Category Archives: Pop Culture

Friday Likes

It was a busy week for me, but that didn’t stop me from finding time to like some stuff.

1. Scott & Vik Harrison interviewed on The Great Discontent

Those two are the driving force behind one of my favorite organizations, charity: water, so it was great to see them featured on a fantastic interview site. Their personal stories are inspiring, and their work is second-to-none.

2. The new IgniterMedia.com

I’m so proud of what my former colleagues launched this week. It’s beautiful, functional, and built to serve the church around the world. I also happen to know that the site is the result of months of hard work by the Igniter team, and I’d say that hard work has paid off. Great job, guys.

3. Talking story and church communication with Tim Peters

This week Tim Peters posted a 10-minute conversation we recorded last Friday. In the interview we talk about story and church communications — two of my favorite topics — and Tim gave me the chance to mention my book as well. You can watch the conversation here:

4. My book is a real thing

It happened this week … I received a few copies of my book in the mail. Not the manuscript. Not an unedited proof. The actual paperback book people will get when (okay, if) they buy a copy. Holding my first book in my hands was a strange and wonderful feeling, and not one I’ll soon forget. I told Elise and Maggie I’d give them bacon in exchange for five-star reviews of my book on Amazon, so they each agreed to take a look:

E & MCrazy.

And that’s what I liked this week.

Friday Likes

It’s Friday and, well, I still like stuff. As such, here’s another edition of Friday Likes:

1. Wunderlist

There’s no shortage of to-do list apps in our world, but Wunderlist is my current weapon of choice. It’s free to use on your computer, phone, and tablet thingy, and Wunderlist syncs your lists and tasks across all your devices. If you’re already financially invested in another app, or if you need something that’ll integrate with a team, Wunderlist probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a personal productivity solution, give it a spin.

2. James Vincent McMorrow

I was introduced to this artist via @paul_cawley, and I feel like I owe Paul a debt of gratitude. This tune might persuade you of McMorrow’s greatness:

3. Blaine Hogan’s blog

Blaine is an artist, author, and the Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church. Lately, Blaine has been on a blogging roll, and you’d be crazy to miss out. Read and subscribe and all that.

Those are my likes for the week. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Friday Likes

Here we are — week 2 of my little Friday Likes experiment. Here’s what I’ve been into this week:

1. Air Review, Low Wishes

Air Review is a band based here in Dallas and comprised of some great guys. They released this fantastic album (iTunes, Amazon) this week, and I’ve been playing it nonstop. From songwriting to performance to production, Low Wishes lacks for nothing in my humble opinion.

2. BBC’s The Hour

The Hour is a fantastic series set in 1956 London — think Mad Men meets The Newsroom meets Rubicon (I’m the only human who watched Rubicon). The series features a great cast, including McNulty from The Wire and Moriarty from Sherlock. Find the DVDs or download it from iTunes.

3. What It Means To Be a Man by Rhett Smith

My friend Rhett’s new book won’t be out for three more months, but I’ve been fortunate to get to read an advance copy this week. The book has really challenged me, and I think it’ll do the same for many, many others. Rhett’s offering a small group of people the opportunity to read and discuss the book early — check out this post for more details.

That’s it for me this week. I’ve got a new job to get to today, so I’d better put down the laptop and get ready.

I Am The Man You Know I’m Not

I-Am-The-Man-You-Know-Im-Now

I Am The Man You Know I’m Not — that’s the brilliant and confusing title of my friend Ronnie Fauss‘s debut album. The album is full of what No Depression called “hook-filled twangy tunes” influenced by legends like John Prine, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and Gram Parsons. I’ve been enjoying this record since it came out a few weeks ago, though I’m admittedly biased.

The songs are alternately raucous, clever, thoughtful, and heart-wrenching — a great combination in my book. And you need more fiddle and pedal steel in your life, don’t you? Of course you do.

I Am The Man You Know I’m Not is available on iTunes and Amazon, so grab it. If you need more convincing, YouTube has you covered:

Like I said, grab it.

What It’s Like To Hit Your Stride As A Writer

I spent seven months of this year working on the manuscript for Tell Me a Story. Throughout that stretch there were good times and bad times, creative feasts and creative famines. As a writer, there’s nothing quite like those good times, when the words flow and the ideas take shape on the page.

When I stumbled on this video today, I knew I’d found a fitting visual representation of what it feels like to hit your stride:

Do you thing. Do the work.

(Analogy guide: swordsman = writer; blade = brain and/or laptop; plastic bottles = word counts, deadlines, and Resistance.)

What Jena Nardella Prayed

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A few months ago I made reference to my disdain for the American political circus, and I’m afraid that disdain only intensified as the presidential race ramped up. Then … then … the conventions got going, and once the conventions got going, Twitter and Facebook got going too.

The rhetoric is, in my opinion, so exceedingly awful that I can’t stomach it. There’s no truth, no clarity, no empathy, no humility — in sum, no virtue. Clearly, I’m dancing with cynicism in all this. Which is why I needed to hear what Jena Nardella prayed at the close of the Democratic National Convention’s opening night.

She prayed for Obama and Romney. She prayed for red states and blue states. She prayed for character, wisdom, humility, and service rather than victory. She prayed for perspective rather than a platform. Rather than attempt to bend God to our national will, she prayed that our national will might be bent to God’s.

You can read the transcript of Jena Nardella’s prayer on her website or you can watch the video below:

As for me, well, between now and November I’m seeking the courage and conviction to pray what Jena Nardella prayed.

Another Round of Book Reviews

Back in February I offered a series of quick comments on the the last batch of books I’d read, and now I’m back for another round. Here’s a current look at what I’ve been reading, complete with Amazon affiliate links for good measure:

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway — Decades after the fact, Hemingway wrote this account of his life in 1920s Paris as a young man. He was a master of words, obviously, and so his descriptions of his work, travels, meals, and friend is always fascinating and, at times, moving. On a personal level, it was comforting to read as Hemingway recounted his doubts about his ability to write his first novel. If even Hemingway had his doubts, perhaps my own doubts aren’t the harbingers of doom I make them out to be.

All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning — I love a good memoir, and what a life Manning lived, from abuse to alcoholism to priesthood to more alcoholism. Yes, men make stories, but All is Grace is a good reminder that stories make men too.

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight — I’ve been a fan of McKnight’s since I heard him speak a few years ago and began following his blog. If the idea of accurately defining the gospel interests you, read this book.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff — Who is Bob Goff to teach us about discovering an incredible life? Simple: He’s a guy who is living an incredible life. Goff is wise, compassionate, endearing, hilarious, and just plain different from those of us mired in quiet desperation. Bob Goff is the real deal, and I enjoyed his first book very much.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner — Either you’ve already experienced life in the valley or you will experience life in the valley. Either way, Winner’s book will prove meaningful. She’s such a talented writer with a raw story to tell and a wonderful ability to invoke Scripture, theology, and literature.

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani — Jethani draws upon his experience as a pastor to examine the ways in which we traditionally approach God: Life Under God, Live Over God, Life For God, Life From God. Each of these approaches is unsatisfying, particularly in light of the approach Jethani champions: Life With God. I’d gladly recommend this book to you.

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UP NEXT:

A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars by Jonathan Merritt — I’m about done with this one, and I’m glad I picked it up. Merritt’s book isn’t a plea for a more conservative or a more liberal Church. Rather, he’s after a more active Church, one that is less concerned with chasing political power in order to change the world from the top. As a rapidly again millennial, Merritt is one of the voices I want to represent my generation.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard — It’s so great. It’s so, so great. Willard is an uber-combination of wisdom, conviction, and outright brilliance. His writing is so dense with greatness that I’m struggling to progress through this book. But I know when I do finally finish it, I’ll be better for it.

 

That’s it for now. What should I read next?

 

Where (I Think) ‘The Office’ Went Wrong

I haven’t watched The Office on purpose in a while, although I see an episode now and then. Once upon a time I was a big fan, but I bailed before Steve Carrell did because something was wrong. For whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy the show anymore. Other shows popped up (Community, Modern Family), and I moved on.

Then last week I heard Stephen Merchant talking about the original version of The Office, which he helped make with Ricky Gervais. In talking about their approach to making the show, Merchant said he and Gervais were really after reality. They wanted viewers to see themselves, their coworkers, and other people they know on the screen. If you watched the show, you probably experienced recognition every episode.

In talking about Gervais’s approach to his character, David Brent, Merchant said Gervais was intensely concerned about about the truth. When they were hashing out specific scenes, Gervais was always dedicated to whether or not his character actually do or say something that was in the script. That was the filter the show.

Without being condescending, I’d say the current version of The Office is after absurdity rather than reality. I don’t envision the show’s producers, writers, and actors making impassioned arguments for what the characters would and wouldn’t do.

There’s nothing wrong with absurdity per se, but I think what you end up with is less like the original version of The Office and more like The Simpsons—a funhouse mirror instead of just a mirror.

Now that I think about it, once upon a time I was a big fan of The Simpsons too. But these days I’m more interested in the truth.

Charles Pierce on Science and Football

Two and a half years ago I read this Malcolm Gladwell piece on football and brain trauma, and it messed me up. I don’t know what it is about my personality or upbringing that is so prone to guilt, but I feel guilty about watching football these days. It’s true. My favorite sport is one that appears to systematically, but incrementally, destroy many of its participants. At times I think I enjoy reading about football (strategy, analysis, personnel decisions, etc.) more than I enjoy actually watching football. When I’m reading on an LCD screen, I’m only one whose head hurts afterward.

That’s an awfully long setup to get to a recommendation of another piece, this one by Charles P. Pierce: “The Saints, Head-hunting, and (Another) Disaster for the NFL.” Pierce is wickedly sharp, and I simply loved this line:

“Science, that great murderer of comfortable illusions, continues to increasingly undermine the bargain we’d cut for ourselves with the game.”

Maybe I’m the only one who attaches any guilt to enjoying football, but maybe not. Either way, after having recently broken up with the Dallas Cowboys in an emotional private ceremony, I find myself wondering what it’d be like for me as a fan to avoid the 2012 season altogether. I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on that act of self-righteous abstention just yet. But I’m mulling it over, if for no other reason than the fact that science continues to undermine the bargain I’d cut for myself with the game.

I’ve Been Reading

I’ve picked up my reading pace over the last several months, so I thought I’d list out the books I’ve read in that span. I’m not one for proper, thorough, nuanced book reviews, but I’m happy to offer my two cents here and there. I’m always including affiliate links for these titles because I love you and you love me. Cool? Let’s get into it:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller — I just finished re-reading this one, and it’s still great. It’s so personal and, at times, gut-wrenching. And now that Blue Like Jazz: the Movie is a reality, it’s great to revisit the stories about the screenplay coming together.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers — This is a quick but fascinating book from Seth Godin’s Domino Project. Sivers offers leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs advice in the form of his experiences founding, running, and selling CDBaby. It’s accessible and pretty handy, too.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons — This book is way too long and contains way too much information about the history of the game of basketball. But I read every word and enjoyed most of it. Simmons is great, and it’s fun to read about the legends of the game.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin — Steve Martin was done with stand-up comedy by the time I was born, so I always think of him as an actor. That and the fact that Martin is a skilled writer made for an entertaining read. As someone who feels as though I’m still honing in on the whole career thing, it was motivating to learn about all the work Martin put in over the years honing his craft.

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman — I love Chuck Klosterman, but I didn’t like this novel. Truth be told, I bailed halfway through for two reasons: I didn’t care about any of the characters and I didn’t care what happened next. Sorry, Chuck, but I would like to read The Visible Man someday.

The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning — I love the combination of the rawness of Manning’s past and the beauty of his prose. As a reader with my share of identity and esteem issues, the message of this book was so timely and meaningful for me. Of course, that means the message was also plenty challenging for me, and that’s a good thing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson — I felt compelled to read this book before the movie came out, though I’m not sure why. The narrative is tough to stomach in places, but the pacing is good and the mystery hooked me. I imagine I’ll finish this trilogy at some point, but I’m not chomping at the bit like I was with …

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins — Yes, this counts as three books, but I felt it might be patronizing to list them individually. It’s also patronizing to classify these as Young Adult, right? These books were incredible and I consumed them at an alarming rate. Just read ‘em already.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts by Ian Cron — I enjoyed Ian Cron’s Chasing Francis but I loved this book. I resonated with Cron’s story of growing up and trying to make sense of God and family and how to deal with it all. Cron’s book illustrates the power of digging into our stories (rather than running from them) and trying to make peace with them.

Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan — Okay, I’m almost done with this one, but I’m taking it essay by essay. The first essay, about Sullivan’s trip to a Christian music festival and his adolescent journey into (and out of) Christianity, roped me in. From there, I enjoyed his observations and storytelling on everything from Native American caves to the time his brother almost died by electrocution.

UNTITLED: Thoughts on the Creative Process by Blaine Hogan — Blaine is the Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church, someone who makes good things, and an all-around nice guy. His first book is accessible and inspiring, so grab it if the creative process is part of your life in some way. (That means you.)

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UP NEXT:

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight — In the time I’ve spent working on this post I’ve almost made it to the halfway point in this one. Dang, it’s good. McKnight has opened my eyes to both the gospel as the Bible articulates it and our modern-day Plan of Salvation culture. And no, they’re not the same thing.

What have you been reading? Any recommendations?