A STORY Principle (2)

No conference can be summed up in one thought or idea, but, for me, the most useful advice to come out of the STORY event was from David McFadzean, a Hollywood executive. There had been a couple of intellectually challenging speakers before McFadzean, and his credits in comedies like Home Improvement and Rosanne didn’t inspire much anticipation in me. But you know where this is going . . . his words are the ones that have stuck with me. And his message was every bit as intellectually challenging as anyone else. (By the way, if you check out that link, Seren, do you recognize him from one of the HI episodes or something? I don’t know, but he looks so familiar! Imdb was no help.)

So, the life changing words of wisdom were simply this: Art has a cumulative, not singular, effect on us and in us. McFadzean noted that as Christians we often think we need to cram the entire gospel message into our painting or book or song or it won’t qualify as Christian art. (I recognize that feeling!) But instead, McFadzean encourages that good art should work on us in cumulative movement toward better questions, more realistic stories, and an appreciation for the radiance of life. This radiance, he said, includes the good and the bad and especially the mystery of what it means to make the invisible visible.

For me, this advice means I can stop stressing about writing the ONE novel that will change the world, and instead put my effort into the story that is in my head right now. This story involves a lot of themes that faith speaks to, but it does not revolve around a traditionally Christian plot line. (In other words, my protagonist isn’t going to answer an altar call at the end and then see all her dreams come true!)

But if good art should have a cumulative effect, then my little novel doesn’t need to be the end-all, it just needs to be itself. It just needs to tell the story it is meant to tell and be content. As it spins around in my brain, it is quite happy just being its own little tale of loss and discovery. I’m the one who tries to make it more, tries to add characters and sub plots that might propel it into blockbuster Christian stardom. It doesn’t want to do that and neither do I.

Thank you, David McFadzean, the pressure is OFF! : )

P.S. To be fair, the pressure comes back on a bit when McFadzean emphasizes the importance of craft. He says if you don’t have the craft, drop out. (His words, not mine!) And this is good advice for Christians in any line of work. In our culture, we can’t rely on the truth of our message despite the weakness of our form. But for this post, let’s just hang out in the pressure’s off zone, okay? There’s always more . . .

On Romans 8:31-39

I spoke out of this passage during the Awaken Conference at the end of last week. This excerpt is from my notes for the conclusion of my message, which included reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible about the first lie. In Sally Lloyd-Jones’ version, the question that the serpent puts into Eve’s mind is “Does God really love you? If He did, why wouldn’t he want you to have this juicy, delicious fruit?” This root question still sends pangs of doubt into human hearts everywhere: Does God really love me?

What is the meta-narrative of the gospel as we study it in this passage?

In short, we sinned against our Creator and Lover because we doubted Him. We talked behind his back, let someone else convince us He was at best power-hungry and at worst a genuine liar and manipulator. We choose to “talk it out” instead of to simply obey. We forgot he made the rules.

He sent us away for our own protection, promising us a reunion when the time was right. Only he could fix it, and he would.

But we continued to doubt Him. We suffered under the effects of our own sin and questioned even further whether or not it was worth it to be in this long-distance relationship. We didn’t see Him often; we misunderstood His movements toward us, and we turned away from His attempts to draw us near.

He came and he fixed it. He ushered in the beginnings of a new way of living, a promise of the return of a perfect world. He explained that the old laws were just the beginning – he knew we could do better than that. He knew we could conquer anything with his help. It was unexpected, just what we needed, and we’re still trying to understand it.

Then, even when we saw our need for Him and admitted that He was the only answer, we wanted it to be a business transaction, not a loving partnership. He wanted to woo us on a luxury cruise ship of relationship and we were satisfied alone – craving autonomy and independence – in a utilitarian rowboat across an ocean of life’s storms and trouble. We wanted to know, “How is this thing supposed to keep us afloat?!” and He said, “I’m not sure if it will.” And it made Him sad even while it made us angry.

But still He promises: “I’m not here just as your pragmatic answer. I’m here as a person, your Savior. I don’t want you to mentally assent to my presence just so you don’t have to face Hell. I want to embrace you as a father runs with open arms toward his missing child. I am FOR YOU. I am WITH YOU. Nothing, no sin or doubt or failure, can separate us. Run to me.”

Do You Know Why I Like You?

Because you are just like me.

Because you are nothing like me.

Because you cheese for the camera.

Because you turn away.

Because you are responsible.

Because you are the one who needs held.

Because you are confident.

Because you are never sure which smile to put on.

Because you are brave.

Because you are scared.

Because I asked you to pose for this picture and, whether because of or in spite of all these things, you did.

A STORY Moment (1)

So much to say about our two days at STORY in Chicago this past week, but I thought I’d start with the description of a simple moment.

Second day of a two-day conference. Afternoon. I’m standing just inside the double doors that serve as the primary entryway into the third floor auditorium. My job is to direct the flow of traffic in and out of this door depending on the activity on the stage. Since the lights have just come up and the crowd is ready for the final afternoon break, I can concentrate on the music and not worry so much about how softly the door lands against the frame.

The worship band Sons and Daughters begins an encore of their original song “All the Poor and Powerless.” It went well the first time we heard it; I’m ready to really engage in it this time.

Video of the song:

All the Poor and Powerless from Journey Franklin on Vimeo.

As we sing it now, the tech guys (special shout out to my friend Jason) have a surprise. The conference has been full of astounding technology. The opening segment (written, produced, and performed by the amazing Blaine Hogan), powerful enough had it only been spoken as a monologue, also included holographic rain and an intense musical soundtrack. The wall behind the stage, as far as any of us know, is covered by a thick black drapery that serves as a perfect neutral backdrop.

Just as the song escalates into the chorus (minute 5:00), those drapes dramatically separate revealing an entire wall of windows. As we sing, we look out at the Chicago skyline on a clear Fall afternoon. Gorgeous. Inspirational. We are visually reminded that everything we’ve talked about in here is only useful if it makes a sense out there. The church planter in front of me breaks into tears of love for his city. My own heart is fueled with passion for the glory of God and the restoration of our cities under His guidance.

I wanted to share this as one of the many moments that added up to a great STORY. More to come.

Anticipation

I love this feeling. Tomorrow I’ll get up super early and drive to the Amtrak station in my area. I’ve been to the station to pick people up, but never to be a passenger myself. A train to Chicago! Just me and hours of reading time. Wow.

Then the fun begins. City sights. Foods. Old friends. New friends. STORY. Inspiration. Challenge.

Yay!

See you back her with enthusiastic reports, I’m sure!

Perspective (Part 1)

This word – perspective – always helps me. I prefer to be an analytical thinker, but I am a woman, so sometimes that is simply not possible. I think you know what I mean. But the first man in my life, my dad, taught me how to employ perspective to fight the negative power of emotions and I still use his tactic.

As a teenager, I remember sitting on the Berber carpeted staircase in our huge living room and crying about . . . well, anything, everything, whatever was on the top of my injustices list at the time. I’m pretty sure it was boy related often. Homework related at times. Work or church related the rest of the occasions. The feelings are utter and complete despair, a certainty that I had no choice but to give up or die.

Sometimes Dad would casually remark that my emotionally out-of-proportion response might signal a negative hormonal interaction. I was always sure that was NOT the case, only to find out a couple of days later that it definitely was. Still, even when I argued that hormones were not the problem, my situation was genuinely DIRE, Dad always offered the same simple response:

“Just don’t take yourself too seriously today.”

And it always worked. It still works. My husband has learned how to employ this one. (Note to husbands and fathers: The phrase should, as often as possible, be used independently of the hormonal connection. Throw the hormone excuse at us when we are hormonal and things will not go well for you. We are trying to overcome this weakness associated with our gender, but I cannot promise our victory here. Play it safe and avoid.)

What does it mean to not take yourself too seriously? A list, shall we?

- Don’t make any life altering decisions. Don’t quit your job, cut your hair, or buy a puppy under these circumstances. Almost always it will be a mistake. And even when it isn’t a mistake, your timing is usually off.

- Don’t cave to the melancholy. Fight it by staying in your routine. Fight it by going above and beyond to be nice to people.

- Don’t ignore the melancholy. Find ways to comfort yourself that don’t harm others. Eat something bad for you. Watch a movie instead of cleaning the bathroom. Take a nap.

- Don’t forget that this will pass. Even if your emotional dip isn’t hormonal, it is almost always temporary. If you can remember that, you will find it easier to climb out of the pit.

What would you add to my “Not Taking Myself Too Seriously Today” List?

Theology for the Rest of Us

I used to think I’d like a book with a title like this. Theology seemed over my head, something for the big-name authors to fight about as they churned out books with titles addressed to one another. Seriously mind boggling, no? And don’t even try to sum up the debate for me . . . I saw the graphic in Christianity Today and still don’t get it. And despite the fact that it might make my father stroke out at its mention, I don’t really care.

I care about God. I care about salvation. I care about knowing Him more. I care about his unseen Kingdom and what that means, but I’m tired of trying to figure Him out so I can put Him in a carefully constructed theological box. Boxes are for the things we want to protect, move, or keep out of sight. None of that makes sense for God. I’m not as afraid as I once was of admitting that my theology over time has changed. It is, after all, the study of a so-big-we’ll-never-understand-it-all God.Why are we so afraid to let some of our ideas go and embrace new ones?

If you’ve read about Job, you know theology failed him. This was Job’s theology du jour: Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. So when bad things happened to him, a good person, his theology didn’t work anymore.

In the end, God Himself had to show up and basically tell Job that he needed to get over it. Trust. Be faithful. I’m going to work it all out. It’s ok if you don’t have a bullet point list for this one.

And I’ve said all of that to set up the video to a song that I’ve posted on my blog before! But here’s the thing, this song is one of the simple truths of theology that I think would change EVERYTHING if we really believed it. Everything. When I hear this one, I feel like God is showing up, telling all the theologians to move aside and showing me what He really means.

Kari, could you take over?

Now, don’t you feel better? And, rest assured, I’m quite certain that a future post from me will be all about how important it is to have good theology. I’m a communicator, after all; I can’t pretend that the structure of our liturgical language is not important. Don’t worry, Dad.