Sunday, March 31, 2013

My three year old has an Easter Dance for you

Here's my three year old, who asked me to come outside so she could show me this dance. Stick around for the end, where she reveals why she celebrates Easter.

You're probably wishing to have Easter updates on my other children, too, but I don't have any yet, so here's a post about them from two years ago.

What are you up to today? Celebrating Easter? Not celebrating Easter? Waiting for real Easter on May 5th?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Great Commission and the willingness to go wherever Jesus tells me to go.

Here's my last talk from Big Break 2013, in which we talk about the Great Commission and what it means to follow Jesus and go wherever he asks. I talk some about the Balangao people, and you can learn more about the ministry among the Balangao here. You can also see more about Cru's pledge that they're inviting college students to sign here.

This made me laugh: William Shatner vs. The Gorn (AGAIN! just like in the original Star Trek)

You may remember this classic moment from the original Star Trek, in which Captain Kirk faces a terrifying Gorn in hand to hand combat.

Now they are re-united... and it feels so good.

"Now you're just overacting." Ba ha ha ha ha.

Where is God when horrible things happen? Some thoughts about Lazarus and the resurrection.

My talk on Lazarus and the resurrection is a favorite of mine. My talk starts around the one hour and seven minutes mark.

Here's my talk on the Image of God from #BigBreak13

One of the things I loved about this talk was that someone would always scream in the audience at a Certain Point. Also, this particular week I briefly interviewed Amy Simmons. Amy was in town, so we set it up for me to interview her in the middle of my talk!

If you start this at the one hour mark you'll get to see the MC, Shelby Abbott, and part of his hilarious adventures in filming nature.

My #bigbreak13 talk about taking on the easy yoke of Jesus

Throughout the day I'll be posting my talks from Big Break for your viewing pleasure. Or displeasure, as the case may be. But I hope for your pleasure. Here's the first talk, the one I would give each week on the first night of Big Break. It's from Matthew 11, about how Jesus invites us to put on his easy yoke and follow him.

My talk starts at about the 59 minute mark (the whole evening is on the video).

Crowdsourcing, the church, evangelism and potato chips.

That's right, it's time once again for The StoryMen. This time, JR., Clay and I go solo (all three of us go solo? How is that possible?) without a special guest and have a great conversation about the popularity of crowd sourcing and social media and how that can be used to advance the Gospel, we do a potato chip taste testing and JR. invents THE MOST TERRIFYING BOARD GAME EVER.

And here's where you can subscribe on iTunes.

And yes, we do discuss the issue of Batman on your left. Because we have to talk about Batman every episode (it's in our by-laws).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Come to the Faith and Culture Writer's Conference, April 5-6!

This coming April 5-6 I'll be teaching a couple workshops at the Faith and Culture Writer's Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Here's what I'm teaching on:

Destroying Writers BlockWriter’s block is a myth. Come to this seminar to learn how to get unstuck, destroy writer’s block and move forward in your fiction. We’ll discuss how to “write your way” out of a jam, and the disciplines that can help you crawl over and out of writer’s block every time.

The Launchpad: How to Get Started Writing Your Fiction ProjectThis class is a fun, interactive time designed to help you start a story (or novel, or screenplay) and get it finished. In addition to learning an easy story structure, we’ll write some “flash fiction” in class. You’ll leave with a complete first draft of a story. If we have time, we’ll explore how to create realistic dialogue and human interactions by experimenting on your friends and family. Moowhahahahahaaa!
I taught both of these seminars at the Portals Writer's Conference last year (which will be June 20-23 this summer), and we had a great time. It's really fun. I hope you'll come hang out with us at the Faith and Culture Writer's Conference. Wm. Paul Young, Tony Kriz, Dan Merchant, Phil Long and plenty of others will be there, too. We're going to have a good time.

You can register here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Most hilarious Star Wars clip I've seen in a long time... a long time

Neatorama recently posted about how the music of John Williams makes the movie better in many ways. As proof, they also put up the original, non-Williams-scored theatrical advertisement for Star Wars.

Someone in the comments linked to this music video called "Star Wars Cantina" which made me laugh like a Bantha who just found a big crop of Bantha Nip growing in the desert dunes. 

Okay... anyone got better Star Wars related humor than that floating around? Let's see it.

More Wonderful Wednesday posts here.

Awww! Cute kid reading Sword of Six Worlds.

A friend of mine wrote me this week to say that her little girl (who can't read yet) picked up a copy of Sword of Six Worlds at their house and started "reading it." She said it's the story of "a mama fishy and baby fishy eating yummy pudding."

In which case, I think we got the cover wrong. But still... super cute.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catalyst Australia

Catalyst Church in Ipswich, Australia is doing a multi-week series loosely based around My Imaginary Jesus. The pastor kindly sent me the link to their first service in the series. There's a fun play at the front end, followed by the pastor's message, which may sound familiar to some of you (he used some material from the intro talk I do on this topic, which I thought was fun and cool!).

Monday, March 25, 2013

What was that sound? I'll tell you what that sound was.

At night, before my three year old (M) falls asleep, she often says something charming while she's tucked in and drifting off. 

M: What was that sound?

Me: It was the bed creaking.

M: No. It wasn't the bed creaking. It was a frog outside in the pond on a lilypad.

Me: Oh.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My "must read" list (fiction)

I recently wrote an article about one of my favorite contemporary novelists, Gene Wolfe, at the Speculative Faith blog. This spun out into one of my friends, Becky, saying that she didn't think there should be a "must read" list of books, and then DM Dutcher responding to that and Becky responding to that, which brought me finally to writing this post. While I don't think there's such a thing as a "must read" list, there are certain authors who have changed the way I look at the world, showed me what's possible in fiction and inspired me to do better work. I thought it would be fun to share some of those, why they are important to me, and invite you to check out the ones that interest you.

These aren't in any specific order. Looking forward to your thoughts.

Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (now packaged as Shadow  and Claw and Sword and Citadel). If you click on the first link in this post, you'll get a whole article about Wolfe. I read the Book of the New Sun and loved it. It's a beautiful science fantasy about a young torturer who grows up to (possibly?) be the savior of the world in the far future. Wolfe writes highly literate, complicated, baroque fiction with clear, profound Christian underpinnings. His work can be read over and over, and his short stories are often genius. I've read nearly everything the guy has written and here's the main thing I've learned from Wolfe: there's no such thing as a secular bias against Christian work, or if there is, it can be overcome and, in fact, smashed to bits by making compelling art.

John Steinbeck's East of Eden. My wife suggested I read this, and I completely balked. For one, it had a made-for-TV cover on it, and, secondly, I associated Steinbeck with Faulkner (who I do not enjoy). But this book is amazing. It's the multi-generational saga of two branches of one family... one representing Cain and the other Abel and wrestling with this question: Has God commanded us to overcome sin? Or assured us it can be done? Or told us that sin must win out in the end despite our attempts to the contrary. It's a book about being human, and it's beautiful. I re-read it every 20 months or so, and I enjoy it more each time. The main thing I learned from East of Eden: the story of humanity is compelling, and when explored honestly it sheds light not only on who we are, but who we could be.

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. I don't recall how I came across this book, but it's absolutely delightful. Part historical, part romance, part comedy, part tragedy, but all gorgeously written with a light, deft hand. The plot moves along, it's clearly written and it's emotionally evocative. It hits all the right notes, in other words, and reflects the human experience with humor and pathos while also being about a magician and his lady love and his pet lion. Gold taught me that a book could be light in tone and profound in meaning... that literature need not choose between high and low brow. And it just made me grin a lot throughout.

Kurt Vonnegut. I won't list just one of his books, as it's more Vonnegut's books as a whole that changed something in me. I read and enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five (his most famous book), a humorous satire about the Allies killing innocent civilians in World War 2. Yeah, you read that right. But probably my favorite book of his is Cat's Cradle, a book that takes swipes at government, religion and war in a spectacularly hilarious way. It invents its own religion and has a nearly-nameless protagonist who finds love, religion and political influence mostly by blundering into them. Vonnegut taught me that satire can and should be funny, and that when your reader is laughing you can slip the knife in their gut and they don't really mind. This insight has come in handy in my own writing career when I wrote My Imaginary Jesus.

Percival Everett's Big Picture. Percival Everett gets under my skin. Every book he writes I either love or hate. There's no middle ground. One of the ones I love is Big Picture. It's a collection of short stories that weave together in unexpected ways, that I'm not even sure were written to weave together and yet they do. It's haunting and draws a portrait of human beings that is rich, keenly observed and almost painful at times. If you read Big Picture and like it (I think you will), I'll give you the list of my favorite Everett books (of which there are plenty). Percival was one of my professors at UC Riverside once upon a time, and he taught me plenty in the classroom as well as on the page. One thing I've learned from his work: you don't have to go searching for comedy, there's plenty already out there in the midst of this messed up world. You just have to keep your eyes open and write what you see. Big Picture is, apparently, out of print, so you'll have to buy it used.

C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces. It's a requirement as a Bible believin' Eeeeeevanjelicul that I love C.S. Lews. And I do. I love him a lot. I first read the Narnia books when I was about seven and since then I've read everything the man has written, down to the fragments of novels and half-written short stories. When it comes to his fiction, I have three favorites. Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce and Perelandra. I still like the Narnia books (especially The Last Battle... and my own Sword of Six Worlds is unquestionably influenced by him), but Till We Have Faces is far and away my most beloved. Maybe because it's the only time that he adapted an actual myth (Psyche and Cupid), or maybe because it's the most intensely emotional fiction he wrote, but it's one I enjoy without reservation, and that shows God clearly, without ever talking about God. I learned in this book that it's okay (even admirable) for Christian books to wrestle with the hardest questions in the faith, to do it honestly and not to shy away from the most difficult conclusions and that then, like in life, those questions can lead the reader toward truth.

Peter Ackroyd's The Plato Papers. This strange, slight little book brings me immense pleasure. It's a satire of the 20th century's philosophies, science and historical methods, all set 17 centuries in our future, as our descendants try to make sense of the strange little world they uncover beneath modern London. The main character, Plato, holds lectures where he explains and lauds 20th century culture, with wonderful lectures that involve things like explaining how the ancient novelist and humorist Charles D had many interesting works, the most hilarious of which was "The Origin of the Species." It's also a retelling of the ancient Grecian Plato's life in some sense, which brings a complexity and feeling of familiarity to a very strange world. I've read this maybe ten times and it makes me laugh each time. This book taught me that strange doesn't mean inaccessible, and that sometimes an author can write about his deepest, most personal interests without thinking too much of his audience, and they will not only understand it, but enjoy it. Having that knowledge in the back of my head, of course, made it a little easier to feel that I could write Night of the Living Dead Christian and that, despite the zombies, werewolves and vampires, people could still enjoy the comedy and spiritual teachings in it.

G.K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Chesterton is another favorite who, in general, I like pretty much everything the man wrote. I came to him through C.S. Lewis, directly to The Man Who Was Thursday. The Father Brown mysteries are particular favorites, but when I read The Napoleon of Notting Hill I saw something amazing. It starts as a slapstick comedy set in a not-too-distant future where the King of England is chosen by a lottery system and it just happens to fall to a man who is more jester than king. He takes it upon himself to make fun of everyone by creating an invented history, complete with costumes and theme songs and flags, for every neighborhood in London, and much of the humor of the novel comes from the wacky things he does in this process. Then, suddenly, halfway through the book, a shift takes place and the book moves into a deadly serious, almost Shakespearean war book. One of the characters who has been seen, mostly, as the butt of the King's jokes becomes the hero of the novel, and what seemed like a slight diversion of a slightly satirical novel becomes a serious reflection on war and remembrance and what makes things holy. It's an amazing feat, and surprisingly rare in modern literature. This marriage of comedy and tragedy taught me that the walls of genre and categorization are thinner than we think, and can be manipulated deftly to avoid the reader feeling cheated, and simultaneously providing an experience that couldn't be achieved in one genre alone.

Frederick Buechner's Son of Laughter. I haven't read all of Buechner's books yet, but I'm working my way through. Each book is a sumptuous meal, and should be enjoyed slowly, relishing each page. He's a marvelous writer, describes action subtly and can put pieces in place that look like set decorations but are actually accumulating to an emotional payoff later in the story, for the characters as well as the reader. Son of Laughter is a book about the Biblical Jacob, son of Isaac, and it tells the story of Jacob and, to a lesser extent, his father and grandfather in a powerful and almost cinematic way. There were moments when I would think, "This part isn't in the Bible" and would go look it up and it was. He brings things to life that powerfully... seemingly unimportant comments in scripture would turn out to be of central importance to the people living the tales. Buechner teaches me that it's okay to breathe life and detail into the Bible, because that life and detail are already there for the watchful eye to uncover, and a fictional account can be more compelling than a hundred commentaries if done well.

FLANNERY O'CONNOR FOREVER! The Complete Stories is everything you need. It's not an exaggeration that I Love Flannery. I tried to convince my wife to name our last child Flannery, which was quickly vetoed. Her novels are amazing. Her stories are inescapably brilliant. I honestly think that "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" is one of the best short stories in the English language. "Parker's Back" is, bar none, the best example of the mystical experience of Christ being rejected by the religious Christian that I've seen anywhere outside of real life. When I read Flannery's work I feel like an apprentice painter standing next to Michelangelo. She's unflinching in her portrayal of the real world, unreservedly Christian and a professional artist to the point of absolute perfection in her work. I don't know that I can list one thing I've learned from her without it being a disservice to how monumental she is, but I will give it a try. Flannery O'Connor taught me that the job of the Christian artist is to look at the world without flinching, and to present it as honestly as possible. She believes (and this is clear in her work) that even the most grotesque things in this world point us toward Christ.

Necessarily, in making a list like this, most books sprang to mind as I wrote. What about Lord of the Flies! Watership Down! The Brothers Karamazov (the greatest Christian novel of all time)! And yes, these are all great books, but I have to stop somewhere. And while the first two impacted me enormously, the books on this list did more so. And the Brothers Karamazov is still working on me... I'm not sure what the end result will be, it's still in process.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? What did you think? WHAT'S ON YOUR MUST READ LIST? I'd love to find some new books to explore at your recommendation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Creativity, Limitations and the Gospel

As you know, I'm on staff with Cru, a non-profit Christian organization and a caring community passionate about connecting people to Jesus Christ. I recently wrote an article for the Cru staff web, which you can't read because it's behind a password protected wall. I thought you might enjoy it so I'm republishing it here. I've written a follow up article about failure and the Gospel and have one more coming about criticism and the Gospel, which will eventually make their way here. You will likely also be able to find them on CruPress Green. Obviously, this was written for Cru staff so there's some in-house jargon. If you have questions, leave a comment and I'll explain.
Paintings have edges, stories have endings, plays have a final curtain. Limits define creativity and make it more vibrant. Our limitations are the first and possibly greatest allies to our creativity, whether in life, in the arts, or in sharing the gospel. As T.S. Eliot said, "When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."
Designer John Maeda says, "With more constraints, better solutions are revealed."
If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we need greater creativity as we present the gospel. It could be we are working with a new population or with a culture that has shifted beyond the idea of a “presentation” at all. While we should not too quickly abandon those expressions of the gospel which the Holy Spirit continues to use, likewise, we shouldn't limit new attempts at creative expression of the gospel.
There are practical and logistical limitations as well – time frames, organizational policies, our target audience's availability or emotional capacity, legal issues or a hundred other things you experience each day in your ministry.Our first and greatest limitation on our creativity is the gospel itself. As we embrace new techniques and attempt innovative outreaches, we cannot sacrifice orthodoxy. The truths of the gospel remain the same regardless of how we choose to communicate them.
The trick in creativity is to allow these barriers to invigorate and empower our creativity rather than backing away from them.
Imagine, for instance, that you come across a man who is blind and illiterate, lives in another state from you and comes from a Buddhist background. You met on an airplane and he wants you to interact with him about the gospel. The solution you come up with will be unique and creative, driven by the particular limitations of how to share the gospel with this individual.
Many of the innovations in Cru's history have been driven by limitations. Whether it's Dr. Bright moving "God loves you" to the beginning of his gospel presentation (limitation: people were turned off starting a conversation by hearing they were going to Hell), or the advent of the JESUS film (limitation: Hollywood wasn't taking the Biblical text seriously), or Josh McDowell first translating his materials (limitation: it turns out many Russians spoke Russian).
Here are a few exercises that may help you try something new and creative with the gospel:
  1. Whatever is your favorite gospel tool (whether the Romans Road or the Knowing God Personally booklet or something else), "retire" it for a few weeks and try something different.
  2. Create your own "gospel tool." Remember, we're going for creativity, not necessarily transferability. Don't be afraid to try something crazy.
  3. Have everyone on your team sit in a circle and deal out 4 cards each from the Soularium tool. In the order you received your cards, go through and show how you could connect each picture to the 4 points of "Knowing God Personally."
  4. Pick the most difficult to reach subculture you can think of. Spend some time with someone from that group and try to come up with a way to share the gospel that is specific to that person and their subculture.
  5. Create a gospel presentation that uses no words. Then one that only uses questions.
  6. Write out a gospel presentation that never uses any of these words: grace, sin, redemption, resurrection, propitiation, sacrifice, crucifixion, wage, separated, decision, gift.
Don't be afraid of failure, that's part of creativity (and something we'll talk about in another article).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wonderful Wednesday: Sometimes doing things backwards is cool

This Israeli filmmaker made a video by walking backwards. It's pretty rad:

Check out more Wonderful Wednesday. You can even read them backwards if you want.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All of Josh Garrel's music for FREE!

Here's the song that made me a fan. It's a live recording so sound quality could be better. But it's an amazing song, and the reason I put this album on my Christmas list:

For the next ten days all of Josh's music is free. If you choose to "tip" the artist he is donating all the money to World Relief in the Congo.

Enjoy! And you're welcome.

And don't forget, Page CXVI and the Autumn Film are also giving away their music for free right now!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life of Magnum Pi

My friend Shelby Abbott and I were talking about his mustache the other day and I told him about this idea for a funny short film I had called, "LIFE OF MAGNUM PI." He tweeted it out and Brady Green made this amazing poster for it.

Coming to a theatre near you. Hollywood, our operators are standing by for your phone call offering millions of dollars. I am willing to go as low as two million dollars.

StoryMen with author Julianna Baggott is live!

Julianna Baggott is the author of Pure and Fuse, the first two installments in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian trilogy of novels with strong religious themes and beautiful writing. She graciously appeared on the StoryMen podcast and I can speak for JR. and Clay when I say we found her charming, interesting, insightful and entertaining.

You will, too.

Here's a link to the show, which includes links to all of Julianna's sites. Our facebook fan page. Or, download it on iTunes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wonderful Wednesday: Giant Salamanders

Once I went to an aquarium in Asia and was surprised to find a pool full of "Hellbenders." Giant salamanders. And I mean GIANT. They can be up to five feet long. They're amazing creatures. In China, people say that they will make a call like a baby, trying to lure people into the swamps. Creepy.

Here's some info about the Japanese version:

And here is recent video from some researchers who say that the salamanders use their jaws to create suction to pull fish into their mouths.

Pretty neat!

More Wonderful Wednesday awaits.

Friday, March 08, 2013

This Fat Kitty exercises by swimming

I've been trying to get in shape lately, which means I've been exercising regularly and trying to eat (slightly) less snack food.

But then there's this cat, who only weighs thirteen pounds, trying to lose weight by swimming. It's a funny sight. Funny enough that the newscaster can't keep it together until the end of the article:

 I just used a laser pointer to exercise our cats. But I guess if I had a kitty life vest I would have considered this.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Seven years worth of free music from Page CXVI and The Autumn Film

My dear, talented friends Page CXVI are currently giving away every song they've ever recorded because they have decided to give up making money for Lent (not really... it's to celebrate their bandiversary). That's seven years worth of beautifully re-imagined hymns from Page CXVI as well as their original music as the band The Autumn Film. The seventh year is the "Jubilee" year, and in honor of that they are giving all their songs away for free. Go get them!

They've also just released this fun animated video of one of the songs from their "Lullabies" album:

And, if you're unfamiliar with the band, here's a beautiful version of "Joy" that I've always been partial to:

You can read about why Tifah re-wrote the song this way here. It's a really powerful song.

I don't know what you're waiting for... go get the music. And tell them that Matt sent you. And that he says hi and everything.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Wonderful Wednesday: The Cat Map

The London Zoo has created an interactive tool where you can list your cat on a world map. You can click around the world and see where kitties live and what their names are. The names of cats in Eastern Europe are particularly enjoyable. Have fun!

Now we just need a coyote tracker so I can keep my kitties safe.

More Wonderful Wednesday.

Monday, March 04, 2013

StoryMen episode eight

The new StoryMen podcast went live Friday.

I was sick when this one was recorded, but it has Dallas Jenkins as the special guest/Mikalatos stand-in, and of course Clay and JR were still on the show.