Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The orphanage under attack.

The orphanage under attack.

My uncle helped found an orphanage in Kenya on an island in Lake Victoria. There are more than 300 kids, many of which were orphaned by the HIV epidemic. Some of the kids are HIV positive. It is without a doubt the most visceral representation I know of what it means to share God’s love.

And tonight it might be burned down.

With the violent unrest destroying a country that many would say AIDS has already destroyed, the orphanage is in danger. There have been threats. Guards have been posted. The food supply delivered to the island is dwindling.

I have never shared a prayer request on this blog and chances are I might never again, but tonight I am going to. Tonight, instead of writing about some sort of silly connection between pop culture and the Bible, I am going to post the email the director of the orphanage filed from Kenya today:

Thanks to you and to all our fellow-servants who are in USA for lifting us and our bleeding country to the Lord. After receiving perhaps the most direct and serious threats from the mainlands, to the effect that we the only operating school in our region, I decided to call off my trip to Nairobi by the MAF plane which was coming to pick me. I called all staff and told them about the threats of those who were demanding that we close down or be burnt. I then gave each one room to say what in their view we needed to do and only two people were in favor of closure, with everyone else feeling strongly that we cannot release the children to all the dangers awaiting them outside of the orphanage. We will stay with the children.

Deep inside I am reminded once more that this place is the true home many of these precious jewels of the Lord have. I asked myself, 'Should I send them out there in the wild, or should I continue God's work even when it is risky?' I chose the latter and all I ask for is not sympathy but prayer that God would put his arms around these tender lives. This evening our plea to be allowed to continue serving the orphans for the sake of Christ was aired on the radio. Mention was made of us by name that we should be spared the ordeals going on throughout our country by now.

Tonight the men will be working as guards of children, women and property as a response to the night attacks. We have no weapons but wholly rely on the Lord and the guarding angels of light. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Tonight if you pray for strangers,

pray for Kenya.

Pray for the kids at Gethsemane Garden Centre.

Pray for people who are so hurt that they’d want to burn down an orphanage.

Please post a comment. I will email any comments posted to the staff and kids at the orphanage so they know they are not alone in this nightmare.

1. The orphanage, which is also a school, has a website with more info. Visit
2. Thanks to the folks that have said they will share this story on their own blogs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Playing in the dirt.

Playing in the dirt.

I got fired once because I really wasn’t trying that hard.

I was caught shoplifting as a teenager.

I’ve lied to almost everyone I’ve ever met.

I used to write prayer devotionals for churches during the day and take drugs at night.

And yet, there is nothing I can do that will surprise God.

I used to think there was. I used to think that my junk, much of which is too horrible for that list above, would surprise God. That he would look at it and just recoil at how filthy the whole mess of my life was. That in his white robes and be-sandaled feet he would think I was too dirty for forgiveness. He would look at me and say, “Wow, I didn’t even know that was possible. I mean I thought maybe it was but you found new ways to mess up a life. It’s too much.”

I think that’s one of the hardest parts about failing people we care about. It hurts to shatter someone’s expectation of who we are, to surprised them. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever done something or said something and watched someone’s view of you completely and possibly irrevocably change? They look at you and say, “I didn’t think you were capable of that. I’m just so surprised you would do that. That’s not the Susan I know. I don’t really know who you are anymore.”

I used to think God was like that, but last night I read something that makes me think I might be wrong. In John 8, we see the scene where the Pharisees bring a woman who was caught having adultery to Christ and say that according to Moses, they should stone her.

It’s a climatic scene. You get the sense that the teachers of the law are just foaming at the mouth in judgmental excitement. Finally, they have backed Jesus into a corner. This was it, the trap was about to be sprung.

And the woman, the poor woman was just there exposed. The bible says she was “caught” and you can’t help but think she was dragged from a bed in a clutter of screams and yells with little clothing on. She’s standing there vulnerable, waiting to learn if she will be stoned to death in a few minutes.

And how does Christ react? Is he horrified at her sin? Does he recoil thinking about how she failed, expressing his shock that despite the threat of stoning people still commit adultery? Does he express his disappointment in the woman or feed off the energy of the crowd?


The bible says:
Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

I heart that. It’s not the point of the story. It’s a minor detail maybe in a piece that is ultimately about forgiveness and hypocrisy, but I can’t ignore Jesus’ reaction to the sickness of our sin.

He plays in the dirt. He draws in the dirt on the ground. And he does it for a while until they kept questioning him and he had to stand up. When he did, he said one sentence and then returned to a seemingly unimportant drawing in the sand.

But I think it was important. I don’t think it’s a quiet detail we’re supposed to skip over quickly. I think it yells love. I think it amplifies the forgiveness he eventually offers the woman. He knew she had sinned. More than that, he later tells her to leave her life of sin because that is how deeply scarred her entire world was. But none of that shocks Jesus. None of that phases him.

I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know how bad it was or how recent it was or how hurtful it was. But regardless of what it was, Christ’s reaction is going to be pretty simple.

He’s going to forgive you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't sleep on 97.

Don't sleep on 97.

I updated with a lot of new content this month. Check out:

I am Judas.
The party fails, the rain falls.
Maybe God doesn't hear you.

Each one is uber short and mildly amusing in a "did you ever notice" kind of way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This damn life.

This damn life.

On the evening of January 31, 1953, a father and his 9-year-old son were walking along a large dyke in the Netherlands. The father noticed that the water was higher than it should have been. With a watch and a worrisome look he took a rough measure of how high the water would be soon.

In a controlled panic, he and his son woke up the mayor of the small town. They woke up the town council and for a few hours they discussed what they should do. Ultimately the town council decided that they should not ring the church bell and wake up the town because nothing serious would happen. The reason they believed everything would be OK was that the dyke had always stood. Their town had always been safe and so they trusted that what had never happened could not ever happen.

The next morning, the father and son started searching for survivors among the more than 1,800 dead.

Chances are, you and I will never feel the rush of water as a damn breaks and a town disappears. But in many ways, we all know what it’s like to stand on top of a wall as the water slowly rises. To see the warning signs in our life and know that perhaps someone should be warned.

My friend shared one such moment the other day. He’s got a number of challenges ahead of him and in some ways he’s trying to face them alone. When I asked him what would happen if he found himself face to face with one particular thing he struggled with, his response was simple, “I’ve never done that particular thing, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

And in some sense, he had never done the thing in question. But the truth is that everything you’ve ever done is something you once had never done. Everything in this life has a starting point. A moment where it leaps from not at all to at least once.

Maybe it’s slow, the daily build up of rain washing against your walls. Maybe it’s unexpected, a storm colliding against you with waves and water you never dreamed could be so deep. But in that moment when you stand on the top of your damn and can see the water rising, don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to a friend. Wake up your neighbors. Ring the church bell.

Because in this damn life, it’s just so easy for never to turn into first time ever.

Tutwiler Hall - Part 2, the Chainsaw

Tutwiler Hall - Part 2, the Chainsaw

My father and I have never taken a class in chainsaw operation. We never spent any time online learning how to hold them or start them or fix them. We don’t have any friends that showed us how to make good diagonal cuts in trees. We never read a book or a pamphlet on treating chainsaw inflicted wounds. But apparently that doesn’t really matter, because with a credit card you can buy a chainsaw from The Home Depot.

And that’s exactly what we did one bright morning in May. There were three tall, gangly trees on the side of our house that my dad had his eye on. Our neighbor had a professional tree company coming in a few days to remove a few from her yard and had volunteered to have ours removed for free. “No, no” said my dad, “I can handle those. I’ll cut those down.”

I think that he wanted to see real progress from something he had worked on. As a minister, most of his work was emotional and not as tangibly visible as say a 100-foot tree falling through the air after being cut down. So we bought the chainsaw and got to work.

The first tree wasn’t a problem, although the first tree is never really a problem. That’s the one that lulls you into thinking you know your way around a chainsaw. “Hey,” you think in your head, “that wasn’t so hard. What was my wife worried about” you say as you search your yard for bigger trees that will surely tremble beneath the might of your new chainsaw.

We were less successful with the second tree. My father wouldn’t let me use the chainsaw, so my job was to pull a rope tied to the top of the tree and try to direct it where we wanted it to land. Using the word “rope” is a tremendous compliment to the piece of finger thin twine we had tied to this tree. As my dad angled his cut into the bottom of the stump, the tree began to lean a little.

“Pull Jon,” my dad yelled. I looked up and saw the tree hungrily eying our next door neighbor’s roof. So I started pulling as hard as I could. But the tree just laughed at that twine, hundreds of pounds of wood and gravity giggling at my ridiculous efforts. With a thunderous crash, the tree shattered itself on the house next door to us, breaking through the attic dormer, dislodging a piece of their chimney and sending limbs everywhere.

My dad sprung into action. “We’ve got to get up on that roof and clean it off before they get home.” We were going to tell them what happened. That would be impossible not to do, but my father figured it would be an easier story to tell if the scene of the crime had been polished a little first.

Unfortunately this was a rather ambitious tree and had not only punched our neighbor’s house but had also fallen on our aluminum ladder completely warping every rung. All in all, it was a highly unsuccessful day with the chainsaw.

My father and I didn’t follow a sequence that would really lead to any degree of success. We didn’t prepare for the day with the chainsaw. We didn’t put in any research or hard work before we pulled the ignition cord. We didn’t get expert opinions or plan what we were going to do. We just did it and our complete lack of upfront discipline meant the neighbors got a new attic dormer, we got a new ladder and my dad got a new sermon illustration.

I used to view my sins like those trees. I saw them as something I needed to cut down myself before I could be close to God. As I mentioned in another post, “until” those trees were gone, I didn’t want to be near God. I thought more hard work would mean more love. I thought sin removal would show God I was serious. That I was committed and all in.

I assumed that my willpower would be the chainsaw with which I cut a swath through my sin on the way toward the Lord. But that’s the exact opposite of what God shouts in his word over and over again. From the simple example of the celebrate first attitude in the Prodigal Son story to the taskless forgiveness offered the thief dying on the cross next to Christ, we see that work is not a condition of salvation. If anything, it is a by product of it.

My favorite example of this is in Isaiah 30:18–22. In this passage, God lays out with poetic clarity the sequence he expects us to follow:

1. I fill you with love.
2. We remove the things in your life that have hurt you.

The verses elaborate of course. Verses 18 says, “the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” And when we take a step toward him, verse 19 promises, “you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” And out of this experience, after we drink deep from his love, we are then able to remove the tall trees in our life. Verse 22 says, “Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, "Away with you!"

I love the word “then” in that passage because it marries points 1 and 2 together. They can’t be flipped. They can’t be switched. There is an order, a simple sequence we are to follow.

So today, put down the chainsaw. Quit worrying about the trees. Trust in the then.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The computer monks.

The computer monks.

Usually, this is the time of year when keeping resolutions gets difficult. The reality of a few weeks has stacked up like old newspapers and the previously white canvas of a wide open year feels a little bit colored on. And so you, like me, find yourself going back to work on a Tuesday perhaps wondering where the motivation for the day will come from.

I don’t have steps you can follow but I do have a short story that sometimes reminds me why even the unimportant parts of my day are important.

There was once a group of monks that were hired to program software. The guy that hired them thought that at the bare minimum they would be faithful workers. They probably wouldn’t steal or lie or skip work. At the worst, they would be hard workers that didn’t cause much of a fuss.

Instead, the monks gave him the most beautiful code the programming work had ever seen. It was less like lines of code and more like art. There was an intentionality and rhythm to it that spoke to deeper truths, even in the midst of something traditionally cold and flat. When asked about it, the owner of the copy had a fairly simple response:

The monks believe that everything their hands touch is sacred.

Wow. “Everything” is the gorilla word in that sentence. It’s not some things or most things or church things, it’s everything. Yard work? That’s sacred. Filing your expense reports on time? That’s sacred. Keeping accurate timesheets at work? That’s sacred.

It’s all sacred.

Do you ever wonder when you’ll start to do “real work” for God? I do. I love my job but there are weeks where work feels really commercial and secular and not five days of “worship.” And in those moments I think to myself, “wouldn’t God want me to do his work 40 hours a week?” Shouldn’t I be writing devotionals or out in Africa as a missionary? Shouldn’t I work at a church or something? Shouldn’t I be doing God’s work?

Here’s the thing though, I am. If I, like those monks, look at my work the right way, then everything I do is worship. Every breath I take, every moment I have is worship.

And whether I’m programming or writing advertising or posting blogs, it’s all sacred.

Tutwiler Hall - Part 1

Tutwiler Hall

One fall night, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama I decided to take acid. The Crimson Tide had lost to Houston that day but I didn’t care. I was in a bad relationship. We had reached that point where you secretly hope unpleasant things happen to each other. And since she attended the University of Alabama and wanted them to win, I was perfectly fine with the football team losing.

I don’t know who gave me the acid, and the idea that a sentence like that belongs in my mouth is ridiculous. I never drank in high school. I looked at pot as a hardcore drug, but that year all my definitions of right and wrong changed. So I found myself in someone’s kitchen letting a stranger squirt drops of liquid acid under my tongue.

All I remember is that he said, “uh uh, that was too much” and then most of the night disappeared. People lost their shapes. I started to see everyone not as friends, but rather strands of pixilated colors. Have you ever put your face really close to a television and seen the way the green and red dots make up the picture? That is how everyone looked, stripped of everything that defined them as an individual. I heard someone describe the human body as a container once and I thought that was really interesting. In this moment though, the containers were gone and that is exactly how I wanted it.

I was lonely and sad and in a relationship that was broken beyond repair. I felt stuck, trapped, forced into a corner and a life I didn’t want. I wanted a new container. I was tired of mine and nothing seemed to change it. Creatine and exercise and resolutions and studying harder didn’t work. Church didn’t work. Small groups weren’t working. So I threw drugs at my container and for 12 hours it was gone.

But then the morning came. It always comes. As a child I used to comfort myself in our coastal New England town by listening for birds. If they were singing, it didn’t matter if it was still dark outside, morning was coming to rescue me. But this felt more like an assault, the beams of sunshine streaming through the windows like swat members on bright ropes.

And so I did what I did most mornings, I walked to the full length mirror in Tutweiler Hall and looked in. I wiped my eyes with dirty hands and stared at myself, but I wasn’t there. I know now that it was the drugs still lazily stumbling in my veins, but what I saw terrified me.

My face was different. My skin was pulling tight, like too small sheets being tucked into the corner of a big bed. My muscles were straining, any fat in my face fading as the bones beneath began to swell. My face changed in that moment, as my skull seemed to surface like a submarine from the depths of myself. Hollow eyes stared at me.

In that moment, I knew that I would never escape the things inside me. I would never be free of them. I could use drugs or sex or will power or hope or anything in the world and it wouldn’t matter. It all might change the surface of who I was but deep down, in the dark corners that people would flee if they knew existed, was stuff I just couldn’t shake.

That all feels very emo. Like maybe I should have darker hair and paler skin and more black on when I read those words. And instead of Jon, my name should be October Black, and I should have a band with one guy whose hair kind of looks like Flock of Seagulls but it’s cool cause it’s done ironically. But Jenny won’t let me wear eyeliner or black nail polish so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

The funny thing though is that this concept, the idea of trying to get away from what’s inside, is laid out in the Bible better than any emo lyric:

Check out Isaiah 30:
15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

16 You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

17 A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill."

I love that imagery. The idea that the things we turn to in times of need are horses. That when pushed, we saddle up and try to ride off into the sunset. I don’t know about you but my stable is bursting.

Drugs was one of my horses. But it’s not the one I’ve ridden the most over the years. I have too many to count, but I can think of a few without really trying:

I can mentally create the most elaborate hiding places when I’m bored or frustrated with any aspect of my “real life.” Usually I play college basketball. Always I am taller. That’s something I think about a lot. I wish I was a little bit taller.
I wish I was a baller
I wish I had a girl who looked good
I would call her
I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat
and a 'six four Impala

I love worrying about silly stuff when there’s real stuff staring at me in the face. I lost 30 pounds, woke up in cold sweats daily and ended up going on Paxil temporarily in the months leading up to my marriage. But I told everyone, including myself, that I wasn’t nervous about the marriage, I was nervous about the Guided Tour project at work. A job that went out of business about an hour after we got home from the honeymoon by the way, which in-laws love.

Have you ever asked someone else to define or validate you? Maybe not with those words but your actions scream “tell me I’m good enough.” I remember once having a Celtics game ruined because on the way there with my dad someone in another car had flipped us off. I spent the entire game wrestling with the thought, “why didn’t that guy like me? How can I get him to like me?”

I used to call the shower “my compression chamber” because inside there was nothing to distract me. I had already read all the shampoo bottles. It was just me and the water. That’s when thoughts I was trying to flee chased me down. That’s when my horse of being too busy caught up with me. And I hated it.

It all made me so anxious. I think I’m probably a tightly wound person. I seem to spin like a top and have on many, many times been told “it must be exhausting to be you.” And it is sometimes, because I think God’s right. When you’re on the run, the sight of one can make a thousand flee. Something small can feel big.

I swear, most Fridays, even though things are going so much better, I leave work thinking, “I’ll probably be fired on Monday.” If my boss closes a door during a meeting she is having without me I immediately assume it is to discuss with security which is the best way to escort me from the building. That’s silly, but from the back of a horse things are out of proportion.

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? Tomorrow, when something comes up, how do you not put on those weird horse riding pants and just go?

Here is how the verse continues:
18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

There’s a handful of really beautiful words in there, but since I’ve written about those lines before I’ll only mention one. “He rises to show you compassion.” There are a lot of things in my life that I’m motivated by, but I don’t know any that I rise for. I love to write, but most days I don’t rise for it. I want to beat my friend in a half marathon this year, but I don’t rise to train. Of all the things I do, I can’t name one that I rise for, and yet, that is what he does. It is why he gets up. But the verses don’t stop there:

19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." 22 Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away.

Ohh, I could talk about that for hours, but there’s only really one thing in there we have time or space for. And that’s the idea of sequence. Something my father and I learned about one day with a chainsaw.

To be continued tomorrow.

On love and business.

On love and business.

PBS has a bit of a dilemma. Years ago they started giving donors awards when they would give money during their annual charity drive. It worked well at first and seemed to be a good short term solution to dwindling donations. But within a few years they realized that they couldn’t stop giving out tote bags whenever someone donated a certain amount.

They discovered that in a way, they had trained people to only respond to incentives. Unless they gave someone something, the people that first responded to the gift offer would not donate any money in the future.

The thing that PBS did not take into account and what is visible in a lot of dating relationships is a concept the book “Steal These Ideas” detailed:

“People renew the way they were acquired.”

That is, someone will repeat an action the same way they first committed it. Donors that gave because they got a gift will expect a gift the second and third and fourth time they give. Customers that bought sneakers because there was a Spring Sale tend to wait until the next Spring Sale to buy again. So what does that have to do with relationships?


What this ultimately does is give a framework to the Oprah-tastic concept, “if he cheated to get you, he’ll cheat on you someday.” Everyone is familiar with the idea that if you’re relationship started with a guy leaving his wife for you, chances are you should be worried about future infidelity. If he was willing to do it once, he might be willing to do it again. But I think that’s only the extreme example.

What about relationships that start with one person bending their beliefs just a little? What if for instance, before you’re married you pretend that you like going out all the time? That for you, new restaurants, tango dancing and wild adventures are what you prefer. But when you get married and a little more comfortable in the relationship, you revert to who you really are, which is a homebody. What happens then?

What happens is that the person who fell in love with the wild adventurer wakes up to find a peaceful homebody instead. For lack of a better word, they were acquired by something that no longer exists. The very things that attracted him or her no longer exist and conflict has fertile ground to grow.

I know that in some sense we’re all on our best behavior when we start a relationship. That’s cool and is natural, but be careful. I think it’s dangerous to blur who you are too much when you begin a relationship. I’ve seen too many marriages when one person says, “She became someone else. I don’t know who I married.” The truth is though that she just became who she had always been. And if that’s not who you fell in love with, love can suddenly feel very fake.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One more thing guys do.

One more thing guys do.

The other day I wrote a post about some of the things I’m going to teach my daughters that aren’t really covered in books. The kind of things that manipulative guys tend to say to girls. I regret having ever done any of these, but at the bare minimum I’m going to make sure my daughters can see the nonsense coming from a mile away.

And I got a few responses from other dads that have daughters. So I thought I would add one more thing, and maybe ask you to tell me yours. That is, if you’ve got something that would fit in this post, drop me an email.

What’s the new one? I call it the “isn’t that crazy?”

I was reminded of it when a friend told me about a bunch of married friends from church playing strip poker. That’s right, married couples that met at church were regularly playing strip poker together out in California.

Now the obvious question, the one we all asked, was “How does that happen?” How do 8 different couples all agree that maybe playing strip poker with people from church is a good thing to do? It took me about 4 seconds to come up with a guess and it’s pretty simple, someone dropped an “isn’t that crazy?”

Here’s how it works, a guy (girls are also capable but it’s usually a dude) says something outrageous that he heard someone else did. It’s rarely about him and is usually something like “I heard about these people at church playing strip poker.” Then he just waits to see how the room responds. If someone goes, “Ugh, that’s gross,” he’ll immediately respond with, “Isn’t that crazy?” If, however, someone says, “Wow, I haven’t done that since I was in high school,” then he knows the room is at least open to the possibility so he starts working it.

It’s not always in a group situation either or even a verbal statement. Sometimes a guy will wait to see your reaction to some scene in a movie or will leave a magazine open to a page with an article he wants you to read. There are a million ways he can pull this move.

Hopefully, this will never happen to you, but it might. And if it does, please laugh a little and then email me because I like to laugh too.

Notes from the plane crash.

Notes from the plane crash.

I asked my friend one night if he had ever read a certain book. I was struck by his reply:

“I read it, but I was in survival mode, so I don’t remember it.”

We’ve all been through a crisis, but I had never heard such a tangible description of how it feels to be in the middle of one. To be in survival mode.

It’s all encompassing sometimes isn’t it? When you’re just trying to survive something, divorce, a death, a job loss, everything changes. Food doesn’t taste the same. Sleep, once a welcoming friend, becomes like some sort of impenetrable fortress. It’s slippery all the sudden and you can’t get a grasp of it. Things that used to make you laugh, lose their humor. It all kind of gets tangled up in one big ball. And that’s exactly where a girl I know is right now.

She’s going through one of those things I mentioned above and when you see her, you get the sense that she’s been in a plane crash. She might tell you differently, but she’s floating in the ocean right now, trying to shake off the wreckage of some bad decisions.

A counselor is helping her. They meet weekly, but the other day she said something that made me a little concerned about the advice she was getting. It wasn’t anything crazy, she simply remarked, “We’re spending a lot of time getting at my core issues.”

There’s nothing wrong with going at your core issues. I think that’s important. But doing that exclusively is kind of like sitting in your little lifeboat in the ocean and worrying about what type of pilot you are. Thinking about how maybe having your dad as flight instructor gave you a bad sense of self esteem while flying.

Those are important issues, I agree, but right now, you have bigger issues. Like how to get drinking water or how to avoid sharks or sunstroke or maybe just how to get through the day. And my friend’s counselor wasn’t doing that. He was strictly focusing on her point of origin issues, even though her lifeboat had a leak and she was sinking.

I hope you’re not in a crisis right now. I hope you’re not in survival mode, but if you are, please get both types of counsel. Understand the big, lifetime issues that got you there, but also, ask for help today, this hour, maybe this minute. Because as small as a lifeboat is, it’s too big to be in alone.

Kohler is cool with your affair.

Kohler is cool with your affair.

Kohler is the Nike of bathroom faucets and toilets. They have a ton of products, but chances are, those are the two you might have seen. Normally, I have a strict policy about writing posts concerning faucets but tonight I saw a commercial that was a little surprising.

In the spot, a guy is walking down the front steps of his brownstone in the city. He sees a sexy woman plumber walking into his neighbor’s house. He immediately runs back in and starts to flush things down his toilet in the hope that it will clog and said sexy lady plumber will come over.

It’s mildly humorous, as he throws in a towel, candles and eventually a bag of dog food. Kohler is big on bragging about how they’re toilets don’t clog so the point they’re trying to make is clear. But the commercial ends with the guy’s wife walking in on him pouring the dog food down the toilet. Interesting that she’s average looking and not at all sexy like the gal plumber.

What’s the underlying message in that ad? That marriage is so dull you’ll fill your toilet with Alpo for a chance to see an attractive female plumber? Really? Is that what I’m supposed to believe? Marriage is so boring that life has boiled down to tricking hot service people over to your house?

Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. Maybe this is aimed at wives and the message is, “Unless you have a Kohler toilet, your husband will flush a hand towel and run off with the plumber. Buy Kohler!”

That’s stupid, and maybe this makes as much sense as the post, “Your dad is having sex. Let’s get drunk!” And I’m not going to protest Kohler or write a letter or never use my kitchen sink again.

But I do at least want you to be sensitive what people are spending millions and millions of dollars to tell you and me. Marriage doesn’t matter. Flirting is OK. Adultery is kind of funny if it involves dog food and a toilet.

You have mad aloe.

You have mad aloe.

A few years ago I used to do a bit of freelance “coolhunting” for a company on the West Coast. Coolhunting is just a fancy way to say “trend reporting,” an activity that basically involved me writing emails about what was popular and cool in Boston. I would send them to my contact at this company, they would package them and select a few trends and then sell the information to people like MTV, Calvin Klein, Dreamworks etc.

The idea is that a few influential people are able to direct and determine what’s cool. Malcolm Gladwell talked about this concept at length in his book, “The Tipping Point.” I’d argue that I wasn’t exactly one of the coolest people in Boston at the time and instead got the gig as a result of my ability to string together a mildly interesting sentence, but that’s not why I’m telling you about my coolhunting days.

I learned approximately one thing during that year or so reporting on what was hot, and that is this: cool is fictional. It’s definitely contextual and subjective. I mean the German exchange student that wears motorcycle racing Puma sneakers kind of looks like he’s from the moon when he goes to high school in Georgia, but in Berlin he wouldn’t stand out. But I never really understood that cool was pretend until I made some up.

I was finishing a project on slang. The assignment was simple, report on the words that were going to be hot in the coming year. I had written a bunch down but felt like maybe I needed on more, one final word. But I couldn’t think of any, so I just made it up. I lied, something that before God, came very quickly too me. In some ways it still does, as I thought about naming this post, “Something I wrote for MTV.” I didn’t write it for MTV. I don’t even know if they bought my information about the word I made up but stretching the truth and lying about it was something that was a little tempting just now.

Anyway, here is what I did. I looked around my desk for inspiration and saw our aloe plant. I thought for a moment and then wrote about how in Boston, the new, cool word was “aloe.”

I wrote that “aloe was a way to describe a girl who was really fresh, and attractive.” I had to give an example sentence as well to go along with the definition. I had to use it in a sentence and show how other people were saying it. This is how I told them people most commonly used the word:

“That girl has mad aloe.”

I hit “send” on my email and forgot all about it. When you lie a lot you kind of lose the ability to remember which lies you’ve told.

A few days later, I got the weekly newsletter from the company. It’s a simple email that is sent to more than 10,000 of what the top trend reporting agency in the country, if not the world, believes are the coolest people around. The new slang they were most excited about in the coming year? Aloe.

The word they trumpeted as the coolest of all was the one I had made up. Aloe. Teens in Ohio and hipsters in Oregon and punk rockers in NYC were all told the same thing that day, aloe was it.

I regret that I lied. It was a foolish, immature thing to do. But, in that moment I learned that I didn’t need to chase cool, because it wasn’t real. Whether my t-shirt was ironic or my hair had the right product in it or I had the correct pair of headphones that indicated somewhere on my body was the right MP3 player, didn’t matter.

Cool is fictional. People like me make it up. And it’s not something worth worrying about.

This year, when you face the challenge of being cool, I hope you’ll remember how silly it all is and maybe even, that at the end of the day, you’ve got mad aloe.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Copa Canceled - Barry and Jon call off gigs.

Copa-Canceled: Barry and Jon call off gigs
There are a few rules I live by, call them codes if you will. Guiding principles that help shape my decisions. One, that I swear by when in a jam, is to ask myself, "What would Barry Manilow do?"

It just so happens that Barry canceled his Atlanta show tonight. North Point canceled church too. And since these things always seem to happen in threes, I am canceling the party .

At the end of the day, if the snow is too much for Barry's sweet, sweet dulcitones, who am I to argue? In all seriousness, I would hate for anyone to be in an accident because of me.

Here is how you can anticipate me reacting over the next few days:
1. I will probably write a post comparing the snow to when God limited the number of men Gideon could bring into battle because he wanted to show His might.
2. I will remove the post when my wife tells me it's a bit much to compare myself to Biblical heroes.
3. I will film several, mildly amusing videos with the cameraman, who came down from Charlotte to film the party.
4. I will use this as PR fodder for when I am a Christian Thousandaire. (Probably say something like, "Things weren't always so great for Jon, his first reading was met with a horrific snowstorm, in Georgia!)

I'm rambling at this point. I regret I won't get to see you tonight. The piece I wrote was called "Michael Jordan Alabama Chainsaw" and was about, well the title kind of gives it all away.

I may plan another party in the future if there's not some sort of Lake La

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ladies, here are three things guys don't want you to know.

Ladies, here are three things guys don't want you to know.

If all goes according to plan, my daughters nicknames at school will be “girls that wear so much clothes.” I know snowsuits will be hot in Georgia, but as I mentioned before, hopefully they won’t mind.

But unless modesty becomes a trend or a really famous Amish girl becomes someone that teenagers learn to emulate, I’m stuck. It’s not going to be easy to raise girls. I get that. I probably deserve that for how stupid I was to the opposite sex when I was young.

Here’s the thing though, maybe I can take lessons from my days of foolishness. Maybe I can equip my daughters with the kind of wisdom that can only come from a lifetime of bumps and bruises.

It’s doubtful I’ll ever write a book called “The girl’s guide to jerks” but I could definitely at least share three lessons I plan to pass on.

Maybe you’re still in college or on the dating scene and can use this. Chances are these will seem really obvious, but if you already know them, I promise you’re miles ahead of some of the girls that I ran into while in college.

So here they are:

1. Depth Perception
A counselor told this idea to a friend of mine and I think it’s solid. Everyone has a handful of things they don’t want to share with strangers. Joys or pains that feel too big to introduce in a casual conversation. Maybe you didn’t get into the college you wanted or you once got fired from a job. Could be that you still suck your thumb, it can be anything. What happens though is that some guys have a handful of things they’ve grown comfortable with over the years. You might have a hard time talking about a family member that died but they don’t. In fact, they’re perfectly fine with it. So what they do is tell you all about it. And you think, “wow, this guy just shared something really personal. I should too.” You open up and make yourself really vulnerable because you think he just did. But he didn’t. He’s creating a depth perception issue. He’s appearing deeper and more honest than he really is.

2. Reverse Psychology
Again, super obvious, but you’d still be surprised how often people get trapped by this. In this scenario the guy simply uses reverse psychology to push the girl into doing something she wouldn’t normally do. A guy will say, “You’re such a goody too shoes. It’s so different to be around someone Puritanical.” Rarely does someone want to claim that title. And the guy continues, “You’re not wild. You don’t do crazy things.” Again, the girl hears a challenge and before long, she finds herself saying “I am too, you just don’t know me. I do crazy things!” And then they make out.

3. I’m the opposite.
This is for the girls that have a boyfriend/husband. Anytime you express even the smallest bit of dissatisfaction about your boyfriend to another guy, please expect them to reverse the statement. If you say that your boyfriend doesn’t love the color blue and you wish he did, that guy is going to say, “I love blue. I live for blue. I spoke with a doctor about getting my skin turned blue surgically.” If you’re boyfriend hates the movie “Pride and Prejudice,” get ready to meet the world’s biggest Pride and Prejudice fan at work. Not cool, but true.

I need to throw out a few disclaimers for this piece:
1. This isn’t just something guys do. Girls do it too.
2. Girls are smart, this is not about that, it’s about guys being manipulative.
3. There are lots of honest guys out there. This is about jerks.
4. These are really simple. If you already know them, that’s great.
5. I’m sorry that I did anything like this to girls. I was a jerk.

I hope that if a guy ever tells one of my daughters that she’s a prude she ends up laughing her way out of the car. Just looking back as she leaves and muttering between big guffaws, “He actually tried to reverse me.”

That’s all for now. The party is tomorrow night. If you’re into praying, pray that we’ll all collectively get out of the way and let God do some cool things.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The secret key to life I found in a Mexican restaurant.

The secret key to life I found in a Mexican restaurant.

Have you ever heard of Sir Ernest Shackleton? He’s the British explorer that led a team of men to Antarctica in 1914. The story of his expedition is inspiring, but one of the things I find really interesting is the advertisement he wrote to recruit people for this adventure. Here is all he said:


That short, little burst of copy is heralded as the greatest advertisement ever written. Praised for brevity and forcefulness, this simple note was incredibly successful. Although history books differ in the total amount of people that responded, some say a “score of men” while others say 5,000, it was able to garner Shackleton all the men he needed to make the voyage.

But as amazing as it may be, I found something last night at dinner that put Shackleton’s 26 words of dynamite to shame.

I can almost promise that you’ve read these words before. They’re not some obscure verse I found in an obscure book that no one ever cracks in the bible. They’re in Luke, but they get a little lost because they’re so close to when Christ gets crucified. They kind of hide at the edges of the story, overwhelmed by the largeness of Christ’s death, but I think they’re important.

I’m talking about verses from Luke 22. In them, we see Christ tell Simon Peter that he is going to deny him three times. Here is what we find in 31-32:

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

Maybe that doesn’t feel that big, but for me, that last sentence defines Christianity and hopefully how I am going to spend the rest of my days on this planet. Why? For a few reasons:

1. Big Moments Require Big Words
I once heard a preacher say that the first three rules of bible reading are “context, context, context.” If that’s true, then we have to spend at least a few seconds on the context of this verse. Christ was about to be executed. He knew he was going to die, these words were one of the last things he would be able to say to Peter. This was not a throwaway sentence on a Tuesday. This was a practically death bed, if you only remember one thing, remember this, kind of sentence. This was the punctuation on Christ’s pre-death relationship with Peter. So we can’t just brush them away.

2. This is the perfect picture of forgiveness.
I know it’s not a mushy sentence, but there is something so beautiful and loving about these nine words. Christ knew Peter was going to fail. That was obvious, but he saw past that. He essentially says, “After you’ve messed up and blown it, you’ll come back and I’ve got something special for you to do.” He wasn’t disqualified by the failure. He wasn’t broken beyond belief. He was coming back. He was turning back from utter failure, but Christ loved him just the same. He focuses on compassion, not consequences. This verse reeks of grace and forgiveness and love.

3. We are called to do one thing.
Christ could have ended this verse a million different ways. He could have said, “And when you have turned back, repent and earn your way back into my kingdom. Or “be holier and stop messing up.” Or “pray more and learn more and give more.” He had one sentence to drive home to Peter what he wanted him to do. What, above all else, he expected Peter to do when he turned back. And what did he ask of him? That he strengthen his brothers. Not something complicated or overly spiritual or soaked in religious fervor. He asked him to strengthen his brothers.

4. Strength is a by product of turning back.
I love how closely related those two ideas are, the returning and the ability to strengthen others. You get the sense that having failed, and returned, Peter is uniquely qualified to help people. Have you ever felt that way? That the person that’s walked the same paths, got the same scars as you, might have a unique way to shed light on a particular situation? I’m paraphrasing, but Mark Batterson once wrote “You can only heal people in the places you yourself have been wounded.” For me, I also realized a long time ago that inevitably my heroes are people that blew it and rose again. People that failed and still got up. Reading a book on how to make money by Trump is a little silly, his father is rich. He was born into money. But not so with Peter. He was on the eve of one of his greatest failures and when he came back, Christ knew he’d be ready for a new challenge.

I don’t know what that verse says to you. For me, it’s a mission statement. For me it’s a measuring stick against which I should test everything.

At the end of January a friend in PR is submitting my information to a publisher, but unless I am strengthening my brothers, it doesn’t matter.

Thousands of people, from more than 35 countries have read this site, but unless I am strengthening my brothers, it doesn’t matter.

On Saturday night, dozens of people are coming to my house for a night of worship, but unless I strengthen my brothers, it doesn’t matter.

I have turned back. I have returned from failure. I have come back from the dark nights of selfishness. I have denied Christ a hundred times for each time Peter denied him. But, Christ has given me a new mission.

And that is all I can really do now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Your dad is having sex. Let's get drunk.

Your dad is having sex. Let's get drunk.

That is a ridiculous title for a blog. I agree, but I didn’t really make it up. I didn’t steal it exactly, I’m just paraphrasing the advertisement for Canadian Club whiskey.

Here is what the body copy for the ad says:

“He (your dad) went out. He got two numbers in the same night. He drank cocktails. But they were whisky cocktails. Made with Canadian Club. Served in a rocks glass. They tasted good. They were effortless. Damn right your dad drank it.”

I saw that ad in Rolling Stone and when you look at the ad itself maybe it isn’t that silly. Maybe it’s kind of hip and cool and you would find yourself wanting a glass of whiskey. But when you strip away all the marketing, when you remove the hype, when you cut away the words and the images and just focus on the core message, you see how stupid it is.

Honestly, is the idea of my dad sleeping around supposed to make me want whiskey? More than anything the idea of my dad having sex makes me want to slam my head in a car door. There are four kids in our family, which means four times, end of story.

So why do advertisers think they can do this to you? Why do they think you won’t see the message behind the message? Because it’s next to impossible right now.

The average person sees 3,000 – 5,000 marketing messages a day. That’s more then 1.8 million a year. Wow, that is insane, but when you realize that, you can start to see how easy it is to let stupid messages get right on by you.

That’s why I think it’s important to stop and think about the things you’re experiencing, to see the idea behind all the words, underneath all the noise.

Axe deodorant will not increase your chance of having a threesome.
Nike shoes will not make you a faster runner.
A diamond won’t make her love you.
No chewing gum will ever really feel like sledding down an icy glacier.

You know all that. Deep down you know the truth from the lie, but if someone told you something 1.8 million times a year, wouldn’t some part of you start to believe it? I think the answer is yes.

For me, I believe on some level that if I had a cool apple computer I would be a better writer. That’s dumb, but that’s my little confession. I want an apple computer because I think it would make me cooler, or more interesting or more likely to meet artistic people with goatees and lower back tattoos at Starbucks.

Today, all I’m asking is that you pause for 14 seconds and think about the messages you digest every day. There’s at least 3,000 vying for your attention, what are they saying and what are you believing?

p.s. I think that seeing the words behind the words is a great way to live in the world but not of the world, which is something Christians are called to do.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's go time.

It's go time.

There was a time when I wanted to get my master’s in creative writing. I met with a few advisors at my college and told them that I wasn’t happy with my job in advertising. I looked at paperwork from Emerson in Boston and seriously considered going back to school.

Instead, I got a job at a small ad agency in Needham, Massachusetts that eventually fired me.

I’m not sure why I didn’t go back to school. I think on some level I was afraid to find out I’m not a writer. That maybe I would sit in a class and someone would say, “wait a second, you can’t write. You’re supposed to be a social worker. Please get out.” So I moved home with my parents and kept my life relatively small and wrote advertising copy about office supplies.

I revisit this emo little period of my life because I recently read something about how fear impacts our willingness to take risks. Here is what struck me:

“Negative emotions are linked to survival –and are much stronger. It’s not surprising then that people feel more pain from loss than pleasure from profit. The result is loss aversion behavior, for people will take more risks to avoid losses than they will to realize gains.”

I’ll do more to not lose than I will to win. I will play it safe to protect what I currently have instead of taking risks to gain what I do not possess.

How about you? Is there something you’re supposed to be doing? Are you supposed to go back to school? Are you supposed to ask her out? Is your job just slowly emptying you 40 hours at a time? What areas in your own life are drunk on the idea of loss aversion?

In mine, it would be really easy to just continue to blog from the safety of my own house. Sure, I might occasionally get some hate mail or have someone unsubscribe from the mailing list but so what? I can handle both of those things. But what if I send my book proposal to a publisher and they hate it? What if I go speak somewhere and two people show up? What if no one comes to this party? What if lots of people come and it just sucks?

I think about questions like these and I want to just freeze. I want to crawl under my desk and tell people they’re right. The party is a silly idea. Who invites strangers to their house to hear them read unpublished essays and listen to live music? How can someone who thought the book of Joel was a typo when he heard it referenced in a book because he is so woefully unfamiliar with the bible, write a book about faith? How? Why?

When is it my time to pick up the mantle and do something big and wild? When do I stop playing it safe and try things that are ridiculous in scope and size? Maybe right now.

That’s how Elisha did it. After years of apprenticeship, he found himself in the desert watching his mentor prepare to depart. In 2 Kings 2:9 we see the following scene:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"

"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.

I love that answer. He asks for twice as much as Elijah. That’s like telling Michael Jordan you want to be twice as good at basketball as he is. That really shakes to the core my understanding of being humble.

I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m not asking for enough. Maybe God wants me to ask for gigantic things, for an empire, to sell a bajillion books and speak to crowds of thousands. But instead, I think I’m supposed to be humble and small and meek and quiet and so I ask for really tiny things.

I think it’s supposed to be big. I think asking for double is not a bad thing. That’s why I don’t hate prosperity ministry. I think they get a lot wrong, but they get this point right. They pray big. They look to God for God-sized things.

The story continues with Elijah being swept up in a chariot to heaven. Elisha stands there for a second and the verse tells us:

He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

The coolest part of that passage is that the first thing Elisha does isn’t pray. It isn’t waiting. He doesn’t meditate or make a sacrifice. He doesn’t test the waters of the Jordan, he parts them.

He walks to the edge and with no small degree of action and aggression forcefully strikes the water with Elijah’s cloak. No toe dipping. No nervous hand wringing. He immediately checks out whether he got his double portion. Using the Jordan analogy that’s like trying to do the dunk where you jump from the free throw line the first time you touch a basketball.

And what does he say to God? Does he humbly say, “please Lord help me?” Does he patiently weep, “I can’t do this thing God, please give me strength?” Again, no.

He essentially says, “God, are you down? Let’s do this thing.” He cries out “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” He says by his actions and his words, “I’m about to go do some crazy stuff for you God, you ready to roll?”

And when the water parts, he has his answer.

How about you? Are there some waters you’re trying to pray your way around? Are you at the edge of a river that you keep dipping your foot into? Is there an obstacle you’re supposed to throw yourself at that just seems too big or too hard or too dangerous?

Maybe. Mine is this ministry I’m trying to start. I think that’s the right word. Mine is being honest with you and writing regularly and finding a way to hang out with as many of you as possible in whatever ways I can.

And today, I want to strike the water. I want to say, “God are you down? Let’s do this thing.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The mirror and the window.

The mirror and the window.

There's a new post on that I think you might dig.

Check it out if you can't sleep tonight or your television is broken or your Xbox is tired.

The robot named "me" was beautiful. At first.

The robot named "me" was beautiful. At first.

Have you ever tried to be someone else? Have you ever tried to change who you are? To make yourself better, or smarter or just different? I have and for a whole semester it worked.

I built a robotic version of myself during the Christmas break of my freshman year of college. I didn’t want to, but I found myself on social suspension for a disastrous Halloween prank, without any real friends and about to academically lose all my scholarships.

So while everyone else was being festive, I mentally constructed an entirely new version of me. I didn’t have any plans and certainly didn’t crack the Bible for guidance in this transformation. I decided instead to rely on what had always worked for me in the past. I built an opposite machine.

Pure and simple, I determined to be the exact opposite of who I had been the first semester. If I was a jerk to everyone in the fall, I would be nice to everyone in the spring. If had pursued questionable ladies at nightclubs, I would pursue wholesome girls at church. Never studying became relentless studying. Constant time with bad influences became no time spent with bad influences And so forth.

I just did the reverse of everything I had ever done first semester. The results? My grades went from 2.4 in the first semester to 4.0 in the second. I got straight A’s and kept my scholarships. Everyone liked me, a girl captured it best one day in the library, “You were such an A*&(&%$ first semester, but I really like you now.” It was amazing. It worked so well, and I secretly thought inside, “Forget God, when I’m in a jam, I’ll just whip out the opposite approach.”

The opposite approach served me well for a while, but in the summer of 2005 I ran into problems that were just too big for that small coping mechanism. I had done serious damage to my marriage. As the consequences of my actions approached, I realized I couldn’t just do the opposite of what got me there. I couldn’t disconnect and build a new robot. I couldn’t run in the opposite direction of all the messy parts of my life. If anything, I had to engage myself in them.

Every trick I relied on to solve problems failed. And when I cried out to God about why he wasn’t fixing the situation, he said it was because I kept expecting the fix to come from my menu of options. I kept, qualifying my cry of “help me.” What I was actually saying to him was, “help me in one of the following ways that I’m used to and have tried before.”

But God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t take the recipes for success I’ve always tried and then just add some God flavoring. That’s frustrating, because that makes it really hard to manage him or life for that matter. Isaiah 55:8-9 speaks to this point: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I used to rage against that idea, because I wanted God to be like me. To fix things like I would. To handle things like I would.

But the truth is, his way is always more patient and loving than mine would be. If it were up to me, punishment and penance would be the first thing I received if I ever ran away from home. Guilt and anger are the first things that jump into my mouth when I mess up. But not God, because he’s different than us. He’s not restricted to the norms of cause and effect, action and consequence. His way is better. His solutions longer lasting. His fixes permanent.

Ultimately, God doesn’t just replace our solutions with new solutions from him. He replaces them with him. He knows that if he gave us a new list of action items, we’d worship that instead. When pushed into a corner, when darkened by stress and turmoil, we would seek comfort in our printed out list of instructions, instead of the instructor.

So instead he offers us a relationship. Full of mystery, full of creativity, and yes, sometimes full of frustration.

Today, I’m curious, what’s on your menu of fixes? When you find yourself in a hole, what’s the shovel you use to dig yourself out? Is it just trying harder? Is it a “just do it” kind of mantra? Leave a comment and share what’s on your mind.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The not so small difference between a rescue and a recovery.

The not so small difference between a rescue and a recovery.

No one I love has ever disappeared. Physically speaking anyway.

No one in my family has ever gotten lost in the woods or vanished in a city. No boats have ever gone missing at sea, no horses returned home without a rider.

But if they had, if someone disappeared, the first and perhaps worst sentence I could hear would be this:

“We’re launching a search and recover instead of a rescue.”

That doesn’t seem like a big sentence, but it actually represents an important crossroads investigators reach in every case. It is at this point that they reveal what they truly believe about the missing person. A rescue is an effort geared at saving someone alive from a danger. A search and recover is an operation designed to retrieve a body of someone that already lost the fight to a particular danger.

Those are some rather morbid Tuesday thoughts, but they reveal something about my heart. You see, all too often in my own life, I decide that certain people are not worthy of rescue. I give up on them. I leave them on the side of the road and focus my day on search and recover efforts.

That is how things were with my friend Mac. He’s an alcoholic. When a mutual friend told me he had been arrested for DUI and was probably going to jail, I didn’t care. When my friend asked me to help raise money for his defense, I didn’t give. When that same friend said Mac needed our spiritual support, I didn’t pray.

Mac was too far gone I thought. Mac was a hopeless cause. Mac was at best, a search and recover. Give up on Mac already I said to myself inside.

Is there anyone in your life you’ve given up on? Maybe your parents hate God. Maybe, aside from God because I don’t think this is just a spiritual issue, they don’t even really like you. Maybe all the love and forgiveness you throw at them just gets thrown back in your face. And so you don’t try to rescue them anymore.

Another friend is coming to that point with his wife. She has moved out. Like two opposing armies they are gathering the pieces of their lives as evidence for what may be a drawn out, difficult custody battle. The idea of rescue is long gone. They are going to kill each other and then when the dust settles, perhaps they will search and recover what was lost.

This is a difficult life sometimes. Rescue is not easy, especially if the person missing is doing everything they can to not be found. But I think that might be what we are called to do. Yesterday on 97secondswithgod I wrote that God says he made us his “watchmen.” And I don’t think that means trying to spot dead bodies in the wilderness of the world.

I think that means going to the places where hurt reigns and offering our hands. I think that means returning to places we don’t want to ever go back to and offering our hope.

Mac is in my small group now. He’s been sober for two years now and reconciled with his wife. Some people didn’t give up on him. I did, but never again.

It has to be rescue.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Upcoming Event - Are you in?

Upcoming Event - Are you in?

On Saturday, January 19th, we're having some folks over to our house for a night of hanging out, music and what not. Everyone is invited.

It's going to be in Alpharetta, Georgia, so if you're in the area, please shoot me an email at to let me know if you are coming.

I'm trying to get things squared away with the caterer, King Nacho, and knowing how many folks we're having will help.

It will be filmed too so if you can't make it or are in Iraq or Singapore, rest assured you can still check it out eventually.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Rehab, here I come.

Rehab, here I come.

I want to write a book. I want to be Cameron Conant or Matthew Paul Turner and speak at the Catalyst conference to thousands of incredibly hip people from hip churches and see my small, smirky photo on the back of a paperback in Barnes & Noble. I think it's because I want to tell people that are hurting that God loves them but a recent email forced me to reconsider my motives.

The email was an invitation to come speak at a residential rehab.

To tell you the truth, I didn't hesitate for a second. A year ago, my first thought would have been "how is this going to help me get a book published." But I started to realize that God doesn't work that way. I think his work is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. I think we face bears before giants. Or at least that's what David did.

Have you ever had a chance to do something, something that was smaller than what you really wanted to do? You wanted to have your art hung downtown at a gallery but instead got an invitation to hang it in a small coffee house? You wanted to go to Africa for missions but instead were asked to minister to the homeless in your own city? The big neon thing you were expecting was replaced with something less shiny?

At first glance, that's what the rehab speaking gig is. There will be maybe 50 people there. There will not be a big stage or a loud musical introduction from a band. No one will be there to buy the book I self published. I can't invite my friends or ask people that read my blog to come so that there are some friendly faces in the audience. No one there will even have access to a computer so my web traffic won't jump at all. But, this is exactly the kind of thing I think God is calling me to.

I want to tell hurting people that God loves them. Deeply and desperately. That he is ready for them to come home. That he is waiting. And who needs to hear that more than people in rehab? People that have lost their families, their careers, their lives. I can't hope to heal the hurting and then walk away from an opportunity like this.

Imagine if David had done this. Imagine if while tending sheep God had sent him a bear to learn how to fight and he had said, "No thanks, no need. I'm only going to deal with giants. I only want really big challenges." It would have been a mess, but instead he was ready for Goliath because he spent years in the field quietly battling lions and bears. He was even anointed as king and then sent back into the field to wait some more. That would be like a publisher offering me a 10 book deal and then sending me back to write advertising at work for another few years. I would be crushed, but David wasn't.

I'm going to rehab. I'm going to figure out with my friend in PR how to speak at rehab clinics around the country eventually because there's brokenness there and that's where God's love is needed.

I think I found my bear. As the year begins and you feel tempted to look for your giants, don't forget to start with bears.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The kaleidoscope, the microscope and the observatory tower.

The kaleidoscope, the microscope and the observatory tower.

I transferred to an all boys Catholic High School in Massachusetts after a less than stellar freshman year performance in public high school. It had a relatively storied past and was supposed to be a no nonsense environment where I could get my act together. I learned a lot in those three years but one of the things I took away was something I used to humorously call the towel story.

Because I was a sophomore transfer, I got placed in a junior gym class. At the time I weighed about 100 pounds and was only contextually cool, that is I got swallowed alive in that gym class but could hold my own at youth group. On the first day of class, I noticed a strange phenomenon after it was over. People were stripping down and walking toward what appeared to be a communal shower. I’d never had to shower as part of the public school system and would never in a million years thought to pack a towel for school. I tried to hide behind my locker, hoping that the shower scene would complete and no one would notice I had skipped it.

“You don’t have a towel, do you?” a voice called out with glee from the shadows of the green tiled locker room. I peered over the edge and saw one of the gym teachers standing there. “Come with me.” With that, he marched me naked into the showers. He then took out a wooden chair, sat down on it and proceeded to hand me scraps of paper towels, piece by piece in front of the entire gym glass as I dried off. When I tried to leave, he stopped me and said “I’ll let you know when you’re done.” When it was all over I had to pay him 50 cents for the experience, a final monetary punishment for not bringing a towel.

I’ve told that story dozens of times to friends and strangers as something funny that happened to me at one of those crazy Catholic schools you hear about. It wasn’t until counselor number 3 told me it was a form of sexual abuse that I stopped laughing and starting looking at that moment.

Prior to that, I had used a kaleidoscope to look back at that memory. Instead of colorful pieces of glass and mirror, I had added in humor and wit, laughter and lightness, hoping that when I looked at it I wouldn’t see the hurt. It would look big and bright until it became just another random chapter in the story of my life.

The Tower
The problem with the kaleidoscope approach to reviewing the past is that it lies to you. You don’t really see what happened, you just see what you wish had happened. There was nothing funny about that moment. Had I any self awareness I would have noticed that when I tried to tell that story for laughs, most of the faces of the people listening returned shock or sadness. But I needed it to be funny because I didn’t want to deal with it.

The other way we sometimes look back on the past is with a microscope. We magnify words or actions until they’re so big and detailed that they start to dominate our lives. We define who we currently are by something that happened a long time ago. We let small instances grow big and powerful as we peer through the lens of the microscope.

The danger is that regardless of whether you deal with something in your past, it always deals with you. It always leaves an imprint, an unseen lesson that impacts the way you make decisions from that moment on. For me, from that day on, I never forget my towel again. I took careful steps to ensure that for three years I was never without a towel. I became desperate to know the rules in any given situation, because if I had known that the rule was always bring a towel, I never would have been forced to stand naked and vulnerable in front of a room full of strangers.

To this day, I am incredibly uncomfortable trying new things. Not just because change is hard for lots of people, but because if I’ve never tried something before I haven’t had a chance to master the rules. And if I don’t know the rules, I might find myself without a towel in a must have towel situation.

Understanding my approach to rules and where that fear took hold of me came from carefully looking back at my past. Not with the distorted view of a kaleidoscope. Not with the obsessive gaze of a microscope which can trap you in the past, blowing it up out of scale until it suffocates your present with its false largeness. I looked at the past with a telescope. I went to the God’s observatory tower and under his guidance looked back, traveling light years with my eye and my mind until I could see where I had come from.

I was able to learn who I really was and perhaps even more importantly, upon removing my eye from the gaze, was able to see how far I had come. The past didn’t own me anymore. It didn’t define who I was or secretly control my decisions. It became a classroom that I learned from, a distant land I revisited and conquered. A wound I could identify and get healed of. I think that is what God wants us to do. To deal with the past and walk forward into each new day. To shake the dust off our feet and forget the former things because he is doing something new.

So put down the kaleidoscope. Lose the microscope. Visit the observatory tower. The father has a lot to show you.

p.s. Check out today for a new post.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Little Einsteins is to Baby Einstein as Heroin is to Crack.

Little Einsteins is to Baby Einstein as Heroin is to Crack.

I love Canada. I have friends there, I enjoy their cheap but plentiful supply of lobster rolls and once spent a vacation on Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of the book series Anne of Green Gables. That’s how I roll, but lately a Canadian kid’s show name Caillou kind of makes me want to punch Canada in the mouth.

If you have kids, you might know who Caillou is. If you don’t, you’ll probably want to print this list out and save it in case you become a parent. That said, here are the seven most important things you need to know about kid’s TV shows.

1. Caillou will turn your kid into a wuss.
Until my daughter watched Caillou she didn’t know the dark could be scary. Then she saw that bowling ball headed punk whining about the dark, sharing toys, loud noises, the wind, butterflies etc. This show is has been banned from our house.

2. Clifford does not use the bathroom.
At some point, your kid may ask where Clifford, the Big Red Dog, goes to the bathroom. The answer to that question is “do you want a lollipop?” Seriously, the implications of a 20,000 pound dog going to the bathroom on Birdwell Island are horrific. Avoid this question at all costs.

3. No one really knows what the Backyardigans are.
My friend is a graphic designer that once illustrated a kid’s menu for a national restaurant chain. After several rounds of trying to get the perfect mix of politically correct kids, they decided to instead draw aliens. I think that’s what happened here. Everything from the oddly shaped characters (are they dinosaurs?) to the grab bag of names (Uniqua is a girl’s name?) this show screams “make a show no one can get offended by.”

4. Dora will send your kid into a cave.
I’m cool with Dora. I’d probably dune surf with Diego if given the chance, but I’d like to light the character “Map” on fire. Every episode he’s telling Dora and her monkey amigo that to get to Tico the talking squirrel’s house they have to go through a cave or a jungle or some other area no four year old should go in. Next time you can’t find your kid, check the old quarry. Chances are the Map told him to go exploring.

5. Curious George has horrible boundary issues.
If your kid steals a hot air balloon or jumps into the dolphin tank at the aquarium you’ll know why. This monkey is no good, plus when he misbehaves it always ends up turning into some great feat of heroism. The hot air balloon he steals ends up saving a man stuck on the side of Mount Rushmore, the chocolate he put monkey paws on at the factory would have hit the ground otherwise or some other such nonsense. They should name this show “Insane monkey” or “Man in the yellow hat that’s an incredible pushover.” Expect trouble, monkey trouble.

6. Little Einsteins is to Baby Einstein as Heroin is to Crack.
Have you ever seen a kid watch Baby Einstein? It’s almost scary how much they love it. And Little Einsteins is kind of the next level of addiction. It’s a gang of four friends that travel around the world helping caterpillars and kangaroos with the power of classical music. It’s not a bad show, but keep an eye on your kids. You might need to stage an intervention at some point.

7. The Doodlebops will terrify you.
What are the Doodlebops? Does anyone really know? Why do they play instruments? Why when they updated the costumes did they tuck their ears in behind their freakishly colored skin? Why do they dance on the bus? These are the sort of questions that will haunt you if you ever cross paths with this show.

There are more shows and whole channels dedicated to kids programming, but these are the most important things I think you need to know. Don’t go in blind. Don’t lose your kid in a cave or get hooked on Little Einsteins or get mauled by Winnie the Pooh.

Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

Strippers, brain science and why some of your friends suck.

Strippers, brain science and why some of your friends suck.

During college I briefly hung around with a bunch of bodybuilders. I know, clearly I’m huge now, but years ago I was not the colossus you see in the white t-shirt. I was skinny, nerdy and I’m not sure why they kept me around. Most nights when we went out I felt like that little guy that sits in the crew boat and yells out instructions to the athletes paddling.

The frustrating thing about going out with these guys was that the girls they always attracted at clubs would never have anything to do with me. I knew I wasn’t massive, but I still thought I was a mildly attractive person with at the bare minimum a B+ sense of humor. But weekend after weekend, strippers and a variety of other scantily clad girls at parties would gravitate toward my neckless friends and never say a word to me.

Eventually I grew tired of hanging around with these dinosaurs of men, but that experience taught me a lesson about friends. It wasn’t that I was a complete loser, it was just that my priorities were different than these girls. My sense of what was important didn’t line up with theirs. The best thing about me wasn’t visible to them on the outside. It was hidden deep inside and that meant it would never be seen by people that put so much emphasize on the surface of life. (I should note that not all bodybuilders think that way. I'm sure a lot of bodybuilders are deep and Christian and a lot of other words that will hopefully encourage you not to beat me up. And Heather Veitch is doing some awesome work for the Lord with strippers.)

I think I learned that you attract what you put out. You get back what you give, and since I was not giving out that “the body matters above all else,” I never got the time of day from these girls. The danger in that idea though is that if you hang around long enough with someone you start to rewire your priorities. You start to become like them.

Parents and guidance counselors have long said things like “the company you keep defines who you are” but something I read recently changed the way I looked at the idea. In the book, “Emotionomics,” Dan Hill introduced the concept of “mirror neurons.” According to him and a host of scientists, mirror neurons are “so named because they fire when performing an action or when watching that same action being performed. Mirror neurons help us learn by mimicking others.”

The scary thing is that it happens without us knowing and that it happens faster than the rational part of our brain can compute. As Hill writes, “the slower, thinking system is dominated by the faster, intuitive feeling system.”

Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever repeated the way a friend felt or started doing something that felt totally foreign but in the company of friends it made all the sense of the world? Have you ever done something and then thought, “That made no sense, why did I do that?” Maybe that’s just a fancier description of peer pressure, but the concept that how your friends act can have a neural impact on your brain is a little scary.

I’m not a scientist, I don’t even play one on TV, but I do encourage you to think seriously about the company you keep. There’s more at stake than just picking up a bad habit or two.

p.s. Check out for a fresh look at the Bible and a new post.

p.p.s Special thanks to my foreign readers (Canada, Spain, Singapore, etc.) Shoot me an email sometime at . I would love to hear how you found the site.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The season of start and stop.

The season of start and stop.

January is the best month to start or stop something in your life. It’s fresh in a way a month like April isn’t. What feels impossible in say August, suddenly feels a little more possible when you stare out at a blank calendar. You can stop smoking, start going to the gym, stop watching so much television, start reading more and so on.

But in the midst of all this opportunity, I think there are two dangers lurking. Simple, subtle little snares, but traps nonetheless that all too often hurt our chances of ever really truly changing. So today, instead of a Rah Rah, Braveheart, Just Do It, get sweaty with excitement kind of post, I thought I’d kick out two warnings about staying true to whatever it is you’re trying to start or stop this year.

1. The mixed up missions of the mind.
In the book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May laid out a simple idea that blew me away. He said essentially that when we determine to start doing something new, the part of our mind that doesn’t want to do this new thing actually pretends to be helpful. It rallies the troops, leads the cheers and encourages us to start. For instance, the part of you that doesn’t want to run or exercise, actually says, “Let’s do it for real this year, let’s get a trainer and some new shoes and tell all our friends we’re going to run a 5K.” For years it might have told you that fat was who you were and who you were always going to be, but out of the blue, it’s suddenly your biggest cheerleader. Why? Because secretly, a bigger goal potentially means a bigger failure, which potentially means a bigger relapse into old behavior.

Your mind, at least the part you’d expect to resist, is hoping that if you fail in a big, spectacular way, your 180 back into bad decisions will be cataclysmic. This was revealing to me, because I never understood the degree to which my own flesh actually plotted and planned against my success. I’ve read a billion verses about that, but the concept of deception like this was surprising.

The lesson I took away was that it’s OK to start with small goals. To run a mile before you plan to run a marathon. To build a foundation of tiny successes before you try to climb Everest. And, to not trust yourself when it came to changing old behaviors.

2. The replacement theory.
Counselor #4 came up with this concept and I think it’s a good one. Basically it goes like this, when we stop something in our lives we have to replace it with something. That’s it. When you take something out, you have to put something else in its place. There’s an example of this in the Bible. A man is healed of a demon but leaves his house and life empty. In that one demon’s place, seven return, more powerful and more destructive than the first.

You see this concept a lot in addiction. An alcoholic will quit booze but become a raging workaholic. One addiction was just replaced with another. The tricky thing is being realistic with what you replace in your life. I have a lot of friends that will stop doing something and tell me that with that new time they’re going to read the Bible. They’ll stop using the Internet at home say instead, with those 20 hours a week, they’re going to spend time in God’s word.

That is adorable.

It’s not real though. What usually happens is that it’s fairly impossible to go from 0 minutes in the Bible a week to 20 hours. And when they finally brush up against this reality, they find themselves right back online.

The other thing that this does is make God really small. Did you notice that when the Prodigal Son returned, the father didn’t replace his junk with a religious ceremony? He replaced it with a party. Instead of working in a pigpen, there was a party. Why don’t we ever treat things like that? Maybe, when you quit doing whatever it is you don’t like about your life, it’s not just that God wants you to read the book of Micah all day. Maybe he wants you to join an ultimate frisbie league. Or go to movies with your friends. Or eat sushi or a thousand other things.

I think he wants us in his word, but I also think he knows we won’t become monks just because the calendar says January 2 and we’ve quit watching television.

I wish you the best in this year’s resolutions. I hope they’re small and real, but above that, I hope you’ll remember that when the Prodigal Son returned, in what was arguably the biggest “fresh start” moment, he didn’t get any. He got a party instead of resolutions.

And that’s what I think God wants to give to you.

p.s. I wrote a new devotional today on
It's called "You're not going to Guam." Check it out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The new blog.

A handful of folks have asked me to write a daily devotional.

So I did.

It's short.

It's Bible based.

It's going to be published every day of the year.

Starting today.

Check it out at