Sunday, May 29, 2005


School justed ended for our kids. A little sad - our small family-oriented country school is being closed, and kids that will number roughly the size of a small town in India are being put into a brand-new megaschool that from the outside looks like a large spaceship preparing for takeoff. I'm not the least bit concerned about my kids. Its the kids who don't have direct parent involvement in their lives that worry me a little. The tendency to get lost in the shuffle, not to mention lost in the every-expanding student/teacher ratio, that's my only concern for some kids. I hope I'm wrong, that the ratios don't change much, and that it still feels "small" once it gets rolling. Jury is still out.
During the last week of school, my daughter was doing some homework that involved money. She had to make a list of items and how much they cost. She listed milk @ $2.99, eggs at .99 cents, etc. At the bottom of the page, on her own, she wrote the following:
Spending time with your family - priceless.
Now that's funny. Not to mention dead-on correct! Her paper was returned with a big smiley face next to that statement from the teacher (how could she NOT like that?)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Roaring Lambs I

Bob Briner's Roaring Lambs has long been a favorite book of mine. The concept in a nutshell involves Christians being salt & light, particularly in the performing arts. NOT just turning out more Christian product (CD's, bad movies, cheesy art, Left Behind volume 78, etc). But penetrating the culture and being seasoning - that looks a whole bunch different than most Christian Bookstore fare that has a defininte narrow target audience. I get excited when I hear Roaring Lamb stories and listen to those who are passionate about culture penetration.
For instance, many are unaware of John Grisham's faith walk. The guy even teaches a SS class at a Baptist church. Having read a few of his books (granted, not all), you find a good mix of Biblical themes permeating his stories (grace, redemption, good vs. evil, etc.) I've often thought that one of the chapters in The Testament is perhaps the best Gospel presentation outside of the Bible itself that I've read. So which is better - Grisham's God-laced stories that inevitably reach the masses of seekers and non-believers, or the next in the money-grubbing series of Christian "thrillers" largely read by religious fundamentalists? (Not that there's anything wrong with that if you or I happen to be one...)
So, occasionally I want to mention a roaring lamb or two. I just stumbled across this film critic and teacher who happens to be a Christian. Her name is Barbara Nicolsi, and she has some interesting thoughts that are worth the time. One of her thoughts about Christians in Hollywood..."We are never going to get anywhere in Hollywood until Christians are willing to do for God what the pagans do for money." I like that. Another article she has entitle "Five Easy Things Christians Can Do To Change The Culture Fast" is worth your time. I like knowing there are people like Barbara in the thick of things, growing up roaring lambs. She has some interesting ideas I hope you'll chew on awhile.
(Just came across another interview with Barbara that is very insightful; lots of info on what she and her Act One organization are doing in and around Hollywood...worth your time if you're at all interested in how Christians can, should, and in small pockets are affecting our culture)

Let's Fix What's Broken

Picked up a book by Mark Driscoll entitled "The Radical Reformission." Thumbed through it a little this morning and am looking forward to tearing into it. A quote from the book jacket, which I assume is from the book, says "If the unchurched in the United States ever formed their own country, it would be the world's eleventh most populous nation. Tragically, most of our present approaches to reach them are not working." That makes my heart beat a little faster.
I'm at a point in my life where that bothers me greatly. The institutional church isn't getting it done. Most frustrating for me is that I'm such a product of it (the aforementioned "institutional church"), that its all I know. But equally if not more frustrating are those of us, myself included, who are products of this framework, who just don't get it. The "It's all about me and my needs" stuff that goes on is mind boggling. I long for and pray for the day when we spend more time talking about how to connect people to God, and zero time discussing who' s mad because we didn't sing the appropriate number of hymns this week, etc. A couple of Brian McLaren quotes from a seminar last week...some related, some not...
  • We need more churches to be planted. Church planting in relation to national growth has declined every decade since the civil war.
  • Evangelizing the non-Christian in our post-Christian culture is similar to being a missionary in Asia or Africa.
  • Evangelism won't work unless people can meet a Christian who has a better life - a more meaningful life. Non-Christians aren't looking for better programs, yet most churches spend most of their time and resources and energy on nothing but that.

If you haven't read McLaren, do. Prepare to be a little disturbed, confused, even mad. But be prepared to think a little, too.

I've heard that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But what if its broke??

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Soccer Season

If I had any idea what I was doing, I would put a nice picture of my soccer team here. Since I have no clue, I’ll just ramble a little. I coached a YMCA team of 6, 7 and 8 year olds. We rocked – we only lost one game! I have little coaching ability or know-how for most sports, but soccer seems a little more logical – just go that way and get the ball in that area! If by some chance the other team has skills and abilities, just mess them up! That was our game plan. It worked. It was fun. My two-fold purpose for coaching soccer was as follows:

1) Time with my daughter. She wanted to play, and I volunteered to coach her team if the Y would accept me (my background check apparently was o.k. since they never said no!). She’s not an aggressive “soccer stud,” but she had fun. More on her in a moment. But the second “hidden agenda” reason I coached was…

2) I need to interact with others better, and getting to know 11 or so other families (moms, dads, grandparents & kids) was gold. I am hoping that some of those relationships can continue and that, who knows, I might engage in “conversations that matter” along the way with some of those folks. I’ll keep you posted.

Perhaps the coolest moment of the season was when one of our little guys went down after a collision. Without skipping a beat, as the play continued on as it does in soccer, my daughter stopped what she was doing and rushed to the aid of her fallen player. Her concern for her teammate was greater than her interest in the game.

Amazing what you can learn in the most unlikely places from somewhat unlikely people. But that cold Saturday morning I learned that sometimes, the “game” doesn’t matter. Who in my life is hurting and needs attention? Who have I blown past on my pursuit of some sort of goal, and failed to stop and reach out a helping hand?

Would I have been excited if my daughter had scored a goal during the season? You bet. But what churns my heart more is the notion that she’s getting it. Through all of my pitfalls of ineffective parenting, etc., somewhere she is picking up the heart of Christ. I want more than anything to see that heart for people continue to develop. Who knows, maybe it will rub off!

Yoda, IMAX it was

I’m one of the millions who saw the original Star Wars movies back in the late 70’s on the big screen.  I was mesmerized then as a kid, and have found that to some degree my fascination still exists.  Before you label me some sort of geek, know that I have never slept outside a theater dressed like an Ewok waiting to see this or any film (though, wouldn’t it be funny to dress up like Star Wars characters or LOTR or something and go to a sappy Julia Roberts movie?  I’m in!)  But I will admit to having seen all the flicks on the big screen.

Well, this time was very cool.  Freakin’ cool, I might add!  The wife and I were in Nash Vegas for a conference, and during some down time visited a mega-mall next to Opryland.  Star Wars was on the IMAX screen!  No, it wasn’t an official IMAX film (it was 35 mm), but it was nonetheless huge.  Probably the largest crowd I’ve ever been a part of at the theater – those IMAX places hold a ton of people, and every seat was filled. 

As for the movie, I loved it.  Sort of a coming out party for R2-D2 and Yoda, and we meet Chewy for the first time (OK, after having just typed the last sentence, even I think I’m a geek.)  But it was a great film, and really tied the entire story together.  And what self-respecting Star Wars fan wouldn’t smile at an entire crowd of Wookies?   I thought Chewy was the only one, some sort of Cousin It ancestor.  When they put Darth’s headgear on for the first time and he does that “Darth Vadar breath” thing, that’s very, very cool.

Of course, I arrived home the next day to be greeted by two angry pre-teen sons who demanded we go see Star Wars immediately, and may never forgive us for seeing it on an IMAX screen without them!  So, for the first time in my life, I saw a movie on the silver screen exactly one day after having already seen the same movie.  Literally, almost 24 hours later.

For my friends who can’t seem to get lost in fantasy films, sci-fi or whatever, get a life!  These movies are great escape & diversion, something I need from time to time. 

(Letterman mentioned that the new movie made some $158 million in the first weekend, shattering records, etc.  “Gee,” said Dave, “that’s almost as much as my neighborhood gas station took in last weekend!”


Steve Taylor's Second Chance

I mentioned recently that I’ve rediscovered the creative genius that is Steve Taylor (check my previous post).  I was THRILLED to get to see Steve at a conference I attended last week, and have the opportunity to be part of a screening of his new movie “Second Chance.”  Very cool.  I very much enjoyed the film, and hope it has some level of success.  So Steve can make a bunch of $?  Well, that’s great and all.  But I’m more interested in films like these doing well, and opening the door for other Christians to penetrate the arts by being salt & light.  Notice I didn’t say “so more Christians can make cheese that no one but other Christians will want to see and thereby continue to keep our God-ordained creativity locked in a closet.”  So far, aside from the Passion, most efforts have been poor (have you seen Left Behind or Omega Code??)  Taylor did joke in the post-screening interview about how low the bar has been set for a Christian-produced film; there was nowhere to go but up!  Very funny!


Sony Pictures is picking up this film and will promote, etc.  That’s very cool.  It’s called “Second Chance,” and will release in September.   And I think it’s a film that just feels legit, unlike much of the VHS stuff I’ve played for youth groups over the years.  I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that now.  I hope you’ll see Second Chance, and that the message of the film hits home with you as it did with me.   I’ll be reminding you!


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cash Cow Part I

I’ll freely admit to being a part of the proverbial Cash Cow known as the Christian Music Industry. I’m not on the receiving end – I’m an avid consumer, and have been since the 80’s when I obtained my first copy of “Father’s Eyes,” and undoubtedly two cassette tapes that played big roles in my formative years, “Never Say Die” and “Not Of This World”. I’ve largely enjoyed it, its mostly been beneficial and good, and I have few complaints (saving those complaints for Cash Cow Part II). But as trends go, the most recent trend is one I sort of like.

Seems every artist has suddenly re-discovered the hymnal. Not that hymns have totally been avoided – every now and then, one shows up on a project. This trend is a little different, and there is a flood of hymn remakes available. Two I’ve heard that are worth noting… First is from the Passion folks, my favorites amongst the worship Cash Cow industry (more on that in Part II…). Their “Hymns Ancient & Modern” is a worthy investment.

The CD that’s getting the most spin in my car, along with the greatest number of “you really ought to get this CD” chat from me, is Jars of Clay “Redemption Songs.” It just sounds good. I love tooling around town introducing my kids to songs like I’ll Fly Away and On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, songs that unfortunately will some day be forgotten in the contemporary church (more on that some other day, too). The version of God Will Lift Up Your Head” rocks in sort of a U2-esque fashion, and I was thrilled to hear my 10 year old singing that with me in the car the other day. Whether you are a fan of Jars of Clay or not, it’s a good purchase, and a sonically pleasing experience. These days, I’m into art and talent. Those haven’t always been trademarks of the Christian music industry, but when the two can be melded together (mix in a little passion and someone with something to say), we’ll “that’s gold, Jerry. That’s gold!” The fine folks at Essential Records even provide a coupon you can use if you’re cheap like me. And when the Blind Boys of Alabama join them on Nothing But The Blood, crank it up. I hope it makes you smile like it does for me!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Seed Flingers

Is it possible that we’ve made church too complicated? That perhaps its just too hard? Harder than maybe its supposed to be?

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells a story about a farmer that scatters seed. I always thought the point of the whole story was the soil types. A basic lesson taught on Matthew 13:3-9 always ends with the challenge question: "Which type of soil are YOU?"

Good question, I guess. Important to know. But is it the only question? Is it the MOST important question that arises from Jesus' parable?

Sure, I suppose it makes sense that the seed will grow in the good soil. I'm no Martha Stewart, but even I get that. I understand that if the seed doesn't get below the surface, it might get eaten by a bird, trapped in the grooves of a tennis shoe, etc. It makes sense that if there are rocks present, and the seed can't grow, flourish, and take root, it just doesn't work. And I certainly understand that an over abundance of weeds will choke the seed and keep it from being what it should be.

But what strikes me about the farmer is that none of that mattered to him! He just, well, scattered seed. He apparently wasn't worried about running out of the seed - he seemed to have a never-ending supply. He didn't care too much where the seed landed, as long as "scattering" was taking place. Almost as though he was hopeful that regardless of the soil, maybe, just maybe, the conditions might change and cause the seed to flourish.

Hmmmm.... am I guilty of seed hoarding? Of protecting my small handful of perceived "limited" seed and only using it when absolutely necessary? In the areas where I think it will reap the greatest reward?

Seems like sometimes I'm a pretty good, careful steward of seed. Maybe the church is, too.

But isn't what we need a revolution of sorts in our methods of farming? Maybe we need to follow the example of the farmer in the parable, the example Jesus wants us to see after all. Maybe we need to develop a lifestyle of being "radically generous seed flingers."

Instead of just being "seed flingers," we've over-plotted, cleverly programmed, and conditioned ourselves to believe that the entire notion of doing church is just so hard. It's just so hard to reach the culture. And don't get me started on how "hard" it is to tell others about God!!

The farmer knew that there were places the seed would grow and places it wouldn't. He just scattered! That was his task! He wasn't going to run out!

You and I should be seed flingers. Infiltrating our communities with love, generosity, compassion, care.

Steve Sjogren is responsible for turning me on to this notion, and provided me the insight about the farmer being a careless scatterer. He's written several books about "flinging seeds," most notably The Conspiracy of Kindness. He mentions in a recent article a church in NYC called Journey Church. It was started in 2002 with 0 people. In the last 3 years, they have tracked some 500,000 acts of kindness and generosity in the hearts of New Yorkers. The result? Over 1,000 are currently checking out Journey Church, looking to find out what motivates these people to be so kind, generous, and counter-culture.

Was that difficult? Well, for some of us, maybe being kind is hard work. Perhaps many don't realize the impact of a simple act of kindness. But I'm more and more convinced that we're to be "radically generous seed flingers" above all else - in the check-out line, in traffic, with our finances, with our time. I think an army of us giving that a real shot could be scary good.

Parting Shot: Paul wrote in Romans 2:4 that "the kindness of God leads you to repentance." Hmmm...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fired By Banjo Boy

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited to a concert that featured a plethora of musical artists from the genre of music best described as "Southern Gospel." Please Note: NOT the type of music I would normally listen to, so don't categorize me just yet! However, we thought the interaction of others that were attending would be fun, so we said sure.

There was a catch to the whole deal - we were going to help staff one of the many product tables and help with the sale of merchandise during the breaks of the event. Again, no problem.

We were assigned to a small table for a bluegrass band that we were unfamiliar with, but soon found we were the minority. Everybody seemed to be devoted fans of this popular bluegrass family, and most seemed suprised if they sensed we hadn't heard of them. Of course, some thought we were "with" the band, and asked us all sorts of questions about things we couldn't answer. No problem - we knew that a couple of the members would come out during the intermission and be there to answer questions, sign autographs, etc. We enjoyed the pre-concert sales time, sold our share of CD's and stuff, and nestled in to our free seats to experience what can only be described as the "mecca" of Gospel music (not to mention we were in an arena with more Republicans than you could shake a stick at...another topic altogether!)

I'll admit, I didn't mind most of what took place - only one or so of the acts would make my "can't tolerate that ever again in my life" list (please note: I'm being very good and not naming any of these nice, talented, passionate folks). A lot of it was good; some was very good.

Particularly "cool" was the bluegrass band. Being a card-carrying member of the O Brother Where Art Thou fan club and an actual owner of the soundtrack, I found this group to be very good, and very talented - regardless of style, you've got to respect talent.

As the intermission neared, the wife and I made our way back to the concourse to sell more CD's and videos and such. That's when rejection began to set in. Banjo Boy, as he's affectionately referred to in our home, which is only fitting since he was the banjo player in the group, was sitting at the table selling stuff left and right. We thought "Cool, we can sell stuff, and Banjo Boy can stand around and talk to people, sign autographs, tell banjo war stories, whatever." Did I mention rejection? Seems Banjo Boy could do all of the aforementioned things AND sell stuff at the same time. By himself. With no help from strangers he had never met.

We weren't needed. Banjo Boy had fired us. Ouch.

So here we were, at a concert we weren't completely interested in, with lots of time in the intermission to just walk around and look at product from artists that we weren't interested in, with our sole purpose of attending in the first place having been ripped out from under us. By a banjo player! We laughed. We're still laughing.

Was the whole night a waste? No. Life is so, so busy. Even arranging some elaborate child care for the evening was hard. But my wife and I got to spend about 6-8 hours together just out. We laughed (even at the expense of a little bitty bit of southern gospel music), met a few interesting folks, learned a little about bluegrass music, and just had some fun together. Hard to complain about that (though a free CD from Banjo Boy would have gone a long way to heal our wounds from getting fired!)

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Lament Of Desmond R.G. Underwood - Frederick IV

I've recently rediscovered the genius of Steve Taylor. Steve, if I may call him Steve, is an artist that really defies description under the umbrella of Christian media. He was quirky, thought-provoking, and funny long before the Relient K's of the world were even born. I stumbled across a couple of articles about Steve, one regarding his current film project, another a tell-all interview from 2003's Cornerstone festival, and it gave me fond memories of "I Want To Be A Clone," "Cash Cow," and a host of other Steve-isms.

He had a way of saying things that I found refreshing, and after picking up Squint, perhaps my favorite of his CD's, I find it still very refreshing.

"The news of my impending death came at a really bad time for me." That strikes me a number of ways: creative, well-put, and perhaps indicative of the folks I was looking at as I drove around with "The Lament of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV" blasting in my stylin' Buick LeSabre. (Check the link and read the lyrics - creative. Not my all-time fave, but one that currently is spinning in my head) People all around me, myself included, never really getting to the heart of the matter. Always something else to do first. Always a list of priorities to get into place, and THEN we'll get to what really matters. But for Desmond, as for a lot of us, there comes a time when "Your Number's Up." Because "When they cancel your breathing policy, it tends to steal a bit of the old joie de vivre**." Life is short; don't spend it in endless pursuits, but rather in those that matter, with the people that matter.

So thanks, Steve, for making a bunch of us think. Here's hoping you'll have the chance to share more of your craft with us. Looking forward to your movie(s), too!

**French for "Hearty or carefree enjoyment of life"

Alright already...I said this would be hard!

I guess I should feel honored that two people have actually asked "what's up with the blog void?" The fact that there are two of you who have a) read anything I've had to offer and b) felt compelled to mention the obvious lack of forthcoming thoughts, well, makes me sort of tear up...ok, maybe not acutal tears. I do literally have a list on my desk here titled "things to blog about", and now that I'm breathing a little better with my schedule, I will begin attacking those items. I promise that today I will make another significant contribution to our already cluttered lives of stuff we're not sure when we'll have time to read in the first place.

BTW, Letterman's tribute last night to Cinco de Mayo (no idea if I spelled that right) was a giant 800-lb pinata (again, spelling in question) suspended from a crane a few feet off of the street. A NYC bus hit the gas pedal and rammed right through it. I found that somewhat funny.