Monday, March 29, 2010

Death in my Neighborhood.

I woke up this morning at 6:20 to a fire engine screaming by our house. This never happens.

A few seconds later the bedroom was filled with the blue lights of police cruisers. I stayed in bed. It was supposed to be my day off - my morning to sleep in.

When Debbie awoke to get the kids ready for school, the emergency vehicles were still there. It turns out a fifteen year-old girl in our neighborhood was hit by a bus. She was killed. The girl lived about six houses from us. I didn't know her or her parents. I think her dad helped me catch my dog once last year when he escaped. I run by their house often. I didn't even know her name. (It was April. The news reporter told me this morning.)

Today our normally quiet suburban neighborhood is filled with local TV satellite trucks and teenage mourners. It's rather surreal. It didn't seem right to have our kids ride the bus this morning. Deb took them to school. I think I will pick them up. That's an irrational response, but it is hard to know how to react after waking up to the reality of death. It changes your routine.

I'd like to do something for the family, but they seem completely harassed already by the press. I'd just be another stranger in their way today. If I had taken the time to become their friends over the last two years, maybe that wouldn't be the case.

Death is the enemy. I hate it. To the core.

Learn from my mistakes. Invite a neighbor into your life or church this Holy Week. There is, in my humble opinion, only one person who can make the dead alive again.

Local News story here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Free* Breakthroughs

Last night my small group went to the Free* Journey prayer experience at Crossroads in Oakley. It will be running through Monday and I would suggest that you check it out if you live in Cincinnati.

The experience is simple but immersive. It didn't take long for me to become open to it. Actually, it was wonderful to do something "spiritual" that I had no personal involvement in planning or implementing. I can't remember the last time that happened. I needed it.

Today is the day I am supposed to be preparing for the weekend at Vineyard. I'm closing out the Free* series this weekend.

I thought it might be good for me to write about the three realizations that I wrote down last night during the prayer experience. I woke up this morning thinking that maybe I had some sort of breakthrough. (To be fair, I have felt that way before without breaking through anything.)

Here goes nothing:

1. I'm free to SPEAK UP. Though much of my professional life is spent communicating, I almost always opt to say as little as possible in any given situation. The less I speak, the less chance I have of sounding foolish or hurting someone's feelings or being misinterpreted. I learned this habit at a very early age, probably out of some series of painful moments that I cannot remember anymore. I am generally quiet. To be fair, I think this can virtuous at times...and given the choice, I would rather be known as the quiet guy vs. the loud guy. But I came to believe last night that I am truly free to speak up when I want. I don't have to be quiet. God made me with a voice and I should be prepared to use it.

Part of speaking up also has to do with the things I say in public - as a pastor, a blogger, an author and a filmmaker. I have learned through the years that it is almost always better to not speak about something in a public forum unless you have a defined point of view. I still agree with this as well, but I need to take a few more risks than I have been since re-entering vocational ministry. In my twenties I too often taught my opinions as fact. In my thirties I have generally not taught my personal opinions at all. Again, this also can be virtuous. But it can also be self-protective and sheepish. I'm going to edge the pendulum a notch or two toward saying important things I might normally be tempted to skip over in order to avoid conflict. I need to embrace the fact that I am a preacher. And preachers preach.

2. I'm free to DREAM AGAIN. This particular realization has to do specifically with dreaming about the impact of the local church. I was once a dreamer. I followed some huge God-dreams in my twenties. Some of them were realized, but most of them fell short. As a result, I learned to dream more "realistically." Since coming to The Vineyard I haven't really dreamed the way I used to. I have had passing moments of wonder. I have seen mini-visions realized, but if I used to dream like a fire hose, these days I dream more like a drippy faucet. I turned down the dream-o-meter because of the pain of my previous dreams being unrealized. I didn't need a shrink to figure that one out. It's pretty obvious.

I'm ready to dream again - to risk the pain for the greater reward. To be fully me again. I'm ready to be a part of a church that turns a city upside down. I'm ready to start praying the prayer I stopped praying around 2003 - that God would give me influence over my generation in my city. I am no longer settling for less.

3. I am free to be HEALTHY. This one came out of nowhere, and what I actually wrote down in the moment was, "I could do more good for God if I were a healthier person." I didn't like the way that it looked on the paper and I still don't. It feels like the words of someone who believes that it is all about the things you do vs. who you are. I don't like it when life feels that way. The next thing I wrote was, "I am free from feeling guilty that I primarily connect to God through mission." This one surprised me. I have always wanted to be the guy who connects primarily with God through prayer or singing worship or meditation or study. The truth is, I connect with him most by doing stuff - by actively taking risks for the greater mission. That has always felt shallow or un-spiritual to me compared to the way others experience God. But now I'm over it. I'm free from that. The danger, of course, is when I do missional activity for my own sake...but the same danger exists in prayer, worship and study. I'm free to lead in a new way.

I have been getting healthier this year physically. I need to become more disciplined and balanced around issues of sleep, time management and emotional health. The healthier I can be, the more good I can do - the more I can be about the mission.

I am still processing these things. Normally I wouldn't blog about them until they are processed fully. (But...I'm learning to speak up more.) The good news is I think I just accidentally wrote my message for this weekend while typing this blog...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Comedy as Commentary

Sometimes comedy is just funny. Sometimes it has a point. I think sketch comedy is at its best when it expresses a simple point of view on a societal issue. I've had about as much comedy training as I have theological, so when I see something that works I like to point it out.

This satire piece from Saturday Night Live starts with a simple unstated reality: that many businesses use fear as the motivation to attract customers and make money. Check out the first youtube video from a real Broadview Security Ad currently running on TV. Then watch the Hulu clip from SNL last night. I think you'll see what I mean...

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Very Good, Very Long Day

The last 24 hours have been an exhausting sort of way. Between Two Kingdoms released at The Vineyard this weekend. It was my first book signing - which is fun for an author but more than a little intimidating for an introvert. If I said something dumb to you while signing your book, I apologize.

I was about ten times more exhausted after signing books than when I teach on the weekend. But it was worth it. I can't even remember all the compliments and words of encouragement from my tribe at VCC. I'm so glad that the first public event was there - at my home.

That was just the beginning of the day yesterday. Last night we had our first meeting for potential investors in our next feature film, tentatively titled The Balloonier. The event was amazing - nothing in the world excites me more than seeing a team come together for a creative endeavor. Nothing at all. This is stacking up to be a dream team for the ages. I'm so grateful to be able to do all that I was created to do in the context of my church. I've never been more personally or professionally fulfilled than I am now. And to be honest, coming home to the greatest wife and kids in the world is better than all of it.

It was great to meet Rebecca St. James and her dad, David Smallbone, in person last night after several phone calls. Rebecca is the real deal and exactly the right person to star in this movie. Our new friend and business advisor, Jim Derose, spoke about faith and filmmaking. Jim has been the president of companies like Hanes, Mattel Toys and Dreamworks/PDI. His experience and wisdom have been invaluable to us. Brad and I are on a plane right now heading to LA to meet with him and some other industry folks about the movie. (This is my first time having wi-fi on a plane. Living in the future is good.)

My lifelong friend and business partner at Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Jim Nyberg, flew in from Las Vegas for the meeting. For me, last night was the moment I saw with my eyes what I've been sensing in my heart for a while - that the chapters of my life are starting to intersect and make a little more sense. Kind of like the third act of a good Seinfeld episode.

My life hasn't been hard like so many others. I think I have had less than my share of tragedy and heartbreak. That said, it hasn't been particularly easy. There were long years and seasons that seemed fruitless. Times when my "dreams" didn't make sense to anyone including me. Times when it just wasn't working. Times of failure.

I told a friend yesterday that I find it harder to accept blessings from God than the challenges. There is no doubt that God is blessing me now - or at least allowing me to share in how He is blessing the whole of my community. I'm grateful. It's not about all.

Brad and I will be moving from meeting to meeting in LA over the next week. Keep us in your prayers and thoughts as we go. We want to not just meet people of influence, but kindred spirits who share the heart of our mission, which we stated last night at the meeting:

"We tell stories of faith, hope and redemption on film and video that entertain while changing the landscape of American popular culture."

Monday, March 01, 2010

Today is the day.

My book, Between Two Kingdoms, officially releases today. I worry a lot about being too self-promotional. At some level, the whole idea of having a blog is self-promotion...or at least self-exposure. I tend to hold back when I get excited about things. I find it annoying when all people talk about our their personal projects and ideas.

The problem is that I do things like make movies and write books. I pour countless hours - years - into these things and then suddenly they are "finished." Today is an exciting day for me, so I'm going to write about it. Not because I want you to buy my book, but because I know people will be reading it soon. It feels somewhat like sending a kid to college. (I assume. I still have eight years before that dreaded day.) I've done all I can for her and now she is on her to become whatever she will be - to meet whomever she will meet.

Here are my hopes for this book:

1. That it lands in the hands of people who are ready to receive the Kingdom like a child.
2. That it can be used as a new canvas on which to paint the gospel.
3. That it will give useful metaphors to people to talk about the Trinitarian God and his work in the world.
4. That those who read it would become more courageous.
5. That parents and kids would read it together.

If you pray, I'd ask that you would pray for those things as you think about me and the book. Though it may look from the outside like I do many different things, all I really do is tell stories about Jesus and the Kingdom in different ways. A storyteller just wants his stories to fall like seeds on fertile soil ready to receive them. Today just happens to be the first day that this particular seed is scattered.

Sketch by Mark Haas, based on Between Two Kingdoms