Jonah & the Inside Passage…

Learning Real Forgiveness from a Reluctant Prophet

 

I’m getting ready for Alaska.

Dr. Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living (IFL) have invited me to perform a few characters during the upcoming IFL cruise to Alaska. We’ll be taking the Inside Passage.

The Lord has a way of poking at me through my characters. Maybe you’ve experienced that during your own Bible study. It seems that, whatever character I’m performing (Jonah, in this case), something in that man’s life resonates with issues in my own life. Maybe that’s one reason the Lord chose to record particular experiences in the Bible — the universality of our struggles bind us in a common experience, despite being separated from those characters by thousands of years. We all find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak.

Jonah’s issue was one of forgiveness. He had trouble forgiving his enemies. And, make no mistake, his enemies were real. The Assyrians were the terrorists — the Islamic State  — of his day, and they threatened Israel with their barbaric acts of torture, and their mockery of Israel’s God. The Assyrians habitually flayed their enemies alive, chopped off heads and stacked them in towering mounds, and tore young children from their mothers’ arms, then burned them alive in front of them. To my way of thinking, Jonah had a case.

In the beginning of the story, the Lord sends Jonah to announce judgement against the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, because of their wickedness.  Jonah takes off in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. But God uses a fish to redirect his steps, and he winds up going to Nineveh — albeit reluctantly — with a message of God’s impending judgement: “At the end of 40 days, Nineveh will be overthrown.”  As far as we know, that was the whole sermon. No call to repentance. No hint of possible forgiveness. Just judgement.

And yet…

The Ninevites repented. Weeping. Sackcloth (they even draped their animals in sackcloth)! And, to Jonah’s consternation, God spared them.

The Lord taught Jonah an important lesson. Jonah knew intellectually that the Lord was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” (Jonah 4:2). In fact, that’s the main reason given for his attempted escape to Tarshish. He shuddered at the thought of those hated Assyrians — those terrorists — being spared God’s judgement. It was a far cry from the vengeance Jonah was hoping for. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t the payback they deserved.

But it was grace.

It was God’s gift to the terrorists, once they repented.

You don’t get to real/heart forgiveness by traveling the road of judgement.

Real forgiveness is a journey up the Inside Passage of the heart. Because the Lord doesn’t just want us to forgive our enemies (include the virtual terrorists in your own family who plot to hurt you and your loved ones).

He wants us to love them. Just as he loves us, and loved us — while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10).

Ask the Lord today to transform your heart. To help you love and forgive your enemies — including the terrorists — from your heart.

 

 

Waking Up Slowly (Again)

A Gentle Reminder

This comes by way of reminder. A few weeks ago I reviewed Dave’s new book, Waking Up Slowly.

You know how some books, you read and forget in between the last word and the final period? Waking Up Slowly sticks with youIt will kick start your day like a Chai Tea Latte with a shot of dopamine.

It’s that time of year — you’re feeling a little ragged, a tad draggy — wondering what in the world you’re going to do with the kids when they are home ALL SUMMER LONG, and camp isn’t an option this year.

Pick up Waking Up Slowly, and sip it — maybe a chapter a day. It will last you well into the summer and make you feel like it’s an April morning in (fill in your favorite town, state, country, or planet).

Parable of Little Knife

For Rodney with thanks to Bill Brewer

My dad kept an old whetstone wheel down at his shop on the ranch. It had belonged to my grandfather — Mom’s dad, Lawley Reagan. it looked a lot like the one pictured above. Dad used it to sharpen axes and hatchets and knives before it fell apart sometime in the late fifties. The grit was coarse, but Dad could put a fine edge on just about any tool.

I attended a memorial service on Saturday for a great woman — Cortina Orr. Her radiant joy lightened many a dark day for a host of disciples and friends. Her memorial was held on one of those bright and sunny days typical of north Texas in early May. The cloud of her passing dissipated in the shining hope of resurrection and reunion.

Still, she’s gone for now, and that hurts. So, as I was sitting there listening to one of the finest memorial addresses I’ve ever heard (thanks Bill Brewer), and considering how painful it must be for her husband and my dear friend, Rodney, and for her grown children Ariel and Bradley, this little parable came to mind.

Once upon a time there was a little carving knife, fresh from the forge and eager to be pressed into service. He came from a long line of carvers, with specialty bowl gouges and planes in his lineage — and, of course, a few whittlers from the poor side of town. Together his family had made bowls, and spinning tops, and even some fine furniture. But he was proudest of the nativity sets, carved in fine detail by his father and grandfather. The edge on his father’s blade could shave the whiskers off an olivewood Joseph, and shape wonder in the eyes of a pinewood shepherd on the night of Jesus’s birth.

The little carving knife wanted to be fitted with a rosewood handle immediately, and to get to work on a great piece of art.

His father looked down at him and smiled, though his joy was tempered with the knowledge of what must come first.

“Son,” he said, “you have great dreams, but you have no edge. The master carver can’t use you until you submit to the whetstone wheel.”

The little fellow swallowed hard. He was hoping to avoid the pain of sharpening, but he knew he would remain dull and useless without it.

So he submitted to the hand of the master carver, and he held him against the spinning wheel at just the right angle. Sparks flew! Small bits of dull metal were ground away, and the little carving knife didn’t know if he would be able to stand the pain. Occasionally, the master mercifully added a bit of water to the wheel so the little carving knife wouldn’t overheat and break under the strain.

Finally, it was over. The master carver fitted the little carving knife with a beautiful rosewood handle that his father had carved just for him.

The pain of sharpening had rendered him ready for service — with the knowledge that an occasional light sharpening would be necessary to maintain his keen edge.

We love you, Rodney. The Master Carver has held you to the whetstone recently in Cortina’s passing. He’s giving you a fine edge indeed, my friend.

And by His grace, He will continue to use you to shape lives as you have shaped mine.

 

Celebrating Future Now Conference with Peggy Kim

June 1, 2, 2017 - For Students Interested in PR, Marketing and Making Media Connections in NYC

 

I just got back from New York City. One of the biggest challenges for people moving to NYC who want to work in Media, is meeting people/making contacts.

Enter my friend, Peggy Kim. Peggy is the Founder and President at iStand Media, and one of the media professionals with whom I was visiting while in the city.

The whole time, I was thinking, Ok, Peggy has so many things going on, how am I going to boil down all of this fascinating stuff so that you can get some whiff of who she is?  

But that would be like trying to capture the fragrance of a grand garden in a perfume bottle. A garden comprises a host of fragrances, all of which combine to produce a delightful experience that invites you in. Peggy is a walking garden, as you can see from her LinkedIn page. She specializes in the following areas:

  • Content development
  • Documentary film-making
  • Reality formats
  • Production supervision
  • Programming strategy
  • Talent development
  • Distribution and building partnerships
  • Contract negotiations

Oh yeah, and she happens to be a dynamic Christian. Peggy’s love for the Lord shines through in her compassionate desire to help others, and in her dedication to serving Him with the best she has to give.

Now, we get to celebrate a fantastic networking opportunity as Peggy is hosting the Future Now Media & Entertainment Conference in New York City!

My good bud, Kathleen Cooke (Co-Founder and VP of Cooke Pictures) recently sent me an email that provides an introduction to the conference:

This is a great opportunity for your students who are interested in the media in the areas of PR and marketing and for getting their “foot in the door” in NYC. They’ll have a chance to meet and see the inter-workings of the NYC media business and get insightful information on how they can take what they’ve been learning in their classrooms and move into the professional world. This is the first of it’s kind conference that I’ve seen done that gives the students real “boots on the ground” information and allows them to be personally introduced to leading professionals in the industry. I’ll be attending and speaking along with many top leading professionals in the industry.

I believe it’s a significant event you don’t want your students to miss

Here’s a flyer which you can print and distribute as a poster for the conference: FUTURENOW flyer

But here’s the deal – your students have to apply by May 15. There won’t be any walkups.

One more thing – the conference is FREE! All you have to do is pay for transportation, food and lodging.

It’s worth scholarshipping promising student artists who are moving to NYC!

 

Good, Holy Friday

Love Nailed to a Shared Cross

If you’re familiar with the writings of C. S. Lewis, you probably know him as a spinner of the wonderful children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Or, you may find yourself basking in the glow of his intellectually profound nonfiction work such as, Mere Christianity, or his autobiographical, Surprised by Joy, or his excellent radio address on The Four Loves.

But there is a treat in store for you if you have missed out on Lewis the poet (Don W. King does an outstanding job of exploring this corner of Lewis’s life in C. S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse).

One of my favorite Lewis poems captures in just a few verses the essence of Good Friday. I share it with you as a gift and as an invitation to meditate on the depth of God’s love as expressed in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Love’s as Warm as Tears, by C. S. Lewis

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts–Infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring
Love is spring:
Bird-song in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering “Dare! Dare!”
To sap, to blood,
Telling “Ease, safety, rest
Are good; not best.”

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

 

Visit the Holy Land Online with Wayne Stiles!

An Exciting New Opportunity to Experience the Land of the Bible

 

I have some great news for you! A good friend of mine, Dr. Wayne Stiles (see handsome mugshot above!), will be hosting an online walkthrough of the Lands of the Bible.

The focus for this series is on Passion Week and the sign-up will be open until April 19, but why wait? Go to this website today and sign up for Wayne’s FREE 3-part series on Passion Week, recorded on site in Jerusalem.

What you’ll see: the key places where Jesus walked and taught during the days leading up to and including His crucifixion and resurrection.

What you’ll hear: teaching from one of my favorite Bible teachers! Wayne delivers more than just information. He gives you lessons for living in light of biblical truth. I’ve been to Israel with Wayne on several occasions, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that God’s blessing rests on this man and his teaching. Don’t miss this opportunity.

If you enjoy the mini-series, as I’m sure you will, you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to an ongoing video series where you will walk the Bible lands with Wayne.

The URL for the FREE 3-part series: www.passionweektour.com

Mimesis — Creative Contagion

How and Why we Empathize with Art and Why it Matters...

 

Been noodling on some connections — BTW, thanks once again to the excellent Brain Pickings website by Maria Popova, to which you really should subscribe. In the March issue, Popova explores the idea of empathy as articulated in Rachel Corbett’s book, You Must Change Your Life. Despite the ubiquity of the idea of empathy as “a centerpiece of our very humanity,” (see Reclaiming Conversation, by Sherry Turkle, who challenges our preoccupation with virtual relationships and the consequent loss of empathy) as it turns out, originated in art. It’s only a little over a hundred years old, and “empathy” only entered our lexicon,

…when it was used to describe the imaginative act of projecting oneself into a work of art in an effort to understand why art moves us. — Popova, Brain Pickings, 3/5/17.

In the late 19th century a German philosopher named Theodor Lipps, building on the earlier work of Dr. Wilhelm Wundt, was trying to figure out why art impacts us so powerfully.

[He] originated the then-radical hypothesis that the power of its impact didn’t reside in the work of art itself  but was, rather, synthesized by the viewer in the act of viewing. —Popova, ibid. Emphasis mine.

Pretty heady stuff.  So, art “works” — that is, it affects us most deeply — when we participate in the art. Well, that raises other questions: How do we, the observers participate in the art we are observing? Is it something over which we exercise conscious control? Or is such sympathetic response, as V. S. Ramachandran claims convincingly in The Tell-Tale Brain, completely unconscious? Is our virtual participation in an event part of a complex neurological auto response to stimuli that excite a cluster of what Ramachandran labels mirror neurons? And what about Corbett’s claim that,

The act of looking, then, becomes a creative process, and the viewer becomes the artist. —Popova, ibid.

Through the act of viewing, the observer becomes a participant rather than a clinically detached observer. This idea stops shy of the hypothesis proposed in The Dancing Wu Li Masters that the act of observing electrons in flight (as if we could do more than trace where they have been—nobody can see an electron in motion) influences their trajectories; however, the idea expressed by Corbett is similar. By projecting ideas, emotions or memories onto a work of art (any work of art in any genre), a person may,

…unconsciously move in and with the forms. (Popova, citing Robert Vischer, ibid. Emphasis mine).

Way back in 1873, Vischer, a German aesthetics student, named this process,

…einfühlung, literally “feeling into.” The British psychologist Edward Titchener translated the word into English as “empathy” in 1909, deriving it from the Greek empatheia, or “in pathos. … He dubbed this bodily mimesismuscular empathy,” a concept that resonated with Lipps, who once attended a dance recital and felt himself “striving and performing” with the dancers. He also linked this idea to other somatosensory imitations, like yawns and laughter —Popova, ibid (see Ramachandran on mirror neurons).

Popova notes Mark Rothko’s observation a half century later,

 “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” He was articulating the model of creative contagion — or what Leo Tolstoy called the “emotional infectiousness” of art — that Lipps had formulated. (Popova, ibid).

So—the simple act of viewing art can change us (see the title of Corbett’s book!).

So what?

Bottom line: the more we Christians immerse our hearts and minds in the Word of God—the more we consciously, prayerfully enter into and submit ourselves to the Author’s intended influence, the more likely we are to participate in the great work of His Holy Spirit—nothing less than the transformation of a casual sin-stained observer, into a holy participant in God’s Masterwork.

Intersections

A Bug's Life and the Incarnation...

We normally think of an intersection as a place that slows us down. If there isn’t a stop sign, then we are wise to look both ways before crossing. The objective is to get through the intersection safely and continue on our journey in the direction we had mapped out.

That, says Frans Johansson in The Medici Effect, is directional thinking. It is efficient. It will take you, predictably, to the place you intend to go. It’s relatively safe, with little to distract you from your intended destination. There is a time and place for directional thinking. Like when you need to get somewhere quickly, with as few interruptions — as few intersections — as possible.

But there’s a different way of thinking about intersections. When ideas (rather than cars) collide across an intersection of disciplines (fields, in Johansson-speak) the effect can be startling. Intersectional thinking (according to Johansson, p. 14) is positively creative when it is new and valuable. It is innovative when the creative idea is realized. Intersectional thinking happens when two disciplines cross paths.

We live at a time when knowledge is increasing at a staggering rate. One invention alone — the microchip — has resulted in computing power doubling every two years. So what happened when computer engineers, armed with this ever-increasing computing power, actors, and artists crossed paths back in the early 2000’s?

What happened was 3D animation, a la Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Shrek, and Monsters, Inc. 

Back in 1996, Steve Jobs saw it coming and had already entered the intersection of these disciplines. In his first annual report for Pixar after it had gone public, he said the following:

In the new world of computer animation the opportunities for innovation are immense. Traditional cell animators must spend a great del of time drawing…, (over 100,000 frames in a typical feature-length animated film must be drawn by hand)…. Pixar’s computer animation…done by hundreds…of very fast computers…frees our animators from drawing so that they can concentrate on acting, breathing life into their characters as they move.

This allows Pixar to hire animators who may or may not excel at drawing, but are brilliant actors. Our animators even take acting lessons.”

OK, let’s consider theology for a moment in light of intersectional thinking:

God had a “problem:” how best to glorify Himself.

There was no directional answer to the problem, so He welcomed the intersection of infinitely divergent fields of time and eternity. By His own divine alchemy, the eternally holy God would enter time encased in a vehicle of flesh. He would, in an exercise of unfathomable love, willingly sacrifice His only Son in order to bridge the infinite gulf that separates His sinful creatures from Himself. And then His Son would rise from the dead as evidence that He had effectively accomplished His mission. He had glorified Himself in a way that was new, and valuable, and innovative.

We can choose a directional (predictable) approach to solving our problems.

Or we can consider an intersectional (creative, innovative) approach.

Choose a problem today.

Look for an approaching idea. And step into the intersection.

On Acting and Living in the Character of Jesus Christ

Both are Inside Out Affairs...

As usually, when it comes to acting at least, Ms. Streep has it right. “finding myself in [the characters I portray]” is, to a large extent, what it’s all about.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Howard Fine’s book, Fine on Acting: a Vision of the Craft. I like what I see so far. For example, from p. 85: “If you want to get better at cold readings, READ! All art is derivative.” In chapter 4 on “Common Mistakes,” he notes: “The first common mistake that will lead you down a very bad path is judging the character. To me the root of all prejudice stems from our inability to see ourselves in other people.” Review the Streep quote above!

But here’s the core of it: “You don’t have to do a lot in order to get the message across…know your performance from the inside…not from standing back and looking at any of the externals, like how you look, but focusing on what’s coming from within you,” (p. 157, emphasis mine).

This is what I’ve been teaching and trying to embody for years. Here’s a handout I give (edited for you) to all my acting students. I hope it’s helpful as you try to re-present the character of Jesus Christ to the world.

“Learning to use the stage, speak lines, re-present a character requires constant discipline. It’s like learning to ride a bike. In the beginning our mechanics are clunky, awkward. Same thing with a performer. His lack of excellence is a matter of immaturity in the craft.

So, we rehearse. Mastery of any craft, from plumbing to singing opera, carries with it the demands of disciplined apprenticeship. We all must acquaint ourselves with the tools of the trade and then use them with such frequency and precision that, if I’m a plumber, the wrench becomes an extension of my hand, or my movement on the stage becomes natural and doesn’t come across as mechanical, or unmotivated. Acting is no less true for being well-rehearsed. It is more so.

My blocking/choreography is always conscious at first, and will need polish to appear natural to the point of nonchalance, and to allow me to fully inhabit my character. Eventually, over years of rehearsal and performance, we find that characterization and blocking become more and more natural because we have trained ourselves to go to the “right place” for so long. None of us wants a “paint-by-number” style of performance—predictable. Boring. It should appear as natural, anticipated and yet as surprising as the first leaf in spring.

But art is not natural in and of itself any more than the Christian life is “natural.” As artists we present edited life, lest we drone on about humdrum affairs that fail the “grace/seasoned with salt” test (Colossians 4:6). The Christian life should be considered a work of art. We don’t live it willy-nilly, according to the whim of the moment, but after careful consideration, prayer, and the discipline required by the spiritual life (editing out the fleshly desires of the old man), we re-present the Lord Jesus to the world with beauty and grace.”

The 5 Solas — Part 1: Sola Scriptura!

Standing With Luther for the Authority of the Bible...

On April 18, 1521, Martin Luther stood, sweating from a fever, in a large hall in the German city of Worms.

Luther was on trial for heresy—for insisting that Scripture alone, sola Scriptura, was to be regarded as the supreme authority in matters of faith and practice. He argued that the traditions of men cannot supersede the authority of the Word of God. The penalty, should Luther be found guilty, was that he would be burned at the stake.

He stood before Charles V, the 21-year-old emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The hall was so densely packed people could hardly move. Everyone except the emperor was standing. The smoke from hundreds of candles had been rising for hours into a thick cloud. The air was stifling. Tempers were frayed. The future of the church and Luther’s life hung in the balance.

The big question before this gathering was one of authority. Two traditions were at war in Worms. Tradition 1 (first—3rd century A.D.) held that the Bible was the authoritative doctrinal norm for the church. The Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church within the context of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”), yet neither the church nor the regula fidei were considered second, supplementary sources of revelation. The church was the interpreter of the divine revelation in Scripture, but only Scripture was the Word of God.

Whispers of a second tradition arose in the fourth century, when politics, power, and money had begun to gain increasing influence in the Roman church.  Basil and Augustine suggested the idea for tradition (that is, the long-held interpretation of the church fathers) as a second source of revelation that supplements biblical revelation. It might be brought alongside, but it could not supersede the authority of Scripture. Still, “Tradition 2” was only an idea, not doctrine and it wasn’t widespread.

Tradition 1—the position of the early church—continued to hold sway throughout most of the Middle Ages.

The beginnings of a strong movement toward Tradition 2 did not begin in earnest until the twelfth century, and it wasn’t until the fourteenth century under William of Ockham, that  the two-source view of revelation really gained traction.

From that point forward, Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 duked it out, all the way to the Reformation, which arguably began in 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, challenging the abuses of Roman authority. By this time Tradition 2 had come to supersede (not simply to supplement) the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice.

Truth is often the victim when money and politics come into play.

It wasn’t the authority Luther was challenging per se. It was the basis upon which the authority was exercised: the traditions of men vs. Scripture.

Thank God for Martin Luther and his unflagging loyalty to the Word of God as the supreme authority in matters of faith a practice.

“Here I stand,” he said to the emperor and all assembled. “I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

For more on Luther and the Reformation: my novel, Storm, recreates the events in Luther’s life from 1505—1525.