Lost

dollhouse-newSometimes, I feel lost. Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve lost something.

Star Wars was big when I was a kid. I collected all the figures and trading cards. I would spend hours upon hours using my imagination to create scenarios with blocks and figures. I didn’t need a screen to show me what to do. I didn’t need someone to show me how to pretend. I just did it!

I also grew up with an older brother. It was just the two of us, no sisters. So, other than my mom and my wife, the idea of relating to a woman in the same house as me is a bit foreign.

I can pick up a football or a baseball or a Frisbee and throw it around with my middle child. He’s content to throw back and forth for hours. I hope that more conversation will develop as we spend time doing that in the future. It’s something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with one of my kids.

If I bring home a new video game or book, I can spend time with my oldest talking about the game or the book. I can hear his perspective and let him try out his strategies on me before he actually tries it out in the game. We can sit on the couch and play through a videogame and be perfectly content. It’s also something that I never really shared with my father, so I’m excited to be able to share it with him.

My daughter’s a different story. When I play with her, I begin to wonder what happened to my imagination, what happened to my childhood. She can sit there content with her dolls for hours upon hours and in five minutes, I’ve checked out and lost my patience. I muster up enough to continue playing, but then I run out of steam. I find some excuse to get up and check on something else.

I was never like this. I never had a hard time using my imagination. I never struggled to relate to my own flesh and blood.

There are plenty of places where we connect. She loves to cuddle. She loves to have me read her stories. She loves to be part of the things that her big brothers are part of. So, the struggle with relating isn’t as great as it feels, but it’s still there.

In the midst of my urgency to be moving and my discomfort in pretending, I realize that there is a stillness and quietness that I need to find. It might not be so much my imagination that’s been lost or my sense of pretending, but my sense to know and understand how to simply sit and be, enjoying the company and presence of this precious gift that sits just feet away from me.

I think I can keep pretending and make up stories, it’s the stillness and stopping that I need to work on the most. I am grateful that kids are resilient, they keep coming back even if we don’t “play” right. So, here’s hoping for second chances at helping with princess dress-up, to imagining a kingdom made of blocks, to seeing mermaids swimming through an imaginary ocean, to dollhouses that are strangely inhabited only by children. If it can be imagined, we can play it, and I’ve got to just let myself go.

These moments are precious and fleeting, they won’t be around forever. The last thing that I want is to wish that I could play dolls again, not only because that’s just creepy for a middle-aged man to wish, but also because the day will come when my daughter won’t want to play with them anymore. Until that day comes, here’s to seizing the moment!

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Daddy

2015-09-21 12.20.48We’re in the thick of Fall birthday season at my house. With the exception of me, the other four immediate members of my family have birthdays within a three and a half week time span. It makes for a fairly harried Fall season when you also factor in back to school, Fall activities, and church activities.

Of course, when you have multiple children, you begin to learn some lessons the first and second time around so that by the time you get to the third time, you’ve stockpiled some tips and wisdom, enough to help you through.

My wife and I learned after the first two kids that pre-school birthday parties can easily be described as “herding cats.” If there’s ever a time for someone to spike the punch bowl, it’s probably the one that the parents are drinking from at a pre-school birthday party.

To be honest, my wife is the one who drives this train, I’m just along for the ride. That’s mostly because she knows what she’s doing, or at least gives the illusion that she does. She finds ways to make things simpler and I simply stand in awe of how she manages to pull all of these ideas together to actually make birthday parties…..dare I say…..fun?!?

We celebrated my daughter’s birthday party the other day and my wife had the brilliant idea of having it at the playground in our neighborhood right after pre-school. We ordered some pizzas, she made cupcakes, we prayed that the rain would hold off just long enough, and then we jumped in.

Early in the party, my daughter and her friends (there were only four others, because we’re just a little crazy, not stupid) decided that they wanted to play on the monkey bars.

Now, we’ve already endured one cast on a broken arm for our middle child and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to endure my little princess/drama queen with a cast. So, I ran over to the monkey bars to help my daughter across.

As I grabbed her legs and let her grab onto the bars above, she said to her friends, “Look! My daddy won’t let me go, he’ll hold on to me!”

I stopped in my tracks for a second as I thought about that for a moment…..

What incredible trust!

She had full confidence that I wouldn’t let her go, that I wouldn’t drop her.

At that moment, I kind of panicked and thought to myself, “That’s an awful lot of pressure to endure.” But I kept holding on and avoided any disaster. One of her friends even trusted me enough to let me do the same for him.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 when he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I stopped in my tracks because I wondered how recklessly I trusted my Father. I wondered how often I had put myself so fully and wholly into his hands and trusted that he had me. I wondered how childlike I was and had been in my faith and trust.

What a lesson for me, to be trusted and to learn to trust. I don’t think I’ll ever look at monkey bars the same way again!

Insights

We’ve been using an app during our Sunday morning gatherings at my church. The app allows you to do a live event during the message and to ask questions of those who enter the app. On the Monday mornings after I preach (and on some when I don’t) I check in online to read through some of the answers to the questions I’ve asked that I’ve gotten from people. It’s been insightful.

People can remain anonymous and share their honest answers to questions that we pose to them through this app. While there are times when we get the cookie cutter answers to questions that we ask, there are other times when the level of honesty can be downright brutal.

As I get older, I am learning more and more the level of brokenness in this world, in myself and in others. The deeper you dig, the more you see it and, sometimes, you don’t really have to dig very deep at all because we all want to be know and we all want to belong. It’s a valuable lesson for me to learn when in regards to listening to others. As someone who talks…..A LOT….I’ve been learning more and more to be a better listener, to ask good questions, to offer advice only when asked.

I appreciate the fact that I can be part of a community that is seeking to journey together. The life of faith is not always easy. Jesus never promised us that it would be easy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us when it takes effort. Community is such a huge part of the equation when it comes to life and faith that I just don’t know what people do without it.

I appreciate the level of honesty and the bravery that comes from sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, and pain. I’ve found that when we step into that level of honesty and bravery, we find that although we thought we were all alone on the journey, there are more people walking in step with the same struggles, fears, and anxieties.

I don’t have it all together and I am so grateful to be in community with others who don’t claim to have it all together either. Life is a journey and the best journeys always leave space for adventure along the way!

Bittersweet

Today is my daughter’s fourth birthday!

I remember when we found out that we were having a third child. Between the stress of work, the stress of school (I was in seminary at the time), the stress of kids, and the general stress of life, circumstances led me to put my fist through a door. Not my finest moment!

“We thought we were done at two!” How many times have you heard that said before? But God had other plans and after having two boys, we were blessed with a girl.

Not too long after we found out that we were having our third child, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I wept like a baby when I got that news, knowing that the outlook was not very good but still remaining hopeful. Even before I knew that we were going to have a daughter, I got a sneaking suspicion that it was going to be a girl.

Once we found out for sure that it would be a girl, I began to see the way that things were lining up. My mother had always wanted a daughter, but she had two boys. I realized that there would be a race for time to see whether or not Mom would live long enough to meet her granddaughter. I think that she willed herself to die before she had the chance. I think it would have been too much for her to have met this little girl that she had dreamed of and who she would only be able to spend a short amount of time getting to know.

Just two months and three days after my mom died, my daughter was born. September 22nd, 2011. My mom’s birthday was September 11th and I found it interesting that my daughter was born when she was. My daughter came into the world with all the spunk and determination of her grandmother. She is funny, smart, determined, moody, playful, and so much more. She is my little princess.

Every day, when I look at her, I see my wife, I see my mother, I see myself. I wonder what might have been had my mother lived, yet I know that the legacy of my mom lives on in this little blonde-haired beauty. There are times when I wonder if my mom can see what’s happening because I think that if she could, she’d be smiling if not downright laughing at just who this little girl is becoming and what a gift she is to those around her.

Today, I celebrate this gift. Before we had children, I wanted a daughter, but after having two sons, I was perfectly content with them. Now that I have a daughter, the world just looks different, brighter. Not that my sons didn’t brighten the world, but little girls are just different.

Happy birthday to my little princess, the one I adore. She is a gift to me and always reminds me of the bittersweet moments in life, the moments we lose, the moments we gain, the moments we find ourselves struggling for answers in the midst of the pain. I am so grateful for this gift of a daughter and I can’t wait to see how she grows. Four years into life, I think it’s going to be a wild ride!

Happy birthday, sweet girl. I love you!

For the Love – A Book Review

For the LoveAlthough this is the first of her books that I’ve read, Jen Hatmaker has been on my radar for years. If you roll in Christian circles at all and aren’t familiar with who she is, chances are that you aren’t paying much attention. Her book “7” garnered rave reviews and a faithful following as she counter-culturally challenged people to cut down the excess and move towards a life of less, pointing people towards ways of narrowing things down to just 7 items in all areas.

Jen Hatmaker wrote “For the Love” to remind women (and anyone else who reads her book) that in this world of impossible standards where grace is hardly extended, that same grace is necessary for survival. In a society driven by social media, Hatmaker says that it has a way of making it seem like everyone else is just killing it at life, cooking meals, parenting like a boss, and being as creative with projects so as to be called a master artist in the world of Pinterest.

She talks about the need to stay connected. In a society where the hum and buzz of social media and technology can too easily replace the actual heartbeat and breath of real life flesh and blood, she stresses the importance of community, noting that, “Instead of waiting for community, provide it, and you’ll end up with it anyway.”

Hatmaker has some quality wisdom and advice to share, reminding people of the fact that they are not alone in their imperfections and shortcomings. She reminds people that there are others out there and points people to find those people; build relationships so that you can hang with people who get it.

In “For the Love,” Hatmaker takes the opportunity to vamp on everything from getting older to calling, fashion to using your gifts, cooking to parenting, children (“If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word.”) to school, marriage to difficult people, and church (“If folks don’t recognize God is good by watching His people, then we have tragically derailed.”) to mission trips (“The world is so done being painted by the American church.”). She shares her heart with honesty and spunk, using her own brand of self-deprecating humor and wit to get her points across, and she does it masterfully.

Throughout the book she has a section called “Thank-You Notes” where she takes the opportunity to sarcastically thank people, places, and things. From NetFlix to the skinny girl in the dressing room, from Facebook to Angry Birds to Yoga pants, Caillou to Target to Pinterest to automatic flushing toilets, it seems that no stone is unturned and nothing is “off-limits” while Hatmaker takes time to vent about humiliating, frustrating, or fulfilling experiences.

I know I’m not the target audience for a Hatmaker book. As I read this book, there were moments along the way when I felt like I was eavesdropping on a women’s book club, Bible study, or phone conversation. There’s no denying that she has to offer a lot to anyone who takes the time to read her books.

As a pastor, there were moments when I resonated deeply with some of what Hatmaker writes. She says so many of the things that I have thought and often wanted to say but either never had the opportunity or knew that if I wanted to keep my job, I couldn’t. It’s an interesting thought considering that she’s a pastor’s wife, so it’s encouraging to think about the kind of culture that she and her husband, Brandon, have created in their church.

After reading “For the Love,” I can see the draw of Hatmaker, Where we’re so used to being politically correct and pussyfooting around issues, Hatmaker has a knack for telling it like it is. She doesn’t hesitate to voice her thoughts and opinions, opinions that some might feel are a bit abrasive.

The book isn’t for everyone, especially those who are easily offended. There were moments when I bristled a little bit and thought, “Can she say that?” Ultimately, this Northern boy felt like it was a breath of fresh air and was actually surprised that a Southern girl could speak so frankly without adding “bless your heart” to the end of the phrase.

If “For the Love” is any indication of who Hatmaker is and the insights that she has to offer, then I think I’ve just added a few more books to my “To Read” list. If you want to laugh, be encouraged, and be challenged, then pick up “For the Love.” You won’t be disappointed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Clearing My Head

2015-09-15 18.05.44Sometimes it’s good to just get away to clear my head. It’s not always possible, but as much as it is, I’ve found that it’s extremely helpful to change my environment and surroundings in order to break out of a funk or to think new thoughts.

It’s really easy to get into the rhythm of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If something isn’t working for us, trying harder to make it work won’t do anything but frustrate us and leave us completely exhausted. We’ve got to take a different approach if we’re stuck, and one of the best ways to take a different approach is to change where I am.

There are a lot of disadvantages of not having a real office in which to work. Sometimes I work from home and that gets a little harried when there are three young kids there at the same time. Add their friends to the mix and the craziness is pretty much more than I can bear. It’s also really difficult to help a three year old understand that Daddy can’t read a story to her in his workroom because he’s trying to get work things done. Heck, I sometimes have a hard time convincing my older two boys that my presence at home doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m available for all of their wants, needs, and desires.

But it also has its advantages. Starbucks and local restaurants and coffee shops can easily become my office for the morning, afternoon, or all day. I have the opportunity to interact with people who may not necessarily have graced the doors of a church building. I get to meet people who I would not normally meet. I also get to make any place an office if I have a notebook, a Bible, and all my relevant books that I need.

I also happen to know some pretty great people who have been blessed. Part of their being blessed means that they have vacation or getaway houses. They are more than generous with those houses and I have been the benefactor on numerous occasions.

It’s not only for vacation that I go to these places. More often than not, it’s to change my surroundings and see if I can be more productive in a paradise-like setting.

I found myself at such a place this week. I needed to get away for a planning retreat and was able to have the view pictured here for a few days.

There’s just something to be said for sitting on a porch with a laptop while smelling the salt air and listening to the waves lap against the shore over and over again for a period of hours. Letting that kind of white noise wash over me and drinking in all of God’s creation has a way of shaking me out of any funk in which I might find myself.

In a matter of days, I’ll be back to the same ol’ grind again, but hopefully it will be with renewed vigor and excitement. I’ve had a glimpse of the future and it’s brought me encouragement and motivation.

One day, I’ll find myself back in a familiar place, stuck trying to make heads or tails of how I move forward. When that day comes, I won’t get discouraged, I’ll remember this place and find a way to get back there again…..or at least some place just like it!

Into the Fray – A Book Review

Into the FrayIn his previous book, “The First Time We Saw Him,” Matt Mikalatos retold some of the stories from the Gospels in modern language. His gift for storytelling and narrative was evident as he wove and reimagined these stories together, putting them into a language and context that makes sense in a modern setting.

In “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos reimagines the Book of Acts. He asks the question about the Gospel, a term that is taken from the Middle English word that means, “good news.” While some claim to be able to describe and tell the Gospel in a nutshell, Mikalatos says that the full gospel, “can’t be presented in fifteen minutes or in a sermon or in a series of sermons.” In fact, he says, “Every new understanding we gain about the person and character of Jesus is the good news, and he is an infinite being.” If the Gospel is really the good news about Jesus and what he has done and offered to us, then we might be doing something wrong as many who aren’t part of the church don’t really know just what it is that we are trying to offer to them. If it’s good news, we might need to present it in such a way that lets it be distinguishable as such.

“Into the Fray” is the retelling of the Acts of the Apostles, which Mikalatos believes to be a terrible name. After all, the stories told throughout Luke’s book are not so much about the acts that were accomplished by the apostles but the acts accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts tells stories about people who are ordinary rather than extraordinary. The only way that these people become extraordinary and accomplish the astonishing is through the receiving and the power of the Holy Spirit. As one of the characters retelling the stories puts it, “It’s not the people who are extraordinary. It’s what’s inside them.”

In the stories and in his own narrative throughout “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos pushes against some of the preconceived notions and accepted norms of evangelicalism. Who is in and who is out? What does a “real” Christian look like? He reminds the reader of the apostle Paul’s words that our fight and battle is not against flesh and blood. People are not the enemy. He calls us to question the things that we have called to be sacred just as Peter was given a vision of eating the very things that had been off-limits according to the old covenant.

Mikalatos reminds his readers that we are called, as followers of Christ, to make pure Jesus followers, “people who come close to Jesus and become more like him.” He says, “As we become more like Jesus, we behave more like him, thus naturally stopping sinful behavior and embracing pure, beautiful, godly behavior.” Considering that the Book of Acts is full of stories of people who have been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and an encounter with the living God, it’s a good reminder that we aren’t called to change people or get them to act a certain way, we’re simply called to introduce them to Jesus and teach them all that we have been taught about him.

We enter into conversations with those who are far from Jesus by finding connection points. Sometimes those connect points are cultural or musical while other times they are spiritual. Sometimes, we find common points, points of discussion and conversation around another religion that someone has chosen to follow. Those can act as starting points, springboards into other conversations. Mikalatos write, “It’s not that the conversation ends there or that we’re allowing other religions to dictate our own. It’s that we’re sorting through two belief systems and finding the places they overlap and starting the conversation there.”

Throughout the book, Mikalatos admits to the reader that he is in process himself. He admits his own tendencies towards Pharisaism and judgment. He writes, “Whether I look at my own heart or at Christian culture, I see evidence of areas where we refuse to interact with others because, at the heart of it, we see ourselves as better, more clean, more correct, more holy, more spiritual, more righteous, more dedicated, more committed, more insightful, more innovative, or more traditional.” He reminds us that God has admitted those into his kingdom that didn’t necessarily meet the standards that were expected or even called for.

Mikalatos pushes just enough to be provocative but not so much that he becomes antagonistic or belligerent. His provocation isn’t simply for provocation’s sake, but with the intent of helping the reader to reimagine some of the stories from the Bible. He has a knack for taking them out of the context in which they were written them and transplanting them into our own context, staying true to the essence of the stories while retelling them in such a way that they are easily understandable.

“Into the Fray” ends with a discussion about story, the parts of story that matter, and how we tell our story. Mikalatos writes, “Our stories matter. We all know that a witness is someone who saw something. And as John said, our story is the story of what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have looked at, and what our hands have touched.” We tell our stories to let others know just what God has done in our lives. We come to the place in our stories and say, “That’s when God showed up,” and that’s when all the change took place. Sometimes, as followers of Christ, we make our stories simply about what happened up until our meeting Jesus, but we can’t forget that’s only the beginning of the story.

Mikalatos talks about his experience with creative writing. His ability to craft stories is evident throughout “Into the Fray” and he sticks with this strength. It might not be everyone’s style, to rethink and reimagine stories from the Bible that already seem perfectly understandable just the way that they are. If that’s your thoughts, this book is probably not for you. If you want to stretch your imagination about how some of these stories may have played out in a modern context, then “Into the Fray” is a worthwhile read. You will be challenged and stretched to think outside of the comfortable places where you’ve come to reside. If you let yourself, Mikalatos and his ability to tell stories may just help you see just how much the Holy Spirit is capable of doing as you experience some heart and life change of your own through these stories.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

War Room and the Faith Based Genre

war roomI’ve spent the majority of my life in the church. Growing up, I didn’t really realize that there was a different language that was spoken within the church versus outside the church. Although I had been told of the wide gap between the world and the church, it wasn’t until I set foot firmly into a world that was less than hospitable to Christians that I began to see the chasm that existed between the two. That chasm, as it seems, was fed and increased by both the church and the world.

Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to close the gap in conversations that I have had with friends who have not grown up in the church, some who don’t even believe that God exists. I found that, like in so many other areas, when there is a language barrier that exists, you have a choice between ignoring it or breaking it. I felt that since I’ve been called to love my neighbor that it made sense for me to try to break down that language barrier as much as I could.

One of my frustrations over the years has been in the arts. I grew up in the 70s and 80s when films that were being produced within the church and for the church were fairly cheesy. As the years went by, I didn’t notice any improvements in what was being offered from the church, in film or in music. While the Jesus movement took shape and form within the 70s, giving way to what would eventually be deemed contemporary Christian music, most of what was being offered in the area of film served as B-movie (or worse) efforts that fell short of any high standards with acting and storyline that was low-rate.

Fast forward to the turn of the century. In the area of music, there have been major leaps and bounds (a post in and of itself). In the area of film, enter the Kendrick Brothers, two Georgia-based brothers and pastors whose heart for film led them to begin producing films starting with 2003’s “Flywheel.” Since “Flywheel,” the brothers Kendrick have released 4 additional films, each garnering both greater earnings and greater influence. Following “Flywheel” came the football “Facing the Giants” followed by “Fireproof,” “Courageous,” and 2015’s “War Room,” the brothers’ current film.

Produced with a $3 million budget, “War Room” surprised many (except maybe hardcore fans of the Kendrick brothers) by holding the top box office spot over the Labor Day weekend with total weekend revenues of over $12 million, beating out “Straight Outta Compton” at the box office.

If you run in church circles at all, “War Room” is probably not unfamiliar to you. If you don’t run in those circles, then it’s probably just a blip on the movie radar that could easily be passed over but for its numbers during its opening few weekends.

Last week, I read an unfavorable review of the film at www.allmovie.com which disturbed me. I was tired of feeling like Christians were constantly offering low-rate art, all the while expecting to be taken seriously. But my strong opinions and thoughts were based solely on the experience of others, I hadn’t seen the film, an error that I remedied one afternoon last week when I went to see the film.

The Kendrick brothers have done what most professionals do, they’ve learned from their experience. So, each of their successive films has improved in quality. I haven’t seen “Flywheel,” but I have seen “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.” The overall quality of the films has improved with every new offering. It seems that they have continued to work hard to make their films as believable as possible and to make sure that the level of technicality in their films (the score, the cinematography, the production, et. Al.) gets better every time out.

It’s important to understand what “War Room” is and what “War Room” is not. The film is an inspirational piece intent upon inspiring its viewers. In my opinion, the film is not geared towards or even appropriate for those who aren’t somewhat familiar with the church and the language that is spoken within the church. “War Room” is about prayer, communication with God, something that is deeply personal and something that is not easily understood by those who haven’t been steeped in the culture of the church. Walking into this film with no understanding and background on prayer would probably be confusing for whoever attempted to do so.

The story follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a pharmaceutical rep and real estate agent, respectively, who are struggling in their marriage. They are sleeping in separate rooms and arguing in front of their daughter whenever they are around each other. Their busy lives have pulled them further from each other and Tony is on the brink of completely abandoning his marriage.

While meeting a client to list her house, Elizabeth engages in a conversation with the client, an elderly woman named Clara. During their conversation, Clara begins nosing around and asking some deeply personal questions of Elizabeth. Instead of shutting down the questioning from Clara, Elizabeth decides to just go with it. She allows Clara into her life to see a glimpse of what’s going on between her and Tony. In short, her marriage is broken and it doesn’t take a marriage counselor to figure that out.

Meanwhile, Tony works, travels, and flirts like a champ. He plays with fire in risking an emotional affair with a woman he meets at the office of one of his clients, eventually having dinner with her. Elizabeth, meanwhile, regularly meets with Clara and learns of Clara’s prayer strategy, which she has developed in her favorite room in the house, her “war room,” an empty closet with prayers and Bible verses taped to the wall.

As the film progresses, we see the change within Elizabeth and Tony, chronicling the improved relationship with each other as well as their daughter. Both Tony and Elizabeth take a stronger and more active role in their daughter’s life, a more healthy role and response to each other, and the things that once drove them in their lives take a back seat when they realize the error of their ways.

The Kendricks attempt to do a lot in “War Room,” repair a marriage, mentor a person on prayer, restore a parent/child relationship, refocus professional lives, and present a biblical message, all within 120 minutes. In so doing, their focus seems somewhat disjointed. In showing that Tony is playing with fire in his flirtatious relationship with Veronica Drake, the young, attractive woman from a client’s office, there isn’t enough character development to make you care about what happens. After her dinner with Tony, she makes an appearance in the film after he’s begun to mend his ways and it feels more like an afterthought than an actual plot point, almost as if the Kendricks thought it was necessary for some kind of closure. The viewer may wonder whether the plot point of Tony’s impending unfaithfulness may have been laid out in a shorter and more concise depiction which would have been more effective.

When Tony faces a major dilemma later in the film, the viewer is left wondering how believable the situation would be as he and Elizabeth walk through it together. After facing uncertain circumstances and emerging mostly unscathed, the film ends with a fairly “feel good” moment. The marriage is restored, the parents are more involved with their daughter, and Elizabeth is charged with teaching what she’s learned about prayer to someone else of her choosing.

The last moments of the film end with a prayer/monologue by Clara which reminded me of a Rob Mathes song called “My Mother’s Prayer” (which was based on August Wilson’s play “Seven Guitars”). It’s inspiring and seemed an appropriate way to end the film, much the way it started with the focus on the older mentor. I was waiting for the audience in the theater to rise to their feet, cheer and shout “Hoo Rah!” The message of the film, in case its sounding had been missed throughout, is clearly stated as Clara calls Christians to pray in order to remedy the problems within our country.

For anyone steeped in the language of Christianity, it would be hard not to emerge from the dark theater with a newfound enthusiasm and “go-get-‘em” attitude towards prayer. It tugged on my emotional heart strings and there was more than once that I had to look around to see if anyone was looking as I nonchalantly wiped my eyes.

“War Room” is full of clichés and Christian language that would be foreign and indecipherable to anyone looking in from outside of the Christian subculture, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a film to which to invite unbelievers or seekers. While there were numerous moments of humor, I found myself laughing as one would laugh at an inside joke. No one would ever accuse the Kendrick brothers of subtlety, their message comes across clearly, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While they may have learned lessons along the way with their previous four efforts, things still fit nicely and neatly together, sometimes with extraneous developments unnecessary to the progression of the story. It does seem that the efforts of the Kendricks seem less forced and more natural this time out than in some of their previous efforts.

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. I went in with a dubious attitude, expecting that I wouldn’t be wow-ed by the film at all. Having read some bad reviews coming from outside the church, my expectations were low. Taking this film for what it was, a two hour inspirational sermon for lukewarm churchgoers and an encouragement for those who already believe in the power of prayer, I think it achieved its purpose. The Kendrick brothers have said in interviews that their desire is that their films bring about life change in viewers, and if the viewers are Christians, I can easily see that happening with this film.

“War Room” won’t win any Academy Awards for acting, script, art direction, score, or any other categories, but it also can’t be accused of sub-par performances in these areas. While it might not be a “cup of tea” for those unfamiliar with the language that it speaks, like so many other things, I think it’s important to ask about authorial intent to discern just who the Kendrick brothers expected to reach with this film. I’d be surprised if they expected to reach those who were not already immersed in church culture.

It’s clear that the faith based genre of film is here to stay. While I don’t see it as a means for reaching the unconvinced, those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be Christians, the support of this genre by those within the church is making a clear statement to Hollywood that there are those who are clamoring for films that present positive messages with little to no offensive or suggestive material, which is not the worst message to be conveyed. Based on some of the biblical epics that have released over the past few years, the genre and support thereof has made its mark.

While I was pleasantly surprised with “War Room,” it’s not a film which I would repeatedly view. I think I get its message and to whom it was targeted, yet I continue to remain hopeful that success can be found within Hollywood by those who consider themselves Christians. However, I think the way to achieve that will fall outside the faith based genre. There have been and continue to be those within Hollywood who consider themselves Christians and present thoughtful and provocative films which fall outside of this genre. In fact, if Christians want a voice to show that there is validity to their artistry, I think they will have to venture outside of this genre. If they simply want to make a statement that there is support for a Christian voice out there, then they can continue to do what’s already been done and achieve the same results.

Easier

Dylan and Irene 2School started for my older children a few days ago. Weeks ago, my wife and I sat down with our Fall calendars and began to offer collective sighs as we began to feel the exhaustion set in before it even started.

Fall is always a busy time for me. Four of the five of my immediate family members have birthdays within a three and a half week period. If you add cousins and grandparents into the mix, add another four weeks, there are seven additional birthdays.

Once upon a time, there were eight additional birthdays…

My mom would have been 77 years old today. A friend messaged me the other day to check in on me as she knew that the day was approaching. I had gone silent on social media and she was concerned. Having experienced her own share of losses, the impending dread around certain dates was familiar to her.

I started thinking about this day at least a month ago. My thoughts weren’t necessarily thoughts of dread, they were just reminders, preparing myself, bracing myself, maybe, for what could potentially hit me as the date approached.

This is the fifth time that I’ve had to pass this birthday without celebration and without my mom. Dare I say that it’s gotten a little easier with every successive year?

Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes by that my mom is not on my mind. There’s still a hole there that cannot be filled. But the ache is more dull than it once was, it doesn’t feel as fresh but rather resembles the throb of an old scar that sends shivers when touched, poked, or prodded.

There are still sharp pains and aches, they mostly have to do with my kids. Baseball games. Basketball games. School programs. Moments when I wish that she was beside me, not necessarily for what she could offer me, but more for what she could offer my children. Whether they know it and feel it or not, there’s a gap, a hole, in them as well.

Other than this post, today may go by with little to no acknowledgement of this event. Maybe I should start some kind of tradition with my kids, maybe I should take some time to remember, but I remember more often than not, doing it today isn’t necessary.

I’m a better man because of what my mom gave me, so it’s hard for me to fully comprehend the gravity of this day. If this day hadn’t happened, neither would I.

Yes, it’s gotten a little easier since 2011, but I miss her still.

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you and I’ll see you again!

Just A Thought

I’ve been delving into a new world lately, finding pieces that I write needing to rely more on research and experience rather than simply thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my time does not always afford me to get done the things that I want to get done in an effort to get done the things that I need to get done. Therefore, I’ve gone on a hiatus of sorts here, not offering anything since I haven’t been able to offer what I want.

For that, I apologize. I’m working on the constant balance between life and work and continually struggle with it.

But for this Tuesday morning (the first day of school for my older children), my mind is buzzing with all kinds of thoughts, both relating to school and life, but also having to do with many conversations (both digital and face to face) that I have been having lately.

There will be fuller posts, but for now, in the absence of something fuller, I offer some simple thoughts.

I have had conversations of late on art and faith. It’s a topic for which I get too passionate. My criticism rises to new levels and I am misunderstood more often than not.

Based on my conversations, I am realizing that we feel very personally when we talk of what matters to us. Now, most readers are saying, “Duh! Tell me something I don’t know” to response to that. But we feel deeply to the point that criticism heaped at the things for which we are passionate is taken personally. In fact, it’s almost as if the criticism was lobbed at us rather than an inanimate and lifeless piece of art.

I am learning to wade more gingerly into engagements of this nature as we all feel so deeply and personally. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am grateful for those who have offered insights and direction in this area.

I am also realizing just how much I have to do more research and study in the area of faith and art. Once upon a time, sacred music was considered excellent. It may have been the “Contemporary Christian” music of the time, but it was influencing culture and having a deep impact on the world. Many of the sacred pieces of music written once upon a time remain timeless and excellent today.

C.S. Lewis had much to say about faith and art, as did Madeline L’engle, who I am currently reading. I expect that I will have much to say after spending some time with the two of them.

Until then, I offer this thought. What is art that is Christian? Is it art that specifically presents a message to unbelieving souls in order that they might know the Christ who has transformed our lives? If so, that greatly limits the possibilities.

One of the greatest and most powerful books that I have read is John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I believe that it was Rich Mullins who pointed me towards the book. Regardless of the recommendation, I picked up the book and read it and had the desire to put it down on more than one occasion.

The book was crude and profane and yet beautiful. Within its pages was a message of calling, of gifting, of purpose. Underneath the crudity and profanity, there was a message of beauty that spoke loudly. The problem was that that message was tainted and covered over, unable to be seen by some who were still hung up on the fact that there was crudity and profanity. It’s not a book that I would recommend to everyone. In fact, there are probably some who would distance themselves from me just for the mere fact that I’ve read the book.

Years later, I have yet to open up the pages of the book again, but I know that I need to do it. I know that I need to be reminded of the message that it offers within its pages. I know that there is something within those pages that speaks to me out of the crudity and profanity that surround it.

In many ways, that book is a metaphor for so many of us and how God sees us. Beneath the crudity and profanity, there is beauty, there is hope, there is substance. Many will simply take a look at the crudity and profanity and walk away. In so doing, they will walk away from potential, from transformation, from all that could be. In failing to see past our faults and imperfections, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

While there are limits here and the analogy can be taken to an extreme, I’m not pushing to that end. It’s not a call for those who follow Christ to embrace all things crude and profane. It’s simply an effort to ask some soul-searching questions about the things that we disregard before we’ve allowed God to speak through them.

At my worst, I am crude and profane, yet many have given me the opportunity to speak, and I am grateful for that. More importantly, God has seen through my crudity and profanity to see who he created me to be, and the image in which he created me. Thankfully, he did not abandon me, he did not walk away, he chose to engage and in that engagement is transformation and life change for me.

How grateful I am in that God sees through my imperfections. May I look with those same eyes on the world around me.