Author: Brenden Taylor

Brenden is a missional storyteller and theater practitioner in the Middle Tennessee area. He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Theatre Arts from Regent University with the crazy idea that people can actually be changed by God when their hearts are softened by a good story.

Studio Tenn’s GREASE is Solid Enjoyment

It may be the word you’ve heard over a million times, but Studio Tenn’s Grease at the Factory in Franklin is surprisingly fresh and will remind you of why this cleverly subversive phenomenon became a household name. So let’s slide right into it.

ST_Grease_1

© 2018 Studio Tenn

Melinda Doolittle easily steals the show as the Teen Angel. Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young make a smooth and dreamy Sandy and Danny, and Laura Matula and Liam Searcy make a rigid yet killer Rizzo and Kenickie. Talent is abundant throughout the entire cast. They really do go together like…well, insert whichever 1950’s scat lyrics here.

Matt Logan’s electric directorial vision and artistically minimalist scenic design are nothing to moon. Simple sets flowing through the space and the mesmerizing dance of cyan and magenta lighting create the dream-like atmosphere that is normally glazed over in other productions. After all, this play was never meant to be portrayed as “realism,” and Studio’s Tenn skilled production designers thankfully understand that.

i-fF6NZJC-X3

© 2018 Studio Tenn

How about that song and dance! Stephen Kummer and his seven-piece band make Music City proud. While moving ever so slightly into genre-bending (I see you and your gospel, “Beauty School Dropout”), Kummer and his band remain hopelessly devoted to the music we love (even if it’s from the movie and not the original musical). Billy Ditty’s eclectic choreographer is novel and refreshing, adding zest wherever it goes.

Don’t waste your time comparing Studio Tenn’s Grease to the 1978 film or even past Broadway iterations (original and revival); such will only contaminate your chance to be present with this energetic and wonderful production. Additional performances have been added, so get your tickets now before they slip away.

 

Advertisements

Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins

She didn’t want to confess to her grandchildren that her house was actually haunted, but things were starting to get out of control. She, therefore, invited them over to spend the night again tonight so she could tell them the God’s honest truth

Last week, they were all bundled up in a pillow fort as high as the living room ceiling. They were all laughing and having fun until they all heard a sharp, hardnosed cackle from outside the living room window, and then the fort ripped open from the top down.

This scared them so much that they almost didn’t want to come back, but they still loved their grandmother too much to refuse her invitation.

Tonight is the night, the grandmother reasoned within herself, as the children built another pillow fort around her, that these babies learn about our curse.

“You see, kids,” she started, “my papa wasn’t exactly a pillar of society.” One of the little ones asked why society needed a pillow, and an older one snarked back by hitting the first child with a pillow. Grandmother snapped her fingers, shushed them both, and continued with her story. “He was the best and only blacksmith in Beauregard County, but he was an awful drunk.”

She then had to pause to explain what “an awful drunk” meant, but only because her teetotaling daughter-in-law refused to let the kids know anything about alcohol. The grandmother didn’t think the kids, no matter how small they were, needed to be shielded from the truth, and they thankfully understood how dangerous such intoxication could be. Believing, then, that she had successfully deterred them from imbibing until at least their legal age, she continued her tale by introducing the figure that haunted them presently.

“Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins,” she sighed as the sunset beamed its way into the house through the oakwood muntins. She briefly paused in tremulous thought before continuing. People around town said she was a witch, and she didn’t give them any reason not to believe it.”

“She almost always stayed in her two-story Victorian house with all the windows boarded twice over, even in the summer before we had air conditioning. And whenever she did come out, she emerged from her porch in a heavy black dress with dusty sleeves. She would scrounge around the square, digging through the trash cans and waste piles, looking for Lord knows what, and then scurry back home before the sun went down.”

She noticed the kids glance momentarily out the window at the setting sun, probably wondering what was wrong with this woman (Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins, not the grandmother, of course).

“Well, one afternoon,” she continued, “Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins came into my papa’s shop; one of the legs on her cast iron Dutch oven had chipped off, and…well, she needed that night for something.” She felt the need to explain to the kids that Dutch ovens are only used with the coals from a fire that had already been burning for a while, but she was getting to the good part, so she pressed on.

“Papa took the pot right then and there and got to work because he didn’t want her to be in his shop any longer than necessary. The only problem, though, was that Papa had already been drinking that morning, and he was already in rare form, so as he rushed around his shop with the pot in his hands, he accidentally tripped over a wrench that he had left in the floor from another job.”

“The pot flew out of his hands and landed right on the nose of his anvil, which caused it to crack even more.” She could see that the kids were biting their nails at this moment. Being the great storyteller that she was, she did not want to let them down now.

“Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins let out a sharp, hardnosed cackle and cursed my papa while he was still laying on the ground, saying that she would never forgive him and he and his family would never forget her.”

The children stirred on the floor now mesmerized by their grandmother’s horrific yarn.

“Now, I don’t know if this part is true or not, but Papa said that she then started whispering some foreign tongue, and the broken pot, clear over on the other side of the shop, levitated over him to get back to her. He said it even smelled like sulfur as it floated by him. She then took her pot and the lid and left him where he lay.” Her own heart raced then, because, by this time, it was completely black outside and in the house, except for the pale orange hall light.

“So build your fort, children, and take comfort in it, because tonight, Ol’ Miss Kate Wattins will probably return.”

The grandmother then got up from her chair, walked down the hall and into her room, and closed the door behind her. But not before the children heard that familiar sharp, hardnosed cackle from outside.


This story has been edited from the original first published in the October 21, 2015 edition of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. You can read that version by clicking here.

A Time Out in Doubting Castle

There’s this novel called by John Bunyan called Pilgrim’s Progress, and a passage in it has been weighing on my mind fairly heavily recently. For a brief recap for those familiar (and a brief intro for those unfamiliar), Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical tale a man named Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. For two centuries after its original publication in 1678, it was the second-most published book just under the King James Bible. Even today, however, this nominal work has a powerful effect.

Doubting Castle: a Summary of the Scene

The scene that hasn’t left me since my second reading of Pilgrim’s Progress a couple of weeks ago is a dark one, so brace yourself. The protagonist Christian and his companion Hopeful are on their way to the Celestial City when, after trying to correct a wrong turn, they take refuge in what seems to be an abandoned castle. Little do they know that this castle is Doubting Castle, and it is home the Giant Despair, who captures them and shackles them in his dungeon.

The Giant Despair goes down to the dungeon to beat Christian and Hopeful with his staff. He beats them to an almost unrecognizable pulp and then leaves to let them heal just a little only to return the next day to do it again. Christian and Hopeful can’t do anything to defend themselves, and they can’t escape, so all they can look forward to is another beating from the Giant Despair.

After a couple of nights, the Giant’s wife Diffidence suggests that Christian and Hopeful kill themselves to escape the pain of Despair’s beatings, so the Giant gives his prisoners two knives. Christian picks his knife up and after much contemplation prepares to go through with it. Hopeful, however, steadies his friend’s hand and reminds him of all the times in the past that the Lord of the Celestial City has rescued them in the past and encourages him that He will do so once again. Hopeful then encourages Christian to be patient and pray, and Christian lowers his blade and falls to sleep.

He wakes up to the Giant Despair beating them again even harder because neither of them killed themselves. After he finishes, the Giant assures them that their destruction is coming soon, and if they wouldn’t take care of it themselves, he would. As the Giant walks back upstairs, Hopeful reminds Christian once again to remain patient and to keep praying. Christian does so, even though he still thinks it would be better to die at his own hand instead of the Giant’s staff.

The next morning, in the literal pit of Despair, Christian suddenly remembers that upon his initial exit of the City of Destruction, he was given the Key of Promise. He reckons that this Key will unlock any lock in Doubting Castle, including his shackles. Lo and behold, it does. Christian and Hopeful escape quickly and quietly just before the dawn of their last day and make it back to safety on the King’s Highway. Before they leave that spot, though, they leave a sign for future travelers urging them to not make the same mistake they did by staying in Doubting Castle.

Time Out: a Dark Night of the Soul

What the fictional characters Christian and Hopeful allegorically undergo is not unlike what every Christian goes through at some point or another. Maybe you’ve been in that dark pit before and have escaped, or maybe you’re still there. Maybe doubting God provides just enough refuge from the pressures and struggles of your reality, or maybe you know the bruises, scars, and whelps of Despair all too well. Maybe a shyness, modesty, or humility due to a lack of self-confidence (definition of diffidence) is keeping you content to stay in such a horrible dungeon, or even worse, making you second-guess the value of your own life.

Times like these are nothing new to the Christian faith; heck, times like these aren’t even new to Jesus himself. Early in his ministry, while he was in the desert, he was tempted to throw himself off a ledge. Later on, before his crucifixion, he prayed that he wouldn’t have to drink from the cup of God’s wrath.

Jesus isn’t the only one in Christianity to deal with this. Church fathers called this phenomenon dejection. In the 16th Century, St. John of the Cross wrote a poem called “The Dark Night of the Soul” which expressed the idea that getting lost in spiritual darkness is a sure-fire way to find the light of Jesus more quickly. There was even a hymn written in 1854 that called “Night, with Ebon Pinion“; the title means “Night with Black Wings,” and it describes Jesus’s last night alone and in the garden.

As I use the phrase “time out,” I use it with great reverence. I’m not saying that God is making us go through these periods as a form of punishment for anything that we’ve done. I’m simply using the phrase to show what it feels like: time away from everyone else…time without everyone else…time out of the light.

With this post, I only want to say this: be patient, keep praying, and hang in there. I’ll end with Hopeful’s words to Christian while in the pit:

“My brother,” said Hopeful, “rememberest thou not how valiant thou hast been heretofore? APOLLYON could not crush thee; nor could all that thou didst hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror, and amazement, hast thou already gone through – and art thou now nothing but fear? Thou seest that I am in the dungeon with thee, a far weaker man by nature than thou art! Also, this Giant has wounded me as well as thee, and hath also cut off the bread and water from my mouth; and with thee I mourn without the light: but let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and wast neither afraid of the chain nor cage, nor yet of bloody death; wherefore let us – at least to avoid the shame that becomes not a Christian to be found in – bear up with patience as well as we can.”

A Vision of Holiness

a giant white tile glided in night brightened by violet lightning

TBB - Holiness Whole

i tried to keep it white with all my might
but black decrepit sin crept back in
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 1

i didnt think it would sink too soon so i left well enough alone
i am a sinful creature and a complicated beast
and it spread
and it spread
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 2

not wanting it to spread too far
i compartmentalized my sin to stay within that space
at least there and at least blocked off
it wouldn’t contaminate the rest of my life
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 3

Black decrepit sin crept back in again
it had to win
(then again i didn’t defend)
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 4

old habits die hard if they die at all
and i did what i do best
compartmentalize my sin
so that it doesn’t spread
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 5

after a while the vile bile beguiled me to let it go wild
and as long as i kept my guard up
i let it do what it wanted to
consume
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 6

and consume it did like an arachnid
stretching its legs to lay her eggs
because sin begets sin begets
sin begets death
and i let sin in again
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 7

eventually i came to be comfortable and complacent
with sin doing sin and me doing me
and me doing nothing about it
this is nothing new

TBB - Holiness Sin 8
but then i stepped back
and looked at the cracks
not from out back
but from my own lack
of integrity
it wasn’t pretty
and it was then when i realized
that i knew nothing

TBB - Holiness Sin 9

even my white was turning to gray
even my light was fading away
even my might was wanting to sway
and i knew nothing
until i remembered what HE said
it made me so red
that night in my bed
i can’t get it out of my head
LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD
even you he whispered
don’t resurrect your dead self
that’s not your life anymore

TBB - Holiness Whole
be WHOLE as I AM WHOLE
be HOLY as I AM HOLY

Francis A. Schaeffer on Christians and Art

From my Theatre Research and Aesthetics class at Regent University, I’ve obtained a compilation called The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. The assigned portions of the text were made free for the class, but I found what little bit we had to read all so compelling that I had to buy the book for myself.

I’ve yet to read anything else besides the assigned readings, but it has essays from J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and so many others that have incorporated their Christian worldview into the storytelling. These writers let their worldview guide their artistry, and their work is acclaimed by those within and without the faith (well, except maybe that Jesus lion Lewis incessantly droned on about).

One author I want to focus on now is Francis A. Schaeffer. He was a prominent evangelical apologist in the last three decades of the 20th Century, and he had a lot to say about the Christian worldview and its confrontation with art. At times, he may seem legalistic and uber-authoritative, but he makes several fine points – one of which being this thought on regarding the “technical excellence” of an artwork as a criterion for discerning its greatness:

By recognizing technical excellence as an aspect of an artwork, we are often able to say that while we do not agree with such and such an artist’s world view, he is nonetheless a great artist. We are n ot being true to the artist as a man if we consider is artwork junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life.

The older me would not have seen the social and even spiritual grace reflected in these words. “If the artist isn’t a Christian,” I would often think, “then they can’t possibly make anything good.” And “if they are a Christian,” conversely, “then whatever they make will be good.” Growing up, that was the way I learned how to think. It’s how many of those in my circle and many more of those who share the Christian faith with have been raised and reared to think. Schaeffer addresses this phenomenon:

Christian schools, Christian parents, and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because [they] did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected with scorn and ridicule.

I don’t bring it up to shame anybody. In fact, I’m sure that whatever choices were made in my own upbringing regarding cultural engagement were made in my best interest. We all know of those movies we weren’t supposed to watch for Reason A and those songs we weren’t supposed to listen to for Reason B. It’s a fine line, though, between rightfully “guarding our hearts” and shutting ourselves off from the world we’re called to rescue.

I’m not saying everyone should go watch anything that would sear their conscience, but you can’t tell me that The Shawshank Redemption – in all its beautiful, horrible depictions of reality – isn’t a story teeming with the Gospel.

Schaeffer concludes his point on technical excellence thusly:

Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ with his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man. Technical excellence is, therefore, an important criterion.

I may not have been exposed to vastly different worldviews in artform had it not been for my collegiate theatre experiences. For example, I played Moonface Martin in Motlow’s 2010 production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes! Moonface was a gangster on the run from the law, and his only way to evade the coppers was to disguise himself as a priest while aboard the S.S. American (the setting of the play).

While the role was fun to play (one of my favorites to date), I remembered being slightly deflated when I learned that that was how Cole Porter perceived the Christian faith and those who believed in it: clumsy thugs and criminals disguised as priests and holy men. After researching some more about Cole’s personal life, I could only sympathize with him on his point.

TBB - Moonface Martin

I know what you’re thinking…pics or it didn’t happen…so here ya go.

The difference in worldviews didn’t stop me and the rest of the cast from enjoying our time together in the show, nor did it stop the audience from enjoying themselves as they watched it.

All that to say that one doesn’t have to be a Christian to make good art, and not everything that a Christian artist makes will be good art.

How I Lost 27 Pounds on My Own Unexpected Journey

Yes, it’s true: I’ve lost 27 pounds. Here’s the picture to prove it.

How It All Began

It all started when an old church acquaintance (let’s call him “Taylor”) messaged me after the New Year. He expressed that he has just started trying to lose weight himself and that he wanted an accountability partner. We mulled over the operating details for the next couple of days – planning to weigh in every Tuesday and Friday and text each other the results on those days in addition to sending each other random encouragement throughout the week – and I marked January 6th as the beginning of this, my own unexpected journey.

(And yes, that’s a Tolkien reference…well, more of a Jackson reference, but whatevs.)

To be honest, Taylor and I had (and still have) all the reason in the world to lose weight. We want to live past forty years old. We want to have families of our own that we can healthily support for this life and the next. We want to be able to get on a plane without having to buy an extra ticket (I know I’ve been there and done that…twice). Ultimately, we want to be a good steward of the earthly vessels that God has given us.

I’ve struggled with that last one for years. For some reason, I guess I just wanted to prove that fat people have a place in the kingdom, too, so I didn’t take any extra steps toward changing. I was comfortable in knowing that God loves me as I am, and I used that love as a crutch. I would even think that I would be fine with just dying because then I could get a new body and not even have to worry about losing weight.

Thankfully, I got out of that funk by finally realizing that my body is a gift from God – that life itself is a gift from God – and that whenever God gives you something, it’s only out of love for Him that you actually use it in a way that He would want you to use it. Our God is a missional God, and He doesn’t just give us gifts for our own decadent enjoyment.

Even still, I didn’t fully commit to taking the steps that I have so far until Taylor reached out to me. That’s not to say that others haven’t reached out before because they most certainly have, and I’m thankful for them. Unfortunately, when they did, I didn’t have the motivation to reciprocate. Sorry I’m late to the party, guys, but I’m here now.

But enough preaching!

Calorie Counting

Early on, Taylor suggested that I use a calorie-counting app. He mentioned that he was using the MyFitnessPal app by Under Armour (not a sponsor), so I figured it would be a good place to start. After entering my starting weight of 526.2 crunching some numbers (as in entering them into the app’s calculator), I found that it would take about 4,600 calories to “maintain” that weight. The idea was then simple: set a lower goal for calories and let the math do the work – and so far, it has done so beautifully.

For the first few days, I monitored myself being sure to log in everything that I ate. Imagine my surprise, for example, when I found that one Hardees’ Sausage and Egg Biscuits was 560 calories. I was doing two of those and a large Dr. Pepper for breakfast at least three times a week all last Fall. Breakfast was coming out to be over 1,500 calories. That had to change.

Some Minor Dietary Changes

Now for breakfast, I’m doing smoothies. Normally consisting of almondmilk (more on that later), a banana, and a frozen fruit (usually mango or some berries), I can get about 20 ounces of breakfast for only 250 calories (give or take a few, depending on the ingredients). I feel like a mad scientist with a personal blender because  I like trying new things and seeing what works the best. I may even do a separate blog post on how smoothies have changed my breakfast, but that’ll come later.

Regarding that almondmilk, I’ve now given up regular milk and have switched over to almondmilk completely. This change was the result of learning that there’s so much sugar in regular milk (even skim milk). When milk first comes out of the cow, it is full of fat which gives it that wonderful milk flavor. When companies take out that fat, they also take out that flavor. In order to get the taste right again, they add sugar and lots of it. And at the rate I was drinking milk (more than half a gallon a day), it’s no wonder I wasn’t getting any skinnier.

Lunch is getting easier, too, now that I’ve started eating the salads available at the elementary school where I work. My calculations come up to about 500 calories (that’s the salad, three servings of fruit, crackers, and dressing).

So for two meals, I’m barely scratching 750 calories. It would almost seem like I could have anything I wanted to have for supper and be good. It would be good, except that something I’ve learned along the way is that it’s just best not to eat a full meal after 7:00 PM. I tried meeting this particular goal last Fall, but it fell through during the holidays. Back on the wagon, I now try to shoot for a good sized meal by 6:00. If I have to, I go for a light snack (under 300 calories) or a smoothie before bed, and it cures that craving.

The Differences I’m Noticing

One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed is my reaction to huge amounts of sugar. Last week, for example, it was a student’s birthday, and he brought Little Debbie Fancy Cakes to celebrate. As politely as I could, I refused him, but I just couldn’t keep it up (especially when the teacher came up behind me – not knowing that I was trying to lose weight – and playfully whispered, “Just give in, Mr. Taylor.”

Defeated, I took the two-pack and scarfed it down. The following sugar rush was incredibly terrifying as I got dizzy and could not concentrate on the classwork that I was supposed to be facilitating for that station. On top of that, I found that when I entered the cakes on the app, they were 300 calories alone. That was 300 calories I could’ve used on supper that night! Here I am figuring out a whole new economy on food.

Another moment – this time, a bit brighter – was when I revealed that I was trying to lose weight to my weekly discipleship group. We usually meet once a week, but we had to miss the week before for some unfortunate reasons. Nevertheless, we gathered again, and I told them what I was up to.

Only one other person in that group knew that I was trying, and the three others did not. Their simultaneous looks of surprise and “I KNEW something was different!” was so encouraging, and I’m thankful that they’ll be there to support me as so many others have and will continue to do so throughout this endeavor.

I look forward to losing a total of 300 pounds – as of now, I’m 1/12 of the way there – and I look forward to seeing you all on the other side.

War Room, Christian Filmmaking, and Encouragement: An Evening with Stephen Kendrick

Christian filmmaker Stephen Kendrick (one-third of the Kendrick Brothers film team) recently spoke at North Boulevard Church of Christ. The presentation was a part of the church’s initiative entitled the School of Christian Thought, a ministry dedicated to challenging fellow Christians “to think about what we believe and why we believe it,” as per the School’s mission statement, “hoping, of course, that this will lead to engaged citizens who bless their communities because of their convictions.” This event was the first time I had ever heard of the School for Christian Thought, and I must admit that I am very intrigued by their endeavor and look forward to attending more of these kinds of presentations.

I honestly wouldn’t have even attended Mr. Kendrick’s lecture had it not been for two different people inviting me. One sent me a text, and the other reached out to me via Facebook. Being one to make the majority of his decisions at the last minute, I didn’t decide to go until that day. But I mean, really: how many others chances will I get to drink in some of this man’s wisdom? to listen intentionally to someone who is making a living doing something that I want to do? Not many.

The evening started off well enough. The acapella praise team led those in attendance in some congregational singing, and it all sounded lovely. I found myself singing along with what I did know and humming along with what I didn’t know. Then teaching minister David Young introduced Mr. Kendrick with some well-mannered frivolity and some light-hearted humor. Finally, the man himself took the stage.

kendrick-brothers-early-years-header

Mr. Kendrick began with a bit of personal biography, an interesting narrative which can be found at their website. Just to give a brief glimpse into their childhood, Stephen and his two brothers were the sons of a minister and a schoolteacher. This somehow led them to have enough free time to shoot home movies. What fascinated me was that their parents encouraged them to keep making those movies as long they kept pursuing a personal relationship with God and kept studying His word along the way. Strange how that kind of encouragement can work.

He then lightly touched on the span of Kendrick Brothers films. On War Room specifically, he regaled us with anecdotes from behind the scenes. For example, finding the right wig for Karen Abercrombie to don in her portrayal of Miss Clara was apparently a doozy. Even finding Miss Clara’s house was a surprising answer to Alex and Stephen’s incessant prayers. Such was the case for many of the film’s accomplishments, including the double-dutch sequence at its conclusion.

In fact, one thing that Stephen constantly reminded us of how strongly prayer affected the day-to-day grind on the set. “Every key decision,” he persistently repeated, “must be made in prayer.” And every key decision made for War Room and every other Kendrick Brothers film was made in prayer. Praying on the set, praying before shooting and after shooting, praying during planning period – prayer led these projects. Stephen’s enthusiasm for this one aspect was contagious.

wr_w1_prayer-1

While he gave a well-informed ten-point guideline to Christian filmmaking – “Power Up Your Prayer” being only fifth on the list – the two points that caught my attention were “Guard the Unity of the Team” and “Shepherd Your Sheep” (but let’s be real: they kinda go hand-in-hand, am I right?). We’ve all seen how horrendous a failed experiment can be because the team grew apart for some reason or because the leader didn’t nurture the team like he or she was supposed to. It’s definitely something I’ll keep in mind as I pursue my own creative endeavors.

Here’s the biggest chunk of wisdom from Mr. Kendrick that I’ve been chewing on: “Jesus spoke parables to the lost, but He spoke overtly to His disciples.” Mr. Kendrick said this when speaking about Hollywood’s collective reaction to his films – films which are often criticized as being too full of Christianity, too exclusionary, and too “overt” with their messages of faith. It’s a criticism that I myself am all too familiar in doling out against Christian films.

My perspective changed when Mr. Kendrick mentioned why he and his brother made their initial film Flywheel in the first place: as an outreach. The film’s very conception had a mission behind it, and such has been the case for every Kendrick Brothers film since. And as much as I want to, I can’t argue with how much of a positive impact these films have had in communities both at home and abroad. It’s a feat that can only be described as miraculous.

1007-m2-600x400

Mr. Kendrick has given me – as a burgeoning writer and storyteller myself – much to think about, and I can’t help but think that I’ve been encouraged by his story. I can’t say that I’ll now go out and start writing Christian scripts for Christian plays and Christian movies. After all, as playwright Dr. Gilllette Elvgren of Regent University once said, “What makes a Christian play? Well, what makes a Christian lasagna? Same thing” – meaning that it’s merely people that brand products as Christian. But as long as the Kendrick Brothers keep God at the helm of their projects and follow Him by praying for and obeying His guidance, theirs can’t be a bad example to follow.

Funny How a Gift is Just a Gift

Halfway out the door, I saw that giant, ethereal circle around a small, white moon in a creamy velvet, slightly orange sky. My friend asked me what it meant, and I told him I thought it meant that it was going to snow. Since we both work at the same elementary school, we joked about how awesome it would be to have classes canceled  because of snow and get out of school an extra three days for Christmas break. Funny how even educators (and their assistants) can look forward to being out of school.

As I walked to my car, though, I was struck by the question of whether or not it actually meant that snow was on the way. I had heard that bit of farmyard wisdom from someone somewhere at some time, but I never really looked into it. Funny how we can be so eager to share something that we only took at face value with someone else who would take it to heart.

Snow or not, I enjoy that ring around the moon even if I don’t know what it is or what it means. I enjoy it just because I think it looks really cool; it’s almost like a gift. After some quick browsing, I came across the Wikipedia article on what it is and what causes it – something to do with the refraction of the moonlight off the atmosphere. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything; it doesn’t necessarily mean that bad weather is on the way. Funny how quickly we question what something means before we even know if it’s supposed to mean anything more than what it is.

I juxtaposed the whole notion with something I’ve been chewing on for while: that God gives us gifts all the time, and though those gifts can take the forms of both good things and bad things, we should be thankful either way. If such gifts mean anything, they mean that God thought we needed it…whatever it may be. Funny how we like to question God’s decisions.

It’s an idea I got from studying Archibald MacLeish’s J.B., the Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of the Book of Job. The controlling theme of the play and the source material seem to be the God gives us gifts all the time and that we are to maintain a thankful heart all the while. Funny how we covered The Muppet Christmas Carol on Finding Christ In Cinema and spoke on that same theme around this same time.

Something else that sticks out to me from the Book of Job and J.B. is the belief that anything good that happens is a gift for something good we’ve right and that anything bad that happens is a punishment for something we’ve done wrong. This countering ideology is reflected in Job’s wife and his three “friends” Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. They all persistently urge Job to confess to whatever secret sin he had committed, curse God, and die. Funny how they were all so sure that Job had done something horrifically wrong that it prompted God’s immediate and terrifying judgment.

The danger of that kind of mindset – of asking what a gift means instead of just enjoying it – is that we then really start believing that God is watching us with a microscope just waiting to either reward or punish us. And once we start having that view of God, we start having that view of our fellow man. It harbors jealousy, mistrust, and suspicion of other people – and it ultimately reflects a lack of integrity and virtue within ourselves. Funny how a trivial thing like questioning a gift can show us so much about ourselves.

Here’s an example from just the past two weeks. A couple of friends and I were fortunate enough to land a spot performing for the local community arts center’s dinner theatre production. We played music while the guests wined and dined. We enjoy playing music, and we thought others would enjoy it if we played, too. On the first night, however, we made a last minute decision to put out a tip jar. It felt awkward at first just because we hadn’t planned on it, and we knew the guests were already spending a lot of money to be there anyway, and we didn’t want to impose, but we figured, “Eh, what the heck?” Funny how a small decision like that can have such an impact on the following performances.

On the first night, it was just two of us (our percussionist had a prior engagement to attend). Imagine our surprise when we each got $27 a piece from tips alone; it was genuinely exciting, and we were thankful for such a great gift. We went out to Buffalo Wild Wings in the next town, ran into some old friends, went to a fabric store (I’m a theatre guy and I was looking for muslin for building a set, get off me), did the rounds at WalMart – you know, the things you do in a small town. Funny those simple things can bring so much joy.

But then, over the following performances – and this is not to chide my friends or shame them or anything like that – I felt like we started basing our decisions on the prospect how we could be given more tips…how we could “earn” a bigger and better gift. We set out a bigger “jar” with the hope that we’d get more money. We waited to play “church” songs until people we presumed to be “church” people walked by with the hope that they would show their appreciation by leaving a tip. We even “dressed up” with the hope that looking more professional” would open people up to giving us a tip. Finally, when we counted the totals each night, we were mutually disappointed that we didn’t “earn” as much as we did on that first night. Funny how we think we have to “earn” a gift when the reality is that it is no longer a “gift” if it is earned but a wage.

My point is that a gift is a gift and that if a gift is given at all, it is to be understood as a show of appreciation and love from the giver to the recipient. To question what a gift means to question the motives of the one who gave it. Thankfully, there is a God that will patiently and lovingly put up with our questions and doubts. That’s what Job learned (or arguably knew the whole time). What’s not okay is letting that doubt and questioning fester unresolved…letting it remain a question without seeking an answer…letting it remain doubt without seeking the faith. Funny how we all tend to do that sometimes.

For this Christmas, let’s remember to have a thankful heart…I need to remember to have a thankful heart. Don’t question the gifts we’ve been given, don’t doubt them, don’t over-analyze them, and don’t look too much into it. So whether it’s getting to see a ring around the moon, getting tips, or getting Christmas presents – simply say “thank you,” don’t compare it to other gifts you may have been given before, be content, and move on.

Funny how that’s so easy to type.

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

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)