January is usually one of my favorite weeks of the year. I tend to write some Jerry McGuire-style manifesto about the coming year. It has been hard to access the energy to dream about 2009, but I feel it starting to kick in now. I'll just be a week behind all year, which means I'll be celebrating our national freedom on July 11 among other things. Look for an inspiring manifesto next week...

Sunday, January 04, 2009

{Re} Gifter Stream is Live

If you were unable to see The {Re} Gifter at VCC, you can now watch it online at Not quite the same as being there, but if you have a free hour I hope you can see it.

Friday, January 02, 2009


I nearly always get sick after Christmas. I think it's because I tend to run myself to the point of exhaustion preparing the next great Christmas production every year. Even when I wasn't in church work, I'd often find myself involved in some big project like the timeless classic A Christmas of Convenience. (Just ask the 80 people who saw it...)

So, I'm sick. I'm not sure how sick I am just yet. I've had a slight fever today and a sore throat. I coughed all night last night which drove me into the arms of my favorite alcoholic beverage, NyQuil. (It's made with bits of real panther, so you know it's good.) Anyway, I took a few swings at 4:00 a.m. and woke up at 1:30 this afternoon. I had some food and tried to work, but was back in bed by 3:00. I'm speaking this weekend at VCC to kick off our new series called One Life. I'm excited about it and should be able to push through in spite of the plague.

On a very, very side note. I have a fun audition Monday for Betty Anne Waters, a new Hillary Swank film shooting in Michigan. This would have been a big audition for me even when I was living in Los Angeles - I'd get about one big feature film audition per month. Evidently, I get one about every two years living in Ohio. It's not my job anymore, just the world's most infrequent hobby. I'm reading for the part of an Irish bartender named Aidan, so I'll need to get one more visit in with Jason before he goes home to work on my accent.

Until then I'll be talking myself out of my illness...