The Weirdest Thing That Ever Happened to Me

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Apr 302012

I’ve been wanting to share this story for awhile, but I haven’t had a reason. Then I realized that there was no reason for it to have happened in the first place, so why should I need a reason to tell it now? Rather, if I tell it randomly, you, the reader, will get to experience just how random it was when it happened. And, before you ask, this really did happen just as described below. I have witnesses, and I can put you in touch with them.

It wasn’t on this corner, but it could have been.

I went to Boston in 1993 or 1994 to see Sting at the Great Woods Amphitheater. Among those with me were my friend Jason, who would eventually be my best man, and Chris Provenzano, with whom I would eventually write Get Low. I can’t remember if we went to Boston before or after the concert, but I know we spent the day there.

I was standing on a street corner waiting from my friends to come out of a record store, Fenway Park in the distance, when I noticed a woman crossing to the corner across from me. She wore a light blue sweater and dark blue pleated skirt. Her hair was black streaked with grey, and it was long and a little matted. Shaped roughly like a triangle, she carried a tote bag in each hand, and both almost brushed the ground. As she reached the corner opposite us, she crossed the street headed straight toward me. That’s when I noticed that she had walleyes, and no chin, but where one should have been she had a thin, square patch of hair.

She waddled straight up to me and said, in a smoker’s voice, “Are you in this society?”

I suddenly felt like I was facing the Sphinx. The consequences of getting this wrong seemed dire. I turned to look for my friends, who had emerged and looked as confused as I was. Chris’s face is etched into memory- his expression said “What the hell is she talking about?” That’s what all of us were thinking, myself included, but none of us had any idea. There she stood, waiting for an answer. Rather than wanting to give her an honest answer, I wanted to give her the answer that would make her go away. What decided me was the fact that the odds seemed stacked against her being in this society.

“No?” I answered hopefully.

She waddled off, never to be heard from again, and we went about our day with none of us having any idea, then or since, what had just happened.

That’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.

Podcast: Compassion Sunday

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Apr 222012

Compassion Sunday is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference the way Jesus did: by blessing a child. Listen to this podcast to find out what you can do, and why it is so important. The video we watched in worship is posted below. To find out more about Compassion, and to sign up to sponsor a child, go here.

Not the Same

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Apr 212012

My wife, Chickpastor, wrote a great blog post a few weeks ago about the importance of being in a faith community instead of just doing it yourself. It’s really, really good. You can read it here.

Borrowed from St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta

Sermon Podcast: Doubt

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Apr 152012

We all want to know, don’t we? We don’t want to just believe in Jesus, we want to know. For certain. Without a doubt. This Sunday Pastor Scott will lead an exploration of doubt- what it is, where it comes from, and how we can believe in Jesus.  Based on John 20:19-29.

It's not the topic of the sermon, but it's funny



Apr 142012

Crusaders in Palestine, Chateau de Versailles, France

In the first century A.D., Christians were renowned for their sacrificial love, generosity, and their willingness to be martyred while singing the praises of God. In the second millenium A.D., Christians were renowned for their ferocity, including a series of bloodthirsty crusades. For centuries after the Crusades, armies continued to be raised, battles continued to be fought, and people continued to be killed in the name of a faith that a thousand years before had been known for being willing, glad martyrs.

How did Christianity change so much?

That is the topic of a brilliant podcast by Dan Carlin called Thor’s Angels.  Four and a half hours long, this podcast is really more of a short audio book, but in it amateur historian Carlin takes us through this transition from martyr to crusader. Carlin actually starts in 400 A.D. and he ends around 800, but he shows very clearly how this was when that transition happened and, more importantly, why it happened.

It started with the world ending.

When the Western Roman Empire began contracting, western European society contracted with it. Technology, security, and stability all declined significantly. Carlin describes the decline in technology in vivid detail, and it’s scary to think about things like aquaducts not working and not knowing how to fix them. Additionally, in the last few centuries of the Western Empire, it became increasingly less Roman. The Germanic tribes and Romans mingled more and more. The Germans became more Roman, while the Romans became more German. The two societies became more and more fused, and, among other things the Germans took from the Romans, they took Roman Christianity.

But they didn’t conform to it, they just adopted it’s beliefs.

Fundamentally, these Germans stayed the same, and they weren’t the Germans of today. They were really more like Vikings- they looked like a biker gang, and they were extremely warlike. That didn’t stop when they adopted Christianity in the years after the fall of Rome. They just kept on being warlike, starting bar fights and wars with equal vigor. But because power vacuum was so enormous, no one minded. They were the best hope for a return to the ‘good old days’ of Rome, when there was a stable central authority and life was good. It was like the “wild west,” and these biker gangs were the best hope for a stable society.  It worked.  Charlemagne was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” in 800 A.D. and started Western Europe on the road out of the Dark Ages, creating the foundation of modern Europe.

But the price of that restoration was that Western Christianity became a weird blend of monk and biker gang. Bishops would ride off to war, but they would carry only blunt weapons (such as a hammer or mace). Love and charity were to be praised, but the enemies of the faith were to be crushed. This was the price Europe, and Christianity, paid for stability after the Roman Empire fell. It’s a price Christians have continued to pay ever since.

Give the podcast a listen. Carlin goes into  a lot more detail than I ever could, and it’s not only interesting and insightful, it helps you understand why this choice was made. At the time, it made sense. Today, it doesn’t look so good, but that’s the way it is with history. We’re all just doing the best we can, Christians in the Dark Ages were no different, and it always falls to later generations to clean up the mess. That’s just how it is. What this podcast also made me wonder is what messes am I leaving for future generations, but that’s a topic for another day. For today, just give this podcast a listen, and see if you end up feeling, as I did, that this transition made a lot of sense at the time, and they were just doing the best they could.

Apr 082012
The words that changed it all.

 Number one could never have been anything else.

If you want the ‘Cliffs Notes’ of me, watch Star Wars. I was three when I first saw it, and after God, my family and the bible, it has had the greatest impact on who I am.  Thirty five years after it’s release, I have probably seen it over a hundred times, though I can’t be sure because I stopped counting in 1991, at thirty. I can’t remember life before Star Wars, and if I could I wouldn’t want to. I absolutely love it.
My high school english teacher poo-pooed it.  He said it was all just typical mythology stuff- good vs. evil, light vs. dark, good guys vs. bad guys. “It’s nothing original,” he said.
I suppose this is a good place to mention that he was an ass.
Of course it’s standard mythology! That’s why it works. What George Lucas did, the absolute genius of Star Wars, was in taking standard mythological stuff and making it really cool. As an adult, I look back on some of the lines and I think “Well, maybe not that cool.” There are some seriously hokey moments in Star Wars. But the hokiness doesn’t matter because it’s true. The story is true, even if the facts are not. Star Wars touched our souls in a way that few other things ever have. It touched my soul more than most. More than anything else I have ever seen or written, Star Wars became part of me, and I’m a better person for it. The money wouldn’t hurt, but really, that’s why I wish I’d written it.
Apr 072012

The cover of the first edition of the first Harry Potter book. The title was changed for U.S. publication.

The Harry Potter books really are magic.

According to J.K. Rowling’s website, the idea that would become Harry Potter just “fell into her head.” As anyone who has ever written knows, that’s usually how it happens. What fell into her head, though, was better than anything that’s ever fallen into anyone else’s head.  Harry Potter is virtually flawless. The characters, universe, story, plot, and writing are all nearly perfect. Sure, there are a few places where it might, maybe, have been better, but if that’s the biggest complaint you can make in over four thousand pages, that’s amazing. Snobby literature types have taken issue with the writing, and some authors I really respect, such as Ursula K. Leguin, were less than impressed. What the critics fail to grasp is what Stephen King understood, which is that Harry Potter was storytelling at it’s finest.

I love Harry Potter, and I don’t mean the books, I mean the boy. I love Ron and Hermione, and I also loved being part of their lives, and the lives of everyone else in the Harry Potter series. Should I ever live to be a great grandparent, I am confident that I will be able to hand one of these books to one of my great grandchildren, and they will fall in love just as I did.  The Harry Potter books aren’t about just about magic, they are magic, and that’s why I wish I’d written them.

Also, the money.

Apr 062012

The original covers of the three books in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

This trilogy was not intended to be one. J.R.R. Tolkien spent twelve years writing The Lord of the Rings, and he intended them to be both a sequel to The Hobbit and the second of a two volume set with The Silmarillion. Instead, his publisher insisted on breaking The Lord of the Rings into three books. I’d say it was a decent strategy, as The Lord of the Rings has become the third highest selling book of all time.

Even more importantly for me personally, The Lord of the Rings launched a literary genre, high fantasy fiction, that I have come to love. With these books, Tolkien established a framework within which thousands of other books have been written. I have enjoyed quite a few of them, more than any other genre I have read by a wide margin.

The Lord of the Rings was not just an amazing story, it was groundbreaking and revolutionary, and that’s why I wish I’d written it.

Apr 052012

A moment in the life of Carl and Ellie

The beginning of Up is the greatest writing for the screen that I have ever seen. The rest of the movie was good, but the scenes that tell the story of Carl and Ellie’s life together are uparalleled in television and movies. They tell a story of decades together without saying a word. The images are breathtaking, and the reason for that is (at least partially) the economy of words used in writing them. If you read the script, you will see what I mean. There isn’t a spare word to be found, and it makes for movie magic. I cried. You cried. We all cried. The beginning of Up is scriptwriting at it’s absolute best, and that’s why I wish I had written it.