Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Promoting Another's Book: A Case Study

I've had the great fortune of working on the launch team for Craig Gross' new book OpenThe process has been incredibly educational, and my working with other readers as well as marketing personnel from the book's publisher, Thomas Nelson, has been rewarding, particularly in considering the virtues of marketing another author's work and getting beyond myself (for a change). 

As a burgeoning author, I become terribly self-involved, and when I say "terribly" I do not do so with any hyperbole. My tendencies toward self-involvement and self-aggrandizement during my own process have been horrible--if not in my word and deed certainly through my thoughts. Working for Craig's team in this instance has been enormously valuable to me in that the process has forced me outside of myself. While I have my criticisms of his book, I am vested in its success as one who supports its purpose and message: that we all need accountability (not just those of this with this or that sin).  

Promoting the book has required setting aside specific, focused time for the benefit of another's exposure rather than my own, which has been a considerable task given my limited time after beginning my new job last week. Giving up time is a hard thing for a writer to do. We have so many tasks already before us with our own marketing, generating content, and revising on our way towards publication. Working on another's book pops that bubble if only for an hour or two on a regular basis, and that is very worthwhile. And rewarding. And empowering. Despite my own failures in Stronghold's launch, I know that Open's release will prove successful, for it is not the project of a lone writer but of a group of people coordinating their efforts that a message might be spread. Being a part of that is exciting for me. 

And frankly, it's been immensely humbling to be part of a book launch that will likely have far more readership and benefit to the earth than mine ever will. I do not say this flippantly, working with the Open team and promoting it will likely bear far more fruit than Stronghold, and I am indeed humbled by that — to come alongside of projects so much larger than myself and be considered a participant in the success is a great privilege. 

Overall, it's shown me the joy of serving other authors for both the benefit of their careers and, also, the readers who will experience their book. The practice of doing so has proven emotionally and psychologically healthy for me to get outside myself and my own world, and it has been a means to use my abilities, knowledge, and talent as a way of serving others with more than my original work. If you are a writer, I recommend you spend some time considering how you can help other writers' work get exposure (and no, I am not begging for more help on Stronghold).

Frankly, I hope that my work with Open is just the beginning of my assisting other authors and creatives in their ongoing success. I do not know to what degree my work will result in tangible sales, but I feel an inherent joy simply by spreading the word from another author in whose work I believe. 

Open is available NOW on, but you can win a copy from this blog! 

Here's how it works: Tweet/post with a link to the site Get Open site or the Open's Amazon page and the message "Accountability = Being Open" before Saturday, August 3rdYou do not need to link to my site, just the book's site, and then hit me back at with a notice of your linking/post. Though you are encouraged to post about the book as much as you like, only one entry per person/twitter account will be accepted. 

That's it. You will be entered into the running for a free copy, mailed to you, and two participants will be selected on Sunday, August 4 and notified by e-mail!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections On Accountability

Shame and our understanding of others' perceptions of us play a great deal into our actions, motivations, and overall behavior. For Christians, this should be a far less powerful motivator given that we believe we are saved and already covered with righteousness and purity, able to live a life of love through the savior who redeemed us from death. This should enable us to be free of guilt, shame, and fear of others' approval or lack thereof. Unfortunately, we are also far too human and religious to embrace this outlook as we should. 

Christian accountability can and should help us cultivate a better mindset. Perhaps a definition is appropriate. When I refer to accountability in the sense of the church, I am referring to the partnership of believers to disclose honestly with one another about life, with the understanding that one party--or each party--will exhort the other(s) toward righteousness. Note that I did not say that this was a transaction of simply avoiding sin. No, good accountable fellowship should carry with it a focus on our status as pure, righteous, and good, creating a place where honesty can occur without shame and guilt and fear. While no perfect church can exist in a fallen world, a good church should be one which practices the regular acknowledgment of sin, the constant reminder of our frailty before God and among other persons, and a deep rooted desire not to be "better than others" but to be "a blessing to others" by becoming more like Christ in character and action. Accountability can accomplish this in two very simple but obvious ways. 

First, when we create an environment of trust, forgiveness, and honesty--much like we have with God in prayer--we exemplify Christ to one another through mercy, exhortation, and encouragement. The admonition of Paul in Colossians to speak to one another in "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks in [our] hearts to God" should be real and vibrant in relationships of accountability more than any other. As we "confess [our] sins to one another", we should acknowledge forgiveness from the Lord and, like Christ, encourage one another to "go and sin no more." This is how depth in Christian relationships occurs.

Second, accountability truly benefits the body beyond those who are involved, for when individuals become accountable to one another, their lives improve and their interactions with others and relationships with others outside of the "small group " also improve. Human beings do not live in a vacuum, nor are they islands. We are deeply communal, inherently relational beings, and when core relationships improve and our self improves as a result, the effect is felt by those around us. By becoming more open and honest with others and, of course, ourselves, we are better positioned to bless others through our own confessions, words of encouragement, and other, varied means of honest fellowship. 

And just so we're clear: I do not believe that a Sunday school is a place of accountability other than for attendance to Sunday school; true accountability happens when individuals invest in one another's lives and admonish each other toward a more Christlike heart, not religious trappings. Accountability has nothing to do with appearing more holy more virtuous or more self-aware; accountability is a process by which the heart actually becomes all of those things by being broken and mended through authentic interaction and connection.

As not to be entirely hypocritical, I will confess my own lack of forming a strong "accountability group" outside of college. During my time at a Christian university, small groups were a norm. The university provided their own models, but I found that four-to-six persons of the same gender who cared for one another could do this on their own, albeit with mixed results (one such small group in which I was involved should be the source of my writing somewhere down the line, I just have not figured out a place in which to describe it). Since that time my accountability has looked very different and more weblike tapestry of various persons sharpening one another than a regularly meeting group of like-minded individuals. For example, my present accountability system works as follows: I am accountable to one friend and one pastor on very specific issues, and two other friends are independently accountable to me for similar issues. As far as we are all concerned, certain topics are always on the table: they must be spoken about honestly, must be treated carefully, and must always be directed towards a more Christlike existence. This is good for all of us. As the one to whom individuals are accountable, I always need to ensure that my heart is in the right place, that my ears are willing to listen, and that my voice is willing to speak truth, albeit sometimes difficult truth. On the flipside, those to whom I am accountable must cultivate the same attributes in themselves, and I have to be more open and more honest and more vulnerable than I might be comfortable. I kind of feel like the best way to describe it is a win-win-win, even if the first win and the third win have nothing to do with one another, and each also having ripple effects in other directions. It's not the ideal model, to be sure, but it is a working model until I can become more invested in a regular group dynamic. As I continue to find an anchored church here in Delaware, my hope is that my accountability becomes more vibrant and full (and localized). I hope that wherever you are in life, wherever you're located, accountability is a reality in some form for you as well.

Many of these thoughts are the result of reflections after reading Open, by Craig Gross, which will be released tomorrow. I believe the book is useful for any individual seeking to deepen his or her walk through community and how that is manifested within small groups. Thomas Nelson, the book's publisher, has been kind enough to offer me 2 free copies to give away on the blog this week.

Here's how it works: Tweet/post with a link to the site Get Open site or the Open's Amazon page and the message "Accountability = Being Open" before Saturday, August 3rdYou do not need to link to my site, just the book's site, and then hit me back at with a notice of your linking/post. Though you are encouraged to post about the book as much as you like, only one entry per person/twitter account will be accepted. 

That's it. You will be entered into the running for a free copy, mailed to you! 
Two participants will be selected on Sunday, August 4 and notified by e-mail.


Friday, July 26, 2013

JLA: A League of One: A Recommendation

Wonder Woman is something of an interesting icon in American comic history. Oft referred to as one of three members of DC universe's "trinity" (a gross misuse of the word, by the way), Wonder Woman has had one animated film, a short lived television program, and numerous supporting roles in cartoons such as the JLA. However, unlike the other members and the trinity, Batman and Superman, she has not been given a full treatment on the silver screen nor has she struck a chord with the American cultural vernacular in the same way. This is a great loss, for Wonder Woman is perhaps the most noble of three. 

I did not always believe this, but Christopher Moeller, with his graphic novel JLA: A League of One, has changed my mind. After reading this book I would certainly put Wonder Woman into my Top 10 Comic Book Heroes Of All Time, and I look forward to seeking out more of her adventures (though I think all will pale in comparison to this initial one that made me value her so).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So Close to Surrender: Deadlines and Supporters

So, 2-months ago This almost happened:

Title: "Self-Publishing Amateur Hour"
Date: Friday, May 24, 2013

My friends,

With a heavy heart I must announce a brief delay in the release of Stronghold. Much to my chagrin and shame, I will be unable to meet my expected deadline of May 28, 2013.

I must admit that this has been an altogether humbling experience for me, but I would rather accept a strike to my ego than release a product that was not fully ready. I am deeply sorry for disappointing you all. As a man who believes his "'yes' should be 'yes'" and his "'no' should be 'no'", I recognize that this failure to deliver my product on time is a direct reflection on both my character and my competence. I truly hope that the extra time spent over the next few days allows for a final version better than the one that would have been available on Tuesday.

Once the text has gone live, I will update you accordingly. Thank you for your patience, and again, my sincere apologies,

Yes, this almost happened.

But it didn't. This post never left the draft phase.


My wife stopped me from posting it, and I am so thankful that she did. In fact, after encouraging me to stay firm in my resolve to release the book as promised, she completed a five-hour marathon of reading the back half of the book in its entirety (a stunning achievement, to be sure), so that I would have time all day Saturday to make last minute edits and submit for pre-approval before going live Tuesday.

So why am I telling you this? Two reasons. First, to draw attention to how awesome my wife is and also encourage you to make sure your writing is not conducted in a vacuum. Share with others your goals, your dreams, and--with a select few (your blog readers, perhaps), your deadlines. Make them promises that you can keep, and invite them to hold you to them. You may be amazed at the response and support you receive. And perhaps, near the end of all things, when you have burned the candle at both ends and worked beneath the moon itself for some semblance of light in the wee evening hours reading the printed proof of your magnum opus, someone will come beside you and give you that last push you need to complete your project and stay awake until the dawn. That being said, bring others--a select few, trusted others--into your journey.

Second, note the date; I was 4 days from my deadline, and I was ready to quit. Just 4 days. So close, and yet so overwhelmed with the last few nuggets of work. Deadlines do that to a person. They are psychologically powerful. They make you feel the weight of time like a burden strapped to your back, and each step, no matter how small, feels that much more difficult than it might without the stressor looming on you, taxing your faculties. Do not let the deadline win. You can meet it; you can beat it, and you can take satisfaction in the fact their drain on your mental energies did not break your spirits. You may be reading this in the midst of a project yourself, with a deadline you must meet--maybe you've only told one other person, but it's out there, and you don't want to let him, her, or yourself down. Don't. You can do it. If I did it; you can do it. The feeling of meeting a deadline is rewarding, and it's worth that exhausted final push to do so.

So that's it. I want you to succeed, and I am showing you just how close I came to failure (at least in terms of my release schedule). The book received the proof-reading it needed. The necessary edits were made, and Stronghold was available as promised. Many of you even bought it that very day! Thanks for that.

And thanks for reading,

PS - I am still hoping for reviews of Stronghold on Amazon. If you have ten minutes and would be willing, any review would be wonderful. I am not looking for perfect marks here; just let the world know you read the book, and what you thought of it. Minimum length, 20 words. It's that easy. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

James, The Tongue, and Christian Speech

In mid-June I was involved in a very important meeting with some old buddies, during which I felt that I spoke far too often and for far too long (at one point, I even inadvertently spilled the beans on a secret). Though the meeting ended well, I awoke the following morning with a great sense of personal failure--as though my participation was not as valuable as it could have been had I said less.

Since that time, I have been trying to read through James' epistle daily (and failing at least twice a week, I might add) given his admonitions about the tongue. This is perhaps the most well-known portion of James, and I have taken the liberty of posting the entire portion below:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Where to begin, right?  Well, I am sure that many a lengthy commentary has already been provided on this passage, and I'm also relatively certain that the exegesis provided in them is better than any I could offer here; nonetheless, I want to point out 3 powerful aspects of Christian speech that strike me when reading this passage.

1. Given the power of speech, we should be mindful of its care and use. Bits in horses mouth, a ship's rudder, a small fire: these are things that we would not assume have the power that they do, and yet, once we realize their importance, our perception of them changes and rightly so. Based on our knowing their use, we ensure they are in good order and used appropriately. If we are tracking the analogies, we should carry the same concern over our tongue (our speech).

2. Because of this power, speech left unchecked can do an immense amount of damage. The analogy of fire burning down the forest is appropriate. Consider a rumor. Started amongst a small party, it seems a small thing, but it spreads and tears reputations to pieces, leaving ruins in its wake. Or perhaps another useful comparison may be the Christian who speaks as the world does and uses the obscenities the world uses, whose language is no different than that of others. Is not his or her testimony tainted, not only in regard to initial hearers but also those to whom those hearers speak? According to James (as well as my personal experience), this is simply the nature of things: we talk too much and say much that can damage. This is why our mindfulness in regard to speech is so important: our default setting is toward sin, and a lack of vigilance will ultimately produce bad fruit.

3. The Christian's speech should inherently bless, and be guarded so as not to destroy. James' composition on this point is interesting. He first focuses on the damage of the tongue, then contrasts it with what he assumes is already taking place: blessing. He moves into saying that blessing and cursing cannot come from the same person, because he believes that we are blessing one another in our language already. The implication here is that the Christian tongue is one that inherently blesses and encourages others by virtue of the Spirit's presence. I've read this passage dozens of time, but until recently I did not glean this insight, that the assumed language of the Christian is that of encouragement, admonition, and blessing, which is why poor speech is doubly dangerous (and convicting), not only does it do something poor (destroy others) but it also does the opposite of what it ought to do.

So there you have it. Bottom line: Know the inherent power of your words to build up and tear down; mind what you say, for your words can have extended collateral damage; and if you claim to follow Christ, your language should bless; this is an assumed attribute in the Christian life.

Things to consider as we enter a new week, encounter others throughout our day, and seek to be salt and light.

Thanks for reading,

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

In Case You Don't Know about Tim Hawkins...

He is hilarious. I was first introduced to Tim Hawkins by my in-laws, and when they first described his style, I was skeptical. Frankly, I used to be skeptical about all Christian artists, but I have matured since then--in part because of Mr. Hawkins.

Tim Hawkins is a comedian on par with any of the others to which I've been exposed in the last few years. He's part of a niche breed, a Christian funny man who holds a mirror up to the subculture he loves and pokes fun without cynicism or ill will. His stuff is not the disgruntled rants of a bitter wordsmith but the whimsical musings of a loving sibling. He adores his wife, his family, his church, and his food, but he just happens to find the humor in all of thing as well and shares his observations to make our lives a bit more fun.

In honor of Friday and the the final weekend before I begin my job in the big city, I am embedding some of my favorite bits that he has made available directly through Youtube. At some point, I really need to pick up his Stand-up DVDs. Clean comedy like his is a rare gift in our culture, and he deserves monetary support from his Christian siblings:

This may be my personal favorite.

And here's a wonderful dose of bits and pieces:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Looking Toward Full-Time Employment

After 10 months of unemployment, I will be stepping back into a full-time job on Monday, July 22 (Lord willing). This has been equal parts exciting and frightening. I have had moments of questioning: What if I'm not capable of the job? What if they don't like me? What about this neurosis, that area of improvement, or other possible challenges? Yes, my friends, I think these things, the common questions asked by those with enough awareness to know their limitations.

Of course, to end my musings with those questions would be unhealthy, both for my employer and for me. My heart should not be one of trepidation. I know that the Lord has given me abilities: finesse, diligence, and critical thinking. I also know that God opened this door. The details of my getting this job are interesting, and while I will not write of them in full here, I will admit that I see "divine fingerprints" in the supposed happenstances that surround my receiving this gig.

Frankly, I feel that I am moving into this next phase for a reason, though I do not yet see it fully. And while any doubts of performance may linger beneath the surface, I am approaching this new endeavor with excitement over the opportunity and an enthusiasm to do well, to honor those who have chosen me, to make them feel validated in their decision to do so. Some days will be hard, to be sure, but nothing of value is simple.

But when I come back to the issue of my writing--to the fact that I lived the life of a full-time writer for 10 months and in that time accomplished things by God's grace and to his glory--I take a certain level of healthy satisfaction in what I experienced, even as that phase is ending. Now, I look toward the weeks and months to come, and I am uncertain how my writing career will be affected. I do not know if this will mean that the blogging must be significantly reduced or the future book projects must be put on hiatus or, at the very least, a delayed timeline. I simply do not know. And I do not think I will for some time. This, too, leads to reflective questions.

Please continue to journey with me as I explore my opportunities and attempt to find balance. Please continue to pray for my wife and me, as my being employed will create some new dynamics we will need to navigate. Please continue to look to Christ, for my hope in all of these endeavors--long term, short term, full time, or for a moment--is for His glory, for His appearing more beautiful and worthy of worship.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 15, 2013

Heaven: Old Opinions and Present Anticipation

About six months ago, I did a series expressing some thoughts about heaven, but I must be honest, dear readers, I did not always look toward heaven as the desirable destination about which I wrote. 

For much of life I simply had no interest in heaven. I figured I couldn't know anything about it, really, so why bother thinking of it at all. I also did not consider it as pertinent to my present walk with the Lord, so I figured I ought not bother studying it. At one point, I even thought I would be bored there. 

Looking back on my attitudes, however, I know that those reasons were smokescreens. The truth in my heart was far more convicting than the shallowness of youth. The truth is that I did not love God more than the world. I did not want to be with God, in the presence of God, communing directly with God if it was going to cost me the world.

I'd like to attribute this to youthful ignorance, but I feel that's far too gracious. I know that worldly pleasures drew my attention: the sex thing, the possessions thing, the arts, the family, the middle class things. I simply valued all of these earthly goods as more glorious than God himself. I considered earth my true home and heaven a nice icing on the cake of existence.

And I had it all backwards. Even writing this post, I feel embarrassed. To view the earth and its pleasantries as more more valuable than God is to have no perception of God. A god that is not more attractive than the temporal pleasures of this material place is a small god, indeed (and certainly not the one I worship).

GOD, on the other hand, is someone else entirely. In light of who he is, this earth looks less attractive. If the choice is between God and a lifetime of self-indulgence, then I will refrain from everything I must in order to gain the former. This is GOD about whom I'm writing. GOD. The maker, the sustainer, the overseer of all life. GOD is so much bigger than this place with its present happiness and partial glory. He is the source of joy and the fullness of glory.

Still, I am looking toward experiences in this life with anticipation: eventually having a child (or more than one), watching and celebrating the success of those I love, and finishing my second novel. Toward all of these things I look with hope, but they pale in comparison to my longing toward heaven, toward seeing that Throne of Grace, toward kneeling my forehead on the ground before God and keeping it there for a million years of joyful crying and inexpressible peace and joy. Oh, how I pine for that day! I cannot imagine the satisfaction of seeing Jesus face to face--better is one day in his court.

That being said, if your mindset is as mine was for so much of my life, if you are enjoying the things of this world more than your are looking toward your reward with God, I encourage you to seek His face in the Scripture, speak to him through prayer, long for him through fasting. Cultivate daily communion with him. You will come to live your present existence in light of knowing he is near, and over time, you will get to a point wherein you say, "Oh Lord, this taste of your glory is SO GOOD, that I want nothing more than being nearer to you, as near as I can be, in your heavenly kingdom. Until that time, I savor you here and wait with great anticipation for you to bring me home."

You can get there. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Of course, we all know that the Scriptures provide a wonderful picture of who God is. Below are a few passages that I’ve memorized to that effect, and they are merely the tip of a very large iceberg provided in the Holy Bible:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July Links


12 Ways To Preserve Christian Unity

The Best Way to Respond to in Times of Doubt
Some great insights on holding to faith in the face of darkness

The Downside of Doing What You Love

Insights on "living the dream"

6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense
Some solid advice for writers of all genres

How (& Where) to Get a Short Story Published

Dabbling in short story writing? He's some places to try getting it published.

10 Things You Don't Want in Your Novel

Some good thoughts on items to avoid in the PLANNING stages, that will help avoid later revisions.

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
A list all writers could use!

Top 10 List of Advice for Aspiring Writers
Jody Hedlund's insights on getting through that first book!

A Voyage in Narnia
A 14-minute podcast with great insights on C.S. Lewis' classic series

From Human Embryos to the Elderly
A difficult but important article about the mistreatment of the elderly

The American Moral Minority
Dr. John Mark Reynolds' thoughts on the shift in moral cultural norms.

Pro-Choice: Why I'm Never Going Back
Why One Woman has gone Pro-Life

Christians' Views Vary on Gay Marriage
An article that actually tries to show varying perspectives on people of faith and gay marriage

Hollywood's Completely Broken
An interesting look at the present economic paradigm in Hollywood

5 Things New Down Syndrome Parents Need to Hear
Great insight on how to handle fear of the unknown as a new parent of a special needs child.

Man of Steel
Review by the New Yorker

Friday, July 12, 2013

Brief Thoughts on the Spirit's Movement.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. 
I believe the Holy Spirit moves--near, far, and in the spaces in between. 
Like air, he permeates. Though we harden our hearts and attempt to withhold him, he finds his way into the hidden places, the shadows, and he reveals them with his light and heals them in his time. 

The Holy Spirit is a constant, universal companion in the lives of each and every Christian since Pentecost. Therefore, he is a force of unity amongst believers, and this fills me with great hope. For he can move concurrently in ways we do not see, cannot comprehend, and would never fathom. 

I think about this often and feel led to worship. The facts of so-called happenstance are no small thing. Books can (and have) been written of the Spirit's incredible work across continents and through time, within cultures and around them. A missionary family gets their financial needs met by a random donor giving his income to a general fund, because his pastor in a church three-thousand miles away had the boldness to preach against greed due to his own convictions about his lack of personal generosity, brought about by a blog post wherein the writer was discussing the text of a long-dead author of a far past generation. These are not small things to be considered coincidental and, as such, overlooked. These are the miraculous story beats unfolding every minute of every day, in order to bring God glory in the overarching content of world history--and that is an encouraging (and deeply sobering) thought. 

I have sometimes considered that said stories will be the literature of heaven, that we will kneel at the throne of the Lord as he reveals to us the grand narrative of how he was working over, within, and beyond our little space-time construct in order to maximize glory for himself through the immense miracle of small kindnesses and quiet acts of selflessness. 

As we move into the weekend, I encourage you all to take a few of your free moments, maybe even those last ten minutes before being ushered into the dreamlands of sleep, and consider the ways in which the Spirit has revealed himself to you through his work in the lives of others. You may delay your appointment with the sandman and find yourself laying awake and in awe, shocked by how good God has been, even if you never took notice. I know such an activity fills me with wonder. 

May it never cease. 

Thank you for reading, 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Continuing to Remember Nate Henn

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the death of Nate "Oteka" Henn, who was killed by a terrorist bombing in Uganda during a visit with friends he had met through his work with Invisible Children. IC may sound familiar, as they were the group that promoted the famous Kony 2012 campaign, which was accompanied by a video that has gained more than 95 million views on Youtube.

I went through church youth group with Nate Henn, and I knew him casually. We attended numerous events together, shared some similar interests, and he even appeared in a film I did during my college years. We lost touch over time, as folks do, but in the midst of his volunteering for Invisible Children, Nate and I e-mailed about his work and the ways in which his faith had grown through it.

I forget what event began our correspondence, but I remember why it continued. Inasmuch as we had been casual friends, we always considered one another to be Christian brothers, and that connection infused our mailings. Nate's sincerity was evident in every sentence; his enthusiasm for not only his present mission but his life of service were inspiring. He had become a true disciple of Christ and could not help but speak of his Savior's power and beauty in the face of tragedy. I am blessed that these are the last memories I have of him.

Nate served Invisible Children well, more so than he knew, for he not only brought awareness but integrity and validation to their organization. While I never had the privilege of hearing him speak publicly, Nate's unwavering convictions in our personal interactions attested to his assurance that their mission was of great import, and they were always benefitting those in need, regardless of the turmoil and seemingly endless parade of obstacles the organization faced. While their's was a long-term campaign, they seized the opportunity to bless those they encountered each day, giving them a taste of peace and restoration on the trek toward victory.

In remembrance, I am posting this video put together by Invisible Children several years ago. I cannot watch it without getting goosebumps and thanking the Lord for Nate's life, even as I am forced to again acknowledge his passing--a loss not only to those of us who knew him but to the world. Nate desired to make the earth a better place; in his absence, perhaps a few us can try to do so as well.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Writing, Money, and Supporting Creators

Some people say that money changes a person; and now that I am asking folks to spend their hard earned coin for my writing, I am certain that the adage is a reality. If nothing else, the idea of money has changed me (or is "changing in me"), but I believe it is for the better. Now that I am asking others to compensate me as a producer, I feel more weight to compensate others as a consumer, even though every nickel I get feels like it's worth ten times that.

I realized this after borrowing Christopher Moeller's excellent JLA: A League of One from our local library. Reading it was one of the most harrowing and enjoyable experiences that I have ever had with a graphic novel. The work stunned me in terms of both art and writing; and afterward, I not only wanted to recommend it but felt an obligation to support its creator financially as soon as possible for the experience he had given me (thanks to birthday money, I have been able).

Throughout my life, I've consumed media, but my relationship to supporting it financially has been selfish. Sure, I have sought to purchase the work of those I know simply to support them as a friend, but when it came to artists who I did not know, I never gave much thought to their financial well-being; frankly, I assumed that if they were published in any medium that they were making a decent middle-class living (silly me). In the past when I would have such pleasurable occasions as the one I above described, I would have made a purchase but for wholly different reasons: I wanted to recapture my experience or variations of it. That was the goal, to buy it for my own gratification. But with this book, I was so pleased that I wanted to make the purchase to show the author my gratitude, to support him directly.

That's one side of the coin, but let's flip it. Given that I am making a few bucks here and there on my book, I am recognizing just how fortunate I am for each nickel I get. I recently purchased two tickets to see Man of Steel, and I thought to myself, "How many books did I have to sell to pay for this?" It was a strange moment, but it was also a true moment. Money is not just coming to me in a paycheck because I showed up for an employer and performed a predetermined function--these nickels came directly from people putting their faith and trust in me as a writer, and inasmuch as that's encouraging, it is a heavier responsibility than I have felt writing previosuly. The longing to create work of excellence is always at the forefront of my mind, but the fact that I am charging people to enjoy it raises the bar that much higher. The bottom line is this: every penny from Stronghold is a gift and a symbol of trust, and my hope is that each reader feels that I have deserved it. 

It's an interesting dichotomy that's formed: seeking financial remuneration for my writing has imbued me with a desire to financially support those whose work I value, even if I am being more careful about how my money is spent. This feels altogether strange but also appropriate--as if I should have had this mindset my entire life but lost it somewhere on the road. Of course, the reason it has only come to me now is clear: I'm a fellow compatriot in the struggle to create work that communicates and reveals goodness, truth, and beauty, and as such, I am now responding to authors in the way I hope my readers would respond to me--that they would have an experience they felt warranted the money they spent.

Any fellow creative types out there have similar experiences?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Sins of My Heart.

You may notice that I talk about sin and repentance alot on this blog. Well, truth be told, it's because sin is a large part of my life, far more than I want it to be; and when I recognize it, I have to process it--I have to own it, repent of it, and seek the Lord's deliverance from it. This is a daily aspect of my life, and I foresee it will be for each and every day this side of eternity.

Of late, the sins with which I struggle most often have not been overt but hidden: the sins of my heart and mind. My thoughts. Now, I am not of the theological school that believes each fleeting ill thought that pops into my head is a sin, but I agree with the Apostle Paul's admonition that "We...take every thought captive to obey Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:5b). This area is where I fail, for I do not take those fleeting thoughts captive, but rather I let them run for a bit. A judgmental idea gets verified with further evidences and memory, and over time what was a blip in my mind has become a reasoned assertion. I see something I want, but I cannot leave it at that; I dwell on the thing; I think of my life with that thing. I covet. I hear of injustice; I hear of those responsible. My heart turns not for their rehabilitation or redemption but for their pain and their hurt. What began as righteous indignation over wrongdoing grows into malice and wrath against persons.

And I hate this. I hate this because I can feel it gnaw at me after it happens. I also know it wounds the Lord. I hate this because it's a searing indictment of the sinner I am rather than the power of Christ living in me. I do not even know when the pattern began or how it has so unscrupulously evolved. I cannot go back to a time when I developed the habit of brooding myself into a sinful corner, but now I seem to find myself comfortably there by reflex.

What a horrific realization this been. Perhaps I failed in heeding that wisdom of ancients found in Proverbs 4:23: "Above all else, guard your heard, for everything you do flows from it" (NIV).  Perhaps I have simply failed to focus on my standing or my blessings before God rather than my comparative virtues against other humans. Perhaps this all reduces to pride going unchecked and now running rampant in the face of my attending to other areas of sin in my life. As I said, the source of this newly recognized and all-too-convicting habit is unknown.

But it must be fought regardless. Both of the above referenced verses need to be returned to the forefront of my mind for the coming season. My very thought process must be recalibrated within the construct of guarding and taking hold of that which does not glorify God, for if I am failing to love others and honor God in the hidden world of my thoughts, how can I truly be loving and honoring in my actions? I cannot.

So many more scriptures come to mind as I write this: Christ's discussion with the Pharisees in Mark chapter 7, wherein he insists that it is not what goes into a person but what flows from them that defiles them; the fourth chapter of James, which features the harsh condemnation that strife is borne of internal sin. I think of the admonitions of Phillipians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13. I remember these passages and see my failure so clearly. I know my judgmental thoughts may not hurt another directly, but they dishonor God and they also poison me toward others. This cannot stand. Oh what sin is borne in us while we look the other way. But no longer. This will be a long road to be certain, but what a worthwhile journey to take, and how glad I am that I discovered this now rather than ten years from now, when my soul might have been left in ruins because of it.

I hope that as you read this confession, you are filled not with grief for me but with hope. I know that I grow in the latter with each passing sentence, for the Lord has shown me may wayward heart once again--he has not let me be blind to it and thus dead to his His Spirit. No, his Spirit is in me and alive, showing me the ways in which it still contests for other strongholds in my heart, even as I continue to celebrate the fall of another one. God is being good in showing me this, and while I lament over this sin, I take joy in the fact that I can fight it. How great is our God to move in our hearts despite our iniquities.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, July 5, 2013

The End of Our Questioning: A Recommendation

About three months ago I reviewed Matthew Lee Anderson's first book, Earthen Vessels, which I wanted to read mainly because Matthew is a fellow Biola alumnus who experienced that beloved university at the same time I did, 2000-04. We ran in different circles, and I knew of him only in passing (I am unaware if he knew of me, and I am sure if he did, the knowledge was less than flattering. See a possible reason why in the first paragraph of this post). Regardless, I take great pride in the university's producing writers like Matthew (other Biola Authors from the class of '04 include Keith Buhler and Nathan Shane Miller, both of whose books I have also read, though I have only reviewed that of the former). I caught Earthen Vessels a few years late, but now that I follow Matthew's exploits and articles regularly at Mere-Orthodoxy, I have the privilege of reviewing his second book, The End of Our Exploring, in a much more timely fashion.

The book opens very well, with Matthew taking the lecture approach of first asserting the value of questions themselves then providing a preview of all that he intends to tell us about them, chapter by chapter. This section is immensely strong, and I am including the following quote not merely to give you an idea of his language but also to show why I kind of fell in love with the ideas in this book: 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Me and The Muse

Inspiration is elusive. It cannot be caught, captured, or cajoled. Oftentimes, it arrives at random on the tails of a fleeting thought or a passing glance at some innocuous thing, and it leaves just as indiscriminately. Inspiration is its own master, and it's personification is oftentimes referred to as "The Muse". 

My relationship to The Muse is complex (as all meaningful relationships are), but we seem to have found an understanding. At one point in my life, The Muse alone dictated my time at the keys; at others I ignored it entirely. There was no give and take, no attempt at cooperation. It arrived at its leisure, and I acknowledged it at mine. But something happened when I wrote my first novel that I find highly encouraging: I finally understood the implicit agreement The Muse and I needed if either us was to benefit from the other. 

You see, the night Stronghold first developed was an evening spent with The Muse. For hours, The Muse stayed near me: my imagination was locked into a singular aim, and my creativity flourished within those boundaries in ways it seldom had since childhood.

But The Muse left the very next morning, and I remained alone with collected notes and images. I had vivid memories, themes, and constructs, but The Muse itself disappeared...and I realized something terrifying: The Muse may not return, and one evening of strong, creative output would never be more than a memory unless I accepted that the rest was left to me. I had always known this on some level, but I never forced myself to put it into practice. I never demanded that my best creative results come without The Muse in sight--that they be the result from me, the blank page, and a keyboard to connect us.

So I began to write without The Muse, and I dug deeper than I may have when inspired. I went to places I had to go because the story I was telling demanded it. Sometimes I stayed in those places until I found the story's truths embedded inside them, and I did the heavy lifting of moving those truths from the dark places onto the page. And The Muse was nowhere to be seen.

And it didn't matter. I didn't need it. I was writing, regardless. It was welcome to return, to provide a master stroke or a fresh new concept or a bold new approach; but if it did not, I believed I would find those things anyway. The discoveries may take longer and prove taxing, but I would catch them eventually. If The Muse wanted to be a part of that, it was welcome. If not, then so be it. Either option changed nothing; the story demanded telling, and I was its vehicle.

The Muse never returned for Stronghold. For 12 months, it remained absent.  I wanted it to come again, but I knew I didn't need it. I could do what must be done with or without its aid. At this point Stronghold was in those last painful months of editing, that last 800 meters of a brutal 5K.

And that is when The Muse demanded an audience again. But it did not do so in regard to Stronghold. It had said all it needed on that. The Muse took up residence with me for something else--something drastically different. It remained for a bit, maybe about a week. I couldn't stop writing when it was with me in the room; it was revealing things to me I had kept buried, things I could say, and things I should say, emotions I carried and could arouse in others. The Muse stayed near but not necessarily close, appearing thereafter on this day or that and bringing me to the keyboard, aiding me in my next endeavor to engage and entertain through extended prose. 45 Days passed, and a draft for a new novel lay complete. The Muse had been here but once again disappeared.

It has stayed in shadow since that time, but it's not a problem. As I said, our relationship is complex. I recognize that as much as I love The Muse, I don't need The Muse; frankly, it needs me. I know it; it knows it. And though The Muse is welcome to show itself, it only has power if I give it my time and energy. If it stays distant, its message stays hidden, buried or lost to the ages. It can't communicate without a medium; I can. But all that being said, I respect what it brings to the table, so when it shows, I give it my attention because it's an old friend who may not come again for a while and whose visits always yield rewards. Once it leaves, I'll continue to press forward despite its absence. I'll miss it, to be certain; some days I may even long for it. But I won't need it. I know that now.

I am of the opinion that The Muse respects this, that in some ways it stayed quiet to test me, to show me the truths that I've above outlined.  It will appear again later, when something dormant needs to erupt, not only for my benefit but for the benefit of many, to show us all truth, goodness, and beauty. The Muse will arrive, and I will be grateful, then it will go on its way, and I will do what I must. I will value our time, but I will not be beholden to it. I will not wait for it; I will not need it. I will write, and I will dig, and I will tell the truth until I can do so no more. 

So The Muse can be as elusive as it chooses; I haven't the time to worry about it or chase it. I'm too busy writing.

Here's hoping you are as well,