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2/28/2006

"FUTURE OF MUSIC" MEETING

I'm at EMI's headquarters in Brentwood, Tennessee this morning. I'm sitting at a black cloth covered table with the president of the GMA (Gospel Music Association), Label Presidents, Distribution Company heads, ministers, researchers, ethicists and artists Warren Barfield and Alisha from ZOE Girl. We're meeting to discuss anti-piracy strategy and research from both a business and spiritual perspective. Or, as our leaders from the National Council of Faith Based Youth put it, we're meeting to discuss the "kinds of efforts that might be successful in educating young people about piracy and positively affecting their future decisions on this matter." 

Specifics to come. I have to look like I'm listening now.

For now, how much do you really care what this panel thinks you need to do or not do regarding music piracy?

SHOPPING AT THE DOCK

Seth Godin (follicle-challenged marketing guru majoring on new media) wrote this recently:

Had shark for dinner last night. $10 a pound and totally worth it. Really fresh and delicious.

The fisherman, of course, was lucky to make a buck a pound. And all those middlemen added little in terms of value (they cut it, of course, and kept it cool, and allowed me to buy it midday, but they also added several days to the process of getting it from the dock to me).

What if the fisherman had my preferences and just let me know when he had a good haul? I could meet his truck at Union Square and buy direct, fresh, for $5.

Twice as efficient, twice as fresh.

No, of course it's not going to happen soon, because fishermen like being fishermen and don't want to deal with all of these hassles.

But the new middlemen are going to be a lot more efficient than the old ones!

{Read his whole post here.)


This only confirms my belief that there are other ways, more efficient ways to get music to people - and sell music to people - than handing a boatload of songs off to a label, who then hands them off to a distribution company, who then hands them off to bookstores and sub/independent distributors who then put them on a physical or digital shelf to wait for purchase. The fisherman gets 8% (before his expenses and after recouping the cost of the boat's gas and the store's electric bill) and everyone else in the distribution chain splits the other 92%. And of course this is fair since, like fishermen, most musicians don't want the hassles of doing anything other than being musicians.

And stores, labels and distributors won't go away anytime soon and shouldn't but still I'm thinking: How many people would be willing to just meet me seaside and pay $10 or less for the same catch going for $16 in stores? Better yet, how many want to ride on the boat and watch the fish get reeled in?

We'll see.

MICROSOFT REDESIGNS iPOD PACKAGE



This happens with CD Packaging in marketing meetings too. That beautiful illustration or easily recognizable monochromatic cover is replaced by a smiling (but not too smiling) "approachable" head shot, close-up, artist's name in mammoth font, album title right below almost as large - or, in Christian music, the band on a couch or in a line of some sort. And that first draft everyone "loved but we just don't think it pops off the shelf" ends up tacked to the artists wall, a reminder of what it means to give up ""creative control" to a marketing team.

(HT:SethG)

FIVE YEARS OF READING A TO Z...ALMOST

In the last five years I've been given the gift of seeing much of the world - not most, just much. In a storm of boredom last week, while out seeing Georgia, we listed the places we've seen from A to Z:

A-Arnhem, Netherlands
B-Bemidji, Minnesota
C-Columbus, Ohio
D-Dublin, Ireland
E-Evansville, Indiana
F-Fargo, North Dakota
G-Grand Rapids, Michigan
H-Herning, Denmark
I-Indianapolis, Indiana
J-Jackson, Mississippi
K-Kalamazoo, Michigan
L-London, England
M-Marco Island, Florida
N-Nacadoches, Texas
O-Owosso, Michigan
P-Portland, Oregon
Q-Quito, Ecuador
R-Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina
S-San Salvador, El Salvador
T-Tulsa, Oklahoma
U-Upland, Indiana
V-Visalia, California
W-Waco, Texas
X-
Y-
Z-Zeeland, Michigan

As you can see we're missing a couple. And with my travel habits slowing down these days I'm feeling the pressure to fill in the holes in my gig alphabet before demand dies - or I do. So if you or someone you know lives in Xai Xai,Mozambique or Xieng Khouang, Laos or in Yap, Micronesia or Yellowknife, Canada please have them get in touch with Brian soon.

We could almost list alphabetically the models of cars we've rented, brands of luggage we've busted through and restaurants across the nation that supposedly served "great Mexican food, I swear" but disappointed our Texas tongues in the end. But disappointed or not I'm grateful for the experience - and perspective. Like St. Augustine said, "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."

2/27/2006

THIS WEEK AT IKON: 2.28.06

1CORINTHIANS 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

This is a tough one. One things for sure though, Paul is writing to Christians about their not making the choices Christians should. In fact, we never see Paul talking to someone outside the church about the need to behave better than they do - even though Paul is writing to Christians in a very debaucherous city: Corinth. It's the Christian he holds to a higher standard because right behavior and thinking is a response to knowing the love of God, experiencing the forgiveness of Jesus and being motivated by the Spirit of God. Only God in us and with us makes us willing and able to be "good." Only God's followers "hunger and thirst for righteousness."

So why do we/I so often expect non-Christians to abide by our standards for marriage, business ethics, war and peace, child raising etc? Are we wrong to do so? Is it possible to pass laws or stage protests tat can actually change a leopard's spots? Is it OK to MAKE someone outside our club behave as we should without their wanting to? These are just some of the questions we'll wrestle this week as we discuss 1 Corinthians 5 at ikon. We start around 8 PM every Tuesday at the People's Church in Franklin, TN. Stop by sometime.

REBEKAH'S PAGE

FROM REBEKAH'S PAGE:

"Rebekah is a wonderfully active three year old who used to have lots of energy to spare. She lives with her mommy and daddy and her younger sister Sarah. In the end of 2004 we found out Rebekah likely had Cerebral Palsey as well as some other muscular/neurological issues. It took 6 months for us to get over that and get her started with special classes to help her grow to her fullest potential. Now she has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer in her face and neck (Ewing's Sarcoma). This Blog is about how this beautiful little girl (and her family) are coping with life on a day to day basis. Come share with us. It's okay to cry, to laugh, to love and to pray but whatever you do, go home and love your own little ones just that much more."

I don't know Rebekah, but I'll be back to her page to read, cry, laugh and pray with her family. Consider doing the same.

GOOGLEFIGHT: SIMPSONS

Round One: Jessica Simpson versus Ashleigh Simpson



Round Two: Jessica Simpson versus OJ Simpson



Round Three: Jessica Simpson versus Homer Simpson



And the GoogleFight champion is Jessica Simpson.

2/26/2006

FAITH OF OUR FATHERS (AND MY GRANDMOTHER)

The smell of age rushed up my nostrils and filled my mind's eye with fuzzy images from the past: sitting in her plump lap with her wrinkled hands clasped across mine, the humid hum of "Rock of Ages" whispered against my cheek, the creaking of a wooden rocker on a linoleum kitchen floor.

I remember my mother's mother well. Granny, the others called her. She was Geemommy to me - with a hard "g", not a "j".

We rose together at 4AM the Summer mornings I spent at her house in Bridge City, Texas not far from the bayou. She'd brew a pot of coffee, pour me a cup, double it's measure in milk, serve me her own special recipe strawberry preserves over biscuits pulled from a can and then an oven. We'd leave it open. She in her rocker, me on an office chair, our feet up on it's door as if it were twenty below outside and not already in the seventies.

She'd read from her newspaper, the reason for our early rise, to see how busy we'd both be that day. She was a florist and I was her helper, her delivery boy and ribbon braider: I made red and white braids three feet long for about two weeks in her shop in the Summer, helping her get a jump on Homecoming season, at which time boys would inevitably shell out more than $100 for two mums strung together with my braids and other inexpensive trinkets designed to extricate cash from adolescents and serve as proof of one's love for the unfortunate date who would wear such a monstrosity pinned to her chest for an entire evening of football.

In the Summer, before mums and corsages, she lived on weddings and funerals. Weddings could be seen from months away. They sat on her calendar, planned for, no surprises. Funerals, on the other hand, hit her at 4AM every morning over preserves and biscuits. They were printed daily in the "obits" as she called them.

"Oh, Old Mr. Hatfield finally went home to be with the Lord," she'd say. And it struck me odd even at age ten that my wrinkled slow moving grandmother could refer to anyone else as "old." She'd make a mental list of the deceased, any relatives or friends of theirs she knew who might call or come by for flowers in their honor. She spoke the list out loud as if God was listening, as if she were pleading their case before Jesus who had pulled up a chair next to us to sop some preserves and sip coffee. "I remember Mrs. Walker from when your momma was little," she'd recall. "Mrs. Walker was your momma's fifth grade teacher. We saw her at church every week. Every week. You know I heard her husband died when she still had babies at home. She never married again. And she was a beautiful woman with a big smile and dark black hair. Just beautiful. I hope they don't put all that makeup on her for the funeral like they do...You want another biscuit, Sugar?"

We found out after Geemommy died that she didn't charge a lot of bereaved families for her art. And it was art. Sacred art. Prayed over. With Jesus sitting beside her, listening to her sing and watching her work, his pants unbuttoned at the top to make room after breakfast.

That smell was her - her faith, her lullabies and and biscuits and prayers. It was the smell of heritage and lessons lived before spoken. It smelled old, ancient even, but comforting and eternal.

It was the smell of wooden pews stocked with Baptist Hymnals, high ceilings, stained glass, carpets stained from generations of potluck dinners and baby spit, sermons hollered, choir lofts filled and pipe organs calling fathers and sons and their sons and their sons to worship. It smelled like a legacy.

I plugged my guitar into the puny sound system of the First Baptist Church in Barnesville, Georgia last Thursday night, my lungs and my heart filled with this smell and made my contribution to it. I added a verse to the song that's been playing there and around the world from every branch of God's family tree for six thousand years at least. Mine was strummed and rhyming and sung. But I know it was no better than those that were read and stilted and conducted in that place over the years. And that place is no better than the slave-worked fields nearby made blessed by negro spirituals. It's no better than the alleys of Dublin where saints sang door to door or the houses of Rome where the fathers of my faith broke bread and celebrated friends who died at the hands of the Caesar for the speaking the name "Jesus."

It was just a room, no better than any other where two or more have gathered over the centuries with not much more than faith in common. But it smelled like the room where my faith was born, where I first heard the songs and felt the love and compassion and saw the giving that faith inspires. It smelled like Jesus to me. Like he was sitting beside me with jelly on his cheek and coffee on his breath whispering our story into me.

BLUNT'S SCHOOL OF SOFTROCK

James Blunt, unlike most singer-songwriters who shlep through anonymity as waiters or bar singers, spent his four pre-fame years in Britain's army. Not the usual training grounds for creativity: no tour bus, no screaming fans, no Sharpie markers or hair products.

But somehow this ex-warrior became a current phenom, even toppling Coldplay from his homeland's album chart with his debut album, Back to Bedlam, which steers clear of war and warriors until the album closer "No Bravery" about his experiences in Kosovo - written while stationed there in fact. Paste Magazine (recently named Best Independent Magazine of 2005, by the way) prints which lessons Blunt learned while carrying a gun in the army have made him successful at carrying a guitar and creating an army of fans:

1.Don’t get nervous
“People always ask if I get nervous performing, but I don’t find it nerve-wracking at all,” Blunt says. “It’s just singing. No one’s in danger if I forget the words, so what’s to worry about?”

2.Always act like you’re in charge
“When I was in the army, I used to stand up on a platform and convince soldiers I knew what the hell was going on,” he says. “Now, I do that onstage.”

3.Keep your space clean
“For years, I traveled around in a tank with all of my life possessions; now that tank is called a tour bus,” Blunt says with a laugh. “But in either one you have to keep things neat, so I have daily morning inspections. If any band member fails, they give me 50 push-ups.”

4. Think clearly at all times
“People think the army is very regimented, but you actually have a lot of freedom as to how you get a mission done, so you have to be self- motivated,” he says. “In that sense, it’s not that different from being a musician. You have to always keep pushing yourself to reach your goals.”

5. Learn how to escape
“I used to work in reconnaissance, so I got very good at hiding in bushes,” Blunt says. “That can be very useful when dealing with overzealous fans. The Army also teaches you discretion, which comes in handy on the road.”


Go here for all available on-line features from Paste Magazine.

James Blunt

2/24/2006

BUILDING BETTER BLOGS

If your blog or other website currently links to SHLOG.COM and I DON'T currently link to you in "Better Blogs" over there on the right, please leave a comment on this post with you url and I'll add you. I currently use SiteMeter.com to figure out who links to me but it doesn't catch about half of of my inbound links. Got a better way of figuring out who links to you? I'm interested.

I recently read a killer article in New York Magazine called "Blogs To Riches" about the differences between the haves and have-nots of the blogosphere. That difference has a great deal to do with inbound links - that and overall quality, which has a great deal to do with time and money spent maintaining one's blog and making changes, lots of changes. "A blog is like a shark: If it stops moving, it dies," New York Magazine says.

I'm working on a new business model for musicians that I'll try out on myself shortly. Essential to that model working is the ability to increase traffic to a url - blog or website. 400-600hits/day is respectable but not substantial enough to pull off this new model for music business. So I'm looking at blogging software outside of Blogger and I'm open to your suggestions. And I'm looking into "hiring" people who write, but not often enough to maintain a blog, who would like to send me their writings to post on my blog. In theory having more than one post per day increases the likelihood of a visit, if for no other reason than having more words for Google to turn up in their searches. Diversity of thought is always more interesting to me anyway. And I'm trying multiple ways of increasing inbound links, and therefore traffic. Currently, I'm linking to everyone who links to me, and linking to people much larger than me who don't know I even exist in hopes that they'll notice my little link to them and reciprocate. And I've added SHLOG.COM to my signature at various message boards where I've posted infrequently. What do you do to increase inbound links and traffic? What have you done to build a better blog?

2/23/2006

WILLIMON'S CONTROL ISSUES

FROM LEADERSHIP JOURNAL'S BLOG - REPORTING FROM THE NATIONAL PASTOR'S CONVENNTION ATTENDED BY 1700 CHURCH LEADERS:

Building his case from John 3 where Jesus speaks with Nicodemus about being born from above, [Will] Willimon found it interesting that the only person Jesus told, “You must be born again” was someone “like him”—a church leader. Nicodemus’ responds to Jesus with a question church leaders can relate to, “How?”

“How?” is a question pastors ask a lot.

How do I lead my church? How do I minister effectively? How do I deal with conflict? How do I grow my church? How do I (fill in the blank)? “How” is why we buy books, attend conferences, and go to seminars. Modern evangelical pastors are all about the “how.” And we base our credibility as leaders on our ability to tell other people “how.” We give them three-point sermons on how to do all sorts of things.

But Jesus irritates us by not sharing our passion for pragmatic answers. Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ question, “How can a man be born again,” with an unashamedly ambiguous answer. He says, “The wind blows where it wishes …you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Willimon says that like Nicodemus many pastors have a desire to control, manage, stabilize, and harness God. But we serve a Living God, and this God does not yield to the desires of men. His Spirit goes where he chooses, blowing freely like the wind. This, said Willimon, “is why we nail down our pews.” We don’t want the Spirit to blow in and disrupt our perfectly managed ministries...

READ MORE OF THIS STORY HERE

MORE FROM AND ON WILL WILLIMON:
Five Willimon Sound Bites
Repent
Books by Willimon
Prayer for 2000th U.S. Soldier Killed in Iraq

2/22/2006

GEEKY FRIDAY: SHLOG FAMILY TREE

Thanks to TouchGraph you can now discover how your blog, or any other website is related to everything else on the net. In other words, you can see what branches are leading to and from your site on the incestuous web family tree. Here's my "family". What's yours look like? And how is this useful?



Click image to enlarge.

(HT:Tall Skinny Kiwi)

WILKINSON LEAVES AFRICA: LESSONS ON MISSIONS AND LIFE

Given that Africa has often been a graveyard for missionaries, Bruce Wilkinson's sad and sudden departure probably shouldn't surprise us. In 2002, flush with celebrity, the Prayer of Jabez author determined to use his newfound wealth and influence to address Africa's tremendous social and spiritual problems. Eventually, his territory-enlarging vision narrowed to Swaziland, a tiny, impoverished kingdom abutting South Africa. Swaziland, with a population of 1.1 million people, has 70,000 orphans, mostly because of AIDS.

Wilkinson announced plans to start Dream for Africa (DFA), a $190 million project that would house 10,000 orphans on a 32,500-acre complex by the end of this year. The plan included a golf course, a dude ranch, abstinence training, and the planting of 500,000 small vegetable gardens. But facing hostile, misinformed accounts in the Swazi press and resistance from government officials, Wilkinson, 58, announced last fall he was leaving Africa and taking an early retirement from active ministry. The dream would continue, but in other hands and on a much smaller scale.

"Bruce was quite broken at this time," a source who requested anonymity told CT. "[DFA] had physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially taken a serious toll."

Like many missionaries, he burned out. Wilkinson, who admits that his Jabez-like prayer for the audacious project did not work, told The Wall Street Journal, "I'll put it down as one of the disappointments of my career."

And a disappointment to his followers. A Swazi pastor told the Journal, "I don't know how to handle this. People won't understand—to them Bruce is everything."

What went wrong? From a missions perspective, a lot...Read more here.

2/20/2006

E-BAY AUCTIONING ATHEISTS

Hemant Mehta, an atheist and member of the Secular Student Alliance sold his time on Ebay for $10/hour to Jim Henderson of Christian group off-the-map.org. View the e-bay item here and read about the transaction from an atheists point of view here and here. Or read off-the-map's reasoning for buying an atheist for the purpose of being taken to churches and asked afterward to answer survey questions about how the services and programs there struck him (market testing).

2/19/2006

JUDGE TO RULE ON CHRIST CASE

By MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer (HT:JJ)

VITERBO, Italy - An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.

The priest's atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a fable that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim.

Lawyers for Righi and Cascioli, old schoolmates, made their arguments in a brief, closed-door hearing before Judge Gaetano Mautone in Viterbo, north of Rome. They said they expected the judge to decide quickly.

Cascioli filed a criminal complaint in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.

Cascioli claims that Righi's assertion constituted two crimes under Italian law: so-called "abuse of popular belief," in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and "impersonation," in which someone gains by attributing a false name to a person.

"The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud," Cascioli's attorney, Mauro Fonzo, told reporters before the hearing.

Cascioli says the church has been gaining financially by "impersonating" as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, the son of Judas from Gamala.

He has said he has little hope of the case succeeding in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, but that he is merely going through the necessary legal steps to reach the European Court of Human Rights, where he intends to accuse the church of what he calls "religious racism."

Righi, 76, has stressed substantial historical evidence — both Christian and non-Christian — of Jesus' existence.

"Don Righi is innocent because he said and wrote what he has the duty to say and write," Righi's attorney, Severo Bruno, told reporters.

He said he told Mautone during the hearing that Righi was not asserting a historical fact when he wrote of Jesus' existence, but rather "an expression of theological principles."

"When Don Righi spoke about Christ's humanity ... he was affirming that he needs to be considered as a man. What his name is, where he comes from or who his parents are is secondary," he said.

Fonza said he countered that there have long been questions of Christ's existence and that the matter warranted discussion in the court.

"When somebody states a wrong fact, abusing the ignorance of people, and gains from that, that is one of the gravest crimes," Cascioli told reporters.

Righi's brother, Luigi Righi, attended the hearing and said his brother was "serene but bitter."

WHAT WAS IN THAT PARAGRAPH?

For those of you late to the party and unfamiliar with the paragraph in question, you can get caught up on the whole series by reading the linked posts below:

TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: FRIDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SATURDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY
TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

I've received a handful of e-mails (send mail here) after the TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY series asking questions. I'll try to get to them all but for now I'll answer the most popular query: What was in that paragraph?

That paragraph was in a book called "Knights Templar Revelations", a book espousing many of the same ideas as the popular book and forthcoming movie starring Tom Hanks "The Da Vinci Code." The one paragraph I read referred heavily to author Acharya S's theories/beliefs penned in her books "Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled" and "The Christ Conspiracy." In her work Acharya S (no known last name) lists the similarities and connections between the ancient god Mithra (as well as other related deities) and the Jesus of Christianity:

  • Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds.
  • He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
  • He had 12 companions or disciples.
  • Mithra's followers were promised immortality.
  • He performed miracles.
  • As the "great bull of the Sun," Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
  • He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
  • His resurrection was celebrated every year.
  • He was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
  • He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."
  • His sacred day was Sunday, the "Lord's Day," hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
  • Mithra had his principal festival of what was later to become Easter.
  • His religion had a eucharist or "Lord's Supper," at which Mithra said, "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved."
  • "His annual sacrifice is the passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement or pledge of moral and physical regeneration."
  • Shmuel Golding is quoted as saying that 1 Cor. 10:4 is "identical words to those found in the Mithraic scriptures, except that the name Mithra is used instead of Christ."
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia is quoted as saying that Mithraic services were conduced by "fathers" and that the "chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called 'Pater Patratus.'"

    Acharya S's theory then is what's known as the "pagan copycat" scenario in which Christianity is a rip off of religions predating Jesus (if he existed all), and she is not it's originator. Beginning, from what I can find, in the 19th Century, interest in and support of this form of attack on Christianity has ebbed and flowed over the years - flowing at the moment.

    When the blinders of depression and fatigue were removed, when I left Spooky Friend's office, I not only didn't doubt the reality of an historic Jesus of Nazareth but I believed wholeheartedly in the faith which sprang from his life, teachings, death and resurrection. And I had no desire, no urgency about refuting the claims against Christianity made by any source, including the pagan copycat contingency. I was certain I had experienced proof of Christ. However, that refutation soon found me. I'll share it with you here this week.

    One warning. This investigation is not for the faint. I was reluctant - very reluctant - to lead others to the materials that could cause them to doubt their faith. But in the end, because Christianity is true and God's teaching Spirit is present in us we have nothing to fear - if we stay and pray and learn together. Apart we are easily fooled.

    I believe, having now researched not only the pagan-copycat claims against Christianity but also the claimers, that this movement is primarily joined for personal profit and publicity and is supported, if not lead, by admitted Wiccans, Satanists and Atheists hiding behind pseudonyms and half truths and funneling their theories through publishers, blogs and other outlets also openly supportive of Wicca, Satanism and Atheism and such nonsensical fringe topics as phychics, astrology, tarot card reading, alien abduction, the lost city of Atlantis and ghosts. This is not, in other words, a movement as credible as it is well spoken and prolific. But it is powerful, so be careful, pray and learn in community - never alone.

  • 2/18/2006

    THE COOLEST GUY ON OUR TEAM PREACHES

    Bono, who Mark Driscoll refers to as "the coolest guy on our team" preached the best sermon I've honestly ever heard on the subjects of justice, equality and charity at The National Prayer Breakfast on February 2nd in Washington, DC.

    Most relieving for me was his opening assertion that because we are religious we may at times find ourselves critical of the religious:

    "Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

    I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

    For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

    I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

    Even though I was a believer.

    Perhaps because I was a believer.

    I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics."


    Most spankalicious was his reminder that there is a higher law than man's which lawmakers must live by:

    "I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always."


    And most unarguably scriptural and decisively Christian is his insight on the difference between charity and justice - and which is the higher ideal:

    "...you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

    But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

    6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality..."


    There's a little, maybe a lot, of debating and pontificating about whether Bono is a Christian by our definition these days. Is he too ecumenical? Is he too Catholic? Too ambiguous? Paul said belief crosses us over from death to life - not language or piety. And John tells us the evidence of this crossing over is our love for people. He said if we claim to love God but don't love people we're liars. Jesus said if we love the Most High we'll be about loving the least. Bono seems to know Jesus, though it's not my job to judge either way, and, more importantly, Bono seems to know where He hangs out:

    "I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

    God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."

    INVISIBLE CHILDREN - MOVIE, MOVEMENT, MISSION

    FROM INVISIBLECHILDREN.COM GO THERE TO LEARN MORE AND JOIN THE MOVEMENT.

    splash-hdr

    “Invisible Children, Inc.” is a non –profit organization. We, as a company, are dedicated to providing financial resources to “invisible children” by documenting their true, untold stories in a creative and relevant way, resulting in positive change. Our dream is to inspire the young and young at heart, to challenge their thinking, and empower them to “be the change they wish to see in the world” through action.

    Our goals, or “BIG IDEAS”, can be simplified to three major objectives:

    First, exposing the effects of a 20 year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda by telling their stories in a relevant way.

    Secondly, empowering the individual viewer towards action (volunteering, donations, the bracelet campaign, political pressure, etc.).

    Finally, providing aid to the “invisible children” on the ground, in Uganda.

    --------------------------------------------------------------
    WHILE AT INVISIBLECHILDREN.COM BE SURE TO READ ABOUT THE "TEAM" who made this film, started this movement, and has put their lives and talents into saving the children of Northern Uganda. They're all mid-twenties and younger. What an amazing proactive generation.

    2/17/2006

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: PROOF IN INDIANA

    I've done my best to reduce my arduous mysterious plunge from faith and stability into doubt and debilitating depression - and the climb out - into posts here. But in doing so I'm sure I've led you to believe I have a grip on exactly what happened, why and how. I don't. My story is full of holes only the words "I don't know" seem to fill. And that uncertainty is beautiful. It happened - I died and came back again - and that's all I know for sure. It happened.

    Like the man basted by his skeptical inquisitors, the one who walked away from Jesus gushing about the color green and laughing at the glitzy shimmer of the lake, all I can say is "All I know for sure is I was blind and now I can see."

    I can see.

    And whereas I was blinded by the fools and foibles bearing the name "Christian" before, today, while I know we're a dysfunctional religious family, I'm seeing the wonder and worth in us. I wanted us to be the proof. i NEEDED us to be the proof. I prayed we would be. And maybe - I don't know - but maybe my soul squinted so hard, I stared so intently, I searched so hopefully for the proof in us that my eyes got stronger. It's everywhere. The proof. As tripped up as we Christians are at times we're still somehow leaving a trail of bread crumbs through the forests we stumble through, a trail leading to God.

    I first caught the trail two weeks ago today. Friday in Indiana. After my emotional and spiritual baggage was rifled through and disposed of I packed a suitcase and picked Brian up for the long drive to Indiana. I was playing atTaylor University as part of the World Vision sponsored AIDS summit for members of the college based organization Acting On AIDS.

    The glorified coffeehouse that held the crowd was humming with heroism. Here, culled from the generation that birthed and blessed the celebrity of Paris Hilton and is said to be collectively slumping for apathetic hour after hour in front of reality TV and X-Boxes, sat 400 bread crumbs to the Jesus who came to restore sight to the blind, free prisoners and release the oppressed. Proof.

    They gave up a weekend and untallied hours year round to feed the poor, medicate the sick, pray with the hopeless. I played for them, in tribute to them and the God they proved to be real. It is not natural for humans, college aged humans perhaps especially, to be drawn outside themselves, their own daily dramas and aspirations, to sacrifice for the good of strangers on the other side of the world. This was proof.

    And the next day a classroom across campus filled up to hear me talk about what Jesus meant by "kingdom of heaven" and what their allegiance to it required of them. They listened intently and took notes, asked tremendously insightful and inspiring questions and shared their stories and solutions with each other and me. And all this on a Saturday morning. College students in a classroom learning how to bring heaven to earth on a Saturday morning.

    Proof. Beautiful bread crumbs of proof.

    I see it now.


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    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

    2/15/2006

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

    Awake in the bottom bunk. An oscillating fan perched on a stool next to the bed purred back and forth across my face, circulating the Texas heat.

    At it's center, embossed on it's cage of a body, a logo in a shiny silver circle. My eyes traced the shape. A circle. A circle never ends. The preacher that morning said life never ends. It goes on forever. I felt trapped. I didn't want to live forever. What could I ever do for forever? I didn't want to die either. Not existing scared me as much as always existing. I cried out for my mother. She sat with me, told me to imagine the best things ever. Heaven is even better, she said. But I still didn't want to go there. I was scared. I was five.

    "That was the first time I remember doubting the goodness of God," I answered. "And then again in the sixth grade, and in tenth, and a few months in college. And every time it brought depression. Never depression without doubt... Hmm. I never realized that."

    It was this first question and first answer that made me trust Spooky Friend enough to stay and talk some more. And she asked many more questions. And we asked God a few too. Each one led to the next, unearthing a long trail of half truths and lies I'd believed for a long time. Wrong priorities, incorrect assessments of others and myself, imbalanced theologies, outright lies about God I'd swallowed so long ago that I'd never spat them back up and looked them over to see if they were edible in the first place.

    My guess - and it's only a guess - is that the process we went through was very much like what takes place in any therapist's office. Question and answer. Going back over the past. Tracing current "issues" to their roots. Unearthing skeletons and other embarrassing and brutal details crawling beneath the foundations of a life that's begun to tilt off axis. I have many friends who've gone through this process in a therapist's office. None of them are well. All of them are medicated. One of them is dead. Most of them are self-absorbed and fearful.

    Their therapists dug up the skeletons and the lanky clanging bones of the undead eventually marched them to a pharmacist, and when that drug stopped working they went to another, and another. And the skeletons took a seat, took naps, took vacations, sometimes long ones, but never died. They were always over the shoulder, behind a parent, hiding in a stressful situation or temptation, lurking in a new uncomfortable situation. Never dead. That's my friends. Maybe not yours.

    And on their way to the pharmacist most of them had some eggs to throw at parents and teachers and mentors and brothers and sisters and religion and society at large. So when Spooky Friend asked me about my father I stopped playing along. I stopped trusting. For a minute.

    "My father isn't perfect. I'm not a perfect father either. And I'm not interested in blaming him for anything that's gone wrong in my life. Adam and Eve had a perfect Father and they still messed up. He loved me."

    And she smiled an affirmation and passed me a tissue. She'd hit something. And I knew it.

    We unearthed it and other skeletons of my own making - I made them by perceiving the world as children do, slightly different than it is, through idealistic expectations that are inevitably unmet. We dug up a small army of lies two weeks ago Wednesday, not all them ancient, most of them from the last five years. We didn't medicate them or treat them with a process of many weeks or years. We crucified them, replaced them, destroyed them.

    We started by giving them names as they were discovered:

    Arrogance & Pride. There's something I get from doubt, something that makes me hold onto it. It's the same thing that makes me judge other Christians or ways of doing this faith thing and church. If I doubt and everyone around me does not then it means I must know or understand something you all don't. Which means I'm much smarter than you.

    Certainty & Independence. I don't do well not knowing. The more I know the more I control and the less stress and hurt I'll have in life.

    Shame & Regret. I had sex before I was married. I don't teach on abstinence. I don't play True Love Waits conferences and the like. I don't do these things because I feel unqualified to. And I fear that if anyone knew the truth they'd feel I'm unqualified too. And I work to pay my wife back for that mistake, as if I have to earn her forgiveness or God's. I'm not sure which.

    Anger. I've always been angry. I don't know why. I don't hurt others physically when I'm angry and most people wouldn't suspect me to be an angry person, but I am.

    Fear. I'm afraid mostly of what other people think of me. I always have been. I figure most of us are. Bust most of us, I hope, don't have to hear the words "good job" to keep going. That's why comments are turned off for now. I wanted to be honest in these posts. I wanted to tell the story as it happened not as the comments wanted it to be. Writing blind has been a good discipline to defeat my fear of you.

    And many more.

    Then every named skeleton of untruth was replaced by a truth. We confessed each untruth and wrong belief to God, claimed forgiveness that is mine because Jesus died to give it to me, we thanked God for that and asked God for a word or ideal with which to replace my old way of thinking, something true and alive to replace the skeleton:

    Arrogance and Pride were replaced by Humility and Grace alone.

    Certainty and Independence were replaced by Belief and Dependence.

    Shame and Regret were replaced by Forgiveness and Love from God - my Father.

    Anger was replaced by Peace.

    Fear was replaced by Acceptance and the verse that sooths Gabriella in her darkness, "God is my helper. I will not be afraid."

    As each lie was exposed, named and replaced I repeated words like these after her out loud, eyes open, looking each other in the face:

    "Shame and Regret, you are not welcome in me any longer. By the authority of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, by the power of his blood, and with the sword of the Holy Spirit I sever the unholy soul tie between you and me. Thank you, Jesus for making me your possession, your child, and for forgiving me of my sins on the cross. Thank you for forgetting them, Father. Thank you for loving me as I am today, right now."

    Therapy has the power to dredge the lake for bodies, to search the past for wounds and gather an army of skeletons. And drugs have the ability to mask the stench of those decaying bones inside us, to hide the smell of the Fall. But what I wrestled two weeks ago put off such a foul odor of doubt and sadness that lighting Paxil candles wouldn't make the air palatable again. I had to realize that. Admit that. See the situation for what it was, a spiritual one. And then the bones had to be destroyed. But even as I was experiencing belief and relief from this kind of battling I still wanted a long process instead. I just didn't believe this was it, this was the solution for my despair. Too easy. It had to take more time than this.

    At one point Spooky Friend asked me if we'd destroyed them all by asking, "Are you free and clear?" "I think this'll be a process," I told her. "I'm just too tired and it's just too late for us to do all this today." She led me in a prayer against fatigue and asked what in me was asking for "a process." "This is ending today," she demanded. And we dug and destroyed some more.

    I wasn't battling doubt. Doubt was the last one to the party. It was the boisterous one drawing my attention and energy but it wasn't the root or the strongest enemy of mine. There were many there before him setting up chairs and blowing up balloons and setting the table and unlocking the doors and windows to my mind, making the preparations so he'd feel most welcomed in me when he finally arrived. I was weakened before he came by the lack of intimacy in my marriage due to busyness, and a lack of peace in my business relationships, and sickness, and Guilt and Shame and Envy and all the rest of the party going skeletons and obstacles in life. I felt great for having made it through so much. I celebrated with a dinner on a Friday night. But I didn't realize how weak victory had left me. That weakness was made more sever by my lack of time praying and being with God recently - not studying Him and teaching about Him - but being intimate with Him, with no agenda. I was busy doing much good, knowing much, teaching much, but being strengthened by and in love with God very little. I was ripe for overthrowing. And when doubt came in, my own impotent life became the proof he used to convince me Christ was a fable. The perfect package, like she said. Package made of and carried to me on lies.

    And pills don't kill lies. Truth does. The truth set me free two weeks ago. The truth is simple. I'm God's boy. He loves me and always has. He put on skin and was executed to pay for all the law breaking that kept me behind bars and far away from Him, from loving Him. He unlocked my cell when He walked out of his tomb on the third day. I believe this story is true so Paul says I've crossed over from death to life, I'm approved of by God, forever. More than that, I'm better than acceptable, I'm his boy. Me. All I've done. He doesn't see it. He sees His blood, His offspring, His child.

    And because I am His there's a family resemblance. Like a boy becoming more like his Dad the older He gets, over time I'm looking more and more like Him to people outside our family. People will notice this someday. I am proof of His goodness, the proof of invisible God. And the Author of Lies can't have that. He can't have proof walking around unconfronted. He wants to mar my complexion, distort me in a way that I don't look like Dad any more. He wants me in bed, curled up and scared. He wants me blaming someone else. He wants me powerless. He wants me to forget the truth of who I am, how God sees me, why I'm here. He wants me to ignore the spiritual reality behind the physical world we live in. He wants me to laugh at words like "spiritual warfare" and "blood" and "sin" and even "Jesus." He wants me critical and cynical and apathetic. He wants me busy and religious. He wants me to believe that those times Jesus fought Satan and worked miracles were just stories that never really happen today. He wants me in therapy the rest of my life. He wants me dead.

    But I am not defenseless. He doesn't have to have things his way. I am the possession of God and so I cannot be possessed by anything else. I can only grant permission for lies and sin to squat on me, God's property, for a time. But those permission slips can be revoked. Those lease agreements can be torn up or severed by the power that comes from my Father. It's the power that raised Jesus from the dead and sent demons into pigs and resisted temptation in the desert. It's the power every Christian has, the ability to "hold every thought captive" and "resist the devil" and "flee evil" and wield the "sword of the Spirit." We have the name of Jesus, the property owner, our Dad the landlord in our arsenal and at His name "every knee will bow." And, theologically speaking, every untruth will have it's butt kicked. And with the power of the Name we can ask ourselves the toughest questions, delve into the deepest darkest parts of the past and present and bring truth there where the lies growl in he corner. We can close the distance between us and God - God can close that distance for us through us. It's a beautiful mysterious miraculous truth that sets us free. He's always there fighting for us in the unseen battle, ready to fight through us, undetected by the senses.

    But not always. Not always undetected. Sometimes He reaches out - and I don't know why - and touches us.

    "Shaun, you felt a tiny hand on your back and it woke you from terrible nightmares," she recounted at the end of the tiring battle two weeks ago Wednesday. "And you you turned to that touch, thought it was your child. It was a touch that made you think of someone you love. There was no fear was there?"

    "No," I said.

    "I believe you really felt a touch. I believe it was real. Whose hand was that waking you?"

    "God's hand," I smiled.

    I smiled. And I still am.


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    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY

    3:30

    I slumped on Spooky Friend's couch and vomitted up the story of the great dinner on Friday night, the paragraph, the nightmares, the inability to feel anything morphing into a feeling of total despair. I told her I knew confessing all this to her probably meant I would not be a pastor at our church anymore. I told her I didn't think I should be. I told her almost all of me, almost all the time, didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had waited for or that his resulting religion called Christianity was true. I was not convinced that Christianity was completely derived from other pagan religions or manufactured by a secret society but I also could find no quality thorough data to the contrary and so I asked her to please prove these accusations wrong with facts so the depression would lift and life could resume - even if it was life no longer involved in pastoring and teaching others. I drew a line two weeks ago today: Prove Christianity is true and heal me of this despair or I'm out.

    The room was silent. She put down the pen and pad she'd been taking notes with.

    She bowed her head and sat still for a minute. Then she prayed for herself. Then for me. Then against Doubt and Depression, whom she spoke to as if they were people. My eyes stayed open.

    "Amen."

    And then it got weird.

    So much of what happened over the next four hours should stay back in that room two weeks ago and will, but what transpired convinced me of a war we don't see - one I don't talk about because I'm embarrassed, I don't fully understand it, it's not logical, and I've been unconvinced until two weeks ago today that it even existed.

    But two weeks ago today I realized I was in it. And we all are.

    I've read Paul's words to the Ephesian church hundreds of times, where he tells them they aren't really fighting against what can be seen but against forces and entities who cannot be seen. The mental image that appears when I read his warning is of me and the rest of the human race down here near sea level driving to and from work and soccer practices and piano lessons, eating at our kitchen tables, sleeping in our beds, sitting in our pews and somewhere else, somewhere far away, maybe in the sky somewhere, on another playing field, these unseen things - demons and angels - are pummeling each other. And occasionally that battle gets out of bounds for a minute and spills over into a madman with nuclear weapons or a serial killer whose dog tells him to assassinate the president for Jodie Foster or keep a collection of penises in his fridge, but the rest of the bad stuff in the world - the regret, depression, loneliness, apathy, greed, envy, sickness and doubt - is just us humans making bonehead decisions or making due with the gene pool and bodies and chemistry and life we were given. The battle is something I defend against by doing my best to be good and think happy thoughts but I'm not in the battle. I can get biffed by it's shrapnel perhaps, and people do, but I'm not a target or a soldier in it. So I thought before two weeks ago today.

    I've had a stomach ache - which is really trivializing the degree of inconvenience and pain - every day since kindergarten. It has a name. It's in medical books. It shows up in tests. It is a physical ailment. I've taken medication for it since high school when my symptoms became so severe that I was no longer able to function - to go to school or, some days, stand up straight. I've coped with it not only by taking medicine, which helped immensely, but by meditating and relaxing, doing yoga essentially, praying, cutting out caffeine and red meat, not panicking in stressful situations but being more logical than emotional and more proactive than reactive. This managed the pain and made me able to climb on airplanes and tour buses and do my job. But I never ate until I was full. I spent hours some days in a bathroom. I did not take certain opportunities because I feared being sick and/or stressed because of them. And I never had a day without pain. And three months ago it stopped.

    I got angry at the limitations this illness placed on my life, on my ability to go anywhere and do anything God wanted me to do. At how it took me away from family and friends, embarrassed me and hurt me. I prayed as I always had but I got proactive, realizing that Western medicine only treated the symptom and couldn't stop the cause. I saw a naturalist - the type of person I would have called a quack before I got ready to try anything. One hour later I walked out with a list foods I could and could not eat and a bottle of the nastiest tasting goop I've ever swallowed. And I've been well ever since. No pain.

    My career has caused me tremendous stress. My second and third records didn't do well compared to the first. My third album was declared "dead" several weeks ago by my label - no more time or money would be spent on it. It was only six months old. I grieved. It was like, but not as severe obviously, twelve of my kids had been in a school bus accident and never got to grow up and make friends and families and have kids of their own. I owed my label a fourth album and wanted to keep my promise to do so but I became increasingly blaming and angry at radio stations, my label, the industry, myself for my apparent failure as a recording artist things I'd felt before in growing amounts but things which now overwhelmed me with angst. I was crippled by this anger. I'd stopped thinking creatively and writing songs, immobilized by the quandary of what to write and who to write for and whether anyone would hear the resulting music in such a busted system ruled by two radio station program directors, narrow play lists, upbeat and positive criteria, worship music remakes and familiar sounding production.

    I got tired of being angry and sat down with my label's president for a very honest retracing of our steps over the last five years to discover what went wrong, who was to blame - even if it was me - and what would be different in the future. I confessed my hostility towards everyone - including myself - and asked if he thought it made sense to make music together any more if we both believed we'd done our best at our jobs and the last two records still didn't sell. He and the label had been asking the same questions for about the same amount of time it turns out. With me not able to tour more, and definitely unable to do 200 shows every year, because of commitment to family and church, and with radio - my label's main marketing tool - not warm to what I do any more, and with budgets for marketing and touring being cut on all records across the board, could they afford to lose money on me again? Was making another costly record together, no matter how much we liked each other, a fair or productive thing for either of us?

    We agreed it wasn't. We agreed to think about some other kind of fourth record - something live perhaps - that we could put out eventually, but decided together that my contract with Rocketown Records would now end. We sat together and mourned a little. We like each other after all, under our frustrations that is. And with those gone there was peace and the liking part of our relationship was all there was. We laughed. We hugged. We talked about the plans the label has for other kinds of artists and other ways of doing business that I think will work far better than what I do is working today. I talked about the things I'd like to do now as well. We felt like we were getting one of those strange divorces in which the couple says they'll still be friends and buy houses next door to each other and even set one another up with single friends of theirs. It was odd. It was freeing. There was peace and relief and so much real estate in my mind was empty again. No anger. No blame. Just understanding and friendship and freedom. Our relationship now is clean, everything out on the table, no fear and stress or guilt for letting each other down. Turns out we'd both worn a lot of guilt for not doing better work.

    My marriage during the move was weakened by my traveling, the work load of fixing and painting, having a small baby that required so much time. We barely saw each other and when we did it was to talk about what was next on the to do list. We were co-workers and not friends. No angst, just two people sharing a bed thinking we'd hang out eventually when the baby's older and my schedule thins out and the house looks good.

    I got tired of that and so did Becky. We resumed our weekly date nights we'd replaced with painting and grocery store shopping. We got back to dating each other at Brian's suggestion honestly, I wanted intimacy but I didn't want to give up anything to get it. And Brian said he'd baby sit the kids if we'd baby sit for him and he and Amy go out once a week too. And so, accidentally, out marriage was revived back to health.

    Spooky Friend knew some of this. And she took these pieces and put them together to form a picture for me of a battle so much larger than doubt and depression, so much more heinous and frightening than seratonin levels and accusatory paragraphs. And hard to believe.

    She said to me something like this, "Here's what I think has happened and is happening. And you ask God as I'm speaking this to you if what I'm saying is true. Don't accept anything I'm telling you today without asking if it's true first. There is a battle and we're all in it. We don't think we are but everyone is. Satan is fighting to convince us all that God is not good. He is trying to immobilize us, especially those who expose his lies and convince people God is good. Isn't funny how this window was opened in you and doubt and depression and all the rest of it came in as you said when everything was going great. When you were meeting with book publishers and exploring new possibilities. When you got rid of debt and sold your house and showed that you were willing to sacrifice to be obedient to God and love people. You've been sick your whole life and now you're not. You were in debt and now you're not. Your marriage was weakened and now it's strong. And you had peace and possibilities all around you. You were free of everything that had kept you bound and ineffective. No more anger, stress, bad relationships, stomach pain. It was gone. And you were desperately looking for what God would have you do to next in your life and your career. And you were making progress in that. And Satan decided to do something about it. And you went to a bookstore and read some words on whatever and he handed you a package."

    She handed me a pen and I took it thinking she would ask me to write something down - she does that sometimes. "Why did you take that?" she asked. "Because you handed it to me," I answered.

    "And that's what you did that night. You took it. You didn't even think about it, and why would you? You didn't know it was the perfect package for you. Nothing else worked so he used something that always works to shut you down didn't he? Your intellect. Doubt. He knew you were weak and he knew you would take it. You are in the battle...I want you to ask God if what I'm saying is true."

    "God, is this true?" I asked out loud, feeling ridiculous.

    I sat silent for a few minutes. I shifted in my seat. I was thinking what many of you, I imagine, are thinking right now. What a bunch of crap. What a convenient way out for Christians. If you doubt their faith they claim it's because you're being attacked by Satan and they won't address or refute your doubts with hard facts, with real evidence. I felt myself getting angry. I wanted to leave. My face was hot, and my jaw clenched. What a waste of time. I'm not going to be getting over this today, I thought.

    "Look at me," she said. "Doubt, is that you? How long have you been here? God, show Shaun when Doubt first came to him."

    To be continued...


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    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

    2/14/2006

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY

    I'm sitting on a toilet. Beside me a bathtub is filling. Knelt down in front of me is a friend of mine. I don't know his name, I can't remember his face but he felt like a friend. He tells me I should call Brian before I get in the tub. He tells me to use the carpet knife with the thin blade. He hands it to me. He walks me through the cut, pantomiming, going through the motions, gliding his finger down the length of my arm. It tickles. He tells me to do it too, just practice, and I do. He turns off the water. I lift my leg to step in with my tennis shoes on. I'm wearing a suit. I slip. I fall awake.

    That was two weeks ago. The early hours of Tuesday.

    Feeling nothing turned into true depression Tuesday. I realized if the trajectory of whatever this was I was strapped to didn't change I would crash and be lifted from a bathtub by Brian. I didn't want that. I had no interest in ending my life but I realized part of me might, and that scared me into calling another friend for help.

    I won't use her name here. What I will say is that she is the spookiest person I know. So much so that I'm uncomfortable being around her sometimes. She's a tiny thing with an intense and glimmering stare. Her eyes crawl through mine and wriggle around inside my brain. I feel like she can see stuff I don't want seen. She never pronounces judgement or even hints at it, always hugs, holds, smiles and encourages. But there's something bizarre and attractive about her eyes, something both spiritually seductive and repellent. Like I said, spooky.

    She's mentored a few of us young pastors, befriended us and counseled us when we're in over our heads. She's our sansei. She's the adult on the playground, telling us again what we should already know. Most of all she senses what's happening beneath what is seen, beneath the obvious circumstances and the "I'm fine"s we offer up to her probing. And she addresses fearlessly, bluntly, lovingly, joyfully the reality underneathe. She's wise. And I needed wisdom - or something. I hoped she knew what.

    I called her and begged for a meeting. I told her I really didn't think it could wait but I told her nothing about what was going on with me. She agreed to see me the next afternoon, Wednesday.

    But before then I had to prepare to teach at IKON. We were in week four of our study of Paul's first letter to Corinth. It was my turn to teach, Chapter two, all of it. With my computer dead so many of my resources were unavailable. I sat down to study with a couple bibles, commentaries, notes I'd made before this crisis hit, and a pencil and paper. A pencil and paper and a busted hand. It took all day but I was finally prepared - as prepared as a guy as out of sorts and unbelieving as I was could be.

    And that night I was honest. I taught the chapter true to the research I'd done. Unimaginative, page after page of notes, almost recited, very planned out so no frailty or fear in me would show. There in that community of people who love me and whom I love I felt something - maybe it was manufactured from the great desire I had to feel something, maybe it was nothing more than music and friendly faces and words from an old book I'd grown up reading. Maybe. Maybe, I thought, but whatever it was made me feel thhat I'd come out of this darkness someday. It dawned on me as I was wrapping up my talk on the words of Paul that I was the point he was making.

    1 Corinthians 2:1-5 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

    1 Corinthians 2:13-14 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    Paul was teaching the new Christians in Corinth that he, Paul, and their other favorite teachers and heros didn't convince anyone of anything regarding Jesus. If they believed the story was true it was God who provided the proof. Preachers may argue and persuade, they may prepare and learn, practice and plan, but if anything comes of all that posturing and pontificating it's not because the preacher was superhuman but because God uses humans. God provides the proof. We sometimes gravitate towards the great orators and professional productions but Paul reminds us without slamming excellence that God is perfectly capable of using the unexcellent, the weak - especially when those weak realize they are and take the job of representing God so seriously that they are afraid and nervous.

    I imagined myself looking back on 2006 as the year of depression and doubt sandwiched between decades of belief and normalcy. I believed for a moment on Tuesday that such a life was possible. And I don't know why the sudden burst of positive thinking. But it gave me an idea - a scary idea. And I went with it.

    "I'm a walking sermon illustration tonight," I said as someone chuckled thinking the much needed - and usually frequent - joke in the laughless evening was finally coming. "I woke up on Saturday morning in a dark place. And I've been there ever since. I've dealt with depression a few times in my life - in short small doses - nothing major. I don't know why God makes some of us this way but he does. Some of us just wake up sad and we don't know why and we can't stop it and all hope just goes away. Maybe it's because I'm artistic or just weird, I don't know, but I'm there again. My youngest daughter Penelope is ten months old and today she said "Dada" for the first time. And I felt nothing. I couldn't smile. I knew I should and I wanted to but I couldn't. Guys, I'm weak. I'm barely making it through tonight. But I've watched your faces all night and I've seen some of you getting stuff you never got before, taking notes, nodding, smiling, thinking. I've seen you reacting to the words I've been saying up here. Have you been changed at all tonight? Are you better off for being here? If you are it's not because of me. I've got nothing. I'm empty. I'm tired and having a hard time concentrating. I'm as low as I get. And if anything good came from tonight, came fro my mouth, Paul says it was from God. And he says it always is even when I'm not depressed. He says there's something happening under what we see and hear, there's a world of power and influence under everything. And Paul believes the wisdom and hope and change you walk away with tonight doesn't come from me but comes from the influence and power of God."

    I didn't tell them about my doubts. I didn't mention the dreams, the hand, or any of the other crazy junk I'm telling you now. I didn't want to shatter anyone's fragile foundations. And the truth is I even wondered if what I did share was too much - if any at all was too much. A pastor once told me that the congregation of a church looks to the pastor like passengers look to a captain. "Passengers don't need to know when the captain's lost," he advised. "Keep your personal problems personal."

    Well I blew that rule. And after IKON people came up to me and prayed for me and hugged me and didn't run away. They told me their own stories of depression and weakness. And I didn't feel as crazy or alone anymore. I felt God. Or was it just kindness and empathy?

    I went to bed wondering two weeks ago today.

    2/13/2006

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAY

    After the interview Sunday night Brian and I shared a pizza backstage - in Calvary Chapel's prayer room. It's an odd thing to be in a church and sense nothing, for it to be transformed suddenly from a house of worship to just another building. We talked about how I should handle the night's performance and Brian reminded me that the pastor was preaching after me and so my set was much shorter than usual and really required no talking or teaching on my part. I was there to draw a crowd and set the stage for the pastor. I was just the opener and never more thankful for that.

    Brian, in his own way, expressed concern for me. My guess is that being around me for eleven years he's picked up on my periodic mood swings and my propensity to overthink and overtalk everything in life and so he might have thought at first that this dip and these questions of mine were just par for the course. But in the prayer room together he seemed to be realizing as I was that this was serious. This was no ordinary fleeting doubt coupled with a dash of melancholy. This was potentially fatal, career ending, life ending even. I assured him I had no desire to kill myself, that I mostly felt nothing instead of sadness. I'd labored under sadness before but this nothing was far heavier. And we prayed. We prayed with the pastors of the church, whom I confided none of this in, still hoping it would pass. I prayed with my eyes open. To close them as if I were seeing or certain of the listener would be dishonest.

    And I took the stage.

    "Should I tell them that you are the one who has had made me
    And saved me to set up your home there inside?
    Should I tell them that I am a perfect example
    Of all you can do with a life?"

    I never meant the words more as I sang them to begin the evening. I stared up where the back wall met the ceiling and tried to picture God as I do every night. And He wasn't there. I decided to sing as if He was, to try to fake myself out for the night, and to leave Jesus out of the set entirely. I never mentioned scripture or Christ or salvation or anything else related to the person Jesus. I said things I'd never said before, all I'd often said now rendered useless, inextricably linked to Christ. I ducked and dodged his name and his words all evening, playing only one song from White Flag - the CD written in response to Jesus' beatitudes, part of his Sermon on the Mount.

    I focussed instead on the Father God, His love for us, His making us. And I sang through tears..

    "Abba Father, my Defender.
    You are holy. I surrender.
    In my weakness you protect me.
    When my heart strays you correct me

    I cry Abba Father
    I love you, Daddy"

    And oddly I meant it. While I sang I found some sanity in my own words. I remembered the orphanage I wrote them for, the kids smiling at the thought of a God who wanted them as His boy or girl. I remembered the chaplain I replaced for a time there, the one who checked out and became agnostic. I remembered how certain I was during his uncertainty and for thirty minutes or so two weeks ago last night I believed more than I doubted. I looked around the room at the faces, the intelligent people deciding to believe in the story of Jesus. I thought of the millions throughout history who died for that belief, who gave up everything to be a peculiar thing called a "Christian". I sat and heard with skeptical but thirsty ears the story of Jesus for the millionth time - this time from an aging hippie preaching from Second Thessalonians. He said it is the Gospel - the simple story of Jesus dying and living again - that changed lives and not fancy arguments. He said words don't convince people of anything but the Spirit of God proves that the story is true.

    And I prayed that God, if He was there, would tell me the truth. I didn't know if He was there, I doubted He was the longer the day went, but I had nothing more to lose.

    Brian and I flew most of the next day, Monday. And flying is torturous when your computer is broken, your hand is broken and your mind is broken. I tried to get some sleep but turbulence, announcements and that blasted argument in my head wouldn't let me. It's amazing how little we care about how we're perceived by others when we're at the end of our rope isn't it? I laid down across three seats and stared at the ceiling while chewing my fingernails, wide-eyed and frazzled looking - like some homeless crack addict watching an air show no one else sees - tuned in to some thriller no one else receives.

    I wanted Becky. She became my God two weeks ago today. I called her constantly just to hear her voice. We didn't talk about the debate inside me or how I felt. She knew it was bad. She knew she couldn't understand or argue me out of it. And so she just kept me grounded in the everyday minutia of life at home: who took a good nap and who didn't, what was for dinner, who she saw at Target and what they talked about, the movie she rented. I'd asked her on Saturday to keep me moving. I told her this could get worse and go on for a while - I'd battled depression for three months in college. I'd learned from that fight that a key to surviving is getting up and doing something - anything. Depression, I knew, would tell me to go to bed. So I told her to curse me, drag me, carry me, to do anything she had to do to get me out of bed and doing the simple things like eating a meal or reading a blog or talking on the phone. And so on Monday, when she couldn't be with me in person, she told me over the phone to get up and buy a magazine and some water. She told me to call her back when I got on the plane. She made me remember when we first saw the movie she just rented. She made me live.

    And Becky, who has never had more than one bad day in a row, who can say something nice about anyone and any situation and mean it, didn't comprehend the level of skepticism and nothingness I was feeling. No one did. But on Monday she was the closest thing to proof of God I had. Better than facts, she was and has always been to me compassion and hope and mercy and forgiveness and all the things Jesus said he alone could install in us. And with Jesus gone and God fading I worshiped her voice, her happiness.

    But even my conversations with Becky were darkened. I'd hang up and the goodness that had just coursed through cell towers out to me evaporated. In its place was the shattering fear that if I never believed again she'd leave me or I'd leave her. Fourteen years of friendship and shared values and purpose would surely crumble without belief in her Jesus at the center of my existence.

    As I stood at the baggage claim in Nashville I felt like I was riding the belts myself. No control over where I was going next. No idea when or if this ride would stop.

    That was two weeks ago today.


    TO READ THE ENTIRE "TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY" SERIES FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW:
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: FRIDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SATURDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2

    2/12/2006

    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY

    I picked at the flaking white paint on the guardrail and forced a smile for the passing room service lady pushing an overstuffed cart of towels and toiletries. I crouched with my back against the cinder block and left Greg a message. "Hey, this is Shaun. Uh, I'm sorry to bother you on a Sunday. I hope I'm not waking kids up or anything, but I have a...theological, um, problem I guess I'm hoping you can help me out with. It's sort of urgent but not life or death really. Uh, you can call me at this number. I'm in L.A. at a hotel and my reception's not the greatest so leave me a message if I don't pick up and I'll get back to you when I get better service. I have a gig in three hours so, um, yea, if you can call me before that I'd really appreciate it. Alright, talk to you later."

    I stood and looked out over the gray California skyline, the cars full of people passing by unaware of my present drama, unaware maybe of anything beyond getting to and from wherever. Ignorance really is bliss, I thought. If I'd grown up without God and Jesus I wouldn't be so confused right now and I'd probably have figured out a way to make life work without them. People do it all the time - drive here and there, marry, divorce, have kids and jobs - and without ever thinking about gods or picking one out. I scanned the sky, out over the rippled surface of the swimming pool below and the empty deck chairs at its edges. A storm was coming.

    I sat again on the concrete walkway outside my room, slumped into the cinder block, my head resting heavy in the humidity hum of the city. My eyes closed and I slept.

    I was exhausted. The crowd surrounded me again the night before - the second night of nightmares leaving me with what felt like only a few minutes of unturbulent rest. Then some time in the early morning hours, as Sunday was just beginning, I felt a tiny hand press into my back. Gabriella, age five, is scared of the dark these days. She often runs into our room, taps Becky awake since she sleeps closest to the doorway, and admits through tears that she's afraid. Becky holds her and reminds her of a verse Gabriella learned at church, "God is my helper. I will not be afraid." Her tears dry, her eyelids grow heavy again and she's carried back to bed where, when the sun comes up, we she wakes unafraid and happy again.

    And so Sunday morning when I felt her tiny hand on my back I woke from my nightmare and rolled towards her touch ready to rock and sooth and carry. But Gabriella wasn't there. No one was.

    As the silvery sky slowly twirled over the City of Angels my phone rang, waking me from my short nap on the balcony.

    It was Greg. I told him that even though we don't talk often anymore I still thought of him as one of the fathers of my faith and the only mentor I felt I could be this honest with. Then, without thinking, I tearfully admitted I was scared. The last couple days were my darkest, I told him. I needed help. In unchronological order all the events and thoughts of the last forty-eight hours or so burst out of me: the great dinner on Friday night, the nightmares, the paragraph, the accusing crowd in my dreams, the depression and the hand. The hand that had me fearing I'd finally cracked. I'd finally gone insane.

    I told him I could see myself being that artist cliche soon, the madman rocking in the corner of a pink room in some place called "Shady Pines" or "Happy Acres" - my arms strapped to my torso, my hair tussled, eyes bugged and bleary, mumbling to myself about hands that weren't there and crowds in my brain, voices no one else hears. I was certain my dam had finally broken. Too many books read, too much history and facts swimming in too small a pond. It all finally spilt over and flooded my frontal lobe with crazy. A tidal wave of crazy - out of nowhere.

    I doubled back to the beginning, to explain in detail the accusations against the origins of Christianity I'd stumbled upon Friday night by accident. I gave him dates and names and snippets of history. I explained how I'd grown disenchanted and critical of the modern version of Christianity we cling to in America and how that had sent me on a search - beginning two years ago - for a better understanding of the ancient Christianity Jesus left us - before Constantine and Catholicism and reformations and political and personal agendas tainted and twisted our faith. I told him how these new accusations lined up so perfectly with the history I'd discovered on that search. That Christianity was a copy, contrived and derived in equal measure made sense to me - after all the lifeless churches I'd been to, all the vicious and selfish people I'd ministered to, after all the impotence and profanity my life had been. I'd seen no proof, I told Greg, of the supernatural, of a God greater than man's imaginations and story telling that couldn't be written off as self-convincing or psychosis, insanity, gullibility, the power of traditions and upbringing, the palpability of emotion or the blinding fear of a life without God.

    "I've never felt this much...despair and...hopelessness, this much...doubt. I want facts. I don't know. I still think there's a God but I don't think Jesus is real maybe or that he's the Jesus we read about today in the Bible. But even if you gave me supposed proof, facts that prove these accusations wrong, I don't know if I'd trust myself to determine that. I'm biased strongly toward belief in Christ because I've spent my life believing in Him and I stand to lose everything - marriage, work, life purpose, face - if I dont' believe he's real. I'm damned either way. If he's not real I'm obviously screwed. If he is I won't trust my belief in the evidence of that fact as anything more than my wishful thinking, believing what benefits me most. I'm stuck," I lamented.

    "And I have a show in a few hours where I'm supposed to get up and teach and play about this God I doubt and I'm supposed to do it with a smile on my face and I can't smile. I'm so tired. And I'm supposed to teach IKON this Tuesday and I haven't wanted to study or read the Bible and I can't make much sense of it right now anyway. I can barely have a conversation. I can't teach like this. I can't."

    "What are pastors supposed to do when they doubt or get depressed or crack up? There's almost no one for us to talk to. There's no one who would accept that their pastor is this jacked up, you know? A small part of me thinks this will pass but most of me thinks it's over for me and I'll never feel anything good or believe again. Now if the small part's right and this blows over and I come out OK I'll always feel like a fraud, like I'm not fit to talk about God to anyone and I'll always be afraid that this'll come back - that I'll get depressed out of nowhere again. Because this literally came out of nowhere. One day I'm great and the next I'm dying."

    Greg just listened. Then he got mad. He went off in a way only a guy working on his doctorate in theology can - using words longer than my brain can digest and attacking the scholarship behind these accusations. Then he calmed down. He took a breath and he told me his own story of doubt and despair. He had been worn out by two churches that didn't see things as he did. The resulting battles took a toll on him, made him cynical and critical and shook his focus. He struggled under anxiety, doubt, fatigue and depression eventually.

    He told me about Francis Schaeffer who reportedly, after mentoring hundreds of Christians and being dubbed a revolutionary leader of the Church, was struck by deep doubts about everything he'd ever taught and based life around. He was about forty Greg said. And Schaeffer retreated and started at square one, asking Himself if there was a God. He decided there was. Then he moved on to Who is He or She? And over much time he rebuilt his faith this way brick by brick, one truth at a time. And he became stronger than before, Greg said.

    I wanted to believe I was Francis Schaeffer. I believed it when Greg was saying it. I believed I would be OK, stronger than before, when Greg told me his own story. But as I hung up and walked back into my room even that belief was drowned out by my inner dialogue - so relentless and confusing. Believing anything had become like hearing a whisper on the floor of the New York stock exchange. Too soft a voice to cut through the noise.

    A few hours later I soundchecked at Calvary Chapel in Pasadena and then sat down for an interview before the show. I tried to smile, to be upbeat and positive, but I'm sure I was unconvincing. I'm a bad actor. Asked what one thing I'd like to leave readers with I fought the mess in my brain that made every question next to impossible to hear and understand, let alone answer, and I answered. "Be the proof," I said.

    That was two weeks ago today.


    TO READ THE ENTIRE "TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY" SERIES FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW:
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: FRIDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SATURDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY
    TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2