Films, Books, & Music for your Autumn

One of the beautiful parts of this writing life is the friendships and fellow artists I've gotten to know over the years. I'm physically unable to read and recommend everything I get sent or am asked to recommend, but there have been a few projects recently I am so excited to share with you. Some by dear friends, some by acquaintances, and all by people being faithful with their gifts. 

Several years ago the folks behind The Heart of Man reached out for help in getting their Kickstarter out. I was all too happy to spread the word then, and haven't heard much about the project since then. Recently the trailer was released and I saw why: because they were busy doing everything with excellence. I cannot encourage you enough to gather a group of people together to view this film. 

Here's a film about the life of one of my personal heroes, Wendell Berry. It also has a limited release, but maybe it's playing near you somewhere. Our plan is to purchase the film, fill our living room to the brim, and project it on the wall. Maybe you could do something like this. I know it will provide food for thought. 

You might remember a few years ago Stephen McCaskell directed a documentary on the life of Spurgeon. It was spectacular. He has recently completed another documentary, this time on the life of Luther. I haven't gotten a chance to view it yet, but it looks fabulous and would be a great way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Gather a group together to view this one too. It's available here on Amazon streaming

A few months ago my friend Jared Wilson released his book The Imperfect Disciple. The night I got it in the mail a friend came over and was interested in reading it. Since I had a stack of other books I was trying to get through, I lent it to him. I just got it back a week ago and have devoured it during my morning reading time. Not since Zack Eswine's Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor) have I encountered a book so freeing for imperfect Christians. If that's you (and that is you), I recommend it. 

A few weeks ago my friend Ruth released her art in the form of painting and words in her book Gracelaced. It is truly a masterpiece. Ruth is one of my favorite people to follow on social media for her vulnerability, faithfulness, and always present love of the word of God. I hope you'll check out this book (and its accompanying journal). 

Years ago Shawn and his wife Maile came over for dinner on their way through Texas and told me about the book that would eventually become my favorite. They named their son after the title character so I knew then they must be serious lit-nerds. Shawn's appreciation of good writing is the foundations for his book The Day the Angels Fell, which is great literature! Nate picked it up and read it in one afternoon, citing its similarity to Peace Like a River, Chaim Potok, and Ray Bradbury (three of his favorites), so I knew it would be good. And it is. It's a young adult novel, and would make a great read-aloud for discussion as a family. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 10.29.09 AM.png

Caroline Cobb's new album is releasing today, A Home and a Hunger. I first learned about Caroline years ago when I heard her song Passover Song. I was mesmerized. I told everyone I knew about her album, The Blood and the Breath, then. Now, I cannot wait for you to listen to her new work about the kingdom and our longing for the new heaven and hew earth. Get it today. 

 

 

Sowing in Tears: Vulnerable Bloggers and the Crushing Whirlwind of Fame

Nate and I first heard Andy Crouch talking about the relationship between authority and vulnerability on Mike Cosper's podcast, Cultivated, several months ago. I ordered Andy's book, Strong and Weak, immediately, Nate finished it a few weeks ago and I finished it this morning. If you've read anything by Andy, you know he's remarkably talented at communication and articulate in a way the church culture today needs. Today's thoughts are born from what I'm learning through Andy. 

In the past decade or so we've seen an uptick of tell-all, self-described Christian bloggers and storytellers, particularly women. There are some common themes in their writing: they're funny, they're sacrilegious in the sense that they'll talk about anything, they seem common, relatable, real. It's something that was missing in the buttoned up culture of Christianity most of us came from. And it's refreshing in a way. It also tastes like sewer water in a way. But it's refreshing until the sewer water aftertaste comes. Most of these tell-all bloggers have gone from Christian-lite to Universalism or embracing new doctrines, and eventually being famously farewelled. 

What is refreshing about it is there is a kind of vulnerability present in the beginning. Sure, it's from behind a keyboard in a house far away, but the writer is tapping out her treatise dressed in last night's pjs and yelling at the dog to stop barking and ran out of coffee yesterday, but plunks on with her piece. There's a vulnerability that's appealing about that: they're real people with real problems and probably have bed head too.

There's also a vulnerability that can be manipulative though. It's the sort that only opens the shades enough so the mess can be seen, but not enough that the writer is actually vulnerable. It costs nothing to tell you I'm writing this in my pjs with the dog barking at the neighbors and drinking chai tea wishing it was coffee. To be a tell-all blogger costs virtually nothing. We can wax eloquent about our reputation and how painful some people's comments can be, but most of us well-adjusted adults can still go to bed and sleep fine because all that cost is out there, not in here. 

To be truly vulnerable, there must be risk involved, and risk comes with the people closest to us, the ones who matter most to us. If we use vulnerability as a tool, or even a shield, the world sees us wield and we get our jollies from it, it's not real vulnerability. It's manipulation—gaining approval, gaining a following, gaining a title by being real, authentic, etc.. 

John says this, "He must increase, I must decrease," and that's an awfully difficult thing for any communicator or faithful worker of any sort in this world to do today. By virtue of our work, we run the risk of increase. How does one decrease—embrace true vulnerability, the sort that involves risk with those closest to us and never becomes a platform on which our ministry is based, because our boast is Christ alone—and yet also be faithful? Especially because one of our callings as Christians is to show the world we are not better than them, that Jesus came for the sick, and that we all are in equal need of Jesus. How do we be weak and in our weakness become strong, without outshining the strongest One of all? 

I don't know the answer to that, not fully. But I think it looks a little like saying "I don't know" when asked questions we really don't have the answers to. It looks like saying less when we might be expected to say more. I think we can expect some growth, perhaps explosive, perhaps incremental, but we should also expect to be able to say "I can't be faithful to love Jesus and people, and have things in my life I refuse to lose." I think it means never getting to hob-nob with the big folks and maybe never getting noticed by anyone but the Master of the house (Who's waiting, with joy, to say "Well done, my servant."). 

If you're reading blogs or books or going to conferences and gushing over how vulnerable the communicators are being, ask yourself what the cost to them truly might be. You probably don't even know, and might not even be able to see until decades later when their kids are grown or their marriages have been through hell or they confess they've become an addict of drugs or alcohol or their ministry falls out from underneath them. 

. . .

There was a period last year when everywhere I looked in my life there was pain and loss and I could barely breathe as I walked through it. Yet I kept writing through it, trying to find redemption quickly. I thought it I could redeem something bad quickly enough, then it would become good. But a wise friend and fellow writer said this to me: 

"I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you're going through on your blog. Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment."

The cost to my writing vulnerably was unseen except to those who knew me personally. It might have seemed to you that the cost was in people knowing my junk, but that's never felt like much of a cost to me. The real cost was to my soul. Writing quickly about what was going on was taking a great toll on my emotions, spirit, and mind. I had to take a break. And I did. And it was really helpful to me, and I hope, really helpful to you, the reader. 

If you read and love a blog, a book, an author, or a speaker, and marvel at how much they just get you, they feel kindred to you, ask yourself at what cost is their story coming. You're not responsible for how they wield their gifts, but you are responsible for how you wield your listening and worshipping. The truth is real vulnerability takes time, a lot of it, and there probably won't be a celebration but a crucifixion that follows it.  

One of my new favorite writers is Anne Kennedy, and she said this about these sorts of leaders: "Don’t be fooled. The woman reaps what she sows. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy, but those who sow the wind won’t get anything back but a destructive whirlwind on the last day." 

I want to be one who sows in tears—quiet, real, deep, agonizing, and vulnerable tears. 

 

LEFT: the narrative of a child of divorce

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 1.07.28 PM Jonathan Edwards is not the puritan, but he understands a little something about sinners and a seemingly angry God. When he was seven years old his dad left and this is the narrative we're introduced to in Jonathan's book LEFT: the struggle to make sense of life when a parent leaves.

Whatever your life looks like, the chances are great that in some way you have been affected by the reality of divorce. Your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, maybe you yourself. It's a death that seems more common than death itself. I know far more people who have been affected by divorce than by the death of someone close to them. I experienced tragic death in my family (my 14 year old brother) the year before I experienced the tragedy of divorce in my family—and I swear divorce was the worse of the two.

Jonathan does an interesting thing with LEFT, a careful balancing act of narrative and memoir, staccato sentences ripe with good theology—but isn't this like life? A constant experiential proof text? We observe, we ingest, we internalize, and then we prove our theology. LEFT is a book about a boy who was left by his father, but who felt left by his heavenly father for most of his life. It's a common story from children of divorce. It's mine and maybe it's yours. There is nothing in the world I hate more than divorce, and yet there is nothing more in the world that has shaped and shattered my poor and pitiful picture of who God was to me. Divorce led me straight to the place where I learned my paltry portrait of God was made in the image of the man and woman who birthed me, raised me, sent me, and broke me. But it wasn't until I came to face to face with that image that I was able to forgive the sinners who birthed me, raised me, sent me, and broke me. It was a careful distinction and a paramount one. One every child of divorce must experience if they are to walk through the shattered shards of what's left of their family.

LEFT leaves no pretty picture of life after divorce. Jonathan is real about the struggles—even the ongoing ones. He confesses, he wrestles, he preaches, he stumbles. It's the story of a man who knows by the grace of God he doesn't have to make the same mistakes his father made, but also by the grace of God he does have to sort through them as part of his story. He says, "I began to understand that I didn't have any justice to seek, that true justice was God's...Reconciliation with my dad ceased to be my primary concern because I longed for his reconciliation with the Father so much more."

This is the hinge upon which the door of growth swings for the child of divorce. When we begin to understand we are as much sinners, as faithless, as broken as the men and women who birthed us—in desperate need of the hands of a faithful Father.

Jonathan Edwards is not the puritan, but he does understand a little something about sinners in the hands of a faithful God.

The Most Important Thing About You

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.08.35 PM When I was in high school I read the A.W. Tozer quote, "The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about God." There's no way I could have known that what I thought about God then, and would think about him for the next decade, would run my shred of faith straight into the ground.

I cannot begrudge my misunderstandings. Sometimes we have to subtract until we've reached negative space before we can add what is true and holy and right and good. I would dive back into the depths of darkness once again without a second thought if I knew I would surface with the riches I found in 2010. And those riches?

His character. Namely, what I thought about when I thought about God.

Since 2010 these attributes are my buoys, my buffers, my strong-tower, my defense, my comfort, and my control. When all around me is sinking sand, I know who my God is in His unchangeableness. He is immoveable, unshakeable, ever present, and always good.

Whenever what I think about God is incorrect and it informs how I think about everything else, I sink and quickly. But when my soul feasts on the truths of his character and his attributes, I am sustained. The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about the most important things about God.

Joe Thorn's new book, Experiencing the Trinity: the grace of God for the people of God, does such a fine and succinct job of displaying God's character and I hope you'll consider grabbing one of these small books for yourself. Actually, what I hope you'll do is what I've done with his small book, Note to Self, and buy fifteen copies to give away. So many of us are limping along in our faith, with our eyes set on circumstances or ourselves. How much better to forget ourselves and see Him, robed in truth and beauty, splendor and goodness?

Lift up your eyes to the hills, where your help comes from, the maker of heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1

Earth and Sky

Earth and Sky A beautiful collision of grace and grief by Guy Delcambre

guy (1)

When I first met Guy what I was struck most by was his weary constancy. Here was a guy going through the motions of life, fatherhood, writing, breathing, and doing it without the woman he thought would be beside him for the rest of his life. I never heard him complain. I watched him put one foot in front of another, fathering, writing, leading, working, breathing. He writes in the same way.

There’s a weightiness to his words, not because they are weighty words but because they carry strength and endurance within them. They are the badge of a man who has sunk beneath the waters of suffering, who has subsisted on the bread of affliction, and who has seen the goodness of God in the land of the living and the dead.

In Guy's new book, Earth and Sky, he writes of his life with his wife before her death, and what to do after she was taken from him so young. There is a tangibleness to the wrestling Guy does in the book, and I don’t think it’s just because I saw a bit of that wrestling in real life. I think it’s because Guy put his heart into the writing of this book—not for fame or for a name, but for his daughters. He suffered well because he was watched closely. I said to him one day a few years ago that they were learning how to grieve from him, watching him, and I couldn’t think of a better example.

If you are grieving or you know someone who is, I recommend Earth and Sky in the same way I recommend A Grief Observed, because sometimes what we need is not all the answers, but a friend to walk alongside when the answers don’t come easily.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.48.24 AM