One Six Billionth

I'm only two chapters into Anne Lamott's newest, Grace (Eventually). Although I thought I needed a break from her after her last book in this series (Plan B), I'm realizing now how much I've missed her. She makes me laugh like almost no other author, and there's something spine-strengthening and bracing about her faith, even if her theology sometimes seems a touch rubbery.

Anyway, chapter two is called "Wailing Wall" and it's a quite wonderful description of her attempt to teach a Sunday School class of three- to six-year-old boys (and herself) about "letting go". At one point she confesses her desire to whisper to a disruptive toddler something she read on a bumper sticker: Only one six-billionth of this is about you.

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From the Mouthes of Really Smart Babes

My six-year-old daughter, Bethany, is doing very well at school, but she hates to get anything wrong. Her teacher informed me that if Beth gets even a single answer incorrect on a test, she falls apart. So the other night, we had a heart to heart while I was putting her to bed. "Daddy and I don't expect you to be perfect, you know," I told her. "Mistakes are how you learn. And no-one gets 100% all the time."

"Katie* does," she said. (Katie is Bethany's very bright friend and classmate.)

"Oh," I said, stymied for a minute. "Uh ... well, everybody has stuff they're really good at, and other stuff they have to work harder at."

"What is Katie not good at?" she asked. Rhetorically.

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Tags | Family

John Piper meets Tony Jones: Two Views


I'm a big fan of a blogger/CT columnist/author/publishing guy name Al Hsu. Recently, he blogged about a meeting that took place between John Piper and Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones. John and Tony each wrote separately about their impressions of the meeting, and their two descriptions provide a fascinating micro-view of the clash between new Calvinists and emergents.

Check out the blog here. Which side (if either) rings true for you?
If this sort of thing interests you, check out this article (originally linked in the social news area of conversantlife) on the rise of "Piperism".
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Now is the Time

Last night we were singing at an event at Broadway Church in Vancouver. The people there were honoring their GOERS (missionaries) and SENDERS (you know, the ones who support the missionaries). After we sang "Seize the Day", Kory Sorensen, the missions pastor, shared this African proverb:


When is the best time to plant a tree?

50 years ago.

When is the second best time to plant a tree?



Plant a seed today, kay?


Show, Don't Tell

Last month I was going back and forth with my editor regarding revisions on a column. Arguing in defense of keeping a particular story in the piece (despite word count overage issues), I explained that I felt the illustration was important because I was trying to “balance abstract ideas with concrete embodiments.”

“I agree we should ‘balance abstract ideas with concrete embodiments’,” he said patiently and, mercifully, only a little patronizingly. “Around here, we call that ‘Show, Don’t Tell’.”

Show, Don’t Tell. It’s the writer’s mantra and mandate. (“Actually,” my editor clarified, “it’s show AND tell. Just avoid all-tell.”) We want people to see and smell and hear and touch and taste the truth we convey. Beyond getting a reader to embrace a particular idea, we hope and pray the idea will jump off the page and embrace the reader. That’s no small thing to ask of some scribbles (or fonts) on paper.

The way to a reader’s heart, mind and soul is the imagination. In this media-saturated world, if we fail to engage a person at the imagination-level, we won’t keep her for long. Fortunately, there are Imagination Scientists who study the way the human imagination works. Whenever I teach songwriting at a local college, I reference the work of a writer and researcher named Chris Blake. His intriguing article, “The Imagination of the Listener” can be found in The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny (p.46-56).

Blake notes that when the imagination receives a new cue (for example, words in a song or on paper), it constructs an image to go with that cue based on a whole host of stored previous experiences. It turns out that the strongest cues (collections of words) are simple, concrete, action-oriented images that invite the imagination to engage. Abstractions (huge and important concepts like faith, hope, justice, anger, salvation, sin and restoration) don’t work in the imagination. They actually turn it away.

Blake has fun with the famous country song “The Gambler”. Remember that one?

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

The song’s writer, Don Schlitz, outlines a whole philosophy of living in that song. But what if, Blake asks, Schlitz had just gone with abstractions rather than concrete images that represent them? You’d have something like:

It’s important to know when to persist in trying to achieve your goals and when to give up.
You have to know when to decide to give up what you’re doing gradually and to know when to give up quickly.
You should never make a judgment about how your life is going while it’s going on.
There’ll be plenty of time to look back to see how it all went after your life is over.

Try singing that one!

My students laugh when I give them that example. But the truth is, the vast majority of overtly spiritual music and prose takes just that approach:

I praise God for His mercy.
I am grateful for salvation.
Thank you for restoration.
God is a God of justice.

In our songwriting classes we go through our lyrics and try to replace every passive image with an active one, every general image with a specific, detailed one, and, most importantly, every abstract concept with a concrete representation of it. Lately, I’ve been trying to do the same with much of my prose. It’s hard! But I’ve come to believe that the great challenge and holy calling of those of us who aspire to convey spiritual truth with words is to show the truth we seek to tell whenever possible.

Our best teacher in this, of course, is Jesus. He showed us the tenacity of mercy in a prodigal’s horizon-scanning dad, the power of the gospel in seed and soil, and the mysteries of atonement in bread and wine. In taking this approach, He was taking after the Father who called Abraham outside on a clear night to show him his destiny in a thousand shining stars … the same Father who lets us see what His love looks like by showing us Jesus.

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Wrestling with Angels for Free

A quick note -- for those of you who are in to this sort of thing, there is a new (FREE) study guide available for my book Wrestling with Angels. You can download it here.

If you use it, be sure to let me know if you have find it helpful or have any suggestions/requests.

Did I mention it's free?

Happy Wrestling!


The Grace of Wrath (and the wrath of some readers)



My second column for Christianity Today just came out in the May issue. It's called "The Grace of Wrath".  You can read it here. It is provoking all sorts of polarized responses -- which is an intriguing (if somewhat stressful) adventure for me.

I'd love to hear what you think.


Unveiled Faces

I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard’s sprawling, profound book on The Sermon on the Mount. I just came across these paragraphs:

Interestingly, “growing up” is largely a matter of learning to hide our spirit behind our face, eyes, and language so that we can evade and manage others to achieve what we want and avoid what we fear. By contrast, the child’s face is a constant epiphany because it doesn’t yet know how to do this. It cannot manage its face. This is also true of adults in moments of great feeling—which is one reason why feeling is both greatly treasured and greatly feared.
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Carbonated Holiness

Laughter is serious business ...  

I recently agreed to write a regular column (bi-monthly) for Christianity Today Magazine. For the March issue, I borrowed a column I had earlier posted here, spit and polished just a touch. It's here -- I'd love to know how you think it came out.



Bananas with Larry Norman

For just over a month now I've been trying to come up with a proper response to the passing of Christian rock legend Larry Norman. Nothing's been adequate, so here are some memories instead:

The first time I ever played for a paying audience was as the opening act for a Larry Norman concert at Glad Tidings Church in Vancouver. My teen-aged brother was the concert promoter (now you know how I got the gig.)

To my brother Chris and me (and to many others), Larry was already a legend back then. We'd freaked out to "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", campfired to "Sweet Song of Salvation", felt dangerous and cutting edge to "Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music" and worn out our cassettes to "The Outlaw" and "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus". What blew our minds was that Larry agreed to stay at our house (which was our parents' house), and I have a particularly poignant memory of sitting on our couch watching Sesame Street and eating bananas with him.

Tags | Music
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