Stormy Water (a poem)

God why did you make loving you hurt so much
why are things most beautiful when they’re gone
to float peacefully over the black waves of anxiety
and still too overdrawn by their gravity to breathe

orange sunset sinking into the gray horizon
hazily miraculously craning backwards
turning the mirage world upside down
because I spine stiff am upside down

I try letting you walk down the stairs
from the top of my head into my heart
and instill your spirit to be still my soul
I’m still afraid of what you’ll find down there

a treasure chest of solitude that has yet to be cracked
open even though I accepted the key several years ago
I can feel you tinkering with the lock and the hinges now
and I’m sorry that I keep putting up such a restless fight

but please don’t throw me out to the fishes just yet
where there’s weeping and pulling of yellow teeth
hold me close to the boat so I don’t drift away
into the atmosphere of mist connections

work on me God and work through me
love on me God and love through me
that I may find peace and rest
in this weary weary world

TBB - Sketchbook Feature

Sketchbook #3: How to Talk to a Narcissist

Here are three simple tips to keep in mind when in the company of a narcissist. It doesn’t matter in which order you follow them, though; they’re more like general guidelines. Of course, the narcissist in question won’t realize that you’re catering to him; please, then, follow these criteria judiciously:

  1. Wear reflective sunglasses so it will be easier for them to maintain eye contact with you.
  2. Try to stand a foot lower than them so as to prepare for their condescending tone.
  3. If you get the chance to reply, do so only in clichés because narcissists will only want to hear what’s expected and not what’s needed.

And always remember that the reason why narcissists repeat themselves so much isn’t because they don’t know you heard them the first time but because they don’t care that you hear them again.

We as good Christians should always keep the other person in mind, you know. Because, as Tim Keller tweeted, “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.”

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NLT)

TBB - Croce

Jim Croce, Communication, and Social Media

I will rarely ever get political on social media anymore. There is just so much to communication that gets lost between the transmitter and the receiver when the only medium for that which is being communicated is the printed word. I can type something with the intent of it meaning one thing, and you or anyone else could read something entirely different. It happens enough when I post something as trivial as a Seinfeld meme; I can only imagine how it much worse it would pan out if I tried to posit my unsolicited political opinion into the mix.

It’s because social media lacks the other, more qualifiable elements of communication. Elements like vocal intonation and body language and even the very pretextual relationship between the transmitter and the receiver – anything from barely being acquaintances all the way to being the best of friends for years – just aren’t there. And since those elements – the vessels of communication in general – are lacking, the true communication of the message is in jeopardy.

One time, I tried. I really did. It involved a blog post that I have since deleted, but I tried. I wrote one of those “open letters” that contained my unsolicited political voice to a certain group of people. I took it down for three reasons: one, because I did not know the full situation until after I had published my post; two, I was publicly shaming other fellow believers – something Jesus himself was totally against (heck, He was against publicly shaming people in general); and three, deep down, I just did it for the clicks.

Nowadays, I just stick to the finer things in life: family pictures, theological maxims, brief but pertinent social quips, movie reviews, podcasts, Seinfeld memes, and the occasional pun. Of course, I’ll also share any creative endeavor via this blog – like poetry, short stories, and what not – but not much else. Not much else intrigues me anyway, so.

It saddens me, though, to see others fighting on social media. Fathers and sons, husbands and wives, high-school friends (former and current), religious and non-religious, everyone is at odds with someone. I know it’s just the way things are; people are people, and “you do you” and all that, but it doesn’t excuse the maliciousness, vitriol, and disrespect on either side.

Then again, if there really is no moral arbiter, then who am I to say who’s right and who’s wrong? In both their messages and the words through which they send them?

Either way, here’s some Jim Croce.



My Month at Regent

“Instructions for living life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver

Last month, I attended Regent University’s three-week theatre residency program. Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM was the Acting class, and Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM was the Directing class. I was one of eight students in the program, and we are all stuck together during those three weeks. The training was intense – at times, abrasive and even sharpening – but looking back on it now, I am so glad I went.

The brightest point for me was getting to meet the professors. Both were (and still are) working professionals in the field, and both have let their love for God instruct their paths. April Poland (Acting) has been a professional actor in Seattle since 2003 and has somehow found the time to teach theatre at the College of William and Mary during the academic year in addition to teaching at Regent for the summer.

BUT! There’s also Dr. Gillette Elvgren, Jr. (Directing), who has been doing his playwright and directing across the world for the past thirty years, and even though he’s technically retired from teaching full-time, he still makes time to help out Regent whenever he’s called upon. It was a blessing to experiment under their tutelage, and I’m thankful for them.

First day of class, I thought April was a student, and then this five-foot-something ball of fire starts stretching and warming up. She began each class with a round of warm-ups; everything from stretching the facial muscles and vocal chords to rolling down the spine. April’s mission then was to get us to understand the difference between “action” and “tactics” and “being present in the moment” and “remembering to take time to be astonished in those moments” and that one of the harshest and cruelest things an actor can do to an audience is to expect them to overlook his or her not being in that moment.

To be honest, I think a lot of her words went over my head while I was there, but I think that now – since I’m a couple of weeks removed from the whole thing – it’s all starting to click. Then again, I can say that sitting down, but I won’t know until I get back up and start practicing what she preached. I want to play.

(One thing I think I’ve realized about myself during this month is that whenever I “learn” something new, I have to play it out without being enraptured within a flux in order to fully grasp it. Sixteen-week courses being crunched down into three-week courses – for me, at least – creates a flux. It’s an intense pressure…like the middle part of an hourglass – a bottleneck, if you will – and, again, for me, it’s difficult to soak in the knowledge without it being distorted by the time constraint.

BUT! That’s just me. Not making excuses, just giving the reason.)

TBB - Directing

Gil began each class with a Bible reading and a prayer. Then, it’s off on the Gil Train. Careful now, though: if you ain’t in the right car, you’re gonna get steamrolled. For my personal example, I thought I had a good concept for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Well, it may have been decent enough for the scene I was assigned, but it would have not nor would it have ever been good for the rest of the play. Gil quickly told me to nix it and come up with something else. At the time, it hurt, yes, but I knew that Gil knew better than I did, so I trusted in him, and I actually came up with something that I personally think was better – more workable, more playable.

Gil’s got a certain quality, though, for encouraging what works and dousing what doesn’t. And whenever he saw something that did work on the whole but still needed some tinkering, he would gracefully explain what did work and why, then exclaim “BUT!”, and then proceed to mold and craft and elevate the scenes to new places. He’s an older gentleman, but that didn’t stop the gleam in his eye and the fire within him when he saw a good idea that needing prodding or a bad idea that needed quenching – when he saw something that “really cooked” and something that…well, didn’t.

Second best part was getting to know the classmates. Like I said earlier, there were only eight of us students in the program, and we all spent a lot of time together – class time during the day and self-disciplined rehearsal at night. Some I had already known (kinda-sorta) through the online classes I took in the Spring, and some I had met for the first time while there. For the ones I already *knew* from the online courses, it was nice to finally put a living face and a beating heart to those entities behind the discussion board posts.

And these fellow students hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. A stage director and a collegiate technical director came from Mississippi, a high school theatre teacher of twenty years came from Georgia, a recently made high school theatre teacher and a professional Michael Chekhov actor came from Florida, another high-school-age theatre teacher came all the way from Arizona, and a practitioner fresh out of Regent’s undergrad program. We were all strangers in the beginning, and now…well, we’re all Facebook friends…BUT! I know what while we were there, we were a family, and it was so refreshing to have all of them there.

To say that the whole experience was anything shy of a blessing would be a lie. I know I consider myself blessed and encouraged and even provoked to use these new storytelling skills and start implementing them whenever I can. And no, I still don’t know what form that will take, but I do know – now, with certainty – that I am closer to meeting that goal because of my month at Regent.



It was one of those movies I had always heard about when growing up; “Ah, that movie’s so good,” someone would ineffable praise, or “Ugh, that movie’s so long” someone else would particularly complain. Even Seinfeld had an episode in which Jerry and his flavor-of-the-week girlfriend were caught “making out” by the villainous Newman during a screening – an action with which Newman reached out to Jerry’s parents who later chastised their son for such shameful behavior.

Then over the past year, as I’ve frequently met with a group of great friends for a weekly Bible study / encouragement session, I’ve been prompted by two others in the group – one a filmmaking aficionado and the other, well, just a lover of Christian stories in general (even if the stories don’t necessarily mention “Christ”) – to watch the movie. Upon hearing of its three-hour-and-fifteen-minute screen time, I initially shied away. But as I’m discovering more and more recently, shyness is a crutch, and sometimes, ya just gotta go for it.

That being said, I’ve finally watched Schindler’s List, and the first thing that comes to my mind is Steven Spielberg’s penchant for bringing real-life heroes like Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler to the public eye on such a grand scale that he did. Had not it been for this film, I wouldn’t have even known about Mr. Schindler’s crafty ways of saving almost 1,200 Jews from being slaughtered in the Holocaust. Like he does with Tom Hanks’s character James Donovan in the more recently released Bridge of Spies, Spielberg has a knack for properly displaying the diamonds of this rough world. He gives us, in visceral detail, examples to follow – an extraordinary gift that any storyteller wants.

Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a perfect man? No. He drank, he womanized, and he initially only wanted the Jews to work in his factory because they were cheap labor. Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a Christ-figure? No. He didn’t let himself be captured and kill so that the Jews under his care go free and never to be caught or punished again. Oskar Schindler, in the end, was just a man; however, he was a man who did what great things he could with what few resources he had (or had swindled from other wealthy entities).

That is the take-away not just for Christians but for anyone: to take what you have and use it to save the lives of your fellow human beings even if they are of a different ilk (religion, race, etc.). Life is life, and to stand idly by when anyone is arbitrarily taking life from other people is just as bad as committing the initial atrocity. Oskar must have resonated with that sentiment, or else he wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to save those lives.

SCHINDLERS LIST Liam Neeson Ben Kingsley

Furthermore, we can glean from Schindler’s List an example of how what we do in the present affects what happens in the future. Our actions in the here and now can and will change for either better or worse the then and thereafter. Because of Schindler’s saving of those 1,200 Jews of his present, thousands more still live and thrive today from the original Schindlerjuden. Spielberg shows this beautifully as, at the end of the film, he shows the real Holocaust survivors walk to Schindler’s own grave and place a commemorative stone on the marker.

The scene that got me the hardest, though, happens after it has been announced that the Allied Powers have just liberated the Jewish people and that the Nazi Party will (in a sense) stand in a tribunal before those Powers. Schindler and his Jewish confidante Itzhak Stern are escorting the Jewish factory workers to the front gates of his plant’s campus, and Schindler breaks down in tears with the guilt that he couldn’t save more lives than what he did. He points a car that he could have sold for scrap and bought ten more Jews, then he snatches his swastika lapel pin and – as if realizing that it was made of gold for the first time – grieves the idea that he could have sold that pin and bought two more Jews. He keeps looking around him – at all the faces of the people he’s just delivered from death – and he still feels inadequate. Stern rushes to his friend’s side as Schindler’s legs buckle from beneath him, and soon after that, others surround Stern and his broken friend in a love and support that will stir anyone looking on it.

It’s easy to feel like we haven’t done enough for God. To be frank, He killed His own Son on our behalf just so we could once again be called “righteous” in His sight – a mandate not even Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, could obey. What’s worse, though, is when we let that feeling of “not being equal” with God stop us from even trying to obey Him in the first place. Again, to know of others’ afflictions and not do anything about them – even if it’s just because we don’t know how to start – is just as horrendous as causing their affliction. (I only keep typing it out so that maybe I can begin to let it affect me like it should.)

There’s a lot to learn from just this one viewing, and I’m sure I’ll pick up on the deeper-deeper things as I proceed to rewatch it a few more times. Meanwhile, if you’re one of the few people still living under the proverbial rock and still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, now’s a good time to remedy that. Heck, given how certain faith groups and nationalities are being persecuted even in our own time, one can’t help but wonder if Schindler’s example can be somehow revived as a means of present grace in a presently ungraceful political landscape. The List, after all, is life – and life is life, no matter what.

Whatever the case, now I just wanna relish in the fact that Oskar Schindler trained Batman.

TBB - Sketchbook Feature

Sketchbook #2: Grassy Christians

Two kinds of Christians: grassy and asphalty.

On a sunny day, grassy Christians bathe in the sunlight. The sun reactivates and reinvigorates their cells, and they let it warm them, change them, and grow them. While they maintain a portion of their own color, their translucence allows the influence of the true light to shimmer through.

Asphalty Christians remain black and rigid. They obstinately absorb the heat and sear any conscience that touches them. Instead of being pliable and flexible and open to new ideas, they stay like they are. Such quality of strength and integrity is admirable to a certain extent but not to the point of being so calcified that they can only be broken by a jackhammer.

TBB - Sketchbook Feature

Sketchbook #1: Two Different Skies (prose)

It was the kind of night you could look up and see two different skies.

The first sky – the real sky – the far away sky – was at the top. It was the deep velvet violet everyone thinks about when they think about night skies between a fading warm spring and an impending hot summer. No diamond stars, just soft and deep rumination.

The other sky – the clouds, really – the closer sky – laid at the bottom. Just as soft but more overbearing, looming than the first sky. Spectral gray palates singed with halogen orange from suburban streetlights.

The wind was warm, too; hearty branches on lurching trees leaned back and forth anxiously. Leaves’ pale undersides carry the second sky – turning over, they carry the dark of the first sky, and they can’t decide for themselves, and the wind has better things to do.

To feel angry like heat lightning flicker with no rain for relief. To be too inadequate to rest and too apathetic to try.

To know God’s presence and not believe. To know his love and not obey.

To know His love and not obey.

To smolder.

TBB - The Devil at Work

The Devil At Work (a poem)

Most people think that the devil at work
is a creature with horns, a red cape, and a fork
that sneaks up behind us and tells us to sin
whenever we’re tempted to stumble again.

That could be the case if the devil were God
and was at one time everywhere and abroad
and actually used all the power we give him
instead of the fear in which he has been livin’.

But all our mistakes and the folly we live in
result from the chances we think we’ve been given
and choices we make when we try to be level;
the devil just doesn’t have time to be “devil.”

The devil at work isn’t worth the explorin’ –
our pride and our lust will do all the work for him.

This image shows a crowd of people in a movie theater watching a movie.

I’m Tired of Bashing Christian Movies

I like bashing Christians movies. It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something good when tell others what I honestly think about them, with no grace in my heart at all. I want to “save” people from having a bad experience like I did, so I do whatever I can to win others from seeing such films.

It started back in the late winter of 2014 with the release of the cut-copied-and-pasted-from-the-History-Channel Son of God. Then the Spring of 2014 with the release of the landmark God’s Not Dead. Later in that very same Spring saw the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah as well as Heaven Is For Real (although some would argue that the former of those two is not a Christian film…an arguable sentiment, but valid).

After a summer of phenomenal blockbusters came the gem that is known as Believe Me (which you need to see right now if you haven’t already). The Year of the Christian Film at last closed out with Ridley Scott’s so-so interpretation of the Exodus account entitled Exodus: Gods and Kings.

2015 looked promising with the release of Old Fashioned,  but that hope quickly fizzled out with Do You Believe?Since another summer full of high-octane action and adventure has come to a close, War Room has come out, and I tried showing a little grace in withholding what I really thought about it and sharing only the positive side.

But after hearing that God’s Not Dead 2 is now in the works and is slated for release in Spring 2016, I am preparing for another opportunity to bash it and rip it to shreds. Because I know what’s going to be. It’s going to be the same old plot line of someone who believes in God coming face to face with someone who doesn’t.

It’ll be the same old storytellers telling the same old story of “perseverance in trials” and “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” and the protagonist will come out on top after having defeated the angry atheist.

Then the epilogue will be at the same old concert, and the same old celebrity cameo will urge the audience of the concert (and, by the transitive property, the audience of the film, too) to text their friends that “God’s not dead” (except this time, they’ll have to do it twice…because it’s a sequel…eh? eh?).

Gather ’round, kids; Uncle Brenden’s gonna learn ya something about Art:

  • Art is one part Content and one part Form.
  • The Content is the Message that the Artist is trying to communicate to an Audience.
  • The Form is the Medium by which that Content is delivered to that Audience.

My discontent with Christian films, then, is not with their Content but with their Form. Because I can and most often do agree with the Message of such films – that is, I agree with the Content – but that Message is unfortunately tainted by the Medium by which it is communicated to the Audience.

That Form could be a weak character development – like a one-sided college professor – or a cliché plot narrative – like making all the main characters of a film come together in only one, too brief moment; whatever the case, I find it unsettling and a waste of my time.

But I need to face the reality that some other people actually like these films. Some other people are actually encouraged by the Message of these films no matter how diluted by the Medium they may or may not be. Some people can actually look past the Forms of this Art and see and understand the Content for what it really is.

That this outlook on films is so indicative of how I should be as a Christian astounds me. If I can’t support a film or any other piece of Art because I only focused on the outward Form as opposed to considering the inward Content, what does that say about how I deal with people? That I’m too alienated by the Form of a fellow brother or sister to even be bothered with considering their inward Content? That’s definitely not how I want God to judge me.

Next Spring, I’ll the opportunity to bash another same old Christian movie; or, next Spring, I’ll have the opportunity to exhibit a little grace in expressing my subjective opinions and withholding my condemnations, find something good in that film (even if I have to dig and stretch), and be a little more like Christ when it comes to engaging the culture.

Water Lillies by Claude Monet

Painting (a poem)

up and down
up…and down…
up…and down…
up…and down…

long and even strokes
long…and even…
long…and even…
long…she’s pretty

long and even strokes, covering the canvas…
covering…the canvas…
covering…the canvas…
covering…she’s beautiful

long and even strokes covering the canvas
adding vibrant color to a lifeless frame
mixing the colors for the perfect match
stirring the substance of soul…
the substance…of soul…
the substance…of soul…
the substance…she’s a good dancer, too
we even like the same music…common ground

long and even strokes in the same direction,
not sloppy with indifference,
but slow enough to savor and fast enough to deliver.
fast enough…to deliver…
fast enough…to deliver…
fast enough…she just said that she was single.

single…I wonder…no…should I?
I might…I’m single, too…
should I be subtle…and romantic…and coy…
should I be the jerk who always gets the girl…
should I do it now…
no…others would gossip…
but that doesn’t matter…not really…
that’s them, not me…
not now…but I will…

animating the blank, emotionless panels
and breathing life through the brush
giving them love
Giving them…love…
Giving them…love…
Giving them…she just said she wanted
to stay single for a while.

up and down…
up…and down…
up…and down…
up…and down…

long and even strokes.
long…and even…
Long…that’s fine with me…
I’d rather her be happy without me…
than her be unhappy with me…
as long as I get to spend time with her…
and even…

stirring the substance…
I don’t mind waiting…
of soul…
and down…