I can name that tune…

Random story, because why not:

More than 20 years ago, when I was in ninth grade…

[Pause to wipe away silent tears as I type those words]

…I had a friend named Chad who was a year behind me. Chad was into much cooler music than I was–though I should quickly clarify that we were both on that “Christian music ONLY” tip, at least at that time. So, Chad was into cooler *Christian* music than I was. In those days, I was still rocking out to early DC Talk (DCT fan since “Nu Thang,” y’all), Carman, MWS, and some of the late-80’s/early-90’s Christian hair-metal-type bands like White Cross, Petra*, and Whiteheart. I know–REAL hardcore.

Meanwhile, Chad was into the nascent Christian alternative scene in the 90’s, as well as other random fun things. While I had heard of this strange beast called “ska” not too long before, Chad bought me my first Five Iron Frenzy CD. He would sometimes mention bands I would pretend to recognize.

Well, Chad made me a mixtape of stuff he thought I would like, and while I remember some stuff on it (FIF, MxPx, Dime Store Prophets, etc.), there was one song I REALLY liked. It was a fun, silly rocker, no deep meanings, just something fast and loud to jam out to on your Walkman. (Remember the Walkman? Classic.)  I probably wore that part of the tape out, rewinding and replaying over and over. (Remember tapes? Remember rewinding?!? Good times.)

Fast-forward to maybe ten years ago. I was trying to recall the song. I could remember random lines of lyrics, but despite my best google-fu, was unable to find the song. We were now in the Youtube era, and I was hoping to find it SOMEWHERE. I had no idea who the band was, and I could only assume on the title. Well, a few years ago, I found it. And as it randomly came to mind today, I pulled up the video.

So, here you go. Please to enjoy, “I Take U Everywhere I Go” by Pushstart Wagon (and I recommend you turn it WAY up):

Is there a point to this story? *shrug* Not really. I just like this song. Maybe you will, too. And if you don’t, that’s cool.

[*Yes, yes, yes, Petra started much earlier–I’m talking about the John Schlitt, “Beyond Belief” era Petra here.]

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The irony isn’t lost on me.

My last post, over a month ago, was talking about waiting. Since then, gentle readers, you have patiently waited for more content (or, more likely, forgot about the blog and moved on to other things).

I’m not “back” yet. But I’m coming back to this…sometime. Still trying to figure out what the new normal looks like. Nevertheless, I’ve got some stories, lemme tell ya.

Here’s the bare bones version: We had a baby! And she’s great. And I miss what a “full night’s sleep” feels like. And there was a hurricane, but we’re okay. And now it’s mid-September, and the year has flown by, and there are pumpkin-flavored things being sold, and I can’t quite keep up with life. So. Blogging was bumped down below the cut-off line for “things claiming time and attention” (sorry).

Back soon-ish.

#300aDay: The waiting is the hardest part.

That’s another thing about taking on a 30-day writing challenge: usually, there’s not room built in for grace, if you miss a day here or there. The most important thing is that you don’t break the all-important “chain,” and if you do, you’re a failure. But you know what? If while seeking to engage in a new habit or challenge you are successful 25 out of 30 times, that’s not a failure. What a crazy thought. It’s 25 more days of writing or practicing music or exercise or whatever else than you would have done otherwise. Madness.

So yeah, the idea of taking on a 30-day writing challenge is fraught with perils. I’m still unsure if doing so would be wise at the moment. More consideration is needed.

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My wife is more than 41 weeks pregnant. For you kids keeping score at home, that’s over a week “past due.” What that means practically is that we are in a kind of holding pattern. In the last 2 weeks of work, I’ve been trying to clear my inbox and close most of the “open loops” on my projects and responsibilities. At home, my wife has done the usual nesting-type preparations, and the nursery is ready to go. Super cute–white, grey, and pale-yellow with little baby stuffed animals.

We thought our little girl would come a bit early, so we were getting ready around the beginning of last week. Then the due date approached and we thought, okay, she’s “due” around Thursday. Then the due date passed and we thought, okay, fine, it must be during the weekend. Now at “Due Date Plus Eight” (the worst reality show ever), we’re tapping fingers and watching the clock. Neither the kiddo nor my wife’s body are giving indications that this party’s ready to start. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and we’re creeping toward the point when intervention is required.

This past week (really, the past month, but especially the past week), we have been struggling with anxiety about the birth process, the health of mother and baby, and what comes next. And as the days drag on, that anxiety threatens to grow. I have taken to repeating the following phrase, as a comfort to my wife and reminder to myself: “God’s will, God’s way, God’s time. Because He is good.”

When the waiting is the hardest part, the best thing we can do is trust the One who sees the end from the beginning, and hang on for the ride.

#300aDay: The most important part of comedy.

[beat]
[beat]
[beat]

Timing.

That’s another reason why 300 words a day is a crazy task to undertake: who knows what may come up that needs attending to? Lots of things happen unexpectedly that can throw off your mojo. Readers expect consistency, and if you post at all times of the day or night, you start to alienate your audience. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

Subject change: Today, we had a minor vehicle issue come up–well, it turned out to be minor, anyway. Our 12-year-old minivan was having trouble shifting gears, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the cost of transmission repair, you can imagine how nerve-racking this was at first. Thankfully, the issue seems to have been resolved with some basic maintenance that I had been putting off. I find that to be a tendency of mine: putting off the daily maintenance of things until they become a crisis. I wonder if there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

When the van began falling out of gear repeatedly, I was on my way to work, with my wife in the passenger seat. (#SharedVehicleLife) After I took her back home and got ready to go to the auto repair shop, my wife grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray about this.” This is one of the things I am so grateful for, regarding my wife: she’s a woman of faith and a woman of prayer. I confess that, in times of crisis, my attitude is more pragmatic, more focused on what’s right in front of me. It occurs to me later to pray about things. My wife, on the other hand, is faithful to stop me and remind me that, oh yeah, God is sovereign over all things. Maybe we should pray for wisdom and provision.

My hope is that, as I grow in spiritual maturity, I’ll be quicker to say “Let’s pray” than to say, “I’ll figure something out.” Thankfully, God has given me a wise and faithful wife to help me in that process.

300 Words a Day: Too crazy to attempt?

An idea I’ve heard about over and over in the realm of writing/productivity/creativity is having a daily writing goal: a benchmark that you commit to, no matter what, in order to build a habit, get the creative juices flowing, get the Muse to start showing up–whatever metaphor you prefer.

Of course, that idea has always intrigued me. I struggle with consistency in several areas of life. If I could pick a superpower (and flight wasn’t an option), I would pick the power of consistently doing all the things I commit to doing. That’s right, folks; here comes Self-Control Man, to save the day!

Seriously, though. The BIG THING I would like to change about myself is that I want to commit to a course of action and stick to it–whether that’s eating better, exercising regularly, spending consistent time reading the Bible and praying, or, yes, writing a minimum amount of words every single day.

The number doesn’t have to be huge, either. I just read a Thomas Kidd newsletter (do you get Thomas Kidd’s email newsletters? They’re really good!) from last fall, in which he talks about having a thousand-word-a-day goal. That’s…really intimidating, to be honest. A thousand words a day?!? I don’t know if I could do half that. Or even a third of that.

But then, that got me thinking: could I do 300 words a day? That’s not very ambitious, right? Three hundred words. Typically, my blog posts are 500-800, so 300 words seems like it would be a breeze.

On the other hand, my wife is about to have a baby. My world is about to be turned sideways on its axis as we welcome a baby girl (who is already 5 days late–takes after her daddy, unfortunately). So committing to 300 words a day seems like I’m taking too much on at once–right?

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll consider it some more tomorrow.

Last 5 Books [7/17/17]

Hey friends! Lots going on lately, but I’ve been able to do a little reading over the last month or so.  Here are the last 5 books I’ve read and my brief thoughts on each!

Linchpin, by Seth Godin – This book by business and productivity “guru” Seth Godin touched on a lot of really interesting ideas that I’ll probably bring up in a later post. Here’s one that I found pretty compelling: the way to elevate your work from being another monkey pressing a button in a cubicle to creating “art” (even if you aren’t in an artistic field) is to bring your humanity to bear in your daily tasks. Don’t just be content with formality and the minimum necessary effort to interact with people. Remember that you’re emailing actual people with feelings and concerns. Treat them that way. It raises the game for all concerned.

The Wonder-Working God, by Jared Wilson – Wilson’s work is always excellent. (I’m an unabashed fan.) This book was helpful to me because it challenged me to look at the accounts of miracles in the Gospels with fresh eyes, and look at how these miracles were signposts pointing to who He is as God-in-flesh. Growing up in the faith, I’ve taken a lot of things in the Bible for granted. The truth is, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry is pretty fantastic and shocking, if you’re paying attention. I appreciated Wilson’s humor and eloquence in exploring these ideas.

Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield – Pressfield has earned a reputation in the area of writing about writing and, in particular, about the war that writers wage against The Resistance, that internal force always threatening to stop us from producing art. In Turning Pro, Pressfield considers what it means to be an Amateur versus being a Professional, not just in terms of writing or creating art but in terms of life. His style is punchy and sometimes profound, but I felt like this volume wasn’t as strong as his other works, The War of Art or Do the Work, which I would recommend instead.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport – Newport challenges the oft-repeated advice to “follow your passion” by arguing that career satisfaction comes not through following your dreams but through working like a craftsman to become outstanding at whatever you’re currently doing. He argues that seeking to be exceptional and skillful in any field opens up opportunities (what he calls career capital) to increase your autonomy and direct your work toward a chosen mission. This book is chock-full of great ideas and interesting insights. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Husband-coached Childbirth, by Dr. Robert Bradley – My wife is having a baby pretty much any day now, and we have chosen to have the baby at a birth center with a midwife. Natural childbirth is a daunting task, and Dr. Bradley is one of the most trusted names in the field of natural childbirth in the United States. I really appreciate the high value that this approach places on the husband’s role in childbirth, and how Bradley coaches husbands to be actively involved throughout labor. While I have some qualms about some of his ideological assumptions, this book is very practical and would be a help to any prospective parents who are considering natural childbirth. It’s not the only resource out there, but certain a good one to check out.

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So what’s up next on the reading list?

  • I’m about a third of the way through the audio version of Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You. This book is outstanding. Already going to call it a must-read.
  • I’m about to start The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, a story of the management decisions that lead to last year’s magical World Series run.
  • I’m working my way through Jeff Goins’ latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. LOTS of good content there. Full review forthcoming.
  • Depending on when things come in from the library, this month I’ll also be starting The New Dads Playbook by Benjamin Watson, Teammate by former Cubs catcher (and DWTS runner-up!) David Ross, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, and a few others.

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Your Turn: Read anything interesting lately? About to start any new books? Let me know in the comments!

Friday Five! (06/30/17)

Hey friends–it’s been a while, eh?

Lots of life has been happening lately. Lots of great stuff to tell you about.

But in the meantime, here are five cool videos/links to enjoy–all related to video game music!

One: Super Mario Swedish Symphonic Sounds!

Two: Also from the Swedish Symphony, a sweet Legend of Zelda suite!

Three: Speaking of Zelda, here are TWO covers of the “Gerudo Valley” theme!

Four: Also from the Swedes, a magnificent Mega Man medley!

Five: If you prefer your Mega Man to sound a little more “Rock” (man), you really need to check out The Megas. And even if you know The Megas and it’s been a while, they’re worth a re-listen, because they’re still just stinkin’ good.

…And because it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, here’s a Friday Five BONUS LEVEL!!!!

Here’s a gorgeous guitar cover of “Aquatic Ambiance” from the SNES classic, Donkey Kong Country:

Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

Hey friend…ya got $2?

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working with a great team of creative folks to put together a new web series called “Presto Fairy Tales: The Web Series! (The Musical!)”

Think Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theater…but weirder, and a little more punk rock, and a little more DIY. The writing is hilarious, the actors are great, and the show has so much heart.  The first season of the series will include 5 great stories that you probably have never heard before!

PLUS! There will be original music, including several songs with lyrics written by yours truly.

ALSO! I’m the villain on one of the stories! So you get to see me playing a BAD GUY. Cool, yes?

Here’s the deal, gang: We need funding. We have a shoestring budget, but shooting locations, props, sets, costumes, music recording, and all that costs more than a shoestring.

We need your help. Even if it’s just a few bucks, we can definitely use it.

Here’s the link to our GoFundMe page. Check it out, get the details, watch the video, and then go…fund us… Please? Pretty please?

Thanks!

 

 

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?