For the new year

Screw New Year's resolutions. And I say that as politely as possible. Realistically, how many have actually survived a year keeping a resolution they set 365 days earlier?

I think the problem is in the details. If you're the type that sets a New Year's resolution, you probably make it something specific. Spend 20 hours a week at the gym. Loose 40 pounds. Quit smoking. Quit swearing. No more red meat. Win the lottery. Whatever it is, the details are too specific. You're doomed to fail. As soon as you take a bite of steak or that first day you sleep in instead of driving to the gym, it's over.

So do something different. I'm usually the kind that never sets a resolution, knowing that it will likely be forgotten or broken by the end of January. That's why I propose something different.

Be better.

It's simple. I don't have some arbitrary goal to miss. Just be better. Be a better dad. Be a better husband. Eat healthier. Read more. Write more. It's OK if I have a bad day as long as I have more good days. It's OK if I have a soda, as long as I drink less. Whatever it is, by this time next year, I want to be able to say that I was a better person in 2013 than I was in 2012. Then I can make the same goal for 2014.

That's it. That's my New Year's resolution. Be better.


Casting my kids as dwarfs

It's sleepover night. All of my kids are spending the night at a friend's house. There is a blessed stillness in my home. Nothing but the sound of silence and some Dr Who episodes on Netflix.

I sure hope my kids behaved. They all had a rough day. The only way that I can explain it is the brief synopsis I gave my friend when I left my kids in her care.

"Christian has been super bossy this afternoon. Zu has been complaining about being tired since I got home from work. And JJ has been obstinate all day. If you look at it from Disney's perspective, I'm dropping off Grumpy, Sleepy, and Doc."

Then I jumped into my car and drove away.


My Christmas present to you:

This might just be the most awesome thing on the internet.

Just look at how much fun ?uestlove is having. (he's the the one with a beard and the epic afro)
And those kids? They came out of nowhere.
Who knew kazoos and toy xylophones could sound so good?

On a serious note - I do wish you and yours the best possible Christmas. Don't forget to tell those you hold dear how much you love them. Give the gift of grace to family members that drive you crazy. Don't get caught up in the stress of making a perfect holiday. Eat, but don't over do it. Drink some eggnog, or hot chocolate, or cider, or coffee. Sleep in. Get in a wrapping paper fight.

And above all, follow the example set by Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey & The Roots don't. Don't take yourself too seriously.


Soundtrack for the end of the world.

A long time ago and in a galaxy far away...

Well, in this galaxy. This planet even. Once upon a time, an ancient civilization created a freakishly accurate calendar. In recent years, crazy people have gone nuts over the discovery that the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12. AKA: today.

Christians believe that no one can predict the day that the world will end. Scientists estimate we still have billions of years before our sun dies. Even the people that descended from the Mayans don't believe that their ancestors predicted doomsday. My reaction: meh.

But if you're one of those gullible people making rash decisions based on the assumption that there's no tomorrow, you might as well go out listening to some cool music. Here are my ten recommendations for the sounds of your last day on planet earth. Hopefully, my reasoning for these selections should be self explanatory - starting with the first song ever played on 107.7 The End.

R.E.M. - It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

U2 - Last Night on Earth

Dave Matthews Band - When The World Ends

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Steve Taylor - On The Fritz

Ash - End of the World

Eels - Last Stop: This Town

Soundgarden - Blow Up the Outside World

Family Force 5 - Zombie

The Doors - The End


I'm sure I missed something. Anyone?


Responding to tragedy - doing it wrong

Social media has made me ill the past few days. All of the bitterness and arguing. For an outsider looking in, you'd never believe that we're all trying to cope with a massive tragedy. And I'm not innocent in it. I tried to steer clear of ugly battles, but at the same time, I'm human - and that person inside me wants to scream at all of the things that are wrong with part of this world and the way the other part is reacting.

Facebook and Twitter have brought out the ugliest aspects of our nature. It's fitting as social networks have given everyone of us the soapbox from which we flaunt our first amendment right to be obnoxious. But is that the right thing to do? Not that long ago, we would discuss horrific events from the relative safety of living rooms, churches, bars, and water coolers with people who were mostly of similar political or religious persuasion. Now, we step up to the world wide microphone and bleat whatever comes to mind to a much more diverse audience. From some other corner of the internet, a "friend" with little in common with us will rebut as if fate of all mankind rested upon their ability to fix the error of our ways. I'm no angel and I like to be correct just like most other sentient creatures on this planet. So please do not take this as a lecture from someone who is immune.

Over the past four days, as I've watched the slow-motion train wreck unfold in my twitter feed and in conversations on Facebook, I've made a few observations. I do enjoy to be faultless, but I also realize that I'm not always. So please, feel free to point out any perceived deviation in my musings. But please - if you do, do so with kindness.

Reactions to Friday's massacre - whatever the content - can be divided into a few categories. Granted, the words below are not quoted verbatim. This is a generalization of what I'm seeing in social websites, blogs, and comments on news stories.

1.Reactions of fear. These are the people who are debating pulling their kids out of public school because they fear another rampage. These are the people who wonder why our teachers are not armed. These are the people who fear the proliferation of fully automatic weapons.

2. Reactions of opportunity. This is a door that swings both ways. Guns are to blame. A lack of guns are to blame. Blame video games or television. Blame rock musicians. Blame a lack of mental health care. Blame mental health medications. Blame conservatives. Blame liberals. These are those that are trying to score political points - to capitalize on someone else's loss.

3. Reactions of demand. This is the call to action. These are the people that want an immediate repeal of the second amendment. These are the people who are demanding we allow people to carry weapons into schools and bars and courtrooms. These are the people who want reform and they want it now.

4. Reaction of superiority. These are everyone's least favorite words. I told you so. I knew this would happen. This wouldn't have occurred if we did things my way. Let me beat you over the head with how much I am better than you.

If you say that this nation needs to have some serious discussions about gun control or mental health, I'll agree with you. If you say that our nation needs to experience a drastic culture shift, I'll still agree with you. But if you come into those conversations from the perspectives of fear, opportunity, demands, or superiority, you're doing it wrong. Very wrong.

There is a fifth method I've seen used in reaction to Friday's shootings.

5. Reactions of grace. Respect for the grieving. Respect for those who don't share your opinions. #26Acts. Sensitivity. Tact. Hope. Kindness. Love.

This last approach is a rarity and it breaks my heart that I have not seen more of grace and hope. It pains me because I think this is the most appropriate way to react. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.


Identity: Creature - a week of living second

What kind of creature are you? I believe with all of my being that you were created. (ps, I don't intend that to be a denial of all we've learned from science - rather that science confirms my faith and my faith spurns me to learn more... but that's a topic for another blog post at a later time). If we are created, we must be some kind of creature, but what kind?

Some days, I feel like a monster. Sometimes it's the good kind of monster like Mike and Sulley from that Pixar movie. But other times it's the scary kind. The one that hides under your bed or lurks in the shadows. Those feelings stem from a bit of depression and poor self esteem. Or the stress of work or parenthood or those pesky adult responsibilities. On a couple of previous occasions, I've talked about my love for horror movies, so monsters make sense to me.

Despite my feelings, I know I'm not a monster. I know because real monsters walk into schools, shopping malls, and movie theaters and start shooting people. Monster kidnap and hurt little kids. Monsters rape their girlfriends and abuse their wives. Monsters fly planes into buildings.

So what kind of creature am I? What kind are you? In his book Sex God, Rob Bell spends a chapter wrestling with this question of identity. He argues that we're neither angels nor animals. We're something in between. While some people claim that they're nothing more than animals giving into their animal instincts, others vie to be angels and bury the desires and emotions God has built inside them. The problem is that we don't belong on either end of that spectrum.

We are men. Or women. Forgive me if this sounds a little pompous, but we're better than than animals. However, we're not quite angels. One psalmist tells us that man was created to be a little lower than angels, yet crowned with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-6)

Part of living second means that we know who we are. We have a healthy understanding of what it means to be human. The biblical story of creation tells us everything we need to know about how God sees us. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

We are good. Sure, sometimes we screw it up. We start wars. We find vices. If you're anything like me, we yell at our kids and forget to take out the trash. But underneath it all, mankind - as creatures created by a Creator - is good.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. It is a fantastic year-long study and if you're looking for a good devotional in 2013, I'd encourage you to do Live Second. Identity is the ninth week and focuses on God as a friend, a father, and an advocate.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Success: Enough - a week of living second

For most of our married life, Bekah and I have been able to live off of my income alone. It hasn't been until the past couple of years that Bekah has truly put in effort to bring in some income.

Please don't misconstrue this as some swaggering boastful talk of how I've made so much money that my wife didn't need to work. It's nothing like that - quite the opposite. Bekah wasn't always able to work so the single income wasn't a scheme of our own design. It just worked out that way. And it wasn't easy.

There were times where we didn't know how we were going to pay all of our bills. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we made some foolish financial decisions and had to pay the price. And in one of those times where we paying for those consequences, we sought some help. As a part of the arrangement for assistance, we had to meet with a financial planner to review our spending habits and budget to see what we could do differently to avoid needing help in the future. After reviewing our income and our expenses, this adviser told us there wasn't much that we could trim from our budget. He told us the only option we had was to make more money.

Really? We're struggling to pay rent and the only advice he could come up with is "You need to increase your income."

The irony of his statement caught up with us a couple of months later when some changes in my employment cut my income by roughly 40%. Mr. Smart Money Man tells us to make more money and suddenly... we're making less.


Bekah and I learned a lot through that era of our lives. We learned to rely on God. We learned some better habits. We paid off some debts. We managed to turn things around. Again, it wasn't an easy task. It took a lot of hard work, more tears than I'd care to mention here, and an unhealthy amount of stress.

My wife compares our struggle to Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams in reverse. These were the seven years of famine that we had to endure so that we could in turn be blessed with abundance. I see it as a lesson - we were learning the definition of enough.

The writer of Proverbs had a good understanding of what it meant to have enough. He pleaded with God, "give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." In other words, give me enough to meet my needs.

We discovered this meeting of needs on our road back to financial stability. No matter how lean our budget, no matter the minimal balance in our checking account, our needs were met. It was during this time that Christian was diagnosed with aspergers, and we were able to get him early intervention and therapies. It was during this time that we finalized Zu's adoption. And it was during this time that JJ came into our lives. It was because of this time that Bekah started couponing and figured out how to shrink our grocery bill. It was because of this time that we paid off some nasty debts. And it's because of this time that we were able to get our finances in order and buy our first house.

I feel kind of anomalous talking about success as if I'm supposed to be a shining beacon of what it means to be successful. I'm not. I still don't make much money. I'm just a data analyst. I look at numbers all day and try to make sense of them and manipulate them into something useful. I know that I'm good at my job, but most days I wonder, 'in the name of all that is good and holy what am I doing?' It's easy for me to grumble about this house we just purchased because the toilet runs and there's a smoke alarm that I can't locate that keeps chirping a reminder to replace its dying batteries. I still get discouraged thinking I need to make more money. So whatever it means to be successful... I'm not it.

Yet, because I'm second, I know that I don't have to be the one to measure my success. I have enough. I have three awesome kids, a loving (if not patient) wife, a house that over my families head with an office space that is just for me, a job with a flexible schedule that allows me to take care of my family's hectic life, and a budget that mostly works. So I pray that I never become stupid rich. But neither do I wish to become destitute. I just want enough.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Success is the eighth week and covers topics like giving and ownership.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Relationships: Unify - a week of living second

When I met Bekah, I got it. That younger version of myself instinctively knew how to make that girl's heart glissade and pirouette. Our first date was the stuff that from which fairy tales are made.

My roommate at the time was the worship leader at our church and I was the sound man. One of our other roommates played bass in the worship band. The three of us conspired to put on a magical Valentines date that (for two of us) would be the last first date that either of us ever attempted.

It started with dinner - a table for six at the Olive Garden. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company. From there, we drove to our church. As the members of the worship team, my roommates had keys to the building, and the three of us guys had transformed the big room into a private movie theater. Instead of our weekly worship service, we watched The Princess Bride. As the movie credits rolled, the three of us guys escorted our dates to separate tables and disappeared into the church kitchen. We emerged with dessert and sparkling cider - which we served to the girls. Now at our own tables as individual couples, we could hold more private conversations. Once dessert was consumed, we each presented the girls a gift bag that held two disposable cameras - a his and hers camera. We then stormed out into the cold February night and wandered downtown Boise armed with six cheap cameras posing as couples and as friends on street corners, with public art, on escalators, and one with the three of us guys nearly falling into the fountain at Capitol Blvd and Idaho Street.

It was our first date, but not our last. Over the next year, there were several occasions that clicked - those moments where Bekah and I knew that we were going to be together forever. It was the two of us cruising down Fairview, singing along to a song on the radio like we were the only two people in the world. It was both us us having the identical reaction to a goofy looking statue in the courtyard between the IMAX theater and the Edwards cinema on our way to see a movie. It was how we were equally critical of the skanky way girls dressed at Boise Towne Square. We thought alike. We seemed to have similar taste in movies and several shared interests. We weren't identical people, but similar enough.

Fast forward a year and a couple months, I still got it. We had spent a couple hours posing for photos with our family and closest friends. She was beautiful in her wedding gown. We had over estimated the time it would take for pictures. With guests arriving for the ceremony, our families distracted, and nothing better to do, we made a run for it. We jumped in her Ford Festiva and escaped the wedding before it even happened. We didn't go far, we only drove around the block and stopped at Jamba Juice. She was in her gown and I was dressed in my tux. The Jamba Juice staff was polite and congratulatory. They looked a little confused when we told them that we weren't married yet. "Isn't it bad luck to ... " they said as we ran out the door with our drinks in hand. A week later, we had that Festiva packed as full as we could get it so that we could move half way across the country to start a new life together in Sioux Falls. We were full of wild dreams and youthful hopes.

We were of one mind. When Paul was writing his letters to the early churches, he had this kid of unity in mind. He advised that we (be it friends, lovers, or a family of believers) should have that strength in a unified life. In Philippians, he said "if you have ... any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind."

For those of you that are married, you know that kind of oneness is hard to maintain. Not just difficult, but strenuous.

Fast forward some more. It's been nearly eleven years since that fist date and almost ten since we ran away to get some Jamba Juice. I don't get it quite as easy as I did back then. These days, I make more missteps than anything else. I'm more likely to cause Bekah's eyes to roll than I am to make her heart dance. To be honest, I'm not sure how we got here. Over the past decade, Bekah was diagnosed with a chronic illness, we moved back to Idaho, we've added three small people to our family (and all three of our kids are special needs), we made some stupid financial decisions and had to pay the consequences, and we've suffered heartbreak and loss. We've had richer and poorer. We've had sickness and health. We've had better and worse. And somewhere, in the middle of that we've (like that old Righteous Brother's song) lost that lovin' feeling.

But that's just a feeling. The choice we made a decade ago still stands. We still choose to love each other deeply. We have a shared faith in God. And we both believe that our marriage is worth fighting for. That unified mind is there somewhere. Sometimes hiding. Once in a while it comes out to play. With three kids, two dogs, a mortgage, and five different schedules to juggle, being like-minded doesn't come as naturally as it did when we were young and care free.

We are determined to not become a statistic. We vowed to love each other until our bodies are claimed by death. It is here were living second takes on an additional dimension. I can say that God is first in my life (and Bekah would tell you that God is first in her life as well). But to be of one unified mind, there's more in that second chapter of Philippians, and it's a part that I often forget. It's not enough to just be of one spirit and one mind. We also need to be looking to the interests of others. I need to be second to God, but I also need to be second to my wife. And I need to be second to my kids. I wish I could tell you that I've figured out the easy way to do that, but I can't. Partially because I'm not perfect. But mostly because it's not easy.

It takes work. It takes a lot of effort. But it's worth it.

Note: This post was written in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Relationships is the seventh week and covers topics like forgiveness, love, and unity.

For more info on the book, go HERE or HERE.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Struggles: Addict - a week of living second

In the book of Romans, Paul makes an addict's confession. He writes in his letter, "I don't get it. What I want to do, I don't. Instead, I do what I don't want to do and I hate it." (Romans 7:15 - paraphrased by me)

Why is that the confession of an addict? Addiction consume's the mind, the will. Have you ever seen the expression of a gambling addict repetitively pulling the lever of a slot machine? They're not enjoying their time in the casino. There's a bucket list of things they'd rather be doing, They don't want to be wasting their money on a machine that will never spit out more than what was put in, yet they're there taking one more pull after another waiting to become the next big winner.

I get Paul's struggle because I've lived through it. No, I don't need to check myself into rehab. My addictions are more limited to Mt Dew and bacon. I'm a musicophile with a craving for more music (the playlist that I listen to while writing could play for 11 days without any repeats).

Please don't let that admission cheapen the struggles of other addicts. My best friend in high school was an alcoholic. I've had friends whose battle with addiction ended in suicide, but I also have friends who overcame their drug addiction and are now thriving. My wife and I served for a year in my uncle's church where he ministered to people in recovery - people who were desperately trying to put their lives back together. I know how hard it is to defeat a chemical dependence.

All kidding about soda and my preference in pork products aside, I'm still an addict - but not in the manner you might expect. I'm addicted to validation. I want people to like me. I want people to tell me I'm awesome. When that happens, when people recognize that my existence is appreciated or that my job has been well done, it's almost like a drug. But the crash is bitter. When my efforts go unnoticed. When my mistakes are under a spotlight. When I'm rejected, or criticized. I just want to hide. I want nothing more than to be noticed again.

That's a disastrous cycle. No matter how hard I try, at some point, I will fail. I'll disappoint, I'll let people down. Despite my greatest efforts, some things will go unnoticed or unappreciated. Some successes will go uncelebrated.

So I end up doing things that I don't want to do and not doing the things I want. I'm not as good of a father as I want to be. I'm not as good of a husband as I want to be. I don't write as often as I should. And no matter how badly I want to do the things needed to be a better dad/husband or write more, I do something different.

There are support groups for all sorts of addictions. Gambling, pornography, drugs, alcohol. But an addiction to human approval? Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Here's what I do know. I know that I'm not perfect and I know my imperfections don't matter. I know the approval I seek is ultimately irrelevant to my worth as a person. I know that if I am to live second, I should heed another admission of Paul's: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)

Note: I am blogging this week in support of the Live Second book release. Live Second is a year long study from Doug Bender and the I Am Second team. Struggles is the sixth week and covers topics like forgiveness and addiction.

You can find the book HERE or HERE. If you purchase the book this week (12/9-12/15) and email your receipt to promo@iamsecond.com you can receive $150 worth of free downloads including two webinars with author Doug Bender.

For more on I Am Second, check out their site.


Jingle Bell Rock: according to Zu

Zu and I were listening to Christmas music. Song after song. Bouncing from baby Jesus to Frosty to Santa to snow and going home. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I feel no shame indulging in holiday appropriate tunes.

Then came Jingle Bell Rock. This song confused my daughter, particularly the bridge of the song. She felt compelled to make one clarification.

We listened through the lyrics that sang,
"Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go gliding in a one-horse sleigh
Giddy-up jingle horse
pick up your feet."

It wasn't so much clarification she sought, but more of a correction.

"Daddy," Zu interrupted the song, "they said 'jingle-horse.' There's no such thing as a jingle-horse. They're called reindeer."


Sore Throats & Lullabies

Dear coworkers,

If tomorrow is anything like today where I am unable to speak any louder than a choking whisper, I'm sorry. I did not make enough effort to whittle down this head cold into something that sounds less humorous. Trust me, I'd rather be curled up in bed with a Stephen King novel and a steaming mug of Theraflu. Instead, I spent the late evening singing my daughter to sleep.

There's a funny thing about five year old girls. They usually don't care if you're sick. Mommy or Daddy being exhausted or ill is a difficult concept to understand. My little girl might have more empathy than a typical kindergartener, but certain things are lost in translation when she's sad or upset. It's moments like these that my own pain or my own sadness is irrelevant.

So please excuse me. When my little girl wanders into my office and curls up in my lap like a 40 pound kitten, my plans for rest take a back seat.

I turned out the lights, pulled a blanket around her shoulders and began to sing. Well, I'm not sure if you'd call it singing. Raspy, rattling, off key buzz, interrupted by an occasional wheeze or cough. It hurt but I made my best attempt to sing.

And why did I choose to sing and cuddle over taking medication and finding a cool pillow? Because I believe there's healing in music. Maybe not the kind of healing that will chase away my sore throat, but the kind that fixes wounded hearts and mends broken spirits.

So I sang.

Songs like Switchfoot's Don't Be There - "You be around and I'll be square." Like Pedro the Lion's Lullaby - "You can lay down your armor and have no fear, 'Cause I'm always here when you're tired of running, And I'm all the strength that you need." Songs like The Scientist by Coldplay - "Nobody said it was easy, No one ever said it would be this hard." Or Are You Sad? by Our Lady Peace - "Oh just stop pretending when they say you're nothing." Songs like Much Afraid by Jars of Clay or Sarah McLachlan's version of The Rainbow Connection. And finally wrapping it up with these words: "I got nothing of my own to give to you, but this light that shines on me shines on you and makes everything beautiful again, it'll be all right, it'll be all right" from Stars by David Crowder Band.

And honestly, what message could be better? I'm sick, my daughter is sad. Are there any better words to hear than "It'll be all right, it'll be all right"?

Tonight, I chose emotional health over physical health. But tomorrow it will be cough drops and DayQuil. I promise.


5 Stages of No-Shave November Grief

Denial: "It's just a little stubble. It's nothing really, no big deal."

Anger: "Aaaaauauarrrrghh. Everything itches! Get this hideous thing off my face."

Bargaining: "How long has it been? OK, I think I can do this. Maybe. It's only a couple more weeks."

Depression: "Ugh, I feel disgusting. I look like a homeless person. This month is never going to end."

Acceptance: "I have a manly beard."


Gratitude: Love

This Thanksgiving was a first in our clan. It was a gathering from both sides of the family.

As long as Bekah and I have lived in North Idaho, we've shared the holiday with her parents and one (if not both) of her sisters. As her sisters found love and marriage, their husbands have joined as much as possible. For all practical purposes, holidays for our family are largely events with Bekah's side of the family tree.

This year was different. My folks drove up from Cheyenne with my niece as an extra passenger. A stowaway or something like that.

The dining room table at my in-laws place was full. 10 adults with 4 kids around a card table in the living room. Bekah's family and my family combined. That house was boisterous and filled with laughter, love, turkey, apple pie, and a competitive round of Pictionary.

And it is here that I consider myself blessed. I have a good relationship with my in-laws. My father-in-law and I have a similar sense of humor, we'll occasionally go to the movies together or play video games together. My mother-in-law is one of the most caring and compassionate persons I've ever met. My wife's older sister and brother-in-law are two of my favorite people in the world. Bekah's younger sister and I have a shared work history and a shared interest in geek culture so it's easy to swap stories and jokes with her.

I know that I'm lucky. I know that there are people out there that do not get along with their in-laws. I know that there is animosity between many spouses and their in-laws. I realize that my relationships with my wife's family is rather unique. I get it.

But there's more. My parents feel welcomed as a part of my wife's family. Her parents and my parents get along with each other. When Bekah and I were dating (and still living in Boise) my folks drove from Seattle to Coeur d'Alene to meet Bekah's parents and the four of them went out for dinner together. They share a mutual respect for each other and a common interest in the family that Bekah and I have created.

I know that's rare. I know that most people wouldn't dare placing their parents and their in-laws in the same room. I've DJ'd for weddings where the family bride's side and the family on the groom's side don't like the each other. I've even DJ'd for weddings where the two sides made zero effort to hide the contempt they felt for the other side.

I can't imagine living life like that. I can't imagine how I would be able to maintain a healthy marriage if I didn't like Bekah's family or if she didn't like mine. I know that mother in law is an anagram of woman hitler, but I'm glad that the moms in our life don't resemble that description.

It amazes me that people think that it's normal to not get along with the in-laws. I think it's strange that people could approach marriage with the perspective:"I hate your parents but lets get married anyways." It boggles my mind. I think it's weird. That might make me weird, and I'm OK with that.

There is a lot of love in our family. I am grateful for that. And I wouldn't want it any other way.


Gratitude: Silence

Today was a bad day. Crazy busy hectic day at the office complete with an hour and a half interruption to drive out to Post Falls to pick a kid up, into Hayden to drop him off, and then back to the cubicle. Complex work day with conference calls, technical difficulties, and a complete reformatting of a regular report to match a client's new expectations. One of those days where everyone wants something from you.

Today was a bad day. Hard rain, extra driving, failures in communication, and missed appointments. A bad day that culminated in an empty tank of gas and hungry kids demanding dinner the moment we got home.

After days like today, there is little that I cherish more than one thing. A rarity.


You won't often find silence in our house. We're a loud family. Three kids who wrestle and roughhouse and fight and play together. Three kids who love each other with joy and vocal abundance. They also loath one another with the fiercest of grade school sibling rivalries. They scream and laugh and shout and giggle through almost every waking hour.

You won't often find silence in our house. Noise seems ever-present, be it a primary source of entertainment or a background distraction. It's the TV. If not the television then there's music playing. And if not the MP3 jukebox, then one of the kids is playing the Wii. And if they're not broadcasting the soundtrack of some Nintendo game, they're playing with the dogs, or on the trampoline in the back yard, or jumping on the furniture.

We are a loud family.

After a day like today, silence is a blessing. Silence is a warm fleece blanket wrapped around you while watching the rain fall outside the window and drinking a mug of Baileys and hot chocolate.

Not that I did any of that today. I wasn't drinking Baileys and cocoa. I drove through the rain, but didn't spend much time observing it. There were no blankets involved.

But there was silence. Glorious silence.

Bekah was still out between meetings and errands. I had made dinner for the kids and fed them. They changed into their jammies, brushed their teeth, and crawled into their beds a few minutes earlier than normal.

And then there was silence. Nothing but the sound of the ticking clock on the wall and the fridge's droning hum to distract me from my thoughts. Peace. Stillness. Silence.

I needed that. Today was a bad day. After days like today, I am grateful for silence.


Christian makes a joke

*In the car, driving around town*

Christian: "Daddy, when I'm 17 I'm going to buy a whole bunch of random stuff."
Me: "Oh, really? Where are you going to get the money to buy that random stuff?"
Christian. "I'm just kidding. I'm not going to spend all my money. I was making a joke."
Me: "Oh. Are you going to have money to spend when you're 17?"
Christian: "I'm not going to spend it all. I'm only going to buy what I need and then I'll save the rest."
Me: "When you're 17?"
Christian: "Yes."
Me: "Where are you going to get all of your money when you're 17?"
Christian: "What do you mean?"
Me: "Are you going to have a job?"
Christian: (sounding incredulous) "Yes. Of course."
Me: "OK, that's good."
Christian: "I'll be working from home."
Me: (surprised) "Really? What kind of job are you going to have at home?"
Christian: "Chores. Duh."
Me: "You're going to make enough doing chores to buy everything you need and save money?"
Christian: "Yes."
Me: "Haha... Now that's funny."
Christian: (has no idea why I'm laughing)


Oh, Idaho. You are a funny little state.

The election is over. The votes have been tallied. Campaigning has ended.

Are you happy now?

Of course, your answer to that question probably depends on which side of the political spectrum you buy into. Unless you live in Washington, then your happiness might exist because you're high.

Yes, Obama won the presidency, but Mitt Romney can stand proud knowing he won the popular vote in Idaho. Then again, that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I could have told you Romney would garner Idaho's electoral college votes as soon as he earned the Republican nomination.

But I'm not here to talk about the president that is or the president that could have been. I really don't care about presidential politics as my choice there is clearly insignificant. In this reddest of red states, I can pick the winner or cast a vote that will have zero effect on how the rest of the state swings. As for the national picture, as far as DC is concerned, Idaho is of little worth. We'll never have a population strong enough to sway any presidential contest.

The local and state races are of much more importance, and it's in these races that my vote actually counts for something. It is in the state wide initiatives that we saw some very good news.

The Luna Laws were repealed. In other words, the wizard had given the scarecrow some brains.

Senate Bills 1108, 1110, and 1184, appeared on the ballot as Props 1,2, and 3. Tom Luna called them Student's Come First. Everyone else called them the Luna Laws because the reality of the legislation is that the Luna Laws put Luna's campaign donors first. These laws were horrible in more ways than I have the time and/or patience to list. Thankfully, we won't have to splunk the depths of how deep these laws would have cut into Idaho's tax revenue, nor will we see it's detriment to the nature of public education.

Yay! Chalk that up as a win for the people of our fine state. Lets take a look at some of last night's other winners.

Marv Hagedorn (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Mike Moyle* (R) of Plummer. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Reed DeMordaunt (R) of Eagle. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lynn Luker (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Chuck Winder (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Joe Palmer (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Cliff Bayer (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steven Harris (R). Newly elected member of Idaho's House of Representatives stated "I like the objectives of the Students Come First initiatives."
Russell Fulcher (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Monty Pearce (R) of New Plymouth. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney (R) of Midvale. Did not vote on SB 1108 or SB1110. Voted yes on SB 1184.
Judy Boyle (R) of Midvale. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Ken Andrus (R) of Lava Hot Springs. Voted yes on SB 1108.
John Tippets* (R) of Montpelier. Voted yes on SB 1184.
Marc Gibbs (R) of Grace. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Tom Loertscher (R) of Iona. Voted yes on SB 1108.
Steve Bair (R) of Blackfoot. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steven Thayn (R) of Emmett. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lenore Hardy Barrett (R) of Challis. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Eric Anderson (R) of Priest Lake. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Sheryl Nuxoll (R) of Cottonwood. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Shannon McMillan (R) of Silverton. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Paul Shepherd (R) of Riggins. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Dean Mortimer* (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jeff Thompson (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Linden Bateman (R) of Idaho Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108 and yes on SB1110.
President Pro Tempore Brent Hill* (R) of Meridian. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Dell Raybould* (R) of Rexburg. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
JoAn Wood (R) of Rigby. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Monty Pearce (R) of New Plymouth. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Patti Anne Lodge (R) of Huston. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Christy Perry* (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Curt McKenzie (R) of Boise. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Brent Crane (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Gary Collins (R) of Nampa. Voted yes on SB1110.
Scott Bedke* (R) of Oakley. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Fred Wood* (R) of Burley. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jeff Siddoway (R) of Terreton. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Bert Brackett (R) of Rogerson. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Pete Nielsen (R) of Mountain Home. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jim Patrick (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Maxine Bell (R) of Jerome. Voted yes on SB 1108 and voted yes on SB 1184.
Steve Vick (R) of Datlon Gardens. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Vito Barbieri (R) of Datlon Gardens. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184. Vito also went on the record calling public schools a "Godless institution" and urged all parents that believe in Jesus to pull their kids out of public education.
Bob Nonini (R) of Coeur d'Alene. Voted yes on all three and was the sponsor of the bills in the House.
Frank Henderson (R) of Post Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
John W Goedde (R) of Voted yes on all three, helped Luna write the bills, and was the sponsor in the Senate.
Kathy Sims (R) of Coeur d'Alene. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Jim Guthrie (R) of McCammon. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Lee Heider (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.
Stephen Hartgen (R) of Twin Falls. Voted yes on SB 1108, yes on SB1110, and voted yes on SB 1184.

* Ran unopposed

All of those listed above (except Steven Harris) voted yes to one - if not all three - of the Luna Laws. All of these Senators and Representatives (except Steven Harris) were up for reelection yesterday. All of them won another term in Boise.

So it seems that Idaho has healed the symptom (bad legislation) but hasn't cured the disease (bad legislators). Now that Luna's laws have been overturned, he's doubling down. He is convinced that the citizens of Idaho still wants radical reformation in public schools. Lucky for him, he still has the same group of people around to pass whatever pile of dung he presents during the next legislative session.

I can collectively hear the people of Idaho singing, "I would dance and be merry, Life would be a ding-a-derry, If I only had a brain..."




What if God didn't cause Hurricane Sandy as a punishment to the heathens (AKA liberals) along the East Coast. What if He allowed it to see if those that claim to be Christians would demonstrate love and compassion in the wake of the storm. If the latter is true, are we as Christians living up to the values we profess?


The only person in the world that is capable of governing this nation the way that I think it should be ran is me. No president ever will measure up to my standards. I will never agree with every policy of any president. There will always be a member of a presidential cabinet that I think is unqualified to hold that appointed position. No matter how likable the president is, I will believe that my ideas are better. And if by some strange twist of fate I were to become president, I won't measure up to everyone else's standards. Someone out there will believe that I'm doing everything wrong, that my policies are worthless, and that they would be a better president.

Be honest, you could take me out of that above paragraph and replace it with you. The only person qualified to run the USA the way you think a president should is you. I think this nation would be much happier if everyone lived and voted with that understanding.


I was a priest for Halloween. Or, rather, I wore all black with a white priest's collar that a coworker made for me. Most of my coworkers appreciated the look. A few laughed. And more than one said I make a convincing pastor.

There was one odd remark. An employee - whom I've never met before - passed me in the stairwell and gave me a dirty look. "What, are you making fun of Catholics now?" She asked.

I couldn't help but think of the half dozen women in our office that dressed up like witches. Were they mocking Wiccans?


November has arrived, which means No-Shave November started yesterday. I shaved everything off Halloween night so that I could start the month with a fresh slate. Yesterday, some of my team members commented on how boyish I looked without facial hair. Today, my face feels like sandpaper.

Any one else observing No-Shave November?


It is also NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month. This is the month where crazy people write an entire novel in 30 days.

I'm not brave enough to participate but even if I was, I wouldn't have the time to devote to that much writing. However, my sister-in-law is participating. If you live in the Boise area, buy her a coffee. She'll need it. And make sure to buy her debut novel when it comes out in February.


Whoever wins

A week from now, we will be wrapping up election day. We'll be finishing up the crazy season and awaiting the official tallies to see who will be the next president.

No matter who wins, here are a few things I know for sure.

1. Roughly half of America will not like the results. That same half will criticize every action taken by the winning candidate for the next four years.

2. It will be a close election and a small but vocal group that supported the loser will cry foul, ask for a recount, or levy accusations of voter fraud. They might be a fringe populace, but they exist and they will seek attention.

3. The next president will not be able to solve our problems. They might be able to improve some things, but we live in a broken world and there will always be issues. People will still be unemployed. Poverty will still exist. Terrorists will still be carrying out their jihad against their perceived foes. Disasters will still display nature's strength and fury. No president will ever be able to erase those woes that ail us.

4. Four years from now, we will be hearing about the same issues debated ad nauseam. Jobs. Economy. Foreign policy. Medicare. Abortion. Gun rights. Gay marriage. These topics will not go away.

5. Pollsters will glorify the accuracy of their election predictions. Pundits will either revel in victory or preach gloom - whichever will give their ratings the biggest boost. MSNBC will still be liberally biased and FOX will still be biased to favor the GOP. That's how they make their money and complaining about it won't change anything.

Regardless of who wins the presidential election, I hope to see these few things.

1. That the losing candidate will concede gracefully.

2. That the losing candidate will find strength and comfort in his wife, family, and whatever support network they've built for themselves.

3. That both candidates will strive to be good husbands and fathers and pour out love onto their wives and kids.

4. That the winning candidate will seek wise council for the next four years, that they will be open to the input and advice of their predecessors, and that they show a willingness to work with their opposing political party.

5. That the winning candidate will place the needs of this nation ahead of the desires of their party.

I know, I may be asking for a bit too much.


The joys of being an adoptive family

Once upon a time, Zu was just a little baby bear. Bekah and I took her out with us to various appointments with her bundled up in her car seat where she would pass away the time cooing, sleeping, or sucking down a bottle of formula.

When we got into foster care, we knew there would be several challenges - difficulties that would be amplified when we welcomed a Native American baby into our family. However, nothing could have prepared us for the perplexing, biased, and sometimes demeaning questions posed to us.

On one of these trips where Zu rode along for a meeting, we faced one of those exchanges. As we talked with a banker, he noticed her brown skin in contrast to our lack of melanin and asked if she was ours.

We explained that we were foster parents. Since this was about a year before we would have the joy of finalizing Zu's adoption, we had to explain that Zu was a foster child.

"But she's so cute though," he replied.

Really? Do you mean that only ugly babies end up in foster care? That if kids were only cuter, kids wouldn't be so abused or neglected? Once we left and returned to our car, the only thing we could think to do was laugh. The audacity. The ignorance. It was too much.

Since then, we've heard worse. We've compared notes with friends of our who have adopted from overseas and their experiences are similar to ours. All of those silly questions, suspicious glances, and rude observations. All of it is humorously complied in this below video. The maker of this short film is not exaggerating. I've heard many of these lines from various strangers and acquaintances around North Idaho.

One of the more amusing occurrences happened when we had five kids in our home. A four year old, a three year old, and three two year olds. Not one kid looked related to any of the others, although two were siblings. While out shopping with all five, Bekah was stopped by a complete stranger who asked, "Are they all yours?" Bekah just smiled, answered, "Yes," and walked away.

All kidding aside, the adoption process has been a strange and wonderful journey. We have been blessed with three unique and wonderful children, two of which we've adopted. If you're counting, that means Bekah and I are out numbered. We don't live an easy life, but it is one that is filled with joy and odd surprises. If you're interested in adopting - either foreign or domestically - get connected with families in your area that have all ready completed that journey and check out Both Ends Burning.


Church vs. Art part 10: Getting It Right

In the American Midwest, you will find areas populated with free range cattle. These bovine roam and graze unencumbered by fencing or corrals. When they think that the grass is greener on the other side of the road, they cross that road and eat the greener grass. If you happen to be driving along that road, you might discover livestock meandering across the pavement in front of you. Just like pedestrians in suburban and metro locales, those cows have the right of way.

Free range cattle have the good life. They go where they want. They are liberated from the pressures of cowboys and barking herd dogs. No stampedes. No cattle drives. Just food and exercise.

We as artists need to allow our creativity to roam. Free range imagination. Feed our creative muscles and give them exercise. Give it room to wander and see where it finds greener pastures.

When I close my eyes and think of what is possible in the free range of my imagination, I envision a modern church where artists are not only accepted, but encouraged. I see church lobbies turned into a book reading for authors. I see multi-purpose rooms transformed into temporary art galleries. I see film screenings in church gymnasiums and concerts in sanctuaries. I see photographers and painters and singers and thespians all using their chosen forms of expression to speak truth and beauty.

I crave a church that opens its doors to the starving artists and all their eccentricities. A church that welcomes piercings and tattoos and dreadlocks. A church that treasures the stick figure scribblings of a five year old kid, and fosters their talent into a productive and artistic career when that child is no longer a child. A church that ministers to those who spend their lives ministering to others. A church where creative professionals can step off the stage of their day jobs and feel no demands to be on stage in the house of worship. A church that embraces the artist and tells them, “welcome home.”

It is easy for me to look at the relationship between the church and the artist and see the ways in which the church is doing it wrong. I count the errors that are roadblocks to creating the kind of church I long to see.

However, there are people who understand these challenges. There are organizations that are getting it right. These seven entities are either cultivating or propagating artistic expression. They are using creative elements to communicate God’s love. Visit their websites. Support them if you are able. Get involved if at all possible. At least let them inspire you. The church that I dream of is led by groups like these.

People of the Second Chance – Social media, photography, graphic design, short form video, storytelling, and a book. POTSC is a community founded on the principles of living life in light of second chances. Everything that they do is built on the concept that we have been given radical grace and in turn should give grace to others.
Art House America – Books, music, crafts, visual art, theater, culinary art, environmental care, travel, and much more. AHA is the brainchild of Charlie Peacock and his wife Andi Ashworth. They started by providing hospitality to those exploring art, faith, and what they call creative living. They now provide counseling, discipleship, mentoring, and community engagement for a wide variety of artistic pursuits.
To Write Love On Her Arms – Social media, short form video, music, fashion, photography, and public speaking. TWLOHA started as a mission of hope for a suicidal friend. Their connection to a community of musicians gave them a spotlight to fight against suicide and addiction. Through various campaigns, their purpose has grown to battle self mutilation and depression, increase mental health awareness, and encourage treatment for addicts.
I am Second – Short films, digital media, storytelling, public speaking, and a book. Primarily an online community, I am Second is supported by short films from notable celebrities and small groups across the nation telling personal stories of redemption. The films on the website feature musicians, actors, athletes, and politicians. Each tells their perspective of overcoming their struggles or tragedies through God’s intervention.
Hello Somebody – Fashion, music. Hello Somebody markets their own products as a means to fund relief projects. You buy a watch and they give much needed support elsewhere. Their campaigns include providing livestock to a school in Rwanda, helping the victims of sex trafficking, bringing clean water and sanitation to a community in Guatemala, and rebuilding efforts in Joplin, MO after tornadoes devastated the area last year. And their watches are snazzy.
The Identity Shift – Visual media, multi-media, short form video, animation, written word. The Identity Shift provides encouragement and support for the understanding and application of the gospel.
Lights Out – Lights Out is unique on my list because it isn’t ministering through artists but instead is ministering to artists. They provide pastoral support and hospitality to travelling musicians.


Church vs. Art part 9: Finally

If the nerd world practiced the tradition of sainthood, Leonard Nimoy would be the patron saint of all things geeky. Through the years, thanks to his groundbreaking role as Star Trek’s Spock, he has become a pop culture icon. Whatever wisdom he has gained through his 81 years on this planet, he imparted in the Fine Arts Convocation speech for Boston University’s graduating class of 2012.

His words, filled with humor and insight, were intended for an audience that had spent the past four years studying art as an academic pursuit in hopes that their collective talents would be put to the best possible use. In it, he posed a few questions that are not only essential to the creative process, but questions everyone should ask themselves. “What is the work about? What does it say to a contemporary audience? What light does it cast on our lives and on the issues that concern us and connect us? Indeed, how does it help to heal the world?” The answers to those questions give us a foundation to build upon.

Nimoy closed his address with a challenge, “You are the creators and curators of your own lives. You create your own life and your own work. Give us your best. Give us the best of your art. We crave it. We hunger for it. Help us to see ourselves, to know ourselves. Illuminate our lives.” This should be the goal of every artist.

How do we accomplish this feat within the realm of Christian morals? How do we stay honest and creative while honoring the God we worship? How do we push boundaries but stay within the limits prescribed by scripture? How can we be brave while giving the best of our art?

Paul, in his letter to the church in Phillipi, gave us a list of words to live by. If we, as artists, remain faithful to these values within our creations we will never stray beyond God’s will for our art. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

This is a checklist that gives us the strength to endure criticism, scorn, and outright mockery. Within these bounds we give our imagination free reign. We can confidently face our critics and speak. You don’t approve of my style? That’s OK because it is pure and noble. You don’t agree with my message? That’s fine, because it is true and admirable.

This liberates us to enjoy both success and failure. This allows us to learn, grow, and improve. In this, we gain liberty to create in times of joy and mourning. There is a time to laugh and a time to lament and we are free to do both within the bounds of Philippians 4:8.

These are the closing remarks that Paul gives to the Philippians. This is the “ps” to his letter. The exhortation is preceded by the word “Finally.” It is as if he is saying, “If you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve said before, you better start listening now. Finally, these words are of the utmost importance. Finally, if you forget everything else, at least remember this.”

From translation to translation, there is not an inglorious word among them. A few years ago I compiled the various terms used in this one verse from each of the English versions of the Bible for a presentation to a youth group. Collectively, this is a framework for us as artists. This should be the cornerstone for all we create.

Finally, whatever is true, honest, honorable, excellent, sooth, seemly, pleasing, compelling, commendable, of good fame, of good repute, of good report, truly worthwhile, the best, good, noble, respected, reputable, full of pleasantness, friendly, amiable, well thought of, kind, winsome, right, admirable, straight, fair, just, proper, holy, chaste, righteous, acceptable, pure, modest, clean, authentic, gracious, beautiful, lovely, lovable, worthy of respect, worth giving thanks for, worthy of reverence, of any virtue, brings praise to God, praising of discipline, or worthy of praise…

Think about such things. Just think.

ps. If you haven’t watched Leonard Nimoy's speech, you should.


Church vs. Art part 8: An Artist after God’s Own Heart

David is perhaps one of the most conflicted characters in the biblical narrative. He was anointed as king while still a boy, a hero that struck down a giant, and a warrior that took on armies. But he was hunted like a fugitive by a maniacal and obsessive man during the prime of his life. In power, he spied on and seduced the neighbor lady, then enacted a conspiracy to have her husband murdered. He was condemned by Nathan the prophet and feuded with his son, Absalom. He knew triumph and tragedy. He could be called a liar, a fraud, a cheat, and a murderer. Yet the bible calls him a man after God’s own heart.

Reconciling why David – in light of all his follies – was so beloved by God has been the study of theological debates that I’ll make no effort to resolve. But I do believe the way David spoke to God is vital to discovering how God viewed David.

He was an artist. A poet. A singer. A musician. A dancer.

David was a man after God’s own heart. David had the heart of an artist and that artistic spirit was in reckless pursuit of the heart of God.

There are two more rules that I left out of my blueprint for the Christian artist – two policies that cannot be summed up in a concise phrase. If we hope to be artists that find God’s favor, it might be best to learn two lessons from David, from the life of God’s favorite. 1. Be inspired. 2. Be undignified.

During the years that David was hiding from the wrath of King Saul, he gathered followers – future focused people loyal to David’s cause. The killer of Goliath was amassing an army that could be viewed as nothing short of an insurrection. The 12th chapter of First Chronicles details the numbers of men who defected to join this movement. The Bible is colorful in describing these men. They were brave and battle ready soldiers. They had faces like lions and were swift like gazelles. The army commanders are named from the first in command to the eleventh – and the weakest of them was strong enough to take on one hundred men. (I Chronicles 12:8-14)

More and more warriors joined David’s ranks. Members from each of the Israelite tribes – thousands at a time – came to follow and support this new army. From Judah, Simeon, Ephraim, Zebulun, Naphtali, Asher, each tribe shared a commonality. They were experienced, famous, fearless, and heavily armed. They were all fighting men prepared for war.

Yet when we get to verse 32 we find a group of oddities: men from the tribe of Issachar. This one group stands out like the geeky kid awkwardly navigating the perils of their first junior high school dance. Their numbers seem disproportionate to the other tribes – 200 chiefs with only their relatives under their authority. Yet it’s their description that makes them unique amongst the fierce militia that surrounded David. First Chronicles 12:32 calls them “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.”

David knew that if you go to war, you need soldiers. But he also knew the value of wise counsel. And he found that in the tribe of Issachar. These are the people that found inspiration in their culture and guidance in God’s will. The passage doesn’t state their prior profession; there isn’t any biblical evidence that these 200 sons of Issachar were artisans, but they provided the framework for all who consider themselves artists and followers of God.

We must be inspired and to be inspired we have to understand the times. The world around us is a wellspring of inspiration. The better we are aware our culture, the greater we can leverage our talents to speak to our audience. But we must also be mindful of God’s will as that is what provides us with the how, when, and what to do with our artistic pursuits.

Time passed. David got older. Saul lost his life in battle along with any biological heir to the throne. At the age of 30, David was crowned king of Israel. His army conquered the city of Jerusalem (and made it the capital city), then they defeated the Philistines. The promise given to him when he was a child had been fulfilled.

As a newly appointed king, he sought to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The entire journey with the ark was accompanied by celebration, music and dancing. Scripture tells us that “David danced with all his might before the Lord.” (2 Samuel 6:14) The prudes of David’s day thought that the dancing got a little carried away. One critic told David that he should have been ashamed of himself for disrobing in front of the servant girls and the army’s officers.

There is debate over the degree to which David was undressed. Some translations say that he was wearing a linen vest while others state it was a linen ephod. Even the definition of an ephod is a little sketchy – ranging from a robe to a belt to ancient versions of boxers to what the Amplified Bible calls “a priest’s upper garment.” Explanations of this passage have made the claim that David was dancing naked, or that that he was wearing nothing more than undergarments, while others assert that it was a priestly version of a bathrobe. I won’t pretend that I am smart enough to definitively solve these varied theories. In my mind, how close David was to being nude is unimportant. He was stripped enough to offend. And even that is inconsequential to the lesson that artists should learn.

David’s response to criticism is the most essential element of this story. His answer came in two parts. He said, “I did it in the presence of the Lord. The Lord chose me… So I will celebrate.” David understood that his art served a single purpose, to honor his Creator. Even if no one else was entertained. Even if no one else saw the value in his dance. His aim was to please God. Then he continued, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” Art isn’t about playing it safe, being proper, or fitting into a socially acceptable mold.

Artists of every variety must be willing to be undignified. They need to get down and dirty with their craft. Art requires risk. Art demands that the artist push boundaries. Employing creativity is not a practice that will ever please everyone. The artist will always face potential humiliation when their creation is presented to the public.

Every time a blogger hits the publish button. When the painter brushes the final stroke. When the photographer presents their work to a client. When an author submits a query. When an actor reads reviews. Criticism will come and often with a humbling cost. The true artist stands firm and declares, “I’ll become more undignified than this.” Such a bold stance will be held in honor by those looking to be brave in their own crafts.


Church vs. Art part 7: The Reason for It All

Why does it matter? Who cares if the artistic efforts of Christians are stripped down to the basest levels and marketed to the lowest common denominator? I think God cares. Therefore, it matters. I think that our culture not only needs us to rise above a watered down approach to art – but demands that we do.

If a society is defined by the art it produces, what does the current state of modern sacred art say about us? If we worship the maker of heaven and earth – the God who is the most creative being ever – why are we not living creatively? Why are we not producing masterpieces that reflect the depth, magnitude and originality of the God who we believe formed us from the dust of the ground? Why do we insist on making art that is lifeless when we believe our God is the source of life?

True artistry matters. Art can teach, it can heal emotional wounds, it can build unity, and it can inspire new ideas. When it is entwined in the divine it pushes us beyond ourselves, it points us to our Creator, and it shines light in the darkest places.

I don’t know who Paul Martin is. Googling his name yielded several possibilities, but I don’t know if any of those search results pointed to the Paul Martin I was looking for. I mention this ambiguity for one reason. It doesn’t really matter who he is, his words are true. Truth is important, regardless of its source. He said, “The possibility of depicting creation knowing God is dwelling in it: this is so incredible that it ought to change the world. If the most holy person in the world could depict the most concentrated, redeemed image, not only would sin be suspended but people would be moved to see the truth of their human condition and perceive God. All the artist can do is strive for that ideal.”

That is what we should be doing. We ought to be striving for the ideal that our art could suspend sin, that it would point people to truth, and our audience would recognize their humanity and see God. As Corrie Haluga at Relevant wrote in a recent column, “A new anthem can break speed limits. An interesting article can change a lifestyle. And sharing those moments can form a connection with friends, family and humanity in general.”

We must believe that art can change the world. And that should be the reason for it all.

I want to see more Christian artists take a stand like Kemper Crabb, artists who just prefer to be who they are. I want to see more Christian artists like Matt Wignall, artists who are brave enough to defy popular trends. I want to see more Christian artists like Michael Gungor, artists who take their art seriously. I want to see artists like Bezalel and Oholiab, artists with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, skill, and the ability to teach.

Of course, there should be limits. There should be a boundary within which we can work – a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Thankfully, I don’t have to invent these contours. I don’t have to dispense this as advice of my own invention. They have existed for a very long time. These rules do more than govern the Christian life; they are a blueprint for the Christian artist.

1. “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Psalm 33:3 NIV)
2. “Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4 NIV)
3. “The answer is, if you eat or drink, or if you do anything, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NCV)
4. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17 NASB)
5. “Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16 NCV)
6. “Speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord. Always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” (Ephesians 5:19-20 NCV)
7. “(He) was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.” (1 Chronicles 15:22 NIV)

This should be our guide. That we engage in something new with skill and joy. We do all things for the glory of God. We give thanks. Music is essential in teaching and instruction. Art demands the use of wisdom. It is our responsibility to utilize our talents.

You will note that none of those verses require a checklist of catchphrases that must be used. There is no edict to use Christianese. There is no demand that Jesus’ name should be used a certain number of times as if our art is nothing more than a tool to reach an oddly specific quota.

Yes, there is the verse that instructs us to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It’s tempting to want to read our own edit as if it says “do all with name of the Lord Jesus.” We feel like every song we write must be about Him. We feel like every fictional story must end with the hero either becoming a Christian, or leading a new believer to Christ. We feel like every dance must be an interpretation of the gospel story. Every photo that’s taken, every picture that’s painted, every story that’s told.

That’s not what the Bible says. We’re commanded to work in God’s name, not with His name. If I wrote a love song for my wife, I can do it in God’s name without ever mentioning God. In fact, that is the essence of the Song of Songs. It is the only book in the Bible that doesn’t directly reference God. It is a sensual poem of romance, love, intimacy, and adoration of the female form. In fact the book is so steamy that some Jewish rabbis have suggested that people under a certain age shouldn’t read it. There’s nothing overtly religious about it. But there isn’t anything sacrilegious about it either. The most common interpretation (aside from the literal account from courtship to consummation) is an allegorical depiction of God’s love for his people. No matter how you view Song of Songs, it demonstrates how religious art can glorify God without using His name.

Personally, I prefer the literal interpretation.


Church vs. Art part 5: My Least Favorite Acronyms

RIYL. FFO. Those are two of my least favorite acronyms. They mean “recommended if you like” and “for fans of.”

There is a time and place where these abbreviations are useful or appropriate. In the realm of Christian art, they’re exploited.

If you like these bands, you’ll like these musicians. If you like these movies, you’ll like this movie. If you like these photographers, you’ll like this photographer. If you’re a fan of a, b, or c – you’ll be a fan of x, y, or z.

Overuse of these comparative acronyms is the epitome of laziness. It is a symptom of either the forced or willful absence of creativity. It is the agonizing slow death of artistic passion. Remove autonomy and you’re left with homogeny.

Industry insiders are all looking for the next big thing and the human brain is programmed to crave conformity. Those two factors conspire to impose a dogmatic approach to artistic innovation. This explains the influx of supernatural romance novels being published after the Twilight series became popular. This is evidenced in the countless grunge bands that were signed to major labels after the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten. It defines the reinvigoration of fairy tales in pop culture with two shows from two different networks tackling the world of fables (Once Upon a Time, Grimm) and two theatrical releases portraying divergent interpretations of the Snow White story (Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman).

But if truly original artists want to break big in the real world, all they need to do is build a fan base and then make that fan base bigger. Please don’t assume I am trying to over simplify things or make it sound easy – as if anyone could become famous. It is not an effortless process. For most that have achieved any measure of success in a creative field, it took significant hard work. I have seen that time and effort first hand as friends of mine tried to establish themselves as a new band in Boise. Several of my friends have started photography businesses and their self employment is nothing short of the very definition of hustle. My sister-in-law is in the process of getting her first book published, and that is the result of a decade of her trying and trying again. The point is that if enough people notice you and that recognition grows, eventually the industry will take notice.

Unfortunately, the rules are different in the Christian subculture. The notion that Christian artists must resemble something that is currently popular in the mainstream world is ingrained into the way that Christian industries function. They’re looking for the Christian version of Lady Gaga, or the Christian version of Stephanie Meyer. The reason this happens is logical: it is easier to market a new band or a new author when you can compare it to something that the audience all ready likes. It’s easy to sell something when you can attach the label RIYL or FFO.

The Christian industry goes a step beyond secular comparisons – it even looks to build upon its own successes. There is a desire to duplicate the success of TobyMac, or Ted Dekker. If it worked once, why can’t it work again?

The Assemblies of God church in my hometown was a hotbed for musical talent. Their youth group had a dynamic worship team and many of the kids there were forming bands. Around the time this was going on, Jars of Clay’s debut album was huge. The band was being nominated for Grammy awards; their single Flood was the number one most requested song on alternative radio and was finding frequent rotation on MTV. It seemed like no other Christian band had found that much success in mainstream markets. Every Christian teenager trying to start a band wanted to be the next Jars of Clay. That desire to replicate the Jars of Clay sound was apparent in our little community. Some bands did it right and had the open chord driven acoustic guitar rock with male vocals that sounded like Dan Haseltine. Those bands were able to attract larger audiences than bands that attempted a more imaginative approach to music.

I don’t want to disparage any of these Christian artists. I own every Jars of Clay album. I’m a big fan of TobyMac’s music. I’ve read many of Ted Dekker’s books. I’m encouraged by the work that these writers, artists, and musicians have accomplished.

Yet, I want more. I want to see a greater number of people like Kemper Crabb, Matt Wignall, and Michael Gungor. If you do not recognize any of those three names, you have proven the need for more artists of their caliber.

Kemper Crabb is an Episcopalian minister who considers himself an artist-priest. He’s a founding member of the prog-rock band Atomic Opera, has recorded with popular CCM band Caedmon's Call, and has released a handful of solo albums that have an old English feel to them – a style of music that has limited appeal in any market. His views on artistry are fascinating. It is his conviction that kept him from falling prey to the RIYL acronym. As he explained in an interview with The Phantom Tollbooth, the Christian music industry wanted to mold his band into something else. They wanted a Christian version of Fleetwood Mac. Crabb’s response: “Why would we want to be the Christian Fleetwood Mac? There's already a Fleetwood Mac, and they're better at being Fleetwood Mac than we could be, and we're not even interested in Fleetwood Mac being the pagan Arkangel. We'd just kind of like to be who we are.”

Matt Wignall is a songwriter, singer, guitarist, artist, photographer, advocate for tattoos, and an enigmatic man defiant of trends. I met him in the late 90’s when I was working a merch table at Tomfest. His band, Havalina Rail Company was set up in the booth next to mine. He stood out more than any of the other performers – not because of his appearance but because of his persona. For starters, his band was stylistically out of step with the majority of the other acts at Tomfest – a music festival that was known for attracting punk, metal, and hardcore performances. Havilina was an odd (and sometimes uncomfortable) mix of jazz, country, blues, punk, Americana, folk, and art-house pop. They described their sound as “Spy Music.” In the middle of a bunch of tattooed and pierced kids buying t-shirts and vying to get autographs from their favorite hard rock bands, Matt pulled a lap steel guitar out from under the table full of posters and CDs and started to play licks that would have felt more at home in the Grand Ole Opry than at an alternative music festival. I watched him play and the look on his face was at peace, like there was no place he’d rather be than there at that moment.

I caught the tail end of Havalina’s performance set. Matt gave a short speech in between songs that has stayed with me in the years since. The popularity of third wave ska had started to wane that summer, just as swing music began to garner frequent radio play. Matt recognized that swing was something that would fit well with the style of music his band all ready played. He said fans frequently asked him why they didn’t play swing songs. And he said something about how pursuing trendy styles is the opposite of what Christians should do. He said that our God was the most creative force in the universe and our art should reflect that powerful creativity. We shouldn’t follow trends set by mainstream artists; Christians should be setting trends that others want to follow.

Michael Gungor is another talented musician that is poking holes into the theory that you must sound like someone else to succeed. He even addressed this issue in one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read. He described the process of how much of the Christian music industry functions – to communicate the gospel in whatever medium you wish. Style doesn’t matter because, in Michael’s words, “It’s not about the art, it’s about the message. … If you want to reach emo kids, then sing emo music but with Jesus language.” He picked apart this method of creation. The problem is that the heart of a musical style (or any other artistic craft) is more than skin and bones. Songs are more than chord structure, tempo, and vocal inflection. The end result of stripping the spirit of a particular music style and just replacing it with positive feel good lyrics is that it reduces the final product to what Michael calls “a musical zombie.” Michael listed of two byproducts of this practice: it makes us dishonest and it kills creativity. I wholeheartedly agree with him.

But Michael also pointed out the fact that Christian artists who go against the status quo and get noticed are described as creative (a label that he found interesting). He said the “creative” descriptor isn’t often used for mainstream artists. It’s mostly something you hear in the Christian arts. It’s like we’re surprised to hear or see a Christian artist that is truly creative. Michael wrote, “when someone in the Christian industry actually takes their art seriously, everybody is like ‘holy crap, listen to how creative it is!’ It’s like a person that’s been living among zombies for years seeing an actual human being and exclaiming, ‘wow, look at how clean her face is!’”

When everything seems like it's intended for fans of something else. When everything you see is recommended if you like that other thing. When everything you hear sounds like someone else. What other explanation is there when you hear something that you’ve never heard before?


Church vs. Art part 4: In the Land of Double Standards

As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that there are two barriers between Christian communities and Christian artists, the first being our tendency to idolize successful artists and prop them up with impossible standards.

The second issue that creates a wedge between churches and artists is the propensity to hold double standards. Kevin Max also addressed this issue in his Cross Rhythms interview: “The funny thing is that the Church, the Christian community, when it’s observing somebody over in the general market, let’s say Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan or Bono, who are exploring their faith but again in a very realistic manner and talking about their weaknesses, they seem to somehow latch onto those people and make them heroes. But if they’re in their own backyard, forget it!”

The church loves secular artists that sound like they could be Christian bands. We look at bands like Collective Soul or Mumford and Sons and play the game of connect the dots to see statements of faith hidden in their lyrics. As highlighted in a blog post on Stuff Christians Like – we claim these Christianish bands as our own. Yet, when bands who genuinely claim to be Christians start singing about drug addiction or sexual temptation or any other topic that doesn’t fit into predetermined mold that’s youth group appropriate, we shun them. We disallow them. There is an unfortunately long list of albums that have been prohibited for sale in Christian bookstores for the most petty of reasons.

The first Sometime Sunday album was banned because the cough recorded in the intro to ‘Home’ sounded like a smoker’s cough. Their second album was banned for the use of the word “damn” in the liner notes. Don’t Know’s album was banned for using the word “crap” in their liner notes and singing a song about Taco Bell. Lust Control’s album was banned for a song about masturbation (even though the message of that song is aligned with most evangelical churches’ views on the subject). P.O.D. has had several albums banned for offensive cover art; as has Mortification, Zao, and Training for Utopia. Steve Taylor’s wife painted a portrait of Steve for the cover of his 1987 album, ‘I Predict 1990,’ and found that album banned in some Christian bookstores because people thought the portrait looked like a tarot card. Other bookstores took offense to the opening track, ‘I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good,’ a song that criticizes the bombing of abortion clinics. Bon Voyage was banned for their song, ‘Kiss My Lips,’ a love song the lead vocalist wrote for her husband. Stretch Armstrong was banned for their cover of Modern English’s, ‘I Melt With You.’ And Everyday Life was banned for a multitude of reasons including themes of racial injustice, coping with anger, the exploitation of Native Americans, alcoholism, and single parenting – not to mention featuring Marika Tur’s photo of Reginald Denny being pulled from his truck during the ’92 LA riots on their album cover.

I may be committing the sin of overkill by listing so many instances where Christian bookstores have outlawed music made by other Christians. But I want to make a point. The fact that I have to list more than one is ridiculous. Sadly, that isn’t even a full list of banned albums. That list doesn’t even include the books by Christian authors that have been banned for their content from select Christian retailers. *

And you won’t find the DVD’s for the TV series Chuck in a Christian bookstore even though its lead star, Zachary Levi, is an outspoken Christian.

I also failed to mention books and albums that were banned strictly due to their style. Genre bias is another double standard that builds enmity between artists and the church. The predisposed notion that certain styles of music are acceptable while others are not, or that one genre of book is better than another, or it’s OK to paint pictures of some subjects but not others is a pet peeve of mine.

This annoyance started during my teen years – if not sooner. My high school Sunday school class spent a few weeks on purity – the body being a temple and making wise choices with what you take in via your entertainment options. We talked about what movies and TV shows are appropriate for Christians to watch. Several of the kids in my youth group did their best to defend their right to watch Friends and we debated the value of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. We talked about the unwholesome facets of popular love songs, and one week we were asked to bring in our favorite CDs to share with the rest of our group so we could jointly decide which albums would be suitable for the Christian listener.

First up was a country album brought in by one of the cool kids. I don’t remember which artist it was or what song was played. What I do remember is what the song was about – someone going to the bar and getting drunk over a lost lover. Being the good little Christian boy I was back then, I said it wasn’t the kind of music we should listen to. As I’ve said before, I was an outcast, so my opinion wasn’t worth much. The trendier and much more popular kids in my youth group all insisted that it was acceptable because it was country music and everybody knows country western is wholesome music. A friend of mine (one of the other outcasts) brought Superunknown – from his favorite band Soundgarden. He played the song Black Hole Sun. That song was immediately struck down as inappropriate because it was evil grunge music. To this day, I have not figured out what is so offensive about that song’s lyrics. My album was from the band Plankeye. Never mind the overt reference to a biblical passage in the band’s name, it too was deemed unworthy for Christian ears due to its punkish grungy sound.

That was fifteen years ago. The irony that a song by a mainstream artist that glorifies public drunkenness was determined to be more wholesome than music from a Christian band still puzzles me.

The fact is that the majority of Christian audiences are more critical of Christian artists than they are of their secular counterparts.

The result of such double standards is that it creates laziness in artistry. It encourages the artist to play it safe. It tells us that we must conform to absurd standards to make it as an artist; that to be successful, we must be like everyone else. That habit is the source of another pet peeve of mine – one that has to do with acronyms.

* I was lucky. The Christian bookstore in my hometown was owned by a family friend. She stocked many of the banned albums that I mentioned above, as well as books, videos, paintings, and other items that snobbier retailers would have looked down upon or considered controversial. My brother and I discovered many new, wonderful, and edifying musical experiences thanks to her bravery as a small business owner.