Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

Okay, I try to be a level headed, loving guy, who’s as kind as possible but occasionally I hear something that is so ludicrous that I feel like I have to comment on it, especially when it relates to the arts. I heard one just the other day on a commercial for the Chappaquiddick movie. I was fine with all of it. I like movies that explore historical events, but then it got to the end and they were listing the rating and why the movie received it and one of the items listed was “historical smoking.” Really? Historical SMOKING?!? Really?!?

Now please don’t get me wrong, I do not smoke. I do not like smoking. I think smoking is a pretty nasty, dangerous habit and I wish everyone would quit, but this is what they’re worried about?!? They actually think they have to warn us about smoking in the movie. Like some kid is going to watch this movie (will any kid watch this movie?) and say, “I think I’m going to start smoking because I really want to be like that cool senator who got drunk and drove his car off a bridge killing the young woman who was riding with him and then didn’t report it for ten hours. yeah, I wanna be like that guy. Quick gimme a Marlboro.” Do we really think that’s what is going to happen? Oh yes please protect our kids from historical smoking.

Again, I DO NOT want kids to smoke, but what about all the other stuff we bombard them with every day.The stuff about which no one says a word. Forget the movies where at least there is a rating system responsible parent can use. What about just good old network prime time TV? There’s all matter of sexuality, graphic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and a whole host of other stuff we ought to be a lot more incensed about goes virtually unnoticed, but please, oh please, protect them from historical smoking, because clearly that is the biggest problem we face. This shows me how completely out of touch so much of our media is and it leads me to two major conclusions. First and foremost, good parenting is more essential than it has ever been in our history. Secondly, those of us with a creative bent have got to get to work creating something better. They’re so out of touch that the only real choice we have is to do it ourselves.


Let’s start this off right. Please do not misread the title. I was not disappointed with I Can Only Imagine the movie. It’s amazing. Nor was I disappointed with the song. The first time I heard it, it turned me into a blubbering mess. I’m also not disappointed with Bart Millard, who I am convinced is in the stratosphere of Christian songwriters. No we’ll get to the power of disappointment in a moment.

There have been times in the past where I have gone to see a Christian movie in the theaters (because if we want people and more importantly studios to keep making Christian movies, we have to spend our money and support them in the theaters and not just wait for video or Netflix) and walked away thinking that was pretty good for a Christian movie. I Can Only Imagine is not like that. I Can Only Imagine is just a straight up good, possibly great, movie. It is brilliant. While it is decidedly Christian in content, I am pretty convinced that like the song that inspired it this will appeal to a much wider audience. There is some fantastic storytelling here. I realize the odds are extremely small of this happening, but if there are any Academy Award voters reading this post, Dennis Quaid’s performance in this movie is worthy of a nomination. Yes, he is that good! If you have not seen I Can Only Imagine yet, trust me, you need to and you won’t be disappointed.

So let’s get to the power of disappointment. There is a very poignant scene in the movie where Bart and the rest of Mercy Me get a showcase for the CMA week. This is a big deal and their agent got five major labels to come and see them. Bart clearly believes this will be their big break. Backstage after the show the band waits for word. Bart clearly feels like he can’t wait any longer for them to make a decision and finally, despite the protests of the rest of the band, goes out and interrupts the meeting. He begs the label execs to tell him what they think. And they tell him he’s not good enough. This scene is brilliantly shot. For every negative comment he hears from a label exec, he flashes back to his mean, nasty, cruel father telling him he’ll never measure up, that this is all a big pipe dream. He leaves the room crushed, defeated and determined to quit. Instead he decides to deal with his past. He goes back to confront his father. I don’t want to go too much further because that could be a spoiler. Suffice it to say the meeting is one more crushing disappointment in what was by all accounts a hard life.

Disappointments are a funny thing. Had Bart gotten a record deal that night, most of the good things in his life would never have happened, and he definitely would never have ended up writing I Can Only Imagine, a song that has now been declared the number one Christian song of all time and a song that has been used to give help and hope, not to mention brought joy to millions of people all over the world.

The creative life is full of disappointment, rejection and yes sometimes all out failure. It’s in those moments when we need to trust God to be bigger, hold on to Him, sometimes deal with our issues and keep moving forward. Remember the Bible says in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

What will happen if you can face disappointment and move forward in Him?

I can only imagine.

Here’s the song that inspired it all in case you’re one of the three people left who haven’t heard it, or if maybe you just need a reminder.

Most people would say there are two Christmas Stories in the Bible. The most famous is Luke’s and the second most famous in Matthew’s. I maintain there are four. One is found in Revelation 12. Like most of Revelation it is very deep and symbolic. It deals with  a pregnant woman with stars around her head and a giant red dragon waiting to eat her baby but we don’t have time to unpack that one right now. I just finished speaking and painting and I’m really tired. But there is a fourth that some would find debatable, largely because it is usually overlooked. It comes from the book of John and it’s usually overlooked because it’s only one verse. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. It’s short an sweet, but its exactly what happened. God became man and lived with us. John 1 is the passage I’ve been exploring for my Advent preaching this year and so far it’s spawned three paintings.

The first was for my church, Springfield Church of the Brethren and it deals with the Intertestamental  Period (the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew). The next two deal with The Word, and the Light.
Here is a little infographic I did for the first message.

Next we have the two paintings I did for the word and the Light. I did these at Camp Eder for their Christmas Tree festival and the messages will be combined for Springfield next week. Again please keep in mind these are speed paintings done in 8 and 6 minutes respectively. Both were very well received and I pray God was glorified.

I always have a great time doing these things, but what I love most about it, is it give another way to draw people into the message. I pray you all have a blessed Christmas season and my His Word make your life shine.

This morning I am heading out for what should be my last ministry road trip of the year. I’ll be going to Camp Eder to speak at their Christmas Tree Festival. This will be my third year speaking and painting at this event and I got a pleasant surprise, I’ll be painting indoors this year. In previous years I painted in a pavilion outdoors and it was, pardon the pun, pretty cool. My first year was one of those unseasonably warm December evenings and I got lulled into a false sense of security. Last year it was frigid, so cold that my paint was doing unusual things, and a little hard to work with, but it was still fun.

This is a great event, that I’d love to do every year. It’s at a beautiful Christian camp near Gettysburg, PA. They cover the camp with lights and displays. Indoors they have Christmas trees decorated by the churches in their region, all trying to “out-creative” each other to win the tree decorating contest.  I always look forward to seeing what they come up with, cause you know how I feel about churches being creative, right? There is also all kinds of delicious food and musical performances each night. It is a lot of fun, but more than that, it’s a creative way to raise funds for a very important ministry. I am so looking forward to this event. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you. I’ll be there tonight and tomorrow night, ministering around 7:00.

Camp Eder, 914 Mt Hope Rd, Fairfield, PA 17320

Movie Review: All Saints

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Storytelling

This afternoon my wife and I caught the new Christian film All Saints. Based on a true story, this film tells the story of Michael Spurlock, a salesman turned pastor who was brought into a fading church for the purposes of closing it. A providentially placed flyer attracts a community of Karen refugees from Burma. The need in the Karen community combined with the need to meet the church’s budget gets the congregation to work together to turn some of the church’s land into a farm.

This was not the feel good movie I expected and somehow that worked. Christian films often tend to wrap things up very neatly. This one, ends well, but somewhat unexpectedly and somehow that feels more like real-life. This movie was really well done, and extremely thought provoking. As a church leader this film challenged me in quite a few areas. Lead actor John Corbett does a great job as Spurlock, but the movie was “stolen” by Barry Corbin as Forrest, a curmudgeon who demonstrates a heart of gold near the end.

All in all this is a really good film, that I recommend. Great storytelling with a point.

A $14.99 piece of carved wood inspired an adventure into the Unknown. Fresh parables from God are found everywhere! Elizabeth Barrett Browning opened my eyes with this reminder:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;

Candice Olson, host of a TV program that tackles challenging home design dilemmas, was a co-contributor to the inspiration. On one of her recent episodes, she purchased a chair for the family room she was designing. It was called the Smoke Chair. I call it the Charred Chair. The classic wood carved chair had been torched to create a cracked patina of burnt wood. It was beautiful!

So a few weeks ago, standing in the aisle of HomeGoods, I looked at a glossy-varnished wood heart and my spiritual eyes saw it transformed into a heavily-textured charred parable.

I love to redesign found objects and provide worship participants context in which to create altered worshipart. This process slows down time, and like Jesus’ writing in the sand of the temple, it provides that unmeasured moment when the natural barriers between heaven and earth become very thin. And God, in that suspended space, speaks the Truth to us individually, like the words that healed the prostitute’s abused heart and the words that penetrated the conscience of each of her accusers.

Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of God would heal the broken hearted and, as the Message puts it, “give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes.” What a promise of restoration. What a beautiful picture!

We explored the parable of Beauty from Ashes over several worship gatherings. The first weekend, using a plumber’s torch with MAPP gas, we scorched the wood heart. Then, using coffee filters, florist wire and watercolor paints we created a magnificent bouquet of roses to “bloom” from the charred heart.

Everyone shared in reading the Story of the freed captive, the prostitute who stood on the sacred sand in the midst of her accusers. Tradition suggests that it was this same woman who came into the midst of quite possibly the same group of accusers, when she crashed Simon’s party. What a daring risk she took as she poured out her praise, her oil of joy, anointing her Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I have experienced that when you provide the time and opportunity for the creative work of the people, texturized liturgy, God’s Story is revealed in real-time. It takes your breath away, the air is so thin. It makes curated worship beautiful.

We always provide an opportunity for interpersonal interaction, some might call it an icebreaker; I think of it more as a heart softener. For the second weekend of our Beauty from Ashes, I placed a generous stack of Table Topic™ cards on each table. These cards are a great conversation starter with some provocative questions. Active participation promotes community and lowers barriers, authentic participation thins the air.

Chris was the second person to read his card out loud. I was so proud of him! He read the card all by himself and didn’t need any help sounding out the words. He started attending our group when he was 5 years old and was very timid. Now, at age 7, he is eager to be involved with everything we do. His card asked this question, “If you could do anything without risk of injury, what would you do?”

He pondered the question on his card. I suggested that he think about it and offered the same question to Jack. Jack is in his mid 20’s and is an extreme sportsman. He rock climbs, backpacks mountains in the middle of ice storms and has conquered Central America in his four-wheeling truck-beast. He is angry with God, but regularly attends our gathering. His engagement to the love-of-his-life didn’t happen. The ring was refused. He was rejected. It’s been almost a year. He is a bitter man. Usually he is sullen and slouches low in a chair at the back of the gathering room. I don’t know why I offered for Jack to answer the question while Chris considered his response. Maybe it was because I thought that it was a “safe” question, an easy question for our adventurous explorer. Void of vulnerability.

“If you could do anything without risk of injury, what would you do?”

Jack turned his eyes away and looked down at the floor. Then, in a very soft voice, Jack responded, “I would open my heart.”

God speaks. God moves. God is beautiful.
we respond. we create. we worship. Michael Card

I am doing a study on the book of Acts and using what I am learning for a year of Bible Studies at my church and it has been eye opening. In the process of this study, I am always looking for supplemental materials to help my teaching. It was in this search that I stumbled upon Into the Fray. What a great book. Author Matt Mikalatos is a missionary and it is clear he is passionate about this book.

His approach is unique. He attempts (quite successfully) to bring the stories from Acts to the twenty-first century, as if they were happening right now. This really brings a fresh perspective on the text. It is clear, he is a great story teller. He manages to bring the text to the modern day without sacrificing truth or meaning. He doesn’t just tell the story, through a unique layout technique, he “brackets” the story and then tells the story behind the story, explaining what was happening from the Bible itself. These teachings are theologically sound and very biblical.

I think my favorite chapter is The Storytellers. In this chapter Mikalatos shows Luke telling his story, of how the physician becomes a disciple. It’s a departure from the rest of the book but it sets up a wonderful explanation on how to tell your story, i.e. share your testimony. This chapter is pure gold for all those nervous evangelists who want to share their faith but aren’t quite sure how. This chapter has made me reexamine how I share my own story and the other things I do in my presentations with AMOKArts.

At the end of the book, Mikalatos adds a really nice study guide with questions from each chapter, making Into the Fray a great tool for use in a Bible study on the book of Acts. As a resource, Into the Fray would work well from middle school ministry through adult.

If I had any complaint about this book it’s that it’s too short. I would love to see him recreate this book almost in commentary style telling all the stories rather than just the highlights. This takes away nothing from the excellence of this book. Rather it is a suggestion for another project for Mr. Mikalatos. I really loved this book.