Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Love My Sister

It's legendary in our family, and it shows you what an amazing sense of humor my sister, Sarah, has. We were young... I was probably 15, so that would make her maybe 11 or 12. I came to breakfast one morning, only to discover that she had left a note for me on the table:

Yes, I still have the note 25 years later. It's in my "memorabilia box" and that's just the kind of guy I am.

Anyway, I don't know if you can read it or not, but it says:


this is very important
that you read this +
listen to what it


When I opened it up I found, written in painstaking colored-pencil cursive, the words to Ray Stevens's "Mr. Businessman."

Itemize the things you covet
As you squander through your life
Bigger cars, bigger houses
Term insurance for your wife
Tuesday evenings with your harlot
And on Wednesdays it's your charlatan
Analyst, he's high upon your list

You've got air conditioned sinuses
And dark disturbing doubts about religion
And you keep those cards and letters going out
While your secretary's tempting you
Your morals are exempting you from guilt and shame
Heaven knows you're not to blame

You better take care of business
Mr. Businessman, what's your plan?
Get down to business,
Mr. Businessman, if you can
Before it's too late and you throw your life away

Did you see your children growing up today
And did you hear the music of their laughter
As they set about to play?
Did you catch the fragrance of those roses in your garden
Did the morning sunlight warm your soul,
Brighten up your day?
Do you qualify to be alive
Or is the limit of your senses so as only to survive?
Hey yeah.....

Spending counterfeit incentive
Wasting precious time and health
Placing value on the worthless
Disregarding priceless wealth
You can wheel and deal the best of them
And steal it from the rest of them
You know the score, their ethics are a bore

Eighty-six anesthetic crutches prop you to the top
Where the smiles are all synthetic
And the ulcers never stop
When they take that final inventory,
Yours will be the same sad story everywhere
No one will really care, no one more lonely than
This rich important man, let's have your autograph
Endorse your epitaph

You better take care of business
Mr. Businessman, what's your plan?
Get down to business,
Mr. Businessman, if you can

I just remember her knowing little smile... like she's accusing her 15-year-old brother of being this cold, workaholic, pill-popping businessman.

Yesterday I got an email from Sarah. It said:

"Just an essential reminder from your sister to make sure you're still on track in life:"

I had that same feeling I had a quarter century ago when I saw that note... "Oh geez, what have I done now? What do I need to apologize for now?" And then I clicked on the link:

I love you, Sarah...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: The Authority Question

This is the second post in a ten-week series on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." I got the book as part of The Ooze's Viral Bloggers program, and I'm one of many bloggers currently working through the book and entering into dialogue about it. The subtitle of the book is "Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith," and I'm dealing with a different question each week.

In Question #2, the Authority Question, Brian deals with the Bible and our relationship with it. Is the Bible a constitution, an authoritative answer book that can be used to prove or disprove God's will and laws? Or is the Bible a library of works by God's people in many different times and places, interacting with God and attempting to tell the story of God in their context?

He deals with the book of Job as an example of the challenges of the constitutional approach. What do we do with God's discussion with Satan? Is it a literal conversation? Does anyone else have a problem with God telling Satan he can totally destroy Job's life... just to test him? Did you know that this is the first time Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament? Could he be simply a literary device? For that matter, could "God" be simply a character in this drama, perhaps used the same way a modern-day playwright would have God speak or act in a theatrical sense? (Scary and controversial thought, to be sure.)

And what of all the dialogue in the long middle section of Job? Since all of the words of Job's friends are, in the end, discredited by God, does that invalidate their truths for our lives? What about the fact that some of them are quoting the book of Deuteronomy? Does that mean that Deuteronomy is not valid for us? The friends say, again and again, that God blesses the righteous and curses the unrighteous. Job claims his own innocence and uprightness again and again. God shows up in the end and affirms Job... But he does so by asking a series of questions and basically saying that no one can understand God and his ways. Is that the whole point of the book?

Brian would say that the entire book is the point: the wrestling, the disagreements, the contradictory statements, the whole messy thing.

I'll quote Brian at length here, from the end of Chapter 9, "Revelation Through Conversation."
This approach, if you haven't realized it yet, defies both conservative and liberal categories. On the one hand, the conservative constitutional view claims to put us "under" Scripture's authority, yet I'm sure I'm not the only one who has notices that some of the most pompous and defensive people anywhere are found among those who stand and shout, "The Bible says!" Nor am I the only one to notice that before the Bible can serve as a constitution, it must be interpreted as one, which renders amazing authority to those interpreters. The Bible they want to put us "under" tends to be the Bible as they have interpreted it, which unsurprisingly means we are actually under their authority as they stand over us with Bible in hand. On the other hand, the liberal view reacts strongly against all this conservative sleight of hand and largely resists using the language of authority at all when it speaks of the Bible. The liberal view ends up bequeathing a great deal of authority to liberal scholars who deconstruct the Bible, just as the conservative view does to the scholars of its tribe who constitutionalize it.

Perhaps the approach I'm recommending is no better in this regard. But here's what I hope: that this approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put us in the text - in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God in the midst of their experiences and loving God, betraying God, losing God, and being found again by God. In this way, by placing us in the text, I hope this approach can help us enter and abide in the presence, love, and reverence of the living God all the days of our lives and in God's mission as humble, wholehearted servants day by day and moment by moment, even now.

Study questions for "The Narrative Question" here. Enjoy the discussion!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Switchfoot at the Cain's Ballroom

Josh and I saw Switchfoot last night at Cain's Ballroom here in Tulsa. It was such an amazing evening. I knew they were a good band, but I was blown away by their musicianship, stage presence, and powerful message of hope and redemption.

I am so grateful for followers of Jesus who make art that really matters. When God shows up in beauty like that, everyone notices.

One more thing... Guess who I found out is coming to the Cain's on April 15? Jennifer Knapp and Derek Webb! I'm really excited about their tour (I blogged about it here), so I'm thrilled that Tulsa made the list. Bring it on!

Monday, February 22, 2010

PS22 & Mark Twain

Have you seen these kids? New York City's PS22 Chorus just blows me away every time I see/hear their wonderful music.

Directed by Mr. B (Gregg Breinberg) since 2000, the 5th graders sing an amazing variety of music, from Tori Amos to Bob Dylan to Lady Gaga, and they've quickly become international celebrities. Their Youtube channel has had more than 14 million hits. They've performed all over New York (even Radio City Music Hall!) and for special events. They've gotten attention from some notable Twitter users (Perez Hilton, Ashton Kutcher and Roger Ebert, to name a few). There has been tons written about them. (Check out a great New York Times profile here.) They've been on MTV, The Today Show, MSNBC, FOX and Good Morning America, just to name a few television appearances.

Not bad for the largest grade school on Staten Island, where three-quarters of the students qualify for free lunch and the English as a second language program is extensive.

Our church has been partnering with Mark Twain Elementary School, a school in a low-income part of Tulsa where most students are dramatically impacted by generational poverty and almost 80% have a close relative incarcerated. I dream of starting a chorus of our own. Is this a God-dream? I think so, I pray so... What an amazing way to use music and art to bless the world and impact kids' lives. I would love to be a part of something like this.

You can follow PS22 on Twitter here and follow Gregg Breinberg here. Their blog has a l;ot of great information, including an index of all the songs they've performed, celebrity encounters and correspondence, special events and concerts, and lots of video footage. Here are my favorites:

Viva La Vida by Coldplay

Language by Suzanne Vega

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

Fireflies by Owl City [featuring Ithapella]

There by the innocence mission

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How He Loves

I know this one has made the rounds already, but I still love it, and it still chokes me up. The reality of the transforming power of the love of God never fails to amaze me. This video, produced by Hillside Christian Church, is a powerful reminder of God's redemptive purposes in this world.

What is your story? What would YOUR "cardboard testimony" be?

By the way, the song was written by John Mark McMillan. You can download his version here, and David Crowder*Band's version here.

How He Loves
John Mark McMillan

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth in a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roger Ebert: Telling It Like It Is

Roger Ebert has always been my favorite film critic. He is a brilliant writer who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the only film critic ever to do so. I've been watching and reading his work since the days of "At the Movies," his TV show with the late, great Gene Siskel.

As much as I love his positive reviews, his negative reviews are even better. I remember laughing out loud at the end of this one for M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. If you ever get the chance, read his awesome compilation of negative reviews, Your Movie Sucks

I was aware of his cancer diagnosis several years ago, and I remember reading his blog and praying for him. I even posted a few comments to encourage him.

I was glad to see he was back in business and writing again; his Chicago Sun-Times film review website is always the first place I turn for excellent film reviews. I've also been following him on Twitter; his tweets are funny and poignant, biting and sarcastic. He attacks and praises people, passes on links to great poetry and music, and snarks about politics. He's a really fun guy to follow.

The web has been abuzz with the publication of a story on him in the current Esquire Magazine. It's a great read. Talks all about his cancer surgeries, his current health, his career, his marriage... I highly recommend that you take the time to read it. The cover photo is getting a lot of attention, because no one has really seen what Ebert looks like these days, with his lower jaw removed. It's jarring and hard to look at. But I think it was a brave thing to allow... Ebert is vulnerable and open, with his image as well as his illness, his life and his work.

And, of course, Ebert blogged about the piece and his reactions to it. I love his words about the cover shot:
When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It's just as well it's out there. That's how I look, after all.
Characteristic Roger Ebert. Telling it like it is. As long as he's writing, I'll be reading.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Butterfly Circus

Here's a beautiful example of using the arts, in this case film, to inspire hope. We saw this film at Connect10n in Denver. I'll confess to tears at a few points. What do you think? Set aside 20 minutes to view the film. It's worth it, I promise.

For further exploration:

The Doorpost Film Project

"The Butterfly Circus" star Nick Vujicic's website.
"The Butterfly Circus" director Joshua Weigel's website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trading All My Questions and Searching for Sarah Jahn

I heard an old favorite song the other day, and it's been haunting me ever since. Especially this phrase: "I'd trade all these questions for the chance to be healed." Since my posts have been full of questions lately, and since I have to admit I really love questions... this line hit me hard, and I've been pondering it. Is it true for me? Would I give up my questioning for a chance to be healed? Sometimes I think I hang on to my questions... that I am unwilling to let go of them... that I choose questions over answers.

The Apostle Paul says, in I Corinthians 13:32, that now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

Do I long for the answers? Do I expect answers? Do I really want answers? Or do I just love to wallow in the questions? Just more questions to ponder, I suppose.

I'll stream the song and post the lyrics after I ask another question:

Whatever happened to Sarah Jahn? She is an amazingly talented woman... Her one-and-only record "Sparkle" was the soundtrack to my life when it was first released back in 1998. I saw her live in a coffeehouse setting, and it totally opened up a new world for me in my own songwriting. She introduced me to another artist that has become one of my favorites, Jonatha Brooke. I even thanked her in the credits to my record, "Still Standing."

She dropped off the radar, and we haven't heard from her in over ten years. Google is not much help. What in the world happened to her?

A few years back, on a quest to find out, I formed a Facebook group called "Searching for Sarah Jahn," which now has 81 members on a similar search.

Apparently she came out of hiding to do a concert in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, back in August 2009, but I haven't heard anything else about it. How was it? Did she perform any new music? Is there any video floating around out there?

I guess for now, I'll have to live with these questions. Sarah, if you read this, thank you for the music. And please contact me, or at least leave a comment. If nothing else, I'd like to send you a copy of my CD to thank you for your influence. Or maybe you can do a comeback interview right here on "Faithfully Dangerous." :)

Enjoy the music:

Music & Lyrics: Devon Weller
from Sarah Jahn's "Sparkle"
(Buy the CD here. Download from iTunes here.)

Swimming in my self-pity, climbing at the walls
Wondering where I'm going, can I get there at all?
Will I find love there for me, will I find peace?
Will I find anything my heart can keep?

Is it the hurting now or knowing where I've been
That makes me turn away and turn right back again?
Trying to find some meaning in the midst of it all
When will I ever know I've never known at all?

I'd trade all these questions for the chance to be healed.

Building a fire to melt this heart of stone
Where the love that burns the flesh but chills me to the bone
Melting away at the core of all I do
Oh cast my soul in the crucible of you

I'd trade all these questions for the chance to be healed.

Building a fire to melt this heart of stone
Where the love that burns the flesh but chills me to the bone
Melting away at the core of all I do
Oh cast my soul in the crucible of you

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: The Narrative Question

As promised, here's the first post in a ten-week series on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." I got the book a few weeks back as part of The Ooze's Viral Bloggers program, last week I participated in a conference call with Brian, and I started reading the book this week.

The subtitle of the book is "Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith," and I'll deal with a different question each week.

In Question #1, the Narrative Question, Brian gets right down to business, re-framing the whole biblical narrative and, therefore, denying the Fall. He believes that the message of the bible has been hijacked by what he calls a "Greco-Roman" narrative. In this hijacked narrative, Creation was a "perfect," Platonic state of being which then fell into an Aristotelian "becoming." This was not acceptable to Theos. (Brian uses the Greek name for God to emphasize the Greco-Roman narrative.) Theos simply cannot deal with this messiness, this assault on perfection, and so he punishes with eternal damnation whoever does not re-achieve the Platonic "perfection" again through Jesus.

This is the negative, the deconstruction of what so many of us have come to believe. He tells the story from a different perspective, this time calling God by his Hebrew name, Elohim, and taking a completely different approach. It's complicated, and it's fascinating, and I don't know what I think about it yet.

Many will think that this (denying the Fall) is enough to simply call McLaren a heretic and be done with him. But I have to admit that he is simply asking questions that I myself have asked in my heart and soul but have never been bold enough to voice. I remember stumbling across this next passage a few years ago in a book called Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. They quote Catholic theologian Walter Imbiorski, who wrote about "God's Twenty-Thousand Year Pout":
You see, part of the difficulty is that most of us are caught up emotionally in what I would call Anselmian Salvation Theology, which goes something like this. God created the world. Adam and Eve sinned. God got pretty damn sore, goes into a 10,000 year pout, slams the gates of heaven and throws the scoundrels out. So he’s up there pouting and about 5,000 years go by and the Son comes up and gives him the elbow and says: “Hey Dad, now is the time to forgive those people down there.” God says “No. I don’t like them, they offended my divine majesty, they stay out. Let’s make another galaxy instead!” Five thousand more years go by and the Son comes up and says: “Aw come on, Dad, let’s forgive them! Look I tell you what I’m going to do. If you will love them again, I’ll go down there and become one of them, then you’ll have to love them because I’ll be one of them.” God looks at the Son and says: “Don’t bank on it. That doesn’t turn me on too much at all.” So the Son replies, “All right, God-Father, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll raise the ante. I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse! I’ll not only go down there and become one of them, I’ll suffer for them, real blood – you know how that turns you on, Dad! How about it?” And God says: “Now you’re talking. But it’s got to be real torture and real blood – no God-tricks you understand. You’ve got to really suffer. And if you’ll do that then I’ll forgive them. But if they stray off the straight and narrow just that much – ZAP – I’m going to send them to hell so fast their heads will swim.” And that is what we have been calling the “good news” of the gospel.
OK, I will admit that's very crass. Even those who believe something pretty close to this would never say that God doesn't love his fallen creation. But sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that really all we're trying to do in our defense of hell and Penal Substitutionary Atonement is just that... defend it. Because we have an aversion to it. There's something in us that makes it really hard to justify an all-powerful, all-loving God who sends people to an eternal conscious torment in hell. And a good and loving Father who would torture his Son in our place. In anyone's place.

At least I think it's hard. Add to that a predestination/double-predestination deal where God is creating people to go to hell, people who never have a choice... and well, that's where I just can't go anymore.

But I digress. Brian talks about this narrative being foreign to the bible, something imposed on it from without. He says that the grand story of the bible has to be about more than God sorting all of humanity into two bins in the end. Is that really what it's all about?

So. If Brian is right and there was no fall from grace, no original sin, then what's the point of Jesus? What, exactly, is salvation? I'm very interested to keep reading and see what I think as we go.

Here's the video. Below the video, I'm going to post links to several interesting reviews, conversations and articles.

Study questions for "The Narrative Question" here.

Here's Bill Kinnon's critique.

And Brian's response.

Here are a few posts from Mike Morrell on the book's aftermath and McLaren's orthodox responses.

Here another perspective on the book and its positive impact.

Here's a humble and gracious response by McLaren to Scot McKnight's critique of his "Are You a Fundamentalist" quiz.

Remember, my friends, this is a dialogue. Personally, I love it. It is refreshing and interesting, and it's challenging me to seek and love Jesus with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. I've never participated in an Ash Wednesday service before, never had the ashes on my forehead. But tonight at Redeemer I will not only participate in the service, but pray for people and put the ashes on their foreheads. This is humbling for me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the congregation in this way.

For a great primer on Ash Wednesday, read Eugene Cho's post here.

Redeemer's service starts tonight at 6:30pm. If you're in Tulsa, I hope you'll consider joining us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jesus in My Image?

I wrote this for a sem class last week... Can you relate?

Even though I have “orthodox” presuppositions about Jesus – that he was both fully human and divine; that he did die, rise again and ascend into heaven; that he did real miracles during his earthly ministry; and so on – I still view Jesus through my own distorted lenses.

Scot McKnight’s chapter was right on: We all want “a piece” of Jesus. We want him to support what we want him to support. We want him to back us up. People use his silence on issues or take his words out of context to support their causes, whether Feminist, Capitalist or Zionist. To the Pacifists, Jesus is a peace-loving hippy, and to the radical neo-Reformationists like Mark Driscoll, Jesus is a tough man’s man.

We always ask what Jesus means to us. I have done this on countless occasions. What does Jesus mean to me? Is he my big brother, my teacher, my father, my buddy, my boyfriend? (I am a worship leader, after all, and I get to sing all those “love songs to Jesus.”) Is he a taskmaster or a gentle therapist? Is he a fiery prophet or a friend to all sinners?

I am guilty of making Jesus whoever I need him to be. My theological orthodoxy keeps me from turning Jesus into a myth intellectually, but I mythologize him in my actions. I affirm the historical and biblical Jesus with my mind, but sometimes with my actions I prove that I am more interested in having an imaginary friend than finding out who Jesus truly was and is and submitting my life to his.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wanna Produce the Next "Screwtape Letters"?

I recently blogged about my friend Tony, who is attempting to live out his faith in the world of the arts. Here's a follow-up email that I recently received from him that I think sums up his heart… This is a possible way for us to be involved in his ministry as well, either financially or in prayer support. Obviously #2 is no longer an option, but you can still read and participate in other ways.

Hey Friends, (I'm emailing from beautiful, cold-windy Colorado!)

DO YOU LIKE FILM? ARE YOU SOMEONE WHO PRAYS? (It's a long, detailed email but please read :)

I want to tell you about a ministry called INSIDE THE TRUTH that I am working with. I am emailing YOU cause #1-I know you are a great supporter of the arts, #2-God has gifted you to give generously, #3-I can trust you to pray and #4-I like you and want you to know what's up!

I am working on a short film called “Interview with the Devil.” It’s a 12-minute film that is something like CS Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters.” The story revolves around a young journalist who gets an interview with Satan. I am very excited about this piece. It's going to go to film festivals but also will be a great piece to use in ministry contexts, too (i.e. in a worship gathering or youth experience). It's entertaining and good theology.

Here are three things I need and hope you will consider/pray for!

1-Would you like to donate? I know God has gifted some of us to be able to give generously! I am hoping to connect people as I am helping to raise funds for the film, partly because I am involved with it, and Inside the Truth- this non-profit producing it- has fees to pay because they are using me as an actor. ☺(I am in the Screen Actors Guild and it’s mandated rules). I am also raising funds because I really believe in the project. I've also got to help re-write some of script and help the producer (see # 2 & 3 below), too. I am committed to raise $1000 for them. They are getting a lot donated—including the actual film (yes actual film, not digital) and crew! But there are costs that need to be covered (developing film,etc). Would you want to invest? Even as little as $10-$25 would help. But if you can give more, that would be awesome! PAYPAL OR ANY CREDIT CARD accepted.

You can give online- Just go to the bottom of the page on this site (It's TAX DEDUCTIBLE):

2-We are also looking for professional adults who can BE IN THE FILM! The film is set in an office building, the Devil’s office. We need people who look like Wall Street professional executive types (or people can act like it), Suits, pant suits, ties and dress up office wear. If you are free Saturday February 6th and Sunday Feb 7th) and can come to Santa Clara CA, let me know! THERE ARE NO LINES, but you would be extras! It’s a fun experience! I need about ten people and I am looking for a diverse cast of people (multi-ethnic, age and gender)! So if you know anyone else who’d like to get involved, especially those who are actor-types--send them to me and I'll pass them to the producer! Also need some volunteer crew for lighting on Sunday.

3-Also I am looking for a team of people to pray during the shoot. The film is very deep and focused on the ways of Satan and demonic strategy (like Screwtape letters). I am playing the Devil and I would love spiritual protection as I play "the enemy," it's bit grueling emotionally as I scheme and manipulate. If you would like to come to set and pray for a few hours during the shoot, let me know. I want to have a group praying at all times we are shooting. Many of the crew are Jesus followers which is great, but many are not, so there are also sweet opportunities to partner with God!

Let me know! If you have questions, I’d love to answer. If you know anyone else who'd like to support in any of these ways let me know. Thanks!

Tony Gapastione

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Deeper into the reality of who he is..."

One of my friends and fellow RCC worship leaders, Steve Graham, read my post, Choosing to Believe?, and sent me this... I think it's good, so I'm reposting it here. This is from Sailing Between the Stars by Steven James.
Most of us don't have demon-possessed kids. Most of us aren't sinking
into the sea in the middle of a hurricane. Instead we have whiny kids
with runny noses, and doubts about whether or not God really cares if we
get the new job we've been praying about. But here's what I've learned:
no matter how big our doubts and our beliefs are, Jesus accepts them
because he accepts us.

Every day I walk through a minefield of confession and confusion,
certainty and perplexity, courage and hesitation. I trust the Bible and
yet I question parts of it. I believe in God, yet most of the time he
doesn't seem as real to me as I'd like. I trust his promises, yet
sometimes I doubt he'll really answer my prayers. I want to honor him,
but at times I want to go my own direction instead.

And through it all I'm beginning to realize that the true journey of
faith isn't marked by certainty but by a mixture of belief and doubt
living together in a refining tension. Some people might call doubt a
sin, but I wouldn't. I think faith is the ability to see the truth
while it's still invisible, and doubt is the inevitable question that
asks for proof of the unknown.

I'm reassured by the promise in Romans 8:26-27 that God's Spirit is
praying for me, pleading for me, groaning for me in a language beyond
both words and pain. He's on my side, praying to himself for me.

I guess I can relax a little bit knowing that. It kind of takes the
pressure off.

I have enough checks in the answer column to know that destinies really
are changed when I make my requests of the King. Fate moves over to the
passenger seat when I pray. Not always in the ways I want but always in
the ways that are best.

There's so little about God that I understand, so many ways to sink in
the waves. "I do believe," I cry over and over again, day after day.
"I do believe you, Jesus! Help me overcome my doubts!"

And he nods. He's used to this. He takes my hand and leads me deeper
into the reality of who he is over and over again, day after day, as we
move further and further from shore, weaving gracefully between the

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saving the World, One Song at a Time

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmastime? (1984)

USA for Africa - We Are the World (1985)

The CAUSE (Christian Artists United to Save the Earth) - Do Something Now (1985)

Band Aid II - Do They Know It's Christmastime? (1989)

Band Aid 20 - Do They Know It's Christmastime? (2004)

We Are the World 25 (2010)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tony Gapastione: Living a Good Story

Today’s post is an interview with one of my favorite people. Tony Gapastione is Pastor of Young Adult Ministries at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, California. We worked together for eight years, producing “Sunday At 6” (now known simply as “Sunday Night”), an alternative worship gathering. I led the worship music and Tony often served as our host for the evening, walking us through the service, helping to sense where the Spirit was guiding us and leading in community building, prayer and response. He was heavily involved in worship planning and preaching as well, and also oversaw PCC’s internship program, the Summer Ministry Project, which brought college-aged students from all over the world to learn, serve and lead us.

I know Tony as a brother and friend, a pastor and ministry partner, and a husband to Wendy and father to Isella and Luisa. But he has another side that I want to explore today. Tony is an avid student of pop culture, its impact on faith and faith’s impact on it. He is an actor, model, writer and filmmaker… and a firm believer that we can and should impact our world through the arts. This will be the focus of our discussion today.

When were you first drawn to the arts? Tell us about some of your early experiences in acting.

The first role I remember playing was the Nutcracker in the fourth grade. My mom made my costume out of a bathrobe. I loved wielding the plastic sword to fight the Mouse King and take down his army of mice. I felt like gladiator. I also was approached in a local mall of all places to do some modeling. I thought it was a scam, but I actually got to travel with Seventeen Magazine for some fashion shows. Crazy scene. I was a mannequin robot in store windows, no joke. Perfecting the robot moves took me years.

I started following Christ toward the end of high school and things really changed for me behind the scenes as well as using performance to illustrate the gospel. It was awesome to see so many great conversations and opportunities with my fellow artists happening in the theatre.

Fast forward to college when I became a real stage rat. I took acting/directing classes, worked in the Box Office, and got to have real sword fighting training to play Prince Hall in Henry IV, Pt. 1 and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I loved the stage stuff and Shakespeare made me, quite an average simpleton, feel not only British, but extremely cultured. I'm not a singer, so my roles were limited in a very musical-performance driven scene. And since the low/no pay and many weeknight rehearsals took a toll as I got older and had a family, I had to switch some gears. So now I love dabbling in film and any storytelling through the camera that I can. I love living in the Bay Area because I get an opportunity to do something almost monthly, and I'm really awakened to the beauty of creating stories and seeing the arts as the joy that feeds me and part of the mission that drives my life.

You began to follow Jesus as a 17-year-old high school student. What changed in the way you approached drama and the arts? How did you newfound zeal for Christ impact the roles you played and the entertainment you consumed?

At first the only change was that my conversations behind the stage and on sets were different. For instance, I started to lead the casts of my theatre productions in prayer before the curtain went up, I was inviting castmates to our church's events, and I even got to see people come to Christ over time! I had all this excitement for what I discovered was my mission field. And what a mission field it was! I love theatre people, we're crazy!

As for roles, I still would do anything and everything. In fact, I made some bad choices early on in which I realized I didn't quite know how to navigate through that part of my life well. I actually talked about it with my Christ-following friends and found that the lines were either blurry or very strict. I think I was asking the wrong questions. Was it OK that I took a role where I said "cuss words?" What would my church think if they came to see me in a the play and I played an "un-Christlike character?" Then it became very hard for me. I began to make choices based on what people thought, and for a few years just found myself playing it safe. My artistic expression was limited to doing sketches for worship services and youth groups, and there wasn't much creativity. This also affected my entertainment choices. At one point I remember being challenged with my R-rated movie watching. How could I as a Christian submit myself to that “garbage"? was the message I heard. So I drew the line. Pretty much nothing, not even “Schindler’s List.”

But God was evolving me, creating me and my theology of the arts as I was reading great stuff through magazines, books and blogs, and engaging in great discussions through seminary classes and with my friends who were feeling similar tensions. It was beautiful how God taught me to ask different questions about the art I created and consumed.

Now I ask, Am I telling a good story? Is what I am writing, acting, filming true to the human struggle, edifying others to grapple with truth and find redemption, even in and through darkness? Is the entertainment I am consuming honoring to God and who he created me to be? I want my entertainment choices to spur me on to connect with God, find Jesus, relate to others, and wrestle with the messy, painful world we live in… not hide it from me. I want my art to explore more of God's mystery and in my consumption of it keep no secrets--living in integrity. It's been a great journey and I'm still learning how our Creator God created me to worship him and to experience him through the arts.

Tell us about some of the most exciting things you've done in film, theatre, TV, print... Brag a little. Drop some names. How has God blessed you with cool opportunities?

I've had some fun moments sword fighting like I said, dancing in Pepsi commercials and Newsboys videos, hanging out with Cy Young Award winners but yikes… I've struggled with this. I've been starstruck one too many times. But God's taught me something. Even if I've been the face on an AT&T phone commercial, or sat next to well known A-list celebrities (and many B-list), I'm no more important than the pop star who has three people doing her hair, make-up, and holding her soda straw so she can drink. (That really happened on a set.) I just want to be faithful with who God's created me to be (and with what God's given me to do) and recognize who I am, as well as who the celebs are that I might work with.

I had to tell myself one time sitting next to this Oscar-nominated actress (for over eight hours while we shot a scene that only ended up being thirty seconds), that she needed Jesus just as much I did. Just because she graced tons of magazine covers and starred in bunches of movies, she didn't deserve worship and was loved no more by God than me. It leveled the playing ground. It actually gave me the confidence and freedom to talk to her about God, and she was very open to chat. It was amazing.

So I make it my goal to do a lot of praying while on set and humbly ask anyone: the person doing my make-up, the wardrobe, or even the director, if they need any prayer. It's been wild some of the things people request, from broken marriages to sideburns that will grow. I strive to pray that God moves mightily while I enjoy the arts he created me to perform.

And I've found a Proverb that really convicted me to share my experiences with caution. Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” So most times I'm pretty low-profile with some of the things I get to do, even if I'm blogging or updating statuses on Facebook or Twitter. I want to be so careful and not take unhealthy, self-centered pride in anything I do, while at the same time enjoying God and the gifts he has given. I also want to honor those I come in contact with. I fear becoming like a Christian Tabloid. "So and So (insert celebrity name) spilled their God baggage and I got to share some scripture and pray with them." You know. I want to be careful.

OK, final question: What are your hopes and dreams of how God can use you in the arts from this point forward?

I really have huge hopes and dreams for more filmmaking. I pray, so much out of my desire for my creative hunger to be filled, that God would open up opportunities for me. I also dream of some TV roles. San Francisco has a couple shooting right now, and that would be awesome. We always have a few movies a year shooting here, too. I want to be a part of more projects where I get to act in film that I've also got to create/write/produce etc. I also get excited about working with young filmmakers, like those coming out of high school and college, who are the future of cinema. How cool to be directed by a teenager! I want to see more film work come from my church family and community as well as Hollywood studio projects. It's huge but I'm trying to wait on God.

Since I have young kids I don't have the time required for theatre anymore. There are too many rehearsals and weekend performances, so some of my dreams are 15 years off, but they're still dreams. (I love community theatre and want to see more of it, especially in my city).

My family is my first priority, so I surrender these dreams to God's timing, so with that living in L.A. on my radar, too, at some point in the future. Until then, I'll do what I can in our area. I have more dreams for conversations and prayer with everyone from my agents to fellow artists I meet on set, to those that I'm standing in line with for auditions. I want to see God use me and speak to me through this whole journey.

And really, I'm hoping I grow by finding God in the stories I'm performing and by the way his story wraps me in and tells my story. I heard this quote that we should let the Bible read and dissect us instead of us attempting to read and dissect it. I think film has the same potential, that's why I love being a part of it. It's sometimes more influential and more memorable than what we read or hear on a Sunday, so we need to be using it more and supporting it more in hopes for lives to be changed.

I’m grateful for Tony’s passion for God and for acting, and it’s exciting for me to see him living out his faith and his giftedness in this way.

Check out Tony’s website here, his acting blog here and his pastoral/ministry blog here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Quick Note to My Facebook Friends

Hi. You're probably reading this on Facebook, because I import all my blog posts into Facebook. And I really like doing that because a lot of times the feedback (comments, dialogue) is more robust and interesting on Facebook. It's designed to bring these kinds of discussions to the surface, because the more comments a "note" receives, the more prominently or often it's displayed in your News Feed.

So, cool. Would love for you to keep reading and interacting with my notes.

However, just FYI, these notes are being composed and originally posted OVER HERE ON MY BLOG, and I'd love for you to come check them out over there sometime. More and more people are discovering the blog, and I'm well on my way to being super cool like Scot McKnight or Eugene Cho, my blogging heroes. :)

Oh, and videos actually show up over on my blog when they don't here on Facebook. Like this one, for instance, Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," as performed by the brilliant PS22 Chorus.

Choosing to Believe?

I have a question that gnaws at me sometimes, and I thought I'd write about it here and see what you think.

(This is taken almost verbatim from the comments on a previous post, so if you read that it may feel like déjà vu.)

I often hear Christians encouraging others to "just believe" or talking about how people need to believe the right things. I know that our beliefs are important. In fact it is often our beliefs about God that will drive the way we live our lives.

The problem is, I don't know how much choice we have as to what we believe. I suppose this may get into free will/election theories and conversations, but can one really choose to believe anything?

I believe what I believe because I believe it. I don't think that's circular reasoning. I just think it's true.

I believe that the sky is blue. If it was somehow revealed to me that it was red, I don't know that I could believe it. I might try, I might act like I believe it, but I don't think deep down I could believe it.

Back when I was in high school, I remember listening to a bible teacher who was teaching about predestination and, by default (although he didn't call it this), double predestination, the Calvinist belief that God creates some people for salvation and some for destruction. And by destruction, he meant eternal, conscious torment.

I couldn't believe it. I still can't. I've read plausible defenses of this theory, I've had wonderful, godly people show me how it all works and how the bible teaches it. I have tried desperately to believe it, and even pretended at times to believe it. I can't do it.

I guess that's what I mean by not being able to choose what we believe.

On the other hand, I acted like I believed in egalitarianism (women are equal to men in all roles in the home and church) and wanted to believe in egalitarianism before I actually did. When I finally DID believe, it wasn't a choice. It was an "aha" moment, an awakening. A moment in time when my desires and teachings finally matched my true beliefs. My convictions.

So, that's a lot to think about. I have always wondered why people seems to think beliefs are so easy to come by. "Just believe in Jesus" they say. If it were only that easy.

Atheists use this reasoning all the time, and frankly I understand and appreciate it! In much the same way that I cannot believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they say they simply cannot believe in God.

I get it. I'm grateful that I have a deep down belief in/conviction that God is real and that I am in a relationship with Him through Jesus. But I don't think it's anything I did... I believe in Jesus like breathing. I just do. Thanks be to God, and may it be for everyone.

Maybe I just proved predestination?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: Intro

Today I'm starting a series on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." As I've said before, whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions (and I do - agree and disagree - with his conclusions), he is a force to be reckoned with, and his ideas are influencing thousands of emerging (or "Emergent") Christians. As a "viral blogger" for The Ooze, I got an advance copy of the book, which I'm reading it now (and feeling guilty every minute, since I have so much reading for my sem class).

Last night, we got to participate in a conference call with Spencer Burke (author and founder of The Ooze), Mike Morrell ("Zoecarnate") and Brian McLaren himself. I think there were about 100 people on the line. He started with an opening statement, just talking about the book and where he's at in life and ministry at this point. Then it was open Q & A. We were scheduled to go 60 minutes, but Brian very generously let it go for 90.

The Ooze has produced 10 videos, corresponding with each of the questions that Brian addresses in the book. I'll be posting them here as they're made available, along with some discussion questions. For now, here's a short introductory video about the book and the video series. Every Wednesday, I'll post another video and we'll discuss!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Faithfully Dangerous?

I stumbled across this half-finished post today. I think I started it about a year ago. So today I'll finish it.

Faithfully Dangerous. What's in a name? I guess I thought it was artsy and cool... My favorite band, Over the Rhine, on what is arguably their greatest album, Good Dog Bad Dog, has a great song called "Faithfully Dangerous." That's where I first heard the phrase.

And then I suppose I thought it made me sound kind of raw and authentic. Willing to say hard things. Willing to wrestle with real questions and be vulnerable to my friends and family... my ministry partners. I like the idea of being dangerous... What man doesn't want to be be thought of as dangerous? And faithful too... Faithful to his wife, faithful to his children, his friends, his colleagues... and above all, to his God. Faithfully dangerous. Nice.

Then it was all about the Journey, capital J. Readers of this blog are probably sick of reading about the Nightingales and their big leap of faith... But I discovered that to be faithful to the call of Jesus was dangerous! Your life could change. You might have to leave what was comfortable - friends, job, schools, life... and leap into the unknown. There were times it really did feel dangerous. Sometimes it still does.

Today. What does it mean today? I recently wrote about intellectual honesty and being willing to ask questions that we're "not allowed" to ask. I just started grad school, and we're wrestling through issues like the authority of scripture... Not whether it is authoritative, but how it's authoritative. Just last night I was so excited to read (in Craig Evans's Fabricating Jesus) that our faith is not dependent upon "mistake-free" scripture. I have seen too much of people twisting and turning scripture, trying desperately to "make it all work" together... explaining away the obvious contradictions, trying to prove things that really can't be proved. It's so refreshing to remember that the Apostles preached Christ crucified, risen and coming again. They didn't even HAVE the scriptures to try to defend! Our faith, our hope, our very lives are built on the reality of the risen Christ who is present among us and who is all about renewal, restoration, transformation and salvation! So... am I "allowed" to question and doubt the inerrancy of the scriptures? Maybe the better question to ask is, "Am I being formed and transformed by the Living God through the scriptures?" The answer to both questions is, thank God, yes.

And I suppose to some folks, these are "dangerous" thoughts and ideas. I get that. They used to be dangerous to me too. What I never want to do, though, is to have doubts and questions and just stuff them. I think every time I do that, a part of me dies. God is big enough to deal with my questions, my doubts, my fears. That's what I mean by intellectual honesty. How many wonderful Christian people out there have nagging doubts about their theology and doctrine, but they don't ever give voice to those doubts? They never wrestle with them, read about them, hear from the "other side" about them? What if our faith could grow deeper, richer, more faithful simply by being honest about who we are, what we believe, what we doubt and what we're learning?

My prayer, even as I wrestle with the "dangerous" issues, is that I would always be faithful to the God who gave me this mind and this curious personality. I believe we are even more faithful in our honesty than in our (deceitful?) "doctrinal correctness."

And what of other kinds of "dangerous"? Intellectual honesty and challenging rigid orthodoxy is important, but so are other ways of challenging the status quo. It's Andrew Marin, daring to bridge the gap between the LGBT community and Evangelical Christians. It's Eugene and Minhee Cho, daring to dream big and trust God to change the world through their One Day's Wages movement. It's Soong-Chan Rah, calling powerful institutions to racial righteousness. It's Shaun King, going absolutely nuts on Twitter, totally risking everything to see justice and healing in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. It's Anjelah Johnson, trying to be the best comedian and actor she can be while living a Christ-honoring life. It's everyday believers, getting out of our comfort zones, getting to know the neighbors, caring for one another, doing something, anything... daring to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel of Jesus.

God, help us ALL to be faithfully dangerous. For Your glory...

And now, back to Over the Rhine. Lyrics after the video.

Faithfully Dangerous
words and music: Linford Detweiler

Your paint dries, the canvas smiles,
With two eyes you lift yourself up.
Stroke your skin, there are teeth marks to be sure.
Maybe we're best close to the ground.
Maybe angels drag us down.
I wonder which part of this will leave the scar.

Dip your hands in colours while the young night flutters in on you
And finger paint me pictures of all you see.
No matter what they say, you'll always be
Faithfully dangerous, lost and lovely, so beautiful to me.
I'm not too blind to see.

Red is blood. Black is sky. White's the dove that longs to fly.
You set it free and it beats its wings in me.
It leaves us at a loss for words. Is that me now in your arms?
We cradle together and fall down on our knees.

Let the whole world drift downstream. We'll always be different.
Swim the silent slipstream inside of me.
No matter what they say, you'll always be
Faithfully dangerous, lost and lovely, so beautiful to me.
I'm not too blind to see.

Red is blood. Black is sky. White's the dove that longs to fly.
You set it free and it beats its wings in me.
It leaves us at a loss for words. Is that me now in your arms?
The heart that beats is yours inside me.

Red is love. Black is night. I'm drunk with angels taking flight.
The heart that beats is yours inside me.
The heart that beats is yours inside me.
The heart that beats is yours.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Calling All Artists & Musicians: Join the One Day's Wages Movement

Really cool opportunity over at One Day's Wages to partner with this movement and have a significant impact in the world!

Details here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Conversation with Suzanne Vega

It may have been a short conversation, but it was a conversation:

ME: @suzannevega @suzyv I'm confused... Do you have 2 Twitter accounts now? Which one is the real you? :)

SUZANNE : @mattnightingale this the real me. I think my management also has one. What's the other one? I'll follow my fake self.

ME: @suzyv 1) Wow... Can't believe I'm chatting with SV for real! Love you and your music SO much. 2) The other is @suzannevega.

SUZANNE : @mattnightingale thanks! That was quick

SUZANNE : @mattnightingale management takes my tweets and reposts them and they also add info like shows and interviews etc

ME: @suzyv got it. well it's cool to know that this is the real you. :) thanks for being accessible to your fans! very cool...

SUZANNE : @mattnightingale yr welcome

Yet another reason I love Twitter. Follow Suzanne here. Download her beautiful new album here. Check out her website here.

The Long Play with Sam Phillips

Got this news from Sam Phillips a couple days ago:

Sam and her band are hard at work in the studio working on the third EP of her Long Play project. Entitled “Magic For Everybody”, the EP is anchored by drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos, who recorded live takes in the studio with Sam. More magic dust is being added as we speak by Sam, some string players and a guitarist or two.

If you’re not yet a member of Long Play, please check it out here. $52 buys you 5 EPs and a full album from Sam, digitally released Apple Lossless, FLAC and highest-quality MP3 formats, plus access to exclusive Long Play content including Sam’s written, visual and audio blogs; behind-the-scenes video; bonus tracks (whenever Sam has something to share); and much, much more. As Sam says, “there is no record company involved, this is just between us.”

I wrote about The Long Play concept back in December, naming it one of my "Top Ten" albums of the year. From the fan's perspective, it's a lot of fun... The opportunity to see into the creative process, to see and hear music in formation. I think Sam enjoys the interaction with the fans too, although I have no idea how it's working out financially. Musically, the two EPs we've already received have been fantastic.

It's just another example of the death of the music industry as we have known it. I love the innovative ways artists are finding to distribute their music outside the industry. Consider:
  • Radiohead initially gave away their latest album, In Rainbows, for whatever people wanted to pay.
  • Jane Siberry was giving all her music away for a while there, but apparently it's not working out... Can't find it anymore. Well, it was cool while it lasted!
  • Derek Webb and all the artists at NoiseTrade have an innovative approach to distributing music.
  • Artists like Waterdeep, Andrew Osenga, Ginny Owens, Caedmon's Call and Andrew Belle are distributing music through Brite Revolution, a $4.99/month subscription service.
  • Derek Webb just started something really cool. It's called "Democracy, Vol. 1," and for $6.00, you get 12 cover songs digitally distributed to you over the course of a year. Why is it called "Democracy"? We original subscribers got to suggest songs and then vote on which ones he would cover. We'll see which ones he chooses, but his first one (got it yesterday) is a winner: While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Someday I'll post about Sam Phillips and her career... She's been a favorite for a long time, for many different reasons. But for now, just subscribe to The Long Play here.

Until next time... Long live Independent Music!

[EDIT 2/8/10]

Just got this today:

Sam speaks with host David Dye about her Long Play project on NPR’s World Cafe radio program February 11, 2010.

National Public Radio’s World Cafe with host David Dye can be heard on over 200 stations nationwide. Fans can find their local station here by selecting a state from the pull-down menu.

…or, worldwide, fans can connect to the WXPN Philadelphia stream Monday through Friday, 2pm to 4pm EST.

Late in the day of broadcast, the audio will be available on the National Public Radio website.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jennifer Knapp & Derek Webb

I'm really excited to see this tour happening. I doubt that Tulsa's on the list, but I can dream, right? These are two artist/musicians that I deeply admire, and I love the whole concept of just coming together, talking, playing, sharing life... Both Derek and Jennifer have been controversial in many ways, but their art continues to challenge and inspire me to be a better person, a better artist and a better Christian.

Here's the video for Derek's controversial and much-discussed (here, here, here and even here, for example) "What Matters More," which didn't even make it on the "censored" Christian bookstore version of "Stockholm Syndrome." Lyrics below.

What Matters More
Derek Webb

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
'Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak
'Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn't be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn't silently conceal when the liars speak
Denyin' all the dyin' of the remedy

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

If I can tell what's in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it's about
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasin' the wind while the pendulum swings
'Cause we can talk and debate until we're blue in the face
About the language and tradition that he's comin' to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a shit
About 50,000 people who are dyin' today

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

And here's Jennifer's beautiful cover of Shawn Colvin's Diamond in the Rough, from long, long ago. Man, it's good to have her back.

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