Rebuilding After a Monster Typhoon: One Year Later

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The Filipino people are survivors.

That’s what they want you to remember, that they are surviving the hell that Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) brought to their shores one year ago.

Philippines one-year laterThe Philippine Islands are no strangers to cyclonic storms. Every season the archipelago is hit—sometimes many times over—with ungodly weather-related terror. But Haiyan was no ordinary typhoon. According to meteorologists, the category-5 beast that Mother Nature resurrected in the days leading up to November 8, 2013, was one of the strongest, fiercest, deadliest storms (on record) to ever make landfall.

The super typhoon roared ashore at 5 a.m. and for the next several hours, the city of Tacloban and its surrounding areas became the backdrop for a real-life horror, as the lives of millions of people became subject to a monster, one possessing 170 mph winds (gusts up to 235 mph) and a catastrophic 20-plus high wall of water (storm surge).

Haiyan’s fury—most specifically, its unprecedented storm surge, which was a factor not thoroughly understood or experienced by most Filipinos—killed more than 6,400 people, displaced 4.1 million, and damaged or destroyed more than 11 million homes. One humanitarian worker described Haiyan’s aftermath “to look like a bomb had gone off.”

Philippines one-year later
People here say they were prepared for the damage that the wind might bring, but when the warnings about the storm surge started to come in, a majority of Tacloban residents had no idea what “storm surge” even meant, and didn’t evacuate. The waters rose. The waves raged. The current morphed into a force that many could not (and did not) make it through. More than one thousand souls are still noted as “missing,” believed to have become victims of an angry San Pedro Bay.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan’s arrival, I walked among Tacloban’s three mass graves, two parks and the front lawn of a church that, out of necessity, became makeshift tombs for many of those who were lost amid the storm.

Philippines one-year later

one year later

Philippines one-year later

The stories told by the survivors are horrendous tales, with details that most of us only experience in nightmares—stories of loved ones drowning, children being swept away by the surging waters, and stories about friends being hit by flying palm trees and coconuts. And then there are the stories about how those still with us survived the monster.

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One woman, a mother of three small kids—two of whom are World Vision sponsored children—told me that she and her family braved the storm in her church’s sanctuary.

Philippines one-year later“But then the winds ripped the roof off the church and smashed in the windows.”

Amid flying glass, debris, and torrential rain, she huddled her little ones together and darted for the floor beneath the altar’s communion table where they weathered the remainder of the storm. While holding tightly to her kids, she said that they just “cried and prayed—that’s all we could do—and hope we’d be okay.”

And she and her little ones were indeed okay.

But then, when the winds died down and the waters began to recede and those who survived the terror began emerging from their hideouts, they realized quickly that their nightmare was just beginning. Their homes, their crops, their livelihoods, their roads, their ways of life—gone, stolen from them in just hours.

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“But we are rebuilding!” That’s one of the first things that an employee of World Vision said to me. A wide smile across her face, she said, “We are a strong people and we are rebuilding more quickly than anybody expected.”

And that’s true. A year later, though the signs of the monster’s presence still linger, they no longer define the Tacloban communities.

From day one, because of a long-lasting and thriving child sponsorship program with the Philippines, World Vision was at Haiyan’s ground zero, putting into action their vast strategy for relief, a plan that started with food, clean water, temporary shelter, and organization.

Philippines one-year later

Child sponsorship isn’t only about community development, it’s also the lifeblood of relief efforts when tragedy strikes. And because of people like you and me, people who sacrifice a portion of their wealth to sponsor a child, the surviving victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines did not engage the nightmare alone.

Philippines one-year later

Philippines one-year later

Filipinos are a beautiful, kind and grateful people. They are, by all accounts, not simply surviving the tragic events of November 8, 2013, they are rebuilding their lives to become better than what was true before Haiyan.

But they cannot do it alone. They need our help to thrive.

Would you please consider sponsoring a World Vision child from the Philippines? Your gift will help World Vision continue to bring hope and aid to not only the victims of Typhoon Haiyan but to those who will need help long after the emergency relief efforts are finished.

We survive when we help others survive.

**Click here to sponsor a child through World Vision**

The Story Behind God Made Light’s Artwork: 4 Interesting Details About Illustrating Matthew Paul Turner’s Children’s Book

**The following post is written by Matthew Paul Mewhorter, the illustrator for my new children’s book, God Made Light**

My name is Matthew Paul Mewhorter, and I had the sincere pleasure of illustrating God Made Light.

I’m writing this at the end of a mind-blowing opening week of God Made Light. In its peak, the book ranked #231 on Amazon and #2 in Christian children’s books.

The author of this overnight success and my good friend, Matthew Paul Turner, garnered a ton of well-deserved praise for his amazing writing style and beautiful message. But Matthew didn’t ask me to write about him. He wanted me to write about the other crucial piece of the book: the illustration.

So here are 4 things about the illustrating process of this book that you might find interesting or surprising.

1) Sometimes I was terrified of illustrating it

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After reading Matthew’s original manuscript, I was left breathless with how beautiful it was. I also felt an enormous responsibility to do this book justice. I mean, it’s about…light. Not a person or place, but LIGHT, and how it not only takes form physically, but also in the spirits of children!

An illustrator spends crazy amounts of hours in isolation. What many people may not understand about doing something as insane as illustrating an entire book is that I never felt 100% certain that it was going to work, but I was determined to make it work. Sounds silly now that I have so much positive feedback about the art, but try convincing me of that with every revision and ink-splat at 1:30 in the morning.

Deep down, I knew it would be great (and for the record, I’m very happy with it), but I had to contend with the chance that it could fail miserably until this opening week.

2) The signature swirly-light style wasn’t created for the book (at first).

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It was a happy accident, really, with a dash of artistic control. My daughter’s 1st year photographs were coming up, and I felt this (somewhat selfish) need to add artwork to her photographs. It was a Twinkle Twinkle Little Star theme, and I really wanted to add a personal touch, so I sketched something quick and sent it to the photographer. Then she sent me this:

Matthew Paul Turner and I were still in the early phases of design for the book when I sketched the swirls. When he saw the design posted on facebook, he and his wife Jessica were thrilled. Unexpectedly, it became the backbone for the theme and design of the entire book. It was the missing piece of the puzzle in connecting children to such a complex idea like light.

3) There were at least 6 major steps for each page of God Made Light.

Creating finished work for a children’s book is not the same as sketching a drawing in a sketchbook. It takes deliberate and careful construction, similar to designing blueprints for a building. Renowned artist Wayne White calls the process “ditch-digging”. It’s not as exciting as a spontaneous sketch while constructing it.

Each page or 2-page spread, from doodle to print, took anywhere between 8 and 30 hours of work to complete, depending on complexity, mistakes, and revision work. Every illustrator must decide the process in which he or she must work, and here was mine:

1) I drew 2-3 rough thumbnails to get the right idea.

2) A rough was created that was sized for the page for final approval before final work.

3) I traced the final rough with a col-erase blue pencil.

4) I inked the pencil using my own special pen/brush combo.

5) I scanned the image and did the tedious work of coloring the page, adding textures, effects, and color holds.

6) I then had to ensure that the copy was able to be fit onto the page, so here is a test run.

**And of course, 7, 8, 9, etc. were more revisions…

4) Talent and hard work made the pictures good, but criticism made them great.

Criticism is very hard for artists of all types. This is why few artists actually step out and attempt to make anything; why, despite having all the talent, end up doing anything but what they love.

That said, I absolutely hit the jackpot in getting to work with Matthew and Jessica, who are, by far, some of the most thoughtful, gracious and encouraging people I’ve ever known. Their feedback was done carefully, and I learned they even discussed, debated prayed together for hours before issuing any criticism. They understand the delicacy of critiquing an artist’s work, but moreover, understand the power of thoughtful and constructive criticism.

And wow, I am so glad that I welcomed the criticisms. Did I agree with every point? No. Was every criticism helpful? Absolutely. While I strongly advised to keep a few original images, I made nearly all of the requested edits. Here are a few examples:

After hours of careful development, I was thrilled to present this very first 2-page spread. And as I pushed send on the email, I thought, Get ready for your mind to be blown, Matthew!

Then the feedback came, and there were (gasp!) ways it could be improved. I had my little moment of deflated ego, then I sucked it up and went back to work. I changed some outfits, made the kids look happier, adjusted colors, gave the kids larger pupils, and readjusted my jumping boys legs until I had this:

This picture just went from good to GREAT!

And one more example. This was another spread I was anxious to show off, and I learned that my colors and use of the moon and sun were crowding the picture and confusing and a little off-putting to our focus group.

And this was the result after making the changes:

All in all this has a been fantastic experience for me as an artist. The hours, the careful steps, and the valuable feedback took my abilities to new heights. Doing this kind of work never really feels like work.

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Now, I welcome new opportunities. Upon the release of this book, I officially opened myself up for freelance work so I can continue to do what I love. For more of my work and what I do, please check out www.idcreativestudios.com or you can email me at matthewpaulmewhorter@gmail.com.

Click here to buy God Made Light.

Click here to download FREE God Made Light activity pages.

Click here to see/buy the DaySpring exclusive product line inspired by God Made Light.

This is what happens when 11 publishers say ‘No’…

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Fatherhood changes me. More often than I imagined, Elias and Adeline (and soon, our new baby boy) affect how I see and experience life. I suspected this would happen but I didn’t know to what degree their lives would impact my own. But almost immediately, as soon as the midwife put Elias in my arms, his tiny 8-pound presence began shaping what I believe to be important, enjoyable, and true.

Still, even though he’s 6 and has already started calling me “Dad” on occasion, watching him grow up (and Adeline, too!) continues to mold who I am and who I want to be.

Some of my favorite moments as a father happen right before their bedtime (some of my most challenging moments also happen right before their bedtime). But whether they are acting like angels or trolls, bedtime can often create the opportunity or space for good stories to get told, for deep and curious wonderings to get said out loud, for the most hilarious moments to occur, and for important lessons and ideas to get talked about.

And often these amazing moments are sparked by a book. While I knew that my kids would likely love being read to, I didn’t have a clue to what extent my kids and I would fall in love with certain books. But that’s exactly what happened. Somehow, while snuggling in a warm bed and reading books like Where the Wild Things Are or Goodnight Moon or Llama Llama Red Pajamas or one of the many Dr. Seuse classics helped to create some of the most enjoyable or funny or sincere moments with my kids.

But one thing I noticed early on while reading to Elias was that there seemed to be a shortage of fun, easy-to-read, creative, and age-appropriate books about God. Oh, we read lots of books about God. But out of those that we read, so many of them failed to inspire the same moments that wockets and pockets or llamas or quirky odes to the moon seemed to inspire. For whatever reason, most of the books that even hinted about God (and let’s face it, most of them do far more than hint), none of them became Elias’s favorites or the kind of book that he’d request over and over.

I don’t know why this was true. Maybe it was me. Or maybe it was Elias. Or perhaps the books that we engaged simply lacked the “magic” that other books possessed.

I certainly didn’t dwell on this too much. However, I do remember that shortly after Adeline’s birth (Elias was 3) that somewhere in the back of my mind, an idea began to evolve. Like most ideas, it started as a question: is it possible to write a children’s book about God that was fun and inspiring and might develop the same bond with kids that so many of other books seem to do? And if so, what would that kind of book look like? What would it sound like? What would it be about? And if a children’s book like that were possible, would I even have the chops to write it?

Eventually, my questions sparked a couple of conversations with Jessica about children’s books and about whether or not she thought I should invest time and creativity into developing an idea. Without hesitation, Jessica looked at me and said, “You’re a writer—a good writer. And from the moment I knew that I was pregnant, I’ve always pictured you writing a children’s book.”

A few days later I was sitting at Starbucks, laptop open, brainstorming ideas. After a handful of bad concepts—a couple of them terrible—I decided on a theme: creation or Creation.

Now, don’t laugh, but here are the very first lines that I wrote:

God made this.
God made that.
God made them both in no time flat
This is big and that is small
Still, God made them, size and all.

God made these.
God made those.
Those are red. These have toes.
Fast things, slow things, things that crawl.
These and those, God made them all.

Okay, you can laugh. Eventually, I narrowed the concept to God making light. Light is easy to comprehend. It’s both practical and magical, a simple enough concept that’s layered with mystery and symbolism. And too, as a person of faith, I not only believe that everything started with light but that Jesus said that we are also light. So as a theme, “light” provided a wide array of ideas and imagery in which to work with.

For three months, off and on, I worked on the verse for a children’s book, attempting to capture with words what it might have been like when God created light. As I developed the concept, I let numerous people read it. I gave them permission to tell me what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they believed worked and didn’t work. And then I worked on it some more…

Let there be light!
That’s what God said.
And light began shining and then started to spread.

In flickers and flashes,
In spills and in splashes,
Shine began shining across nothing but blackness.

Light glared and glimmered.
It flared and sparked.
And wherever light shined,
Dark stopped being dark.

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Working with rhyme and meter took me back to my roots in writing, to my middle school days when everywhere I went required that I carry a notebook with me just in case I was inspired to write a poem or song.

Several months after I finished, I presented the idea to my literary agent, Greg Daniel. He loved it. We began working on a book proposal, which was honestly a new concept for me. Though I’d written more than 16 books, I’d actually never needed to write a proposal before. I mean, I wrote a short summary of my idea a time or two. But a full blown proposal? Never.

Greg and I (with a little help from my wife, Jessica) put together a fantastic proposal for the book that we were now calling God Made Light. Not only did the proposal outline in detail the concept, but it also contained pre-endorsements from people like Ann Voskamp, Sandi Patty, Angie Smith, and a variety of others who were happy to add their name and support to the idea.

Because everybody I shared the idea with loved it. I mean, they really loved it.

Greg sent the proposal to 11 publishers. The immediate response from acquisition editors was excitement! I mean, it was almost odd how positive the reaction was. Every single editor except one took the concept to their pub boards. Every single pub board loved the idea. However, over the next six months (one editor took the book to her pub board twice), we received 11 declines. Some publishers said no because of budget reasons. Others said no because the children’s book industry was difficult to break into. And a couple publishers said no because I was the book’s author. That last one stung a bit.

We received the final no three days before Christmas. We were on our way to the airport when Greg called. I tried to be positive. But I was fighting tears.

Jessica grabbed my hand. “Matthew,” she said, “I believe in you, baby. And I believe in this book. We’ll publish it ourselves.”

However, at the time, we couldn’t afford to publish it ourselves. We didn’t have any debt except our mortgage. And we certainly weren’t struggling. But we also knew that, unlike self-publishing regular books, self-publishing a children’s book was expensive. To do it really well was a lot more expensive.

Almost 2 years later, Jessica said, “Let’s do this.”

I knew exactly who I wanted to ask to illustrate the book, my longtime friend, Matthew Paul Mewhorter! (Yes, that’s his real name.) Matthew and I have worked together before and so I was hopeful that he’d be up for doing it again.

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Almost immediately, Matthew began working on sketches for the book. After a few rounds of proofing the storyboard, Matthew began drawing, inking, editing, and all of the other things that artists do and redo, etc.

Contact Matthew Paul Mewhorter here.

Matthew’s artwork in God Made Light is beyond my expectations. It’s gorgeous, a brilliant display of color, movement. No doubt his talent brought my words alive.

Meanwhile, after seeing some of the initial artwork, DaySpring (the faith division of Hallmark) started working on a product line to go along with the book. That blew me away! I mean, what? A product line?! Are you kidding me?

The God Made Light product line by DaySpring includes a floor puzzle, a nightlight, and a collection of encouragement notes for kids. You can see all of it here or by clicking on the image below.

The final product is beautiful. Holding God Made Light for the first time was surreal.

But I’m also nervous. Because to do this well did not come cheap. But despite my slight anxiety, I believe in it.

Did I create a book about God that, like all of our favorite children’s books, might inspire beautiful moments and memories between parents and kids? I’ll let you and your kids decide that. But I’m hopeful that this book will accomplish that for many.

Every word in this book is intentional. Every detail in the artwork is there on purpose. Because I wanted to create a book about God that was enjoyable to read, both for parents and kids.  I wanted to create a book that tells our little ones that God delights in who they are. I wanted to create a book that reminded all of us that we are created to shine brightly.

And I wanted that book to be simple, fun, rhythmic, and full of color. And that’s why I released God Made Light.

For our kids. For us.

For a little more light to shine brightly in this world.

You can buy God Made Light at Amazon.com (and yes, it is Amazon Prime approved).

And please, would you consider sharing this book and products with your family and friends? I would be most grateful.

What’s so terrible about spoilers? #WalkingDead #Spoilers

**IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED SUNDAY’S EPISODE OF THE WALKING DEAD, THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT THE SHOW AND PERHAPS YOU**

On Sunday night, I was one of the 17.3 million viewers who tuned into AMC’s season 5 premier of The Walking Dead. Like most fans, I thought Sunday’s episode was stunning, perhaps a bit gory but filled with the kind of action and drama we’ve come to expect.

But I knew it was going to be amazing. Because I’d already read a detailed spoiler about what to expect.
And yet, despite knowing what was going to happen, I was still on the edge of my couch for most of the 60 minutes.

In fact, I became so overrun with emotion that I logged onto Twitter and Facebook and posted the word “Carol” with 8 exclamation points and the hashtag #WalkingDead.

If you’ve ever watched Walking Dead and used social media at the same time, you’re likely wondering what the heck I was thinking.

How dare I post the name of a longtime Walking Dead character without using asterisks (C****!!!!!!!!!) or unique privacy settings or a preemptively written apology to Walking Dead fans on the West Coast.

Within seconds, a Walking Dead fan without cable TV was hot on my trail/feed, seriously concerned that my tweet had just spoiled his desire to view Walking Dead unaffected. Soon, his concern was echoed by a small chorus of Walking Dead fanatics, regular people like you and me who, despite being good, reasonable individuals 99.9 percent of the time, turn defensive, passive aggressive, and over zealous on Sunday evenings at 9/8 central during the Walking Dead season because they either live in California or they don’t subscribe to cable television or they are DVRing the episode to watch later or they’re waiting to watch the new season when it releases on Netflix.

Every October for the last five years, these unfortunate people who can’t watch Walking Dead when the rest of us are watching Walking Dead form together unofficially online and police the social media webosphere for those who dare to post updates on Twitter or Facebook about our favorite show. Rather than staying offline, they sabotage our “two-screen experience” with comments like “No spoilers, man!” or “Don’t give anything away!” or “Sheesh. How about a spoiler alert next time?” or “What the hell, dude? I don’t get to watch it until I’m off work at midnight!” Which they seem to think is our fault.

While most television shows inspire a brigade of people who rage against spoilers, Walking Dead’s spoiler police seem to be some of the most impassioned, so filled up with an entitlement for mystery and suspense that they sometimes take their #NoSpoilers crusade far too seriously. Sometimes I swear that the anti-spoiler infantry either forget or don’t know that much—not all—of Walking Dead’s story lines are reworked versions of the graphic novels on which their based. Whatever drives their cause, it gets a bit exhausting sometimes, reading responses from people who hashtag the word “spoiler” with the same fury that other people save for causes against bullying, hatred, and Ann Coulter.

Because seriously, calling my tweet—Carol!!!!!!!! #WalkingDead—a spoiler seems a bit unreasonable. I mean, it’s not like I posted “OMG! Carol just donned herself in zombie blood, created an explosion by shooting a firework into a gas tank, and reunited baby Judith with Rick and Carl. #WomanOfTheYear #WalkingDead”

Yet even when people do tweet or post less obscure updates about Walking Dead, what’s really the big deal? Is a spoiler really going to ruin your viewing experience? Are spoilers some kind of sin against America’s entertainment gods? And if so, whose responsibility is it to ensure that West Coasters, non-cable subscribers, and Netflix users experience an unadulterated episode of Walking Dead? Is it the tweeter’s responsibility or the one who despises spoilers?

I think the answer is obvious, not because I’m certain that I’m right but because I think people tend to be a bit overzealous about their angst toward spoilers. Because honestly, I’m not convinced that the passion is as much about wanting to watch a spoiler-free episode of Walking Dead as it is not being able to watch the show when people in New York City get to watch it.

My suspicions are based on the number of times I’ve received warnings or #NoSpoiler citations for having the audacity to tweet something like: “Wow. Tonight’s Walking Dead was amazing!” According to one individual from somewhere in the Pacific Standard Timezone who challenged me over posting such a tweet, he claimed he was wanted to nip my spoilers in the bud before they started.

My advice? Stay offline. Unfollow me if you think I’m spoiling your zombie fun. Or move to Indiana and we can watch it at the same time.

As Walking Dead fans who have ever tweeted during an episode know, it often doesn’t matter what you post about, any utterance of joy, frustration, heartbreak, or “Look! Morgan’s back!” that’s hashtagged #WalkingDead is likely to inspire the anti-spoiler brigade to surround you like the walkers that gathered around the shack where Tyreese and Judith were hiding.

But that’s okay because we know what happened next, to which I say: Tyreese!!!!!!!! #WalkingDead

It’s fine that people don’t want to be spoiled. But I think they should take responsibility for that themselves and stop policing the Internet for offenders.

See You At the Strip Pole? (Praying for strippers in Portland…)

First of all, I don’t know if this is real. I mean, it seems real. And at the same time, it could be satire. If it is satire, it’s very specific satire.

Praying around strip poles in XXX clubs around Portland seems a bit too intentional to be fake, especially since there’s a date on which this is happening.

But it’s real.

I think it is. But it’s sort of hard to believe.

Eh, maybe it’s not real.

It’s not real, right?

So, if it’s satire, what exactly is happening on September 24 in strip clubs around Portland?

20 Problems with Progressive Christianity…

I’m a progressive Christian (or I think I am), though I’m not sure I’ve ever uttered that sentence aloud. That’s not because I’m ashamed of the label, but more or less because nobody seems to define “progressive Christian” the same way. (<-That’s problem number 1).

That’s partly because “progressive” is a vague term in today’s culture, nearly as vague as the word “Christian.” It’s no wonder the combo of the two make for a less than definitive idea. (<-Problem number 2?)

However, despite America’s progressive Christianity being undefined (Is it a movement? Is it organized? Is there any unity whatsoever?), a growing number of believers—many of whom are Christians who grew up in conservative churches/denominations—are still choosing to wear the  label. That said, nobody who comes from conservative backgrounds jumps into faith-based progressivism headfirst. While not all progressive churchgoers are former conservative Christians or disenfranchised evangelicals, many indeed are coming from those backgrounds with a myriad of expectations, disillusions, frustrations, hopes, etc. And chances are, for a majority of those onetime fundamentalists or evangelicals, their journeys toward progressive Christianity evolved over many years and often started out of a place of spiritual pain or spiritual doubt or spiritual disenchantment. For them, “Progressive Christian” is a label they approach cautiously and slowly, often wading into their new realities/understandings with far more uncertainty than faith. (<-Problem number 3? That depends.)

Personally, I began embracing the progressive term mostly because other people labeled me as such. Though I’m fairly outside the evangelical box with my theology, I don’t attend a progressive church and many of my best friends are self-identifying conservative or moderate evangelicals. It wasn’t until 2, maybe 3, years ago that I started owning the label to some degree, though I confess, sometimes I do so with much trepidation. Why? For several reasons: Labels frustrate me. Sure, I see their necessity and often use labels and/or stereotypes in my own writing, I also find them to be somewhat unhelpful, suffocating, and limiting in the real world. Moreover, as I mentioned, “progressive” is such an indistinct term with a multitude of variables that owning the label doesn’t “define” me as much as it puts me in a corner with a host of other wonderful and complicated believers/thinkers who (<-Here’s problem number 4->) often have many of their own issues with the label/concept.

However, in my owning of the label and becoming mostly comfortable in this skin, I’ve certainly become privy to many of Progressive Christianity’s shortcomings, especially as they relate to those of us who haven’t always been “progressive” in our spirituality. (I somehow missed problem number 5.)

For example, many of us have a cumbersome relationship with scripture. (<-Problem number 6) Am I allowed to say that? Yes, suggesting that many of us have complicated relationships with scripture might give some people a reason to pounce on us even more than they do (or perhaps discount us altogether), but let’s face it: many of us (not all of us) are a bit clumsy when it comes to scripture.

Now, it’s not that we don’t love scripture, we do love it. We just also hate it sometimes, at least parts of it. Often our odd relationships with the Bible are because we come from experiences where chapter and verse was/is the beginning and the end of God and many of us had that view of God memorized by the time we hit puberty. (<-Problem number 7.) Which isn’t our fault, of course; but for many of us, our history with God’s Word has caused us to become less-than-passionate about using scripture to prove our new, more progressive, points/ideas/theories. Why?
Well, for several reasons perhaps.

1) Because many of us likely know how to prove the opposing view with scripture as well or better than we can prove our current view.

2) Because some of us are uncertain (or fearfully certain) of where to begin or how to prove our current views using scripture.

3) Because a few of us are somewhat unconvinced that “progressive theology” can actually be found in the biblical narrative.

4) Because it’s much easier to just use scripture as a tool against conservative ideas (our old way of thinking) than it is to use it to build up and/or support our new understanding. (<-Problem number 8.)

And trust me (<-Here’s problem number 9->), I get it; going from thinking about the Bible in that literal spoken from the mouth of God and using it as a weapon sense to thinking about the Bible in that non-literal, biblical narrative—part history, part allegory, part inconclusive riddle but always inspired—sense is a difficult journey for most of us. Yes, we believe scripture is “inspired,” but we don’t know exactly what that means, at least, not like we once did. Now, though we often say it’s inspired, how “inspired” impacts our understanding of the Book of Judges and whether or not that story in the Book of Judges about a woman getting cut up into 12 pieces and sent as gifts to the 12 Tribes says anything true about God is another thing altogether.

A part of the bigger problem is that it’s easy for many of us onetime conservatives/now progressives to get caught up in our faith being defined by our past as opposed to it being inspired by what’s in front of us (<-Problem number 10). In other words, many of us know exactly what we believe to be true and untrue about the churches we grew up in, the theologies that we were taught, and the perceptions of God that we once worshiped. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what we believe to be good and true about our pasts. But sometimes we fall onto the path of getting so lost in fighting the ills of our former spiritual lives that we go for long periods of time when that’s all our faith is, one big fight against what was. (Now, for some of us, I think that’s exactly where we need to be. Because the freedom to be angry is a part of the journey.)

But some of us linger there because we are so uncomfortable engaging God with questions and doubt (<-Problem number 11). In many ways, we don’t know how to engage God without belief squarely intact (<-Problem number 11.5), so we instead become consumed by our own certainty about other people’s certainty. And there’s a time and place for that! But for many, engaging in spiritual wars (usually online) become the most visible, worked-out part of our faiths. Our Christianities become seemingly void of belief or hope or even questions and doubt and instead, most known for a mostly clumsy presentation of angst (<-Problem number 12).

And again, I get it. I really do. Angst, in the right context, is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it seems that’s all our faith is—angst against what was. I’m constantly struggling with this. Because on one hand I do want to use my voice and influence to speak up for those who have been silenced by the sometimes harsh certainty of evangelical, reformed, and fundamentalist doctrines—and I will continue to do that because speaking up for somebody else is a whole other thing—but when the fight is only personal, bursting out from the unresolved issues we have with our former selves, it’s easy to begin mistaking those fights as elements of faith(<-Problem number 13). I’ve learned (and am still learning) that I can’t hand my fights down to my kids and expect them to want to engage God. I can’t inspire belief and hope and mystery with only personal angst toward my past. (Problem number 14->) If our progressive faiths are going to be more than simply labels or responses to our pasts then we must become comfortable engaging the story of God without the lens of our former spiritual ideas. We must accept that it’s far more difficult to pursue God’s story with doubt, questions, and little bit of hope than it is with certainty and doctrine. But we must, if we want to be happy and content and continue on something of a Christian path, take the difficult path, relearn how to believe without certainty, and allow grace to fill in a few of the cracks. Because if our past faith is the defining factor in our current faith, is that really faith? I think that’s a question we must answer ourselves, in our own time.

For many of us, the journey out of angst includes learning the art of critiquing/questioning the Church. Progressive Christians have always been fantastic critics (<-Problem number 16? Sometimes. But not always.). In fact, here in America, it was often because of progressive believers that change in America’s Church became possible, that abuses by churches and ministries were challenged, that hate and intolerance amid the culture was uncovered and remedied. They made mistakes and weren’t always friendly. But sometimes, the sins that the Church commits in God’s name demand to be confronted by unfriendly voices. So all of us should thank God for good critics. We need critics. But the one bigger difference about many progressive voices from our history and many of the progressive voices of today is that the best progressive thinkers of our country’s past learned the art of balancing the breaking of things down and the calling of wrongs out with the creation of ideas, theologies, new ways of thinking, and hopes, inspiration that helped in the pursuit of reframing faith, rebuilding churches, and reconnecting people to the stories of God. (Problem number 17->) Many of us (me included!) are terrible at that balance. Some of us aren’t even looking for the balance.

Again, this isn’t true for every progressive voice. Some people are indeed balancing their fight against the establishment with truths and ideas for reconstruction. But finding the footing or foundation to be both good critics as well as good inspirers is difficult for many of us. (Problem number 18->) Some of us are so busy sharpening our skills as critics that even if our voices do inspire change, we often miss the opportunities that come along to be a part of what happens—the rebuild—after the change (<-Problem number 18.5) Why?

Because we’ll be tempted to find something new that’s broken to critique.

Because at the end of the day, though many of us truly want to help to build something authentic, something new, something believable, something hopeful, something good, many of us still don’t know what that something is… which pays tribute to that earlier point that progressive Christianity is vague and undefined.

Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (<-Problem number 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (<-Problem number 20).

And I believe we can do better. But we need to pick up the mirror. And take a long look.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you believe in Hell? Has your doctrine regarding Hell changed?

As you might know, I started a podcast with Benjamin L. Corey a few weeks ago. It’s called THAT GOD SHOW and if you haven’t listened yet, I’d love for you to give it a chance.

I know very little about podcasting. But I’m pretty good at talking. And sometimes I’m pretty good at talking too much.

This week’s episode is a conversation about Hell and how many Christians’s perception(s) of eternal torment are changing. Or at the very least, believers seem more comfortable questioning evangelicalism’s popular understanding of Hell.

Give it a listen!

Other episodes:
Episode 4: A discussion about Mars Hill Church’s drama
Episode 3: How to leave fundamentalism

And please subscribe to it on iTunes.

A new documentary that aims to prove the Holy Spirit is real. (I watched it… twice.)

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A month ago I received an email from the publicist of a new documentary called Holy Ghost. Apparently, he’d read my Daily Beast piece about Jesus movies and wanted to talk to me about writing something about the film he was promoting, the Darren Wilson-directed “adventure” about the Spirit of God. After watching the trailer—a three-minute teaser that features Michael W. Smith, Lenny Kravitz, members of the band Korn, pastors, evangelists, worship leaders, and other Christian thinkers—I was interested in possibly writing something for The Daily Beast. After exchanging emails with my editor, I decided to see the movie, perhaps interview Wilson (which I did last Friday), and write something prior to the documentary’s release on Saturday, September 6.

As soon as the publicist sent me a link to the Holy Ghost screener, I started watching it.

For three minutes, I was hooked. Cautiously hooked. But hooked.

It was hard not to be hooked. At the very beginning of the documentary, Wilson, who narrates Holy Ghost, plainly states his lofty reason for making this film: I want to show you something. Something you’ve never seen before. Some say he’s dead. Some say he’s silent. Some say he’s a figment of my imagination. But the Holy Spirit is real, and I’m going to prove it.

That’s what he says. I listened to it 10 times to make sure I heard him correctly. Because even for a director who I suspect leans charismatic in his understanding of God’s spirit (the documentary is somehow connected with Bethel Church), beginning a movie with I’m going to prove the presence of God is real is a mouthful.

It might be a crazy mouthful. Or as Wilson calls it, a “risky” mouthful. But as a hook, it’s brilliant. But you better be able to back it up with content.

As if proving that the Spirit of God existing on Earth wasn’t enough, Wilson goes on to say, I wanna take the greatest risk possible as a filmmaker, to make a move that is completely led by the Holy Spirit… just show up wherever he leads me, find the adventure, and make God famous.

And then, as quickly as I was hooked, I became less hooked. “Led by the Holy Spirit” tends to be little more than jargon when it’s regarding popular culture (click here to read how Wilson defines being “led”).

Inside my head, I started to hear a voice, perhaps it was my own voice or maybe it was the Holy Spirit’s voice–whoever it was, the voice caused me to think, maybe I don’t want to write about this movie for The Daily Beast.

Ignoring the voice, I kept watching.

Now, Holy Ghost features four main story lines (story lines mostly built around locations that the Holy Spirit told Wilson to visit and the people at these locations that the Holy Spirit told Wilson to talk to). In between these featured locations/stories, Wilson inserts clips from celebrities, pastors, theologians, and other Christian leaders talking candidly and passionately about what the Holy Spirit means to them. Those short vignettes are the best part of this documentary. They showcase the diversity of how people think about the Holy Spirit. They feature slightly varied theologies and thoughts and experiences regarding the Holy Spirit. I didn’t agree with everything that people talked about, but I still enjoyed hearing people talk about their understandings about the Holy Spirit.

But the majority of Wilson’s documentary isn’t that kind of commentary. Most of Holy Ghost depicts Wilson seemingly trying really really hard to squeeze some sort of spiritual or miraculous or inspired narrative out of the experiences he and his friends encountered while visiting the locations that the Holy Spirit told them to visit.

And where did the Holy Spirit tell Wilson to go? To Salt Lake City. To Monaco. To a Korn concert.  And to Varanasi, India.

The first locale presented in the film is Salt Lake City. Here, Wilson followed Will Hart and Jamie Galloway around the streets of Salt Lake City. The two ministers walked up to random strangers and prayed for them. Which seems innocent enough, right? I thought so too. But it all became weird very fast.

During the first encounter with a man who is said to suffer from night terrors, Galloway tells the man that he can get rid of those nightmares—SNAP! (he literally snapped)—right now. Galloway told the man that Jesus had saved him from night terrors when he was a kid and then he told him, “[Jesus] gave me special powers to set other people free.”

Galloway grabs the man’s hand/arm (at times, his hand just hovers over the stranger’s hand) and prays: Holy Spirit, I want you to touch my friend, show him you’re really real and break him free from all the haunting spirits that have been assigned to his life. He looks at the stranger. You feel that? The man seems unconvinced. Galloway says, Watch! Still holding/hovering a hand over the man’s hand, Galloway waves his other hand over their joined hands and says, Double it. Double it. The man seems to feel something. Galloway then prays, Holy Ghost, I pray you send your power all the way up his arm as a sign of your love. Thanks Jesus. Feel that?

The stranger says, “My armpit’s cold all of a sudden.”

Galloway says, “Yeah, watch, double it. Double it. More.”

Eventually, after a few doses of Double It praying, the stranger shouts, “Woa! My nipples just got hard.”

Maybe the Holy Spirit does make people’s nipples hard. I had a friend in college who said he sometimes got horny in the presence of God. #TrueStory But hard nipples, like erections, don’t prove God’s presence.

The Holy Spirit did lots of tricks on the streets of Salt Lake City. Hart and Galloway prayed over one young man with a hurting arm. When the Holy Spirit didn’t make the boy’s arm better the first time, they prayed their Double It, Double It prayer over him again. And that didn’t work either. So they prayed Double It again. That third time was a keeper, though it was an awkward keeper.

And that’s why I ended up deciding that I wasn’t going to write about Holy Ghost for The Daily Beast. Because but for the interviews with people about the Holy Spirit and the sincerely told stories/testimonies of how Korn’s Brian and Fieldy found God, Holy Ghost is, in my opinion, filled up with some really awkward moments, moments that include evangelist Todd White praying over an atheist who had a bad back. How did Todd a la the Holy Spirit help the atheist? He/Holy Spirit made one of the man’s legs two inches longer. That’s one of the oldest “Holy Spirit” tricks in the book.

During the moments in Holy Ghost where praying over people or healing people was the intention, the tactics used were the same exact tactics (or nearly the same tactics) that mediums and spiritual healers use. They often made “cold readings”  or suggestions about what the Holy Spirit was saying about people’s ailments, trying to find a story line to jump on or a body part to heal. The only difference between the language and tactics that the pastors used and mediums use was their words were sprinkled with “Jesus.”

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In Varanasi, India—the grand finale location in the documentary—the Holy Spirit told Wilson he was to go and worship Jesus at a spot along the Ganges River where, according to Wilson, worshiping Jesus was “suicide.” Why? Because Wilson said this was where “the militants” were. In fact, one of the cast members says, “This is the most radical places on earth.”

But when singer/worship leader Jake Hamilton started singing about “freedom” (and Jake can sing—he has a powerful soulful voice), rather than killing the Anglo-Saxon man with the guitar, the alleged militants who hated Jesus gathered around and seemed to enjoy the music. How the narrative plays out and is depicted on film, the viewer is left with the impression that, because Wilson, Jake, and the rest of the Christians weren’t beaten to a pulp by militant Hindus and/or militant Buddhists (the “militants” are given little to no context), that it was obviously the Holy Spirit that protected them. Now, maybe what happens in the film is indeed a miracle, something that nobody else had ever attempted without getting killed, but that’s impossible to know. The scene is so filled with narrative flaws/gimmicks, convenient and choppy editing, and a seeming lack of appreciation and knowledge about the culture and the Indian people that this scene all felt like one big emotionally dishonest clip.

Then, amid the Jesus fest that was happening on the banks of the Ganges River, just after the Holy Spirit finished healing another leg, some of the local people who hated Christians more than anything became restless. Because all of a sudden, the narrator declares, “Jake was attacked.” The “attack” happened off camera, of course, and how Jake explains what happens—that amid all of the handshaking that was happening, one man walks up and grabs his arm, which he says seemed “not good”—it remained unclear whether or not the “attack” was an actual attack or just a cultural misunderstanding. But whatever it was, whether it was a real attack or nothing at all, it was used as a movie device, a moment of tension (shaking camera footage to boot) that forced the group to leave where they were—but again, without context or story or video of anything remotely violent. Again, maybe Jake was physically attacked. Maybe, as one of the team members suggested might happen, the natives were getting ready to cut the Christians up into pieces and throw them into the Ganges River. Maybe. But no proof of that is offered. It’s just editorialized. No footage of that is shown. It’s just talked about.

And that is not only emotionally and spiritually dishonest, it’s unfair to the people of Varanasi, India who were there that day.

I had a long list of problems with Holy Ghost. None of those problems involved how people talked about God’s Spirit but rather in how they used God’s spirit, how they attempted to put God’s spirit on display like a magic trick show.

Watch the movie yourself. See what you think. I’ll confess, I could be wrong. Maybe you’ll think the movie is glorious 2-hour display of God’s wonder and presence.

I asked Wilson if he believed that his documentary proved that the presence of God’s spirit was real. He said yes. I disagreed with him. And seemed okay with that.

But having watched Holy Ghost twice and parts of it 4, 5, and even 10 times, and I don’t believe the movie offered one story or event or idea or “proof” that the Holy Spirit was real. The most compelling parts of the movie were when people were talking, telling us what they believed, or how they engaged the spirit of God.

That said, I believe in God’s spirit. I’ve had moments when I believe that I sensed God’s spirit to do something or call somebody or reach out to a stranger. But these moments are personal. Put up on a screen or on display, they wouldn’t prove that God was real, except for me and the person who I called or reached out to or helped. On my Facebook pages (here and here), I asked people about their experiences with the Holy Spirit (the conversation that developed was another reason I decided to not put this up at The Daily Beast). While some people’s stories reflected similar happenings as those depicted in Holy Ghost, the majority of the responses were heartfelt experiences that were personal, sometimes miraculous, but personal, unexplainable, filled with humanity and doubt, and often sent to me via a private message because they wanted to honor their story/experience.

Sometimes I wonder if we Christians, in our attempts to “make God famous” using the Holy Spirit, blaspheme the spirit of God with our showy attempts to perform tricks or prove.

Because how we talk about God matters. How we “use” God’s story is affecting God’s story. As soon as we take our personal engagements with the Spirit of God and showcase them as performances or trickery or emotional rallying calls—regardless if our intentions are good or bad—we are gambling with the story of God. When we say that God directed us in the making of a documentary, that documentary better good. Should it rival Creation? Perhaps, since that’s what we are comparing it to by association. Because that’s how we believe God works, perfectly, beautifully, miraculously, etc. So when our God-inspired products are bad or filled with discrepancies or feel manipulative or don’t back up our big grandiose claims, then we’re doing a disservice to God’s story.

If Holy Ghost was indeed directed/led by the Holy Spirit, it would be a much better documentary. But as is, it feels like a documentary about Christians doing what some Christians do in hopes that Christians will sit for two hours and watch what happens. Which is fine, I suppose. But this documentary isn’t proof of God existing, just proof that Christians exist.

Again, this is just my opinion.

And I could be wrong.