Our new son, Dylan Zachary

Born 10.26 @ 10.51 am
8lbs. 6oz. 20in.
Susan is doing great after her c-section.
Big brother Nathan is excited (at least for now ;-)
And all is good.
Thanks for your prayers and kindness.

Reflecting on Don Miller's Million Miles Book Tour in NYC

Last night Tim Nye and I headed into the city to catch Don Miller on his A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life book tour.  It was quite an evening.  Heading into the city during rush-hour, I  skillfully weaved in and out of the traffic, dodging cabbies, flying across bridges, darting through tunnels, I made record time to the address I put into the GPS.  Unfortunately I ended up on the wrong borough (Don’t ask, it was the stupid GPS.)  But as fate would have it, Don Miller waited for us as we arrived during the intermission between him and Susan Isaacs (we heard she was very funny).

While I have always been a bit unsettled by “Christian celebrity”, I find Don to not have let his success get the best of him.  It did bother me that there was a charge for the book tour but I’m guessing that’s a publisher trying to recoup costs.  And in fairness, him and his team are traveling for 3 months.  All in all, I do like the concept of the book tour.  While I’m probably less inclined to pay money to hear most authors, I guess Don is among those I would.  In any case, I do appreciate these moments as they often help me appreciate the book more. It was a great night.  I’m glad I went.  I even bought the book again and asked Don to write a note to my wife who was too pregnant to attend.  In fact, she’s too pregnant to travel, sit, sleep, eat, breath but baby boy is coming Monday. It’s foreordained. Btw, my few moments with Don was very warm.

Here are the notes I took. I offer them with two bits of encouragement

1. Pick up the book.  He’s a gifted writer with sharp insights regarding life.  With gifted story-telling, humor, and short chapters, Don may be the only reason for you to ever consider going into a Christian bookstore.  If that sort of thing frightens you, his books are sold at every Barnes & Noble, Borders and of course, Amazon.com.  This was his first book in three years.  Though he is under contract, he told the story of how he told his publisher that he needed to change his life in order to write a better story.  Initially they weren’t happy with him then but I’m sure they are now.

2. If he comes to your city, you should check him out.  Click here for the rest of his tour schedule.


What makes a good story is what’s good in life.  What makes a story meaningful is what’s meaningful in life.

He attended a Robert McKee seminar on story.  It’s like a bootcamp for novelists, screen-writers, anyone trying to learn what makes a good story.

Story has to have a narrative context to make sense. There is no stoppage to tell the moral of the story (like how we do on Sundays).

One of the key features of a good story is that it contains a character that wants something that has to overcome conflict to get it.

It takes a special charcater to do it.

He/she “must save a cat”.  meaning must do something worthy for us to like him.
Example: The most recent Rocky movie.  There is nothing that is going to move an audience if he simply wins the fight.  In fact, we may perceive a movie about that has selfish.  But we care about the outcome of the movie because we like the character, Rocky.  We have journey with him through the conflict of losing Adrian, helping others like a single mom and her troubled son.  We’ve witnessed him adopt a dog, an ugly dog and eventually he has won us over. (Miller said all of this as a point of reference, as opposed to Citizen Kane.  Most people have either seen Rocky or know the basic plot line.)

A character is only what they do.
Not what they want to do, who they they think they are.  You can’t see a character’s dreams and ambitions, you only get to see what they are doing (what’s told to you) in the story. It’s based on actions.

In a story you have to show it.  Like when Rocky drives the single mother home.  The scene has an element of sexual tension and as he walks her up to her door, he leans over …. and changes out the light bulb that had gone out.  This does not advance the plot nor helps him win the fight but makes for a better character and which leads to a more beautiful story.

The character has to want something.  Has to desire something.

We are programmed into thinking that there is not supposed to be conflict in life.
We are often told conflict isn’t supposed to exist.  It’s the result of the fall but this is not true.
Consider Genesis 2, there is conflict.
The conflict is that God says that Adam was lonely.
He is feeling emotions he does not want to feel.
And God creates Eve.

Where do we get this message that there is not supposed to be conflict in life?
Often Jesus becomes a product that is going to complete our lives and get rid of all conflict.
Don does this funny bit about a Christian infomercial with Paul and another with Peter.  Repeating it in a blog post will not do it justice.  The medium is the message you know ;-)

We long for climax.

But the climax is not Jesus.
Climax is not Conversion as advertised.  It’s not encountering Jesus.
The Act III Climax is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
We are in the middle of Act II.

When you are scared of something, you will encounter beauty.
Don tells the story of meeting his dad for the first time. In fact it was a bit awkward because he had just written a book about growing up without a dad. It was a moving story of pain and forgiveness.

He told another about bike-riding across the country (for Blood: Water Mission) and being at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
There he is inspired by Victor Frankl.  Having been captured in a concentration camp and witnessed the death of his family, he encourages his fellow suicidal prisoners to continue living for the sake of meaning.  “If you could desire to starve yourself or to be beaten to death, instead of taking your own life, then you would tell the world for generations the account of the evil that we have suffered.”

Freud says that we live for the sake of pleasure.
But it’s those like Frankl who are right – It’s meaning we need.
We turn to pleasure when we cannot find meaning.  We turn to pleasure to numb ourselves.

The challenge in life is to tell better stories with our lives.

Find better better desires, no one can stop you from creating life.

My Review of The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley

I received The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley from the Ooze Viral Bloggers program and this is the review I left on the site:

Here’s the book summary copied from the Ooze: “We are facing a crisis in civility in our society. Whereas in the 1990s polarizing talk radio was a growing novelty, today this level of demeaning, caricaturing, hyperbole-laden discourse is the New Normal in America’s public square. Even worse, it seems to have found a hotbed of grassroots support among American evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christians, it seems, feel the ‘pain’ of our multicultural, pluralistic society more than most. In fact, to many of the rest of us (this would include emerging, mainline, and progressive Christians), multiculturalism and pluralism aren’t negative realities at all, but something to be celebrated. Even so, emerging and missional Christians often wrestle with how to witness authentically to the life of God found in Jesus without culturally steam-rolling our friends, neighbors, and relatives.

Enter a self-confessed ‘conservative evangelical’ California pastor, whose book The Diversity Culture is sub-titled Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Barristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies, Political Activists, and Everyone In Between.”

Who I Think the Book is For: A thoughtful, very conservative evangelical whose looking for a change from being inspired by Max Lucado, angered by Bill O’Reilly and has already read all the Ravi Zacharias, John Piper and Chuck Colson one can handle.  If that’s been your diet of books lately, than I suspect that you will appreciate this offering from Matthew Raley.  Honestly, I think this book is for my parents.  Even further for any boomer age parents who have felt they have lost their son/daughter to the “relativism and humanism” taught in the university, this book would help in understanding where their children are/were coming from.

Who I Don’t Think this Book is For: Me.  While I enjoyed reading it, it didn’t alter or challenge me in any dramatic or profound way.  And that’s ok.  I don’t think Raley had postmodern seminarians like me in mind when he was writing it.  I think Doug Pagiit’s A Christianity Worth Believing would be more helpful for the postmodern believer or skeptic. That said, it probably did help me in trying to communicate more effectively to the Boomer generation.  Like Raley, I am a pastor in a Evangelical Free Church and I see myself as a mediator,

What Raley Does Well: 1. I think he offers excellent caricatures of those outside the Christian faith.  There’s a couple but the main one focuses on “The woman at Cafe Siddhartha” which is his coffee shop equivalent of the well.   She really takes life in chapter four or at least that’s when I connected with her.  She’s  an intelligent, culturally savy woman who has given up on the basic faith she was raised with.2.  I like the whole “Cafe Siddartha” theme.  As he explains in the beginning, “Siddartha is the birth name o f the Buddha which translates to “One who has found meaning”. Among other things, he explains that this is the place of understanding the diversity culture.   3. I liked how he continued to weave through Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman as an excellent approach of creating conversation outside of our walls.  4. I liked how he criticized the lame approach of Teen Mania.  Although it was too polite, a thoughtful Boomer will nod in agreement.

What I Would Have Liked to See More of: 1. I think i wanted to feel more of the plurality of what was contained in  the subtitle of the “Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies…”  2. He has a chapter called, “Be a Heretic” (Ch. 8) and in truth, I was looking for more boldness (or at least one heresy).  It seemed that it should have been called its theme which was “Don’t Be a Hero”.

Concluding Thoughts: Overall, I liked The Diversity Culture. It’s a well written book with excellent themes weaving throughout.  I think it’s strength is in opening the mind of a Boomer in helping him/her understand the mentality of those outside the Christian faith.  We in the church like to say that non-believers are “lost in their sin” and “have hardened their hearts to the Holy Spirit” and dismiss them.  I think Raley will help people see why some non-Christians like being non-Christians and how one can begin a similar conversation as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well at our respective wells and cafes in life.

Samir Selmanovic at Princeton University, Thursday, October 22

Received this email, thought I’d pass it along to anyone interested:

“Friends who live in the vicinity of Princeton University, please come this Thursday, October 22, at 4:30, to Murray-Dodge Hall. Light refreshments and thought provoking material will be served!”

Also, here’s a video of Samir being interviewed.

“I wouldn’t be a Christian without the help of Islam, Judaism, and atheism.”  That’s probably my favorite part of the interview.  I am challenged by that and find it very thought-provoking.  For me as a Christ-follower, it points to an amazing God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I also embrace the idea of practicing faith in an inter-connected world.  I think this is why so many find these interfaith ideas so challenging – they cannot/don’t want to accept or understand the world we live in now.

I also really like the line, “I want a better kind of certainty.  I want a certainty that does not need to argue for the absence of God in the other in order to affirm the presence of God here.”

Check him out at Princeton and hope you consider reading the book.

Who Wants an Extra Copy of It's Really All About God by Samir Selmanovic? (There's a catch though)

The first serious book I read about ecumenicalism and interfaith was Peter Kreeft’s  Ecumenical Jihad.  In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I was reading just about anything from  Dr. Kreeft.  I loved telling my fellow students at my baptist seminary that my favorite living  author was Catholic.  Ecumenical Jihad was the call to people from different religions to join  together to reclaim morality in our society.  Though it was not the first time I thought good  of Muslims, it was the deepest most convincing dialogue I’ve read.  Unfortunately the  aftermath of September 11th ended a lot of the discussion that Kreeft’s book encouraged.    It may be time to re-read it.  But before you do, I’d like to encourage you to go get Samir Selmanovic’s new book – It’s Really All About God. I was fortunate enough to read his manuscript a couple months ago and was thrilled by it.  With no exaggeration, it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year.

I have met Samir a few times and have found him to truly be a good man.  He’s very welcoming and gracious with whomever he meets and I have yet to hear a negative word about the man.  So who better to write a book on interfaith than Samir?

Call it the gift of prophecy, call it growing up as a conservative evangelical (which I consider myself), call it a hunch, but I know what some of you are thinking:

“Interfaith what is that – a new ecumenicalism?”

“I bet he says he’s a Christian but that all roads go to heaven.”

“He’s probably one of those soft Christians that says he really loves Jesus but loves everybody like Mohammed, Buddha, and Oprah.  And we all know THAT is not Christianity.”

He doesn’t say any of that. Among the many beautiful and powerful things he says is God is bigger than we can realize.  You probably know that but may not have heard it written as well.

You may want to assume that Samir was born into some privileged religiously liberal family and after years of higher education, drinking wine with the spiritual hipsters, and with nothing to lose, he decide to ruffle a few feathers and write this.  You could assume that but you would be wrong.  His work is born out of a lot of pain and agony and like many, it seems he’s wrestled with an angel as well.

Samir was born into a Muslim family in Croatia.  In early chapters he tells of how warm and wonderful his family life was.  That is until he converted to Christianity during while serving in the military and all that changed.   He and his family live in the post 9-11, New York City.  He has endured a lot of criticism from many various and different religious sources and has not compromised his Christian faith. In fact, throughout this book on interfaith, Samir repeatedly affirms his Christianity and love for Christ.

This book is great for people like myself who are certain of their Christian faith but are open to the goodness of other religions.  This does not mean that I affirm all the beliefs of other religions.  Nor does Samir.  This does not mean that I even believe we are worshipping the same God, nor does it mean that we will share the same after-life.  Again, I stand by my Christian understandings but for me, the posture of the true follower of Christ should be more open to spending time AND appreciating the beliefs of others.  I was convicted and found so much value in it and I really want to recommend it to you.

The book was released a few weeks ago and I bought two.  (For those who don’t know, Barnes and Noble will automatically reorder a title when you do that. The second time it sells out that quantity, it automatically orders more). Anyway, if this is not a threatening idea to you but you are interested in reading the book, I encourage you to purchase a copy or even consider doing something similar as me.  I bought the other book because I really want to share this book with a fellow conservative evangelical who may be a bit skeptical of this.  I’d like to read it together and discuss it together over coffee or a beer.  My goal is not to convince you that other religious are just as true as Christianity; I don’t believe that.  But God is bigger than we have realized and there’s a lot to gain from those who think and live differently from us and it’s a conversation worth having.  So, who’s in?  Is there a fellow open-minded conservative Christian evangelical in the house? I have an extra copy.

Monday Morning Brief – 10.6.09 – On Tuesday bc I've Been Told I'm a Relativist

What I’ve Been Enjoying Lately – 1. Sunday’s sermon went well.  I’m fairly comfortable preaching but the content was a bit risky. It was about confronting traditions that interfere with Christ’s mission.  The text was Mark 7 when Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question of hand washing by telling them they were hypocrites for their neglect of taking care of their parents. It was called, “The Clothes Don’t Make the Man”.  We had some audio glitches, will let you know if there’s a recording or not. 2. My fantasy baseball season came to an end.  I came in a respectable third.  One of my motivations for playing fantasy baseball was to pay more attention to the game and learn some of the players again.  Of course, that and enjoying the banter between friends are the benefits of fantasy sports. 3. Having fun with fantasy football.  In one league I am undefeated with a team that I wasn’t really happy with after the draft.  Still not sure about it, but they’ve been doing well.  Then in the league that I was pretty happy with after draft and our league commish picked me to win the whole thing, I’m in second last place. I guess it really is all relative and arbitrary. 4. One of my cousins got married this past weekend in a Manhattan penthouse.  It was pretty cool.  Even cooler is that they are a fantastic couple and I am very excited for them.

What I Am Reading – Jacob Neusner – A Rabbi Talks with Jesus – I was pretty excited to read this for class.  Our assignment was also to create a mediation journal.  I may post it, (I won’t if my grade sucks) but as much as I think it was good for me to read why Neusner wouldn’t follow Jesus, I have to say that I wasn’t really challenged by his work.  I found myself more challenged by the work of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.  Granted those are much different types of books but I guess I was expecting something different.

What I’ve Been Listening to – 1. new David Crowder Band, Church Music is excellent.  Looking forward to seeing them in November when they play the Bowery in NYC. 2. Dylan – Infidels 3. Still the new Muse.  That first track just makes you keep listening.  Thinking that after Sufjan releases his album that this will be one of the best years in terms of new rock.  I mean new U2, Kings of Leon, Dylan (and he’s releasing a Christmas album soon.  Yeah Dylan and Christmas)  4. Some NT Wright audio to help provide some soundtrack for Gospel of Mark class.

Student Ministry Update – 1. Last week’s Parent night went ok too.  Was hoping for more parents of our fringe and irregulars to come but one step at a time.  It’s always good simply to express that you are willing to meet and extend the benefit of the doubt to those that could not make it. 2. Our series on “God and the Other” is off to a good start.

What Made Me Laugh –

Faithful reader but rarely commenter showed me this spoof video from the Onion website about the Detroit Lions getting a visit from real NFL players.

What I’m Looking Forward to

1. The Yankees winning. 2. Baby boy is coming at the end of October.  Could this be the best October ever?