Tag Archives: literature

Shameless Self-Promotion: 1/8/2007

Remember this? Well, here’s the cover. (Ramon rulz.)

MLM cover

And here’s us:

Ash & Aly Ramon

And here’s the excerpt that will be on the back cover (I think):

Brand me over your heart
ink me on your skin
for love is strong as death
possessing long past the grave
burning in everlasting flame
beyond the boundary of the sky
vast oceans cannot quench it
wild rivers cannot wash it away
and it will not be bought

It must be kept safe—
walled up
until the lover
comes.

Book Review: The Secret Message of Jesus

If you’ve been tooling around the emerging church blogosphere for the last several months, I’m sure you’ve seen a review or two of Brian McLaren‘s new book, The Secret Message of Jesus. (If you haven’t, so much the better…this short review will not stand up to the exhaustive commentaries that have already been posted.) There is no one on the emerging church scene who is as polarizing as McLaren, and — as a parallel — no one who has the cojones to say what a bunch of us were thinking but were afraid to say aloud.

Many reviewers have called this new book “N.T. Wright for the everyman,” and for good reason. Where Wright is a theologian, McLaren is a pastor and practitioner. Wright has made himself a student of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) times, and McLaren has taken this cue, re-examining the messages of Jesus (both public speaking and private conversations recorded in the Gospels) with an aim to applying those messages to the current cultural milieu — which is pretty much what a pastor does, right?

McLaren — as any good English major would do — also approaches the message of Jesus with a respect for the medium of Jesus’ message…that is, parable and metaphor. He contends that the medium tells us much of Jesus’ intent for his potential followers: to deliberately obscure information in favor of cultivating relationship. If Jesus’ message was intended to transmit information, the hearer could walk away with the info in her pocket, feeling terrifically enlightened and superior; instead, story (“the kingdom of God is like…”) and metaphor (“you must be born again” and “I will give you living water”) invite the hearer to stick around and find out more…to stick around and be changed.

He also examines the “signs and wonders” surrounding the ministry of Jesus through the dual lenses of the ancient culture and Jesus’ message…i.e., if they’re “signs,” they must be signs that can help us understand what exactly the message is, and wonder at how frickin’ awesome the message really is, once we start to get it. (For those of you just tuning in, they’re signs of the kingdom of God drawing near.) McLaren’s musings on demonic possession and Jesus’ liberating power from them are especially wonderful, as he suggests such are signs of Jesus’ power to point out, name and banish spirits that overpower groups of people away from God’s kingdom…”isms” such as racism, sexism, Nazism, terrorism, capitalism, communism, etc.

The most affecting section of the book is the latter third — “Imagination: Exploring How Jesus’ Secret Message Could Change Everything” — in which McLaren explores the present implications of Jesus’ secret and radical message. (For those of you just tuning in, the secret message is “the kingdom of God is near.”) What does it look like to be a citizen of this kingdom? What are the priorities, values, and passions of its citizens? What do the citizens of the kingdom hope for and work toward? Who, exactly, is a citizen of the kingdom of God?

McLaren’s answers will surprise — and hopefully, inspire — you. Get the book. Now.

Pulitzer Prize 1995 “The Stone Diaries”

So I’ve been on a quest to read the Pulitzer Prize winning books. I had an ambition similar to this when, while teaching, I decided to read all of the Newbery Award Books. Each summer, I made my way down the list of 90+ award winning books. Now that my quest of children’s literature has been sated (save the new winners each year), I am moving into the great wealth of “adult” fiction (no, not the naughty kind, sicko).

The great thing about choosing award winning books is that they never suck. You don’t have to get through a third of a book, just to discover you’re not really that interested, but need to finish what you’ve begun (or is that just my dilemma?). The Pulitzer Prize is given to gifted writers, of great books. Win, win. And when finishing a book, I now have a new favorite author with which to discover their other writings.

So all that to say, I just finished 1995′s winner “The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields. This is an incredible book. It is written as a narrative biography/autobiography by the main character Daisy Goodwill. She has an almost bird’s eye view of her life, and every once in a while breaks in on her own thoughts and writings to contemplate even further, or even question herself. The book is divided into chapters of life; birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and decline, death. Journeying through a person’s life is amazing. Especially when you consider what is told and what is kept secret or left out. I appreciate Carol Shield’s storytelling, but even more so, her creativity in telling said stories. She uses correspondance, newspaper clippings, journals, different character’s personal dialogues or point of view to tell the story, and by doing so, gives the reader the big picture, a few insights, but doesn’t get bogged down by introducing new characters or having to tell all of the details of an event.

I am truly enjoying this new quest of mine, although with a 10 month old, sitting down for some quiet reading time, doesn’t happen often enough. I know that we have avid readers of all kinds of literature among our authors and commentators, and I enjoy hearing about what literary adventures we all go on.

Give Me 3 Names

Give me three names

1. They must be artists (in any genre, any medium),
2. They must be dead,
3. They must have left a lasting change on their craft.

Here are my three – Mark Rothko, Arnold Schönberg, Augustine of Hippo

Ready, Go!

[Legal Disclaimer: by posting in this thread, you agree that Michael Lee has the right to use the product of your fertile mind for raw consumeristic exploitation. Even after he has used your hard work to make literally billions of dollars cash money, he will still refuse to give you any part of it, or even to give you decent gifts worthy of your great effort. By posting, you acknowledge all of this. So say we all.]

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The Kisses of His Mouth

I submit for your reading (and other) pleasure a draft of a passage inspired by Song of Songs, from the project I’m doing with Ash & Ramon. I am SO open to feedback and suggestion at this early stage…any constructive criticism is welcomed. This is my adaptation of SOS 1:2-8. Read it and weep–or read it and go find your spouse for some late-night two-become-one, which is actually the response I’m aiming for:

Let him kiss me with the kisses
of his mouth—

I drink them in,
honeyed wine…
the caresses of your lips and teeth and tongue
weaken, strengthen me.
I breathe in the scent of your skin,
breathe out the sound of your name.

I am willing…eager
Lead the way, my lover, my heart
Bring me to your bedchamber—
into the dark
into the light

With my body, I thee worship.

Take me as I am.
I offer scars, imperfections—
touch me and embrace my flaws
I am your beloved
You look at my failings and see
stories
legends, maps of me before
you

I will tell the tales, my lover, only
whisper where I will find you
and I will come out of hiding.
Or we can play cat and mouse…
pursuing, escaping
one another until we
collide.
I’ll follow your trail and
you follow
mine

Sex in the Bible

Ash & I and our friend Ramon (Morphea’s honey) are working on a book of poetry and art inspired by the Book of Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). Ancient erotic poetry is wildly popular, and there are no treatments of SOS out there that compete in this market; the previous efforts just aren’t sexy…which is the whole point of erotic poetry, right? (More on that in a minute…) SOS is chock-full of some serious sex, but the word pictures (mountains of myrrh, towers of David, frolicking gazelles) just don’t resonate now the way they did 3,000 years ago. Our idea is to work verse-by-verse and update the poetry into images that convey the same passion, desire and…ahem…eroticism.

The publishing company I work for is taking a look at it, and I’m working with my friend Alex, who is one of the acquisitions editors, on polishing the proposal so they just can’t say no. Alex is incredibly cool–we have an informal book club for sharing stuff we’re reading, and he has terrific taste in literature. He loves this project. The writing samples we’ve submitted along with Ramon’s artwork have totally set him on fire.

As we’ve worked together on the proposal, Alex has suggested that the book will be an easier sell in our uber-Christian publishing company if we do one of two things (for the record, he’s not suggesting we actually do either of these things, just that it will be easier to convince the bigwigs it’s a good idea if we do):

1) Do a straight-up paraphrase, a la Eugene Peterson’s The Message. If you click the link and read a few verses, I think you’ll agree this isn’t sexy.

2) Use imagery that emphasizes the school of biblical interpretation which holds that SOS can be read as a love song between Christ and his Bride, the Church. While this may be doctrinally acceptable (see below), it’s difficult to make this interpretation sexy without some serious ew-factor. (And honestly, the word pictures in the text itself don’t really lend themselves to this interpretation…does Jesus really want to pillow his head on the Church’s breasts? You decide.)

[By the way, we're taking neither option, because we want to do great art and because someone with taste and good sense will buy this thing...just maybe not my company.]

Anyway, back to erotic poetry and the sexiness thereof. I really struggle with the Church’s obsession with explaining away the lush eroticism of Song of Songs. It’s so two-faced. On one hand, we flap our hands and run around in circles, insisting that “No, no…we’re totally not anti-sex,” that sex is good and God-created and natural and fun. On the other, we impose this idea that poetry included in our sacred Book, written by a guy crazy in love and want and need and maybe lust with his wife is not really about sex at all…it’s about Jesus.

Huh?

So which is it, kids? Is sex really good…so good that God would want a few pages in His Book dedicated to celebrating it in all its kinky glory? Or are we really gnostic at heart, believing this flesh should be reviled, and any references in the Bible to pleasing it while naked with our beloved must have some other, holier explanation?

I realize I’ve set up an unfair either/or scenario here that can’t contain the mystery of divine and human authorship of scripture. But I just get so pissed at our hypocrisy about the goodness of sexual intimacy…it’s no wonder many of us raised in the church develop facial tics every time the subject of sex comes up! Isn’t it obvious that God is a big fan of good, clean sexual pleasure and it’s okay for us to be, too?

Copywriting, or Pulling My Own Teeth

I aspire to someday make my living by stringing words together into coherent sentences in order to communicate important ideas that I have either a) thought up on my own or b) cribbed from other, smarter people and then changed the words enough to not be legally culpable for plagiarism. To further this life’s ambition, I have begun to freelance edit and copywrite. The editing is not so very bad. In fact, I enjoy making mincemeat of other writers’ efforts, as well as the feelings of power and superiority that well up within me when I use a red pen. But the copywriting is another animal entirely.

For those of you who refuse to soil your hands with anything smacking of marketing or advertising, copywriters are the vile rabble who debase themselves by stringing words together into [sometimes] coherent sentences in order to communicate the idea that you cannot possibly continue living without the product they have been hired to peddle. These strung together words can be anything from a slogan (think “Just do it” or “Obey your thirst”) to the all words spoken by that deep, disembodied voice on the trailer for the newest Hollywood blockbuster (think “IN A WORLD with no limits…ONE MAN will find a limit to push…”). Also, copywriters string together words that appear on the packaging of products that inform the consumer about the contents of that which they are about to purchase, such as frozen burritos, cleaning solvents, pet food, diapers and…books.

Ever wonder whence came the heart-stopping words on the dust jacket of that John Grisham novel you almost bought at Costco last week? Copywriter, baby. Unfortunately, I have not been hired to write the copy for the newest Grisham novel. If I had, I might have a sunnier outlook on life. No, I have been hired to write the copy for a book on servant leadership.

Before you get all crazy with the John Maxwell up in my grill, let me say that I am, in fact, a fan of servant leadership. No arguments here. Servanthood: good. Leadership: also good. But do we really need yet another book about the combination of these two concepts? Is there really anything to add to the already vast library on this topic? Haven’t books by such notables as Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Robert Greenleaf, and James Hunter pretty much covered it? (The book for which I’m writing the copy is not authored by any of these luminaries.) I have to write 125 words (a paltry number, I know) that will convince the aspiring servant leader they should skip all those other books and buy this book instead. How the heck…?

So rather than doing that, I’ve just written in excess of 250 words about how much it sucks. I think my career is off to a promising start.

So, It Turns Out I’m Irish

So I recently found out that I’m Irish. This obviously comes as a bit of a shock to me, since my previous cultural affiliation was Norwegian. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the Norwegians – we are a proud lot. In fact, my father is descended from Viking royalty, and when you meet him, he will insist on being referred to as “The Viking King”. This is much less impressive when you discover that the Vikings changed kings every 20 minutes or so, the result being that almost everyone is descended from someone who once sat on the throne.

The problem isn’t that I was Norwegian, it’s that my particular people came from a part of Norway known as “Minnesota”. Think Prairie Home Companion. Think “Fargo”. Think two old men sitting across the table from each other in a diner, splitting a rhubarb pie, having an entire conversation that consists of monosyllabic interjections. “Well.” “Yup.” “Uh-huh.” They’re good people. There’s just not much of the “get pissed at your brother the King, take off with your friends in a boat, raid the English coast, discover Canada” kind of blood left running in their veins.

On the whole, I think I prefer being Irish. For one thing, I’ve never been an oppressed people before. I’ve taken to it rather well, I think – we Irish have a quick wit and a self-depricating charm that sees us through most hard times. Also, my penchant for whiskey and gambling are starting to make more sense. I’ve found myself walking with more of a swagger, and “pining” for things. Whatever that means.

Having only been Irish for a few weeks, I thought I’d better spend some time boning up on the culture and history of my people. Since I was already in possession of a bottle of Jameson, and a bootleg copy of “Rattle and Hum”, all I needed was a book of Irish history that could be easily digested while sitting in the bathtub.

So, I went on Amazon, and grabbed a book called “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill. I didn’t know much about the subject matter, or the author, but I doubt there has ever been a book title that so fully captures what it is to be one of my people. It’s all there – the swagger, the twinkle in the eye, the pure unadulterated hubris.

If you have recently become Irish, I highly recommned reading Cahill’s book. He writes about how, while Europe was descending into the darkness and ignorance of the middle ages, the Irish were busy copying over the great works of the Greeks and the Romans, and the Patristic Fathers. When that Apostle of Ireland, Patrick, brought the faith of his father to the land of his captors, he neglected to bring with him the Romanism that had infected the church so thoroughly. As a result, Ireland was the first place where the gospel proved itself capable of transcending any one culture. You could be a Christian without being a Roman. You could be Irish, full-blooded and gloriously Celtic, and still be a follower of Christ.

Because of this, Ireland was relatively free of the typical Medieval Roman Catholic disdain for secular literature. With equal fervor, these Irish monks copied the letters of Paul, and Homer’s Illiad. They translated and copied the letters from Polycarp to the church at Phillipi, warning them against materialism, but they also copied the works of Plotinus and Plato. For hundreds of years they copied over these works, while the Roman empire disintegrated into petty fiefdoms, and the church became a political machine. Into the ignorance of the Continent, these Irish monks swept, forming learning communities that later became monasteries, then Universities. They came armed with books, with Greek and Roman and Coptic, and yes even Celtic literature, and they planted the seeds of that glorious rediscovery of the human spirit, the Renaissance. That we know of the name “Plato” today has nearly everything to do with the fact that a nameless scribe sitting in the high tower of Cluain Mhic Nóis copied his works by candlelight.

So, who knows how true this all is. Being Irish, of course, I believe it with every randy bone in my body. Cahill has done some good research, but more importantly to me, at least, he wrote a great book, a book that makes me proud to have unexpectedly become Irish so late in life.








Augustine’s Hymn of Longing

I was reminded today of this quote from St. Augustine’s “Confessions”.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our hearts are restless
until they rest in You

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

Thomas Cahill, among others, counts “Confessions” as the first real autobiography. He thinks Augustine was the first person to write the word “I”, and mean what we mean today. If you read his confessions, you can’t help but be swept up into the emotional turbulence of his world. He was the first author to so complete divulge himself to the reader, and even 2,000 years later, it’s a thrilling book to read – especially in those places where Augustine recounts his final capitulation to Christ’s call.

Augustine wrote during a period when much of what we would call Christian Orthodoxy was being worked out. His own contributions included meditations on the nature of Sin, and God’s eternality, and the Kingdom of God. His work would later become a foundational influence in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and C.S. Lewis (if you read Lewis’ autobiographical works in one hand, with Confessions in the other, it’s hard to ignore the presence of the latter in the former).

Too often, we read the dry rhetoric of the theologians and forget, perhaps, that they were people drawn into God’s presence with compelling grace, and slain by the wonder of his holiness, just as we are. The works of High Orthodoxy were written by the hands of those deeply in love with God.







The Bible Podcast: 500

Picture 1-15

Something very cool happened yesterday. The Bible Podcast added it’s 500th subscriber. That’s enough full-time subscribers to make it the #1 podcast listed when you search for “bible” in the iTunes podcast directory.

Picture 2-7

If any of you are interested in being a part of the podcast, I’d still love to add more readers. Just drop me an email.





The Narnian: The Life & Imagination of C.S. Lewis

I am an unapologetic Clive-O-Phile, and (thanks to Michael) an adoring fan of Alan Jacobs. I just finished The Narnian, and it was almost too much for my delicate, excitable nature. Jacobs approaches this biography with a view toward understanding not just Lewis’s brilliant mind, but also his passion for story, myth and romance (which I ardently share), and how that passion was a driving force in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, his fiction and non-fiction writing, and his public and private lives. It’s written in Jacobs’s usual wry, clean prose (very reminiscent of Lewis, actually), and with a tenderness that never tips over into sycophancy. It’s a lovely, langourous ramble through an imagination dusty with “old books and legends.”

Narnia heartbreak

I went to BN over my lunch break because I had a gift card and I really, really wanted to buy a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. (I had a set when I was a kid, but God knows where it is – I can narrow it down to somewhere between Oklahoma and Kenya, going east.)

Mission accomplished, except I’m freaking out a little bit. The set I had back in the day numbered the books according to the order in which Lewis wrote and published them. All the sets available now (and there are many), however, are numbered according to Narnian chronology. Ummm…can you do that? It’s not as if it’s one continuous story, a la The Lord of the Rings. I’m feeling all off-kilter.

Selling the Untame Lion

There’s an interesting article over at the Out of Ur Blog expressing concern about the church centered marketing machine that is gearing up for the release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It should be noted that this is the same blog that brought us the ever so thoughtful, “Why I am not emerging,” article that has led to so much joy around here.

This article, fortunately, has a bit more perspective to it, and I just wanted to add a few thoughts and then open it up for discussion. Here we go, in no particular order.

1) I think people are a little resistant to a Church / Hollywood alliance because they felt burned by The Passion of The Christ. I think we need to realize that we set ourselves up for this disappointment. Mel Gibson made a film that was a highly personal, and, yes, very Catholic version of the story. Let’s realize that our disappointments (should we have them) were self inflicted. We all so badly wanted a film version of Jesus’ life that we could really celebrate and we treated Easter 2004 like it was the second coming. Let’s not blame Mel or the marketing machine for all those banners and posters we put up and left up in our churches. I believe Mel was trying to get as many people as possible to see his movie becasue he was heartfelt. The marketing teams were just doing their job. Movies do not spark spiritual revival, and it’s silly to expect them to.

For the record, I thought the first 45 minutes of The Passion were absolutely brilliant, but I was ultimately unsatisfied with the film as a whole. I don’t think that graphically depicting Jesus’ suffering is an inherently bad idea, I just remember thinking that the film should have been three hours long, intercutting the crucifixion narrative with a thoughtful and artfully depicted overview of Jesus’ ministry.

4) Christians need to vote with their wallets or shut up. I was really frustrated some years back when The Prince of Egypt tanked at the box office. Here was an animated film of very high quality that is, in my opinion, the best depiction we have thus far of the Exodus story, (with apologies to fans of Cecil B.) The Christian community largely ignored this film, and pursuaded Dreamworks to abandon their plans to do an ongoing animated Old Testament series. The sequel, Joseph, King of Ben Affleck, went straight to video and then that was it. If we’re not going to support films that are well made, thoughful, and filled with acceptable content, we have absolutely zero business criticizing Hollywood.

B) I can’t help but laugh when I think that the same hardcore fundies who have been slamming all things media for the last forty years are the same ones who are getting all pissy about Disney trying to partner with churches to sell their product. Which way do you want it, kids? Oh… you just want to be pissed off all the time? Ok, cool. Here’s your blankie and binkie, let’s watch some VeggieTales. You think Bob the Tomato is the devil’s imp? I give up.

Salty) Let’s all repeat this together: promoting a movie as a tool of evangelism is a really bad idea. It’s a movie. It’s entertainment. If it leads to discussion, which leads to interest in Jesus, great! If it doesn’t… well… perhaps it will at least be well done and won’t scare the kids into comas. Can we please get over the idea that anything other then the call of the Holy Spirit is going to lead people to salvation? We’re gonna get much further with our Pre-Christian friends and neighbors with a cup of coffee and good conversation and a lot of love then by tricking them into seeing a “Christian” movie. I can just hear the conversation afterwards… “You know Bob, the CGI feline is really representative of Jesus Christ, would you like to hear the four spiritual laws…?” Why should Disney, or Switchfoot, or Philip Yancey, or whomever, have to do our work for us?

I, for one, will go see Narnia becuase I am a movie buff, and a C.S. Lewis buff. If it’s a great movie, it deserves to make a lot of money. If it sucks, let it bomb. Being wise as serpents and harmless as doves just might include making our own decisions about where we’re going to drop our $10, and not letting a marketing team or (gulp) your pastor make that choice for you. I’m going to drop my $10 because I really want them to get to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, becuase I always thought that Reepicheep was the shizzle.

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Book Review: Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt (Anne Rice)

Like I said before, reading the 17-page Author’s Note at the end of Anne Rice’s new novel, it becomes clear that Anne and Jesus have had a head-on collision and she is still reeling. Reading the rest of the book, it becomes clear that she is reeling with love.

Not since Norman Mailer’s 1997 (bizarre yet oddly compelling) The Gospel According to the Son has a novelist of such stature attempted to write a work of fiction about Jesus, narrated by the Son himself. In Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt, a very young Jesus recounts the events Rice imagines might have taken place in his seventh year.

Over the course of that year, Jesus and his family make the journey out of Egypt and back to Nazareth. Jesus doesn’t live only with Mary and Joseph; in this account, he has a vast crowd of kin, including uncles, aunts, cousins, and his stepbrother, James. (Rice is Catholic, after all! — the perpetual virginity of The Holy Mother is a given.) The warmth and affection with which the boy narrator portrays his huge—and very Jewish—clan plants him firmly in his humanness. He is part of something extraordinarily human: a family…different personalities, old conflicts, everyday struggles, and fierce loyalty.

But Jesus is not solely human. There is something different about him, and he knows it. The mystery of Out of Egypt is one of identity…Jesus feels driven to answer the ancient question of all humanity: Who am I?

Though she can only guess at the events between Jesus’ birth and the start of his ministry, through extensive research — over three years studying a broad and deep cross-section of anthropologists, archeologists, and New Testament theologians and historians — Rice builds a convincing scenario of his early years that takes its cues from the character of Christ painted in the Gospels. While the writing style may feel choppy and overly-vulnerable at first, Rice’s raw, spare prose (a departure from her usual lush writing) creates a voice for the Son at seven years old that sounds very like the Man he will become. Highly recommended.

[Note: This is an extended version of a review that will appear in the Feb/March issue of Relevant Magazine.]

Giddy.

Just picked this up today. I’ll write a review here in the next few days, but let me say right now that I read the Author’s Note over lunch and it’s clear that Anne & Jesus have had a head-on collision from which she will never recover.

Oh, and I found this on her website:

“In support of Christ the Lord, I received these wonderful words from
Rev. Brian McClaren,
author of A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN,
and many other wonderful books:

Throughout history – from the DaVinci Code and the work of Walker Percy or Flannery O’Connor, back through Pilgrim’s Progress and the Divine Comedy to the parables of Jesus — fictional narratives have been important ways for authors and readers to explore matters of ultimate concern. Anne Rice here places herself in this rich tradition. Yes, this portrayal of Jesus will engender controversy – but it will also convey a sense of the political, social, and religious milieu into which Jesus came, which will in turn shed new light on the meaning of his teaching, life, and passion. Highly recommended!”

My literary universe is complete.

Reminded of the basics, Toy Story-style

Some of you know that I am (or was, depending on how you measure past tense) writing a novel. Those of you who know this also probably know that I’ve had one heckuva case of writer’s block for about two months, which is downright disillusioning when you consider this is my first crack at it. Isn’t writer’s block something you get after you’ve got a National Book Award or a Pulitzer under your belt? Don’t you kind of have to earn it?

Apparently not.

I’ve had the devil’s own luck anwering that age-old question: What happens next? The answer that keeps presenting itself: You have absolutely no idea, sucka.

Enter Pixar Man. My boss, Bill (some of you met him last Friday night. He was the one who ill-advisedly sang “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” and you’re crazy if you think I love Jesus too much not to blackmail him for a raise) went to school fifteen years ago with a guy who is now a story artist for Pixar. This guy happened to be in the Ventura area this week, and Bill convinced him to do a seminar on the creative process of story.

Oh, yeah.

It was humbling and so much more to sit there and listen to this wildly entertaining guy tell me stuff I already knew and to lap it up like gin from the cat dish. As he reiterated the basics of great story, I realized with a groan that Lack of Structure ain’t just a town in Switzerland. It’s my Problem. The Reason for My Writer’s Block.

Argh. Blech. Pfsaw.

I’m not out of the woods, but I’m back to the drawing board. Instead of trying to answer “What happens next?” I’m getting all modern up in the hiz-ouse and asking “What elements of story do I have already, and which ones did I forget along with my lunch money?”

As a public service, I’m including those elements here. They apply every time, unless you’re one of those writers who are doing everything they damn well can to throw off the yoke of Story Fascism. (This sometimes works well, just not for me. See anything by Chuck Palahniuk…but even he likes his crises and climaxes.) I’ll use Pixar Man’s examples:

1. Inciting event (Buzz Lightyear moves into Andy’s Room)
2. Progressing complications (Buzz becomes Andy’s favorite toy; Woody tries to push him out the window)
3. Crisis (Buzz and Woody end up in evil-kid Sid’s house and Woody has to make A Decision)
4. Climax (Woody makes The Right Choice and he and Buzz scare the bejeezus out of Sid, escaping into the sunset)
5. Resolution (Buzz and Woody become friends, and together protect and boss around the other Citizens, er…toys)

And They All Lived…

The Calling of Samuel

Just another Addison Road podcast

1sam3.mp3

The Calling of Samuel
by Michael Lee

Yesterday, instead of doing a more traditional scripture reading during the service, we did a storytelling of the calling of Samuel, from 1 Samuel 3. I thought I’d recreate that storytelling and post it here. The actual storytelling was half prepared, half extemporaneous, so this isn’t an exact duplication of what happened yesterday.

What you’re also missing with this recording is what the storytelling looked like from my perspective. I got to look out into a room with 250 or so people, and see them respond to the text. They were engaged in the ebb and flow of the story, I could see them grab hold of the repetition in the text and organize it mentally; they became participants in scripture. It was pretty dramatic from where I stood.

I hope we do more things like this. Knowing Doug, our pastor, I’m sure we will.

Book review/recommendation

This week I re-read a book I got a couple years ago called In Search of Grace: A Journey Across America’s Landscape of Faith by Kristin Hahn. I highly recommend it: beautifully written, great storytelling, and a uniquely postmodern take on religious belief and practice by an unreligious, but spiritually hungry, young woman. For two years, she traveled around the US to meet with people of different faiths, but instead of just interviewing them, she actually practiced with them to experience the uniqueness of each tradition. We’re talking everything from going door-to-door with Mormon missionaries to attending the drive-in service at the Crystal Cathedral, from fasting for the entire month of Ramadan to spell-casting with neo-pagans. (I learned a lot about The Craft, something about which I previously knew next to nothing, outside of my deep and abiding devotion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most practicing pagans prefer to do rituals skyclad, which means “wearing nothing but the sky.” How awesome is that?? I had a vivid mental picture of 500 people sitting in the olive green pews at Ventura Missionary Church singing “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” stark naked, and was momentarily sad that it will never, ever happen.)

Here’s the thing that was so interesting (and pertinent to the “Christianity in a Postmodern World” conversation): it wasn’t enough for Hahn to read about, or even personally interview people from, different religious traditions. Her journey was one of experience. She didn’t want to “window shop” religions; she wanted to find God, and knew she couldn’t do it just by picking some random faith out of a “Really Good Religions of the World” compendium. She knew intuitively that practice is a (the?) vehicle to belief.

I think we in the Christian church have had this concept turned around for a long, long time. We’ve insisted that people sign off on our Very Important List of Christian Precepts before we allow them to take part in the practices through which we live out our belief in Jesus. (I know there are theological concerns with the Eucharist and baptism, but those aren’t necessarily the practices to which I’m referring. Though the Eucharist has some important possibilities as an inclusive and transforming community ritual that I think need to be explored.) I’m thinking we need to revisit our priorities and strategies when it comes to introducing people to following Jesus. Any thoughts?