Friday, August 26, 2011

Ridiculous Reviewers On Amazon: One Star Review for Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Invisible ManToday's one star review from our friends at is for Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Ellison's novel is the story of a nameless African American who faces rejection and humiliation at every turn despite his above average intelligence and desire to succeed in society. He realizes as the novel progresses that he possesses a sort of social invisibility because of his race. The book is well written, and Ellison experimented with a jazz-infused style that emphasized experimentation and improvisation. It's consistently on "best of the century" book lists and won the National Book Award when it was released in 1953.

That doesn't stop it, of course, from getting some one star reviews. Because everyone deserves some criticism! This is America!

Da'Marcus Mouton has plenty to say and he calls his review The Most Boring Book In the World!!!!!!!!! (number of exclamation points are NOT EXAGGERATED by Matt Mikalatos). Mr. Mouton has this to say:

The Invisible Man is the first book that I read in which every word was boring and pointless. I understood what it was about, however I felt it was pointless. The prologue was even boring! All in all you can read this book and be the judge of it yourself but prepared to be bored out of your mind unless you enjoy reading about how a african american is betrayed over and over again.

Every single word!!!!!!!!! Boring!!!!!!!! And pointless!!!!!!!! Perhaps he is referring to... exclamation points?

My favorite one star review comes from EmilieBelle75 who said:

I was also very sad that this book was so long. If a book is going to be bad, why can't it also be short? I do not understand. 
And lastly, winning the "I didn't know what I was getting into" award for reviewing of the wrong novel, S. Morris of Kentucky says:

If you are expecting something along the lines of H.G. Wells' classic, you will be sorely disappointed.
Here are more Ridiculous One Star Reviews on Amazon. Read them!!!!!!!! If you dare!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Autumn Film and Kickstarter

Hey friends, I wanted to fill you in on a great opportunity... one of my favorite bands, The Autumn Film, are doing a fundraiser through Kickstarter. The way it works is that you pledge some money toward the cost of them recording their next album, and depending on how much you pledge you get something in return... signed copies of the album when it releases, artwork or even a concert in your house!

I was hanging out with the band last week, and they played a bunch of the songs from the new album for me, and it's their best album yet. I am not kidding... it's fun, it's profound, it's well written, the music is tight and I can't wait to get my hands on the finished product.

Which won't happen until we kick off their recording process! You can get more information about how it all works right here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fasting Day Forty: Break-fast

 So, here we are. The end of the road.

I got up this morning and packed some juice and water and headed for Mount St. Helen's. I've been up there once before when I was spending a day in prayer and found it to be a place where I could get away from the rest of the world for a bit.

Krista and Nurse Shasta were both concerned that I was going off into the wilderness when I had almost fainted yesterday and both bound me with bold promises to make sure that I would text often to fill them in on where I was and how things were going. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that my cell service disappeared at about the same time that I passed the Sasquatch. Yes, there is a Bigfoot "Museum" near Mt. St. Helen's. Supposedly there have been some great sightings of the elusive beast in the area. All I saw was this giant statue, but you can bet I kept my eyes peeled for a real one.

One of the things that I experience at Mt. St. Helen's is a reminder of the scale of things in life. For one thing, the mountain itself used to look like this:

Mt. St. Helens the day before the eruption in 1980.
In May of 1980, the volcano erupted like so:

It erupted at about 8:30 in the morning, and ash from the plume reached Idaho by noon. It varied from 12 to 16 miles above sea level, and continued to erupt for over nine hours. Although most people had been evacuated, there were some who remained nearby who died in the aftermath of the eruption. Trees for miles around were destroyed by the eruption, the mud flows or the superheated ash. Many of them were essentially instantly petrified because there wasn't enough oxygen in the air for them to catch fire. At one ranger station I went to, they had a tree section that had been well over 1,200 years old that was uprooted in the explosion. That really struck me. A tree that outlived my ancestors, brought low by the volcano.

I took this pic the last day of my fast.

Now if you look at the volcano from the North side, this is what you see. It completely blew off the top of the mountain, and the North side of the mountain was largely destroyed. As you drive toward it, you can actually see where the edge of the tree line is, where the trees were destroyed and are coming back to life... the entire forest in that area is the same age. Now life is returning to the area and there are deer and elk and beavers and all sorts of woodland creatures making their way back to normal life near the volcano. Interestingly, the explosion creates very rich soil, so although the destruction was intense, the returning life is lush and vibrant.

I felt almost overwhelmed with the possible spiritual metaphors in the midst of all this. The grandeur and glory and might of God. The destructive power inherent in the volcano, the slow process of life's return to the once barren land, the increased fruitfulness of the new life, the people who ignored warnings about the mountain and paid the price, the fleeting nature of life, the length of a tree's life outweighing that of a human being by far.

I stopped and took some time to sketch the mountain, and though I'm not a great artist, it helped me to stop and really look at the details, to see it more carefully than I might have otherwise.

And in the midst of all this, I was waiting to hear from God.

He spoke to me in all of this... about change, and transformation and power and preparation for things to come. No great specifics, nothing that a skeptic would hear and say, "You're right that must be God." But I'll tell you this... I felt his presence throughout the day, like he was alongside me, like he was with me and speaking to me throughout, the same way that I would experience another of my friends who had come along for the day. He did say a few specific things, but they're a little personal for sharing here... suffice it to say that I heard from God, and that it was a meaningful and powerful time.

I drove home and met Krista and she and I went into Portland, and I shared with her some of the things God had said to me, and we talked about what it might mean and talked a bit about the fast and how it had gone. We went to a Thai restaurant and I ordered a salad roll... basically a Thai salad wrapped up in a rice wrapper. I don't care for them, but I knew I had a chance of this sitting well as my first meal. I have never tasted anything so good. After we had prayed and I took my last bite, I nearly started to cry. I am so happy to be eating again, and so thankful that the fast is over.

Was it worth it? God didn't say anything to me that he couldn't have said while I devoured an entire pizza. But I will say this... I wanted to hear from him more passionately than I have in a long time. He certainly had my full attention at the end. It was hard, and there were days when I hated it. But it was worth it, yes.

Now it's time to re-enter the real world. and I have to admit there is some fear and trepidation in that, too. But it's time to leave the wilderness and enter the cities of human companionship again. I look forward to sitting with you and eating a meal, and talking about it together.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Nine: Penultimate day of the fast

You don't get to say penultimate very often, so you got to take advantage of that when you can.

I'm not feeling great today, so I'm not going to write much. We went to church tonight (Saturday), and I took a nap in the hammock in the afternoon. I got up from the couch to look at something the kids were doing in the hallway and came close to passing out... I had to lean up against the wall and quickly drop my head to keep from going unconscious, and it was a near thing.

Tomorrow I'm headed up to Mt. St. Helens for the end of my fast. I'm hopeful that it will be something good....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Eight: "after forty days he was hungry"

I've heard a lot of people over the years talk about how, when Jesus is being tempted in the desert, the Bible says "after forty days Jesus was hungry." Usually people will say something like, "Duh, of course he was hungry after forty days."

It seems to me that it's probably a reference to a common phenomenon during extended fasts. For most people, hunger essentially goes away sometime late in the first week of fasting. I think for me it was around day six this time. For some people it will come as early as the end of day two. After this, you still have occasional hunger pains or a rumbling stomach, and certainly the occasional psychological desire for food, but your body is relatively satisfied. As I understand it, this is because your body has switched over from burning glucose to burning ketone. Essentially, instead of processing sugar from food, it's processing fat from your body.

While in ketosis (the state in which your body is burning ketone) you just aren't all that hungry. Like I said in a previous post, I'm hungrier when I'm eating than when I'm fasting. It's like my body just sort of gave up and left a note with the brain that said, "Hey, if you see if any food laying around you should grab it and eat it."

Auto cannibalism.
And that's all well and good for about forty days. Sometime between the 30th and 40th day most people hit the "emergency" level, where there's about 7% or less of the available fat for the body to burn. The body starts gearing up to "eat" muscles and, yes, your brain. At this point, no longer satisfied with a polite note to the brain, the body decides to make it clear that we've hit the emergency zone and yes, it's time to switch back to eating food rather than entering auto-cannibalism.

No one disputes this is the end of any voluntary fast. It's the moment where your body says, "Play time is over, it's time for you to eat."

My hunger came back today. It's not playing around. When your hunger comes back, it's rough. I feel the worst I've felt the whole fast, maybe the worst I've felt in my life. I can't concentrate, can't really think about anything other than making it stop... which I know is as simple as a mouth full of bread.

Which, I think, is precisely how Jesus was feeling physically when the adversary said, "If you are truly the son of God, turn these stones into bread." He was tempted when he was at his weakest, feeling his worst, his body completely coming apart. And he overcame all that and followed the path God had set before him.

I'm disappointed that my hunger has returned this early, with two days still to go, but I'm hopeful that there are good things to come....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Seven: The "discipline" of God's presence

Suddenly, instead of looking at the enormous number of days stretching out ahead of me in the fast, and wondering if I’m ever going to make it to the end, I’m looking ahead and thinking how little time is left. My experience so far has been good. I’ve had a consistent time of connecting with God, and yes, I’ve been more disciplined in it than I had been before the fast, and have been reminded that in some sense the fact that I have to talk about being “disciplined” in getting time with God shows the poverty of my spiritual state.  I’m not “disciplined” in eating every day… I eat every day because it’s something I need physically, and additionally it’s something I enjoy. Any time I start talking about “needing to be more disciplined” in getting time with God, I’m saying that spending time with God is a chore and I don’t desire it.  That has shifted now. Fasting is a discipline. But I want more time with God. Not as a discipline, but because I need it and enjoy it.

I told Krista today that I need to take one more day with the Lord before the fast ends, and we made plans. On the 39th day, which is a Saturday, we’ll go to church as a family, and on the 40th, a Sunday, I’ll take a day by myself and go out and pray and spend time with God, then meet Krista to break my fast in the early evening.

Mmmmmm. bamboo!
Ten years ago, the only other time I did a long fast (not a full 40 days… but close to 30), I felt completely disconnected from God basically the entire fast, far more than during this fast. God was silent, purposely shut off from me. He was present but distant. Silent. On the last day of the fast, I took a long day and walked around our city (we were living in Asia at the time). I walked through strange, remote parts of the city I had never been to before.  Toward the end of the day I wanted to find a place I could be by myself, I wanted to find a “lonely place” to pray without the eyes of every person watching the white guy wandering the city. It’s not easy to find such a place when you live in a city of six million, and in a moment of desperation I found a stand of clumping bamboo outside of a hotel and I crawled into it. Once inside, it was like I was in a bamboo room. No one could see inside, and though I could hear people walking by and talking occasionally, no one could see or hear me. I started to pray and after a long time I felt that disconnection with God begin to lessen. I felt like I could hear God, but he was in another room… I could hear the sound of his voice but none of his words. I kept praying, but it didn’t get clearer. I waited there in the bamboo, silent myself, and tried to hear his voice.

Just when I was ready to give up I heard him speak clearly. The conversation was short, but for me it was significant. He didn’t tell me something. He asked me a question. He asked if I was willing to have writing be part of my service to him… more than a hobby, that it would be something he expected of me, something I would be held accountable to him for as part of my job in his service. I thought about it briefly and said yes, and then he cautioned me to think carefully before answering, and started telling me things about it that would be hard for me… that it’s often a solitary pursuit and that I would be lonely at times. That it would require discipline and hard work that thus far I hadn’t been willing to put into it. I considered those things and told him that I would be willing. It was, for me, a change in direction, a new addition to my calling, even though my vocation and day to day job weren’t changing. When I agreed to adopt this into my life, he released me from the fast. I went home and told Krista and sat at our dinner table and drank some grape juice and ate some bread and had communion, and then ate a meal. It was a month of silence from God that ended with profound communication from him. I felt relieved and exhausted. Perhaps that’s what waits in the next few days. I hope that’s true. 

Books I'm reading on vacation this week...

Pattern of Wounds (A Roland March Mystery)I've just started Pattern of Wounds, the second hard boiled mystery novel from J. Mark Bertrand.

Here's the description from the back of the book:

It's Christmas in Houston, and homicide detective Roland March is on the hunt for a killer. A young woman's brutal stabbing in an affluent neighborhood bears all the hallmarks of a serial murder. The only problem is that March sent the murderer to prison ten years ago. Is it a copycat -- or did March convict the wrong man?
Alienated from his colleagues and with a growing rift in his marriage, March receives messages from the killer. The bodies pile up, the pressure builds, and the violence reaches too close to home. Up against an unfathomable evil, March struggles against the clock to understand the hidden message in the pattern of wounds.

I read Bertrand's Back on Murder last year and really enjoyed it. So I'm looking forward to this one, a perfect vacation read.

Doc: A NovelI've also just started Doc by Mary Doria Russell, whose science fiction novel The Sparrow was a favorite of mine the year it came out (though I didn't care for the sequel). A discerning reader friend suggested Doc, and so far it looks great. Speaking of which... the third book I'm reading this week is by that same discerning reader friend, who sent me his as-yet-unpublished book to check out. I'm excited to take a look!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Six: Fasting together in community

When I was in college, one of my Catholic hall mates came to me and said that we were all going to do a fast together, and she assumed I would want to be a part of it. I shrugged and said sure, and as we talked about it, I realized that what we would actually be doing is fasting for the Muslim holy days of Ramadan. My friend Imraan is Muslim, and some of the girls (all of them Catholic, as I recall) thought that we should support his month of fasting by doing it with him (Ramadan is the month when Mohammed received the Quran, so there is a month long festival). I don’t recall that I had ever purposely fasted before, which isn’t a big surprise since it wasn’t something that was spoken about openly in evangelical Christianity, at least at that time.  Far from being a communal value, so far as I knew, fasting wasn’t something that was practiced at all in my faith community. My Catholic friend thought this was hilarious, and they kept assuring me that fasting with others was an ordinary, even laudable, thing. “It’s like Lent for Muslims,” one of my hallmates said.

During Ramadan, those participating in the fast don’t eat (or drink… or, technically, put anything in their mouth) during daylight hours. At night, families and others from the community come together after the call to prayer and eat a feast. So the month of fasting is also a month of feasting.  Every day we would fast during the daylight hours (which for me meant skipping lunch… I didn’t eat breakfast in college), and then come together at a certain point in the early evening in the cafeteria and eat together and talk about our days. I don’t remember doing the whole month… maybe the others did. But I did a few days at least, and it was really fun and deeply bonding to spend time with my friends, coming together at the end of the day and talking about our days, the experience of fasting, and enjoying our cafeteria food together.

It’s something we’re missing in my branch of Christianity. In Islam, Judaism and Catholocism there are specific times set aside for communal fasting, and early Christianity appears to have followed the Jewish pattern of fasting, with festival fasts and many people fasting for 24 hour periods about twice a week. But as prostestant Christianity broke from Catholicism, and then continued to fraction into denominations, many of our denominations jettisoned a lot of those types of practices, and Lent dropped out pretty quickly, followed eventually (I guess) by communal fasting. I think we’ve lost something significant there. Communal fasting creates a feeling of being in something together. It delineates a line around the community and shows who is in and who is out. It emphasizes our commonalities and creates a tradition and common experience, and re-focuses us on what matters most… our common commitment to following God, emphasizing that our commitment to God and to our community is more important than even our most basic needs, like food.

Interestingly enough, the culture of Campus Crusade for Christ is really “fast friendly.” Our founder, Bill Bright, did a forty day fast about once a year, and many others in the organization followed his example, so it’s really one of the only places where I haven’t felt like a stranger, an outsider or an extreme crazy person when talking about my fast. In fact, in CCC, instead of questions like, “are you crazy?” or “Why on earth would you do that?” people have asked how I’m doing or brought up their own experiences while fasting. Which made me feel – more so than at my church or other places in the Christian community – that someone understood what I was doing. It made me feel like an insider rather than a freak.

Eavesdropping with Matt (Episode Fifty-Four: I know the answer but not the question

Dedicated to the woman from Costco who called me for some unknown reason this last Sunday.

My phone rang! The called ID said "Costco." I picked it up, thinking that maybe Costco needed to talk to me. I don't know why they would need this, but I figured, why else would they be calling.

Me: Hello?

Costco Lady: One night in Bangkok.

Me: ....

Costco Lady: I don't know if that's the title or some of the lyrics.

Me: I am not sure what you are referring to.

Costco Lady: I've dialed the wrong number.


Gosh, lady, you should have given me a little more context. Maybe I could have helped you.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Five: Taking Stock

Gah! I couldn't take it anymore. I feel so weak and tired and out of it, and I am SO SICK of juice. It's amazing that I can be this far along in depriving my body of meaningful sustenance and simultaneously wanting to never, never drink juice again.

Williams Sonoma Savoring China: Recipes and Reflections on Chinese Cooking (Savoring Series)I decided that I would make myself some vegetable stock today (which I should have been doing all along, I guess... no doubt Nurse Shasta would say so), and because I've been craving Chinese food, I made a Chinese vegetable stock from this book.

And it was amazing. Mmm. I feel warm and happy.

I couldn't figure out what "daikon" was, though, so I didn't use any of that.

Here's the recipe:
2 Tb vegetable oil
1 yellow onion (quartered and peeled)
1 Daikon (it's a vegetable, I know that much)
2 cups sliced cabbage or bok choy (I used white cabbage)
6 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 white peppercorns

* in a large saucepan over medium high heat, warm the oil and stir fry the onion and cabbage (and daikon... whatever) for about 6 minutes
* add the water and pepper and salt (pepper and salt's optional) and bring to a boil over high heat. reduce to medium low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes
* remove from heat and strain through a sieve.
*drink it! It's good!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Four: Coming out of it...

Less than a week to go, and my mind is starting to turn toward re-entry. I don't feel like I've hit whatever the purpose is for this fast, but there have been a lot of good things throughout. 

When I taught high school once upon a time, a group of my students decided to do a "40 Hour Famine"... it's a fast that some organizations encourage to make people aware of world hunger and poverty. Sometimes kids will raise money for the fast, asking people to pledge money for the number of hours they fast, and often it's done in community, so that everyone is finishing about the same time.

The students asked me to be their supervisor for the fast, which included an overnight hang out at the school at the end. Watching high schoolers fast was interesting, as they not only need more food since they're pretty much always in the middle of a growth spurt, but they also tend to be more dramatic and emotional, so there was a lot of moaning and flinging of "starving" bodies across the tables in the room we were staying in. It was a Christian school, so it was no problem to have a lot of prayer times.

Overall, the students did well, except for their fasting re-entry. The guy who organized the fast knew that "everyone will be hungry" at the end of the fast, so he ordered lots of giant pizzas. I told him that this wasn't a good idea, that they should take it slow and easy when they re-entered the world of food but he didn't care. The kids ate about an entire large pizza each and then they fell onto their backs, holding their distended stomach and groaning... pretty much exactly what they did while they were fasting except that now they had smiles on their faces. 

Nurse Shasta says that I should take as long coming out of the fast as I spent fasting... in other words, that I should spend 40 days getting back up to speed with eating again. Honestly, the thought of that makes me cringe. I don't want to spend my first few weeks eating boiled vegetables or something. Then again, it's pretty clear that my body is going to need time to re-engage with food. Krista says that the last time I did a long fast I was back to eating my regular meals within a few days. I'm guessing it will be something a little slower than that, but a bit faster than 40 days. I guess we'll see! In less than a week!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Three: Father's Day

Just a reminder, these posts aren't in real time. So don't panic. 

Here's the sort of restaurant I like.
How many holidays and celebrations can there be in 40 days? Seems like there are a lot... every month and a half we're celebrating something, and then there are weddings and days in honor of this or that.  Today is Father's Day.  Our family tradition on Father's Day is that Krista and the kids take me out to a meal, but obviously that's not possible today. We'll have to reschedule! Part of the deal, of course, is that no one complains about my choice, no matter what it is!

The Umbrella Academy Volume 1 (v. 1)Since a meal wasn't an option, we went to church in the morning (here's the message Pastor John preached) and then went (for the first time) to Things From Another World so I could buy myself a graphic novel on behalf of my wife and children. I chose The Umbrella Academy, which turned out to be an interesting and excellent choice. Once we got home I was sent to my hammock, where I spent the afternoon reading my comic book and then took a nap. There's not much better than a nap on the hammock with a graphic novel on your chest. 

Overall, a nice day, although the lack of food still makes it harder to regulate my emotions. But it was nice to have a day that was relaxing and enjoyable in the midst of the fast.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Fasting Day 32: Bibliography

I read a lot of books about fasting during my fast. If you're interested, here are a few of them and a couple of thoughts on each.

Baab, Lynne M. Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. Downer’s Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press 2006.
Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our AppetitesAn interesting book with a broad variety of good information… Ms. Baab walks thought a Christian history of fasting, medical issues in fasting, and fasting as a way to get freedom and deeper connection with God. Her definition of fasting is not related to food only, but in giving up anything for a limited time for a spiritual purpose.

Wimmer, Joseph F. Fasting in the New Testament. Ramsey, NJ, Paulist Press. 1982. This book had some really interesting insights into a variety of new testament passages, especially the 40 days in the desert for Christ. Mr. Wimmer spent a good amount of time focused on discovering the “original” text of scripture (i.e. the Q document and so on), so might be a little much for people who put a higher theological weight on the idea of the Bible being completely authentic (for instance, one of his big questions is, “Did Jesus actually historically go out into the desert and do a 40 day fast or is that just a story told for teaching purposes?”) I didn't walk away on board with everything the man thinks or even liking some of his questions, but he made some surprising connections and definitely provided "food for thought" ha ha ha ha ha ha. Pun intended.

Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical FastsTowns, Elmer L. Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough. Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1996. Essentially, Towns sees fasting as a tool to break various spiritual issues in life, and lists nine different Biblical examples of this and what he sees each “type” of fast entailing. I didn't find the book particularly convincing, honestly, because it doesn't match my experience or what I understand to be happening in the scriptures he looks at. It's a popular book and a popular point of view, though, and may be worth your time.

Bright, Bill. Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer.  This entire booklet is available at the link on the title. This is probably the most practical, brief and straightforward of the fasting books I read. It's designed to help people who are actually fasting, rather than learning about the theology or history of fasting. And it's free, and written by someone who did a lot of fasting, not just study about fasting.

A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and PrayerPiper, John. A Hunger for God. Wheaton, IL. 1997. Crossway Books. A good, Christ-centered book on the power of fasting to help us reawaken and refocus ourselves toward God. It shows how fasting is a spiritual tool that allows us to desire God more in our lives. And, coincedentally, it's the inspiration for my own title on my own never-to-be-published book on fasting, Hungry For God and Cheeseburgers.

Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline. Only one chapter of this discussion of spiritual disciplines is actually about fasting, but it's a great, compact discussion of the potential positives in fasting and how to use fasting as a tool to grow closer to Christ.

Fasting: The Ancient PracticesMcKnight, Scot. Fasting: The Ancient Practices. McKnight's book is probably my favorite new read during this fast. He focuses on fasting as a response to sacred moments in life, not as a tool to "get" anything from God. So, it might be that fasting comes about as a result of overwhelming grief or because one experiences God's presence in an overwhelming way (or desires to) but not because it moves God in any way. In fact, he argues that fasting is our "natural" response to sacred moments and it's not something we need to practice or prepare for, but will be our natural response in certain situations. I'm simplifying and no doubt doing violence to his argument, but this is one I would gladly recommend.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Fasting Day 31: Is there a big decision on the horizon?

Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyy?
Throughout this whole process, the one question I haven't been able to answer sufficiently has been, "Why are you fasting?" I don't feel like I have a good answer for that... or, at least, one that sounds good to other people. In other words, when I say, "Well, I feel like the Lord told me to do it" that leaves a lot of people uncertain. Why would the Lord tell you to do that? Did he explain why? Is it about discipline? Obedience? Greater intimacy with him? Are you seeking direction? To which I have only been able to say, sure, all those things are probably true. But it's not like God called me into his study, sat me down and said, "Son, I'd like you to stop eating for more than a month. Here's a list of all the reasons why, along with a review sheet of all the lessons I expect you to learn along the way."

Last night after the wedding we went to stay the night with our good friends Erik and Maureen York. They knew I was fasting because we had talked about it at the wedding and Erik (who is a pastor in Seattle) said, "We'll talk more about this later."

So now it was later, and we were all sitting at their dining room table talking about a lot of things, when Erik turned to me and asked a question that no one had asked me, at least not quite like this. He asked, "Why are you fasting? Is there a big decision on the horizon?"

I opened my mouth to reply, and realized before I spoke that I wasn't sure of the answer. Did I have a big decision on the horizon? Maybe so. I wasn't aware of one, but something about the question made me pause. Most of the time, big fasts in scripture come in turning point moments... a new ministry is about to begin, or someone is about to have an intense meeting with God and receive some marching orders. Could it be that I'm in the midst of something like that? A preparation for hearing something big about my future?

Ten years ago I did the longest fast I had done to that point, about 30 days or so. At the end of that fast, hidden in a stand of bamboo, I prayed and talked with God and heard him speak in one of the clearest ways I ever have in my life and what happened in that moment was that God asked me if I was willing to take on writing as part of what he expected of me. Not necessarily my vocation, but something that would be part of my service to him, not just a hobby. I won't go into the details of that conversation right now, but for me it's an important turning point where my writing officially went from being a hobby to being something I knew needed to be professional and in his service. Could something like this be coming in the next nine days? Could it be that there's a big decision on the horizon? What might he ask from me?

I can't remember what I said to Erik. I hope I said, "Good question." Because that's a great question and one I think all of us can ask ourselves: "Is there a big decision on the horizon?" Am I ready for that?

Mourning the Loss of Campus Crusade for Christ

Previous posts on this topic: 

Name change overview 

Bill and Vonette Bright, the founders of CCC
Change is hard. It's harder for some of us than others. But for many of us, the change in name for Campus Crusade for Christ is a big deal. Some people came to Christ many years ago through an organization of that name. Some people, their first missions experience was with that organization. Others, it may be that their first job out of college was with a crazy group of young people out of UCLA who had started a cutting edge organization called Campus Crusade for Christ and believed that through God's power they could change the world.

In the midst of the name change, I thought it might be good to take a deep breath and acknowledge that whether the new name is good or bad, that change is hard. I've read some articles about organizational change, and most experts say that change in the workplace takes us through a process much like the grief in the midst of losing a loved one (though of course it is a smaller issue that is hopefully worked through more quickly). A lot of organizational psychologists will even use Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross's "stages of grief" terminology to walk employees through what is happening.

For those who are unfamiliar with those stages, let me walk through them quickly, with some thoughts about how this might look related to the Campus Crusade name change for those of us who are heavily invested in the organization (whether staff, students, graduates, donors or friends of the ministry):

1) Shock and Denial. Basically, this involves refusing to believe what has happened. In this stage someone might say, "This can't be right, I'm sure it's all a mistake and the leadership will change their minds by January." During the big unveiling you could see this most clearly in the number of people on Twitter who were saying things like, "Cru? That's a joke, right?"

2) Guilt. Despite the fact that for the vast majority of us the name change is out of our hands, some people will feel bad that they didn't do something differently, something that would have made the old name work. Or maybe it's guilt that they didn't make the time to send in their thoughts about the name change, or their suggestion for the new name and they're wondering, maybe it would have all been different if I had just made the time to say what I thought, or said it more clearly....

3) Anger. I think this one is self-explanatory, and unfortunately it's most likely to be targeting our leadership. Again, this is one of the stages of grief, so I don't think it's something to be dismissed as evil or un-Christian. How we act during times of anger can be sinful, but experiencing anger in a moment like this is not something that can necessarily be controlled. How I've seen this play out so far has been angry phone calls and notes from CCC supporters, CCC staff venting about the leadership or the name or the process and some unfounded and nasty rumors that have gone around even before the name came out (i.e. "there's not really a process happening, they don't care about our opinions, there's a name that was already chosen years ago" etc... none of which is true.).

4) Acceptance. "So. This is really happening." This is the moment of realization, that something in the world has changed and must be dealt with, one way or another. 

5) Moving on. We can finally set the grief (mostly) aside and live in this new world that has been left to us. It might be the moment when the old logo gets dropped from your newsletter and the new one goes in, or when you stop flinching every time you see that new staff person who loves her "Cru" t-shirt and wears it EVERY SINGLE DAY. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that you like the new name. It just means that you can leave the conversation behind. You don't find yourself seeking out the other staff who are angry about the name change and standing outside meetings and venting about it any more. You just want to do your job, and it doesn't matter what the organization is called, at least, not so much that it distracts you any more.

From a personal side, let me share a couple of thoughts. 

I joined Campus Crusade for Christ in January of 1999. I didn't come to Christ through the organization, or do anything significant with them in college. After college I met this wonderful woman who became my girlfriend and later my wife who had amazing experiences in college through a few Crusade staff people who came out to their school once a week in what CCC called a "catalytic" campus... meaning it was largely run by students who were being coached by staff from a distance. Krista went on a year long overseas missions trip with CCC, and I went to visit her partway through it. Her team was full of, I think it's safe to say, ordinary people. People like me. Some of them had lesser social skills, maybe. Some of them had better. Some of them were people I would probably have befriended in other contexts and some of them weren't. Extroverts and introverts and singles and two married couples with kids and all of them together for one simple reason: they honestly believed the world would be a better place if more college students heard about Jesus Christ and had a chance to decide whether they wanted to follow him or not.

Krista and I joined staff after we were married, and over the years we've done a lot of amazing things with some incredible people. I saw a Buddhist guy become a Christian in one conversation... hard core Buddhist to hard core Christian in 30 minutes in a conversation with a staff guy named Brian Ricci. We walked through the loss of a student on a summer project in Santa Cruz with staff people like Mike and Sharon Mehaffie and Paul and Amy Mayer and a whole bunch of other amazing people. I've stood on the Great Wall, and been to Siberia and Costa Rica and Mexico City and Spain and Turkey and in al those places I've talked to ordinary people just like you and me from those countries and been able to thell them about Jesus, and talk about their questions and pray with them and be amazed that we serve a God who is not the God of America, but the God of the nations. Some of our closest friends in life, like Nicole Lewis and Shasta Kramer and all our East Asia stinters and our current team of WSN friends (I realize I can't start to name people in all these places because I'm going to leave some out) are people we've met on staff. I mean it. If you listed "top 30 friends" I'm guessing 25 of ours would be people we know from being on staff with this organization. That all happened in an organization called Campus Crusade for Christ.

And if we started to list all the names of the people who have heard the gospel through Campus Crusade for Christ, and then all the people who have become Christians through it, and then all the people who have grown closer to Christ because of this organization, it would be a long and impressive list. Not because the organization itself is amazing, but because for the last sixty years there have been people who have been doing their best to follow Jesus who have been a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, and God has done some miraculous, literally miraculous, things.

And now, Campus Crusade for Christ, this organization we love and that has been like a home to many of us, is changing its name to Cru.

There is reason to mourn that. It is okay to cry about that. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to be in shock and hope that's not the case.

For me, when the team of people looking at all the research and the potential names got down to our list of ten, I remember looking at the list with a feeling of shock and depression. We had started with over 1,600 names and these were the final ten and I remember thinking, "So. That's it. That's the best we can do. It's one of those ten names and I don't really like any of them that much."

As I moved through the stages of grief, I eventually came to a place of acceptance. We got down to five names and frankly some of my least favorite were on the list. But I remember this one day thinking to myself, "You know, even if the name ends up being my absolute least favorite name, it's not going to change what I do. It's not going to change who I serve or what I am called to do. I might not like the names on the list, but I can live with any of them." For me, that was the breakthrough into acceptance. There was a feeling of peace. I could do this.

Soon after that, it became really clear from our conversations, from the research, and from our prayers that we were going to recommend to the board that Campus Crusade for Christ become Cru. And this name, a name I hadn't really cared for in the beginning, sparked a little something in me. This tiny spark of hope. This barely visible seed of a thought: "What if this name really turns out to be a good thing?" What if it means more people hearing the gospel? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized: that could really be the case! This might really be something amazing with huge, life-giving ramifications. The down sides of of the new name might actually be better than the downsides of our much loved current name.

That was my process. I'm not saying it will be yours, or that it should be yours. I am saying this: if you are grieving the loss of our name, grieve well. Behave with love and generosity toward our leadership and one another, but grieve it fully and honestly. 

If you're fine with the name and excited about it, I would say be patient with those who are grieving. Listen to them well when they talk about "the good old days" of Campus Crusade for Christ. Be honest about your excitement, but don't expect everyone to share it. 

Let's give one another the time we need in this whole process. 

I shared in Colorado how Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, saw the first sketch of what would become the most recognized logo on the planet, the Nike Swoosh and said, "I don't love it. Maybe it will grow on me." I hope we can approach this name change with the same honesty and at least that much positivity. If all you can say is, "Maybe it will grow on me" I think that is a generous and excellent thing to say.

In the meantime, my friends, here is a reminder of our name and our shield... a name and shield which for many people has been the first thing they've seen at the entrance to the kingdom of God, and which many faithful men and women have served under in the last sixty years. Let's remember it fondly and treat it with respect:

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty: Fasting while the bridegroom is here

This morning Krista and I drove up to Seattle for an old friend's wedding. Actually, it's someone we met when she was just a kid... maybe eight or ten years old, the same age our kids are now! It was strange and moving to see someone we had known when she was a child getting married. Her dad was completely falling apart, of course, and I can only imagine that I will get to do that three times or so in the years to come. 

We can't go home to Seattle without a lot of memories. We parked near our old apartment above the Animal Eye Clinic, where we saw a steady stream of one-eyed puppies coming through for two years. Then, Krista and I went to lunch at the best Indian restaurant I've ever eaten at in America, Taste of India! It's actually the best Indian restaurant I've eaten at anywhere, but I figure there could be a better one in India. Maybe not, though.

Of course I couldn't eat anything, but I love that place so much that we ordered a meal for two and then we put the rest in a cooler we had cleverly brought along for precisely this reason and then lugged it around Seattle with us with the plan being to take it home and freeze it so I can eat it after the fast is over. Mmmmm, palak paneer. I don't know if that's the modern equivalent of turning rocks into bread or what, but I love me some butter chicken and palak paneer.

Krista and I also went for a walk around Green Lake (which might have been a bit much for me... I needed a nap in the car afterwards!) and then went down to U Village to buy a wedding gift and shop around a bit. 

Mmm, peanut butter banana wedding cake!
It's strange not to eat at the celebration of people you love. You can hide it a little bit by getting up to get people's drinks or something like that, but at the end of the day people notice that you're not taking part in the celebration and that's just weird. I think that's what Jesus was talking about when he said that his followers won't fast while he, the bridegroom, is with them. But when the bridegroom is gone they will fast, awaiting his return. 

We followers of Christ are waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb. In the meantime there's some time of waiting and fasting, but a time is coming very soon when that will come to an end and we will all join in together and there will be no more fasting. In his presence, there will be no need for fasting again.... 

Five Terrible, Horrible Things About Campus Crusade for Christ's New Name and Why We Still Chose This One

This is probably a post in which I should remind people that the things I say here are my opinion and don't reflect the opinion of Campus Crusade for Christ, and is not endorsed, edited or approved by CCC. 

I was on the team of people who helped choose Campus Crusade for Christ's new name. Cru. That's right. For the last year I've been in meetings at the corporate headquarters in Orlando, I've been on all-day conference calls, I've looked at e-mails and logos and color-swatches and kept my mouth shut about what was going on for the sake of keeping it all under wraps. I didn't make the final call (I have no authority to make a decision like that), but I shared my opinion with our leadership along the way.

The name we landed on, Cru, was not my first choice. In fact, I remember early on in the process, when we still had about a thousand names on the "potentials" list, talking with another member of the team (I didn't get his permission to share this, so I won't use his name) and saying, "I hate that name. If there's one name it won't be, it's that one." He disliked it as well. And, in fact, it was eventually dropped from our list of names and was only added back in later because we needed one more name for a research project we were running, a sort of "benchmark" name, and a lot of our campuses have used the name in the past, so we threw it in because it's what a lot of people called us already.

Now, over time I've grown used to the name (I've known for a few months this was the way things were likely to go). In fact, I'd say I went from depressed to apathetic to excited as this name became more and more real. But, let's be honest, every name has some drawbacks. So let's get them out on the table, shall we? I'll list the worst things about the name and then we can talk about why it's maybe not so bad as it seems at first glance.

1) Rather than completely removing the most offensive word out of our old name, Cru abbreviates it and makes it our whole identity.

This was my initial objection to the name. I've seen several blog posts (mostly by non-Cru staff) and have heard a lot of people say, "When someone asks me what Cru means, I'll just have to say 'it's short for Crusade' and then we'll be back to the same place we were before." I thought this, too. But guess what? No one asks that. I've been testing it out, and so far not a single person has asked me what Cru means when I say that I work with a non-profit called Cru. They don't care what it means. Cru might as well be semantically unrelated to our previous name for all anyone cares. People care about what an organization does for them, not what its name means. So, assuming our name doesn't scare people away, we're going to be fine. When I realized this, I felt better about the name.

2) People are going to be confused by our name and think of other things that sound like Cru.

It's true. A lot of people are going to think of this:

Wine critics are going to think of this:

Oh hey, that one's not half bad. I suppose some people will think of this:

Okay, yes. It's going to be annoying how often we're going to get confused with rowing teams. And yes, it's going to be frustrating to occasionally hear jokes about vineyards and wine bars. I'm guessing we'll rarely hear  about Latin pop, but what do I know? Maybe it will be constant.

On the other hand, we won't get confused with this anymore:

Or this:

Let's keep the drawbacks in perspective, shall we?

3) Please oh please tell me that there aren't going to be constant Cru puns.

But there are. I've already seen "famous" Cru staff being called "Crulebrities." I'm sure we're going to hear about Cru Cuts (a movie ministry, maybe?), a submarine Cru, comparisons to Cru-ella DeVille by the critics. I'm sure there will be other, more creative (cruative?) puns to come.

I don't see much of an up side to this. Unless you happen to like puns, in which case, you're welcome.

4) The response of some Christians makes us all look ridiculous.

I debated whether to include this one. In the end I decided to include it because I think it's true, and I'm trying to be honest here.

This isn't really the name's fault, but the response in some quarters to the name change has made Christians look unintelligent, petty, and like they are people with a shallow belief system. I'm not saying they ARE those things, but that's the impression they give. A couple quick points on this:

* When someone says "dropping Christ from your name is evidence of dropping Christ" outsiders look at them and think, "Wow, their faith is shallow." If changing the name of your organization threatens your commitment to the things the organization stands for, then you have to wonder if you were committed in the first place. It also just seems silly given that the SAME PEOPLE go to churches without Christ in the name. "Oh, but it's dropping the name Christ that's wrong." Really? Is there a rule book somewhere about these things that I missed? If that's true, then the converse would be true, right? It would be superior to ADD Christ into the name of other organizations. If a single church or organization added Christ into their name in response to our name change, I would be amazed and actually respect that. But that's not going to happen.

* The people who say they think the change is "politically correct" reveal what appears to be a politically motivated faith. Cru doesn't make decisions based on politics. Ever. We don't back certain politicians or bills or laws. It is disconcerting how many Christians are watching our name change through a political lens, saying things about how it's evidence we're losing the culture war, etc, etc. It's simply not something we consider. Our organization exists to tell people about Christ, not to win at politics.

* Non-Christians watch the whole conversation with confused uncertainty. Things I've heard from them:
"Why are Christians attacking you for making your name less offensive? Do they want to offend people?"
"Do all Christians form their opinions by watching Fox News?"
"Why are people accusing your leadership of lying about why the name is changing?"
"Do Christians really think they can tell another person's motives and whether they're good or not without talking to those people?"
"Why isn't it sufficient that you have a cross in the logo? Doesn't that show a commitment to Christ?"

The problem is not so much the positions being taken (that's fine if that's your opinion), but the shrill, hysterical tone taken on by many. It's refreshing when someone comes to us with an honest question about things, instead of shouting THIS IS EVIDENCE OF YOUR APOSTASY. Yes, some people have said that. Oy vey, Christians, pull it together.

5) Loss of financial support.

Whatever name we changed to, the experts told us to expect a short term drop in financial support for the organization. This is because change is hard, and people use the change as a reason to move on. It doesn't matter if we had changed our name to "God's Knights" or "Christ Christ for Christ" this would still be the situation.

However, in light of the fact that we believe this change will widen the population of people who will hear the gospel from us, this is an acceptable loss. I'm proud of our leadership, actually, for making a decision that goes against the "bottom line." It's tempting to make decisions based on our finances, and I think it's amazing that our leadership made a decision based not on money but on effectiveness and potential for spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.

So, in conclusion: there are some real disadvantages to the new name. I honestly believe they are lesser disadvantages than our previous name had, and that many of these current difficulties can be overcome or lived with.

While I was writing this post I got a note from a friend on facebook who said this:

Matt, I have been a Young Life staff/volunteer/supporter for over 40 years. While YL may be a bit more descriptive than "CRU", it's not definitive. Often mistaken for a Life Ins. Co.. The strength is in the work! You and your counterparts in "CRU" will continue to make the work of Christ first and foremost. God and your good efforts will make the name "CRU" shine as a beacon for Christ. Bless you all!!!

That's a good reminder of what matters most... continuing to make the work of Christ first and foremost. I pray that will be true for all followers of Christ (regardless of the names of our organizations!).

Previous posts on this topic: 

Name change overview