To Die in Jerusalem

Ayat Al-Akhras was a 17-year-old living in a Palestinian refugee camp. She was beautiful, an A student, and already engaged to be married.

Rachel Levy was a 17-year-old Israeli living in Jerusalem. She was striking, free spirited, and a loving daughter and sister.

On March 29, 2002, Rachel’s mother asked her to go to a local supermarket to pick up ingredients for Sabbath dinner. While Rachel was in the store, Ayat entered the building and detonated a purse full of explosives, killing herself, a security guard and Rachel. The two girls looked so remarkably alike that pathologists had difficulty correctly reassembling their remains. When Newsweek magazine placed their pictures side by side on its cover, many readers suddenly perceived the conflict in the Middle East less as an abstract issue of politics and more as a human tragedy of needlessly wasted lives.

Hilla Medalia is a talented young Israeli filmmaker who was completing her master’s degree in the United States at the time of the bombing. Almost immediately after the incident, she began work on a documentary about Rachel and Ayat and their families. A short student film (Daughters of Abraham) eventually blossomed into To Die in Jerusalem, a heart-rending and thought-provoking feature currently airing on HBO, screening at film festivals and available online. The film focuses on the mothers of the two girls and climaxes with an emotionally charged meeting between them—via satellite, even though they only live a few miles apart.

To Die in Jerusalem is a film about an ancient and enduring conflict embodied by two heart-broken mothers and two lives cut tragically short. It leaves viewers moved and frustrated and anxious for change. Christianity Today Movies recently give me an opportunity to speak with Medalia about her five-year quest to tell a devastating and important story. You can read the full interview here.

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Tags | Film

What's the Word?

Are there writers for whom a blank page (or, perhaps, a blank computer screen) is an invitation? For me, every unwritten column/blog/letter/song/book/sermon is a door, bolted and double-bolted shut. Every word must be sneaked in undercover, crammed through the mail slot, jammed past the hinges, forced through the peep hole. It takes time, effort, and subterfuge to coerce a piece of writing into being. It makes me tired and grumpy. I don't care for it.
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Thou Churlish Onion-Eyed Malt-Worm ...

The next time you find yourself in a smack-down of Shakespearean proportions, you may want to consult the Shakespeare Insult Kit. I promise you will find this resource inexhaustibly valuable. To my friend Roy, who directed me to it ... I can no other answer make, but thanks/ And thanks, and ever thanks.

I would blog something here about the way even a glance at Shakespearean vernacular highlights the diminished state of the English language in the 21st century, but I'd sound like a gleeking flat-mouthed clack-dish. And really, who wants that?

Happy Groundhog ... er, New Years ... Day

I am the Queen of Resolutions. The Guru of Good Intentions. The Diva of Declarations. The Premier of Promises ... You get the idea.

I'm a big, big fan of New Year's resolutions. Every January 1st, I make them. Every January 2nd, I break them. Tradition is important.

Exactly eleven years ago, January 2nd, 1997, I had an epiphany. If Lamentations 3:21-23 really is true--if God's mercies really are new every morning, and His faithfulness really is great--every day (every moment!) has all the promise and potential of a New Year's Day. Failure is cause for repentance (and repentance means changing direction), but it's not cause for inevitable despair.

This New Year's Eve, like all the others, I wrote a long and stubbornly hopeful list of Things I'd Like to Work On. But at the top I put my most important resolution: Every Day Shall Be New Year's Day. Thanks be to God, that's a promise I can keep.

Here are the words to the song I wrote eleven years ago, the night I had my epiphany. It still applies to me, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Happy New Year!


I buy a lot of diaries

Fill them full of good intentions

Each and every New Year's Eve

I make myself a list

All the things I'm gonna change

Until January 2nd

So this time I'm making one promise

This will be my resolution

Every day is New Year's Day

This will be my resolution

Every day is New Year's Day

I believe it's possible

I believe in new beginnings

'Cause I believe in Christmas Day

And Easter morning too

And I'm convinced it's doable

'Cause I believe in second chances

Just the way that I believe in you

This will be my resolution

Every day is New Year's Day

This could start a revolution

Every day is...

One more chance to start all over

One more chance to change and grow

One more chance to grab a hold of grace

And never let it go

This will be my resolution

Every day is New Year's Day

This could start a revolution

Every day is New Year's Day

© 1997 running arends music/New Spring Publishing, a division of Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP)

Tags | Music

One More Christmas Song

As I shared in my last post, I've recently had an opportunity to record a couple of new Christmas songs. Due to a longstanding tradition at my church, I write a new Christmas song each year (8 of those songs are on my 2004 release: Christmas: An Irrational Season). Here is a fresh recording of 2005's song: "Everything Changes at Christmas". You can download it for free at Lemme know what you think -- and Merry Christmas!


Tags | Music

What Kind of King

Hey All,

My little Baptist church in Coquitlam, BC has had a tradition of having me write a new Christmas song in time for each year’s Christmas Eve service. This seemed like a good idea fourteen Christmases ago …

Anyway, eight of those songs wound up on my Christmas disc (Christmas: An Irrational Season). That disc released in 2004, so there have been a couple more tunes since then. (Don’t ask me about this year’s song. It’ll come, it’ll come. That’s what I keep telling myself.) I just had a chance to record the 2005 and 2006 songs, and we’ve decided in the spirit of the Season to just give ‘em away. You can listen to the first song right here, and you can download it for free at Just lemme know what you think, OK?

God is with us!


The GK Chesterton Christmas Ornament

There are G. K. Chesterton Christmas ornaments available for purchase from the American Chesterton Society. I am posting about it here because I don’t know how to feel about it. My hero, the man who gave us Orthodoxy, hanging mid the tinsel. I want it. Is it wrong? Help me …


Seize the Day

This music video is from my very first release in 1995 ... back when "albums" came out on cd and cassette (but not 8-track!) When I watch it now the tune echoes with all the voices that have told me the song has meant something to them over the years, so the memories are good. And my hair wasn't TOO '90s ...

Tags | Music

Dirt and Wood (The Writing Life)

God may reduce you
on Judgment Day
To tears of shame,
reciting by heart
The poems you would
have written, had
Your life been good.

- W. H. Auden

There are psychologists in white lab coats who study creativity, and they generally maintain that anything creative happens in 4 stages: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. As writers we tend to focus on Illumination (actually writing something) and Verification (rewriting the piece, and rewriting, and rewriting...), but many of us don't think a lot about the Preparation and Incubation stages.

It’s always wonderful when an Idea comes along—whether it’s for a song or a poem, a painting or a novel, a sermon, a new angle to help us explain something to our kids, a way to resolve a working relationship, a joke, whatever. But we must be mindful of the fact that everything we've been until the moment we receive the idea is the soil into which that seed is planted. Every emotion felt, thought processed, book read, movie watched, sunset noticed, mistake made, prayer prayed, Scripture learned, grudge nursed—all of it feeds all we do.
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My Interview With Sara Groves

For several years I've been a rather exhuberant fan of the singer/songwriter Sara Groves. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview her about her extraordinary new album (Tell Me What You Know) for Christianity Today. I learned about a lot of things during our conversation, including and especially the work of International Justice Mission. You can read our interview here


Tags | Music
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