Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Looking for Advice

I am way behind on writing. I have three video scripts overdue, an audio script that has to be recorded Friday and the deadline for my book is in 12 hours.

I'm not going to make it.

I seem to stay tired a lot these days, and I'm starting to wonder if there's a better way of doing what I do. So much of my income absolutely depends on my ability to churn out the work. The pressure of that gets really intense sometimes -- especially during the summer when churches are less likely to do a retreat or a training event.

Since I came back from my California trip I've actually been thinking a lot about working with a local church again. It's not really that I have a specific place in mind, but it's been pestering me. I know there aren't many churches where I could fit. Very few places are ready to think strategically about how Christ can be formed in the lives of individuals, families and as a community. Still, it's bugging me.

Am I just thinking about this as an economic fix? Is this an appropriate and more efficient way to live out what I think is God's calling on my life in this season?

There's a question in there somewhere, but I don't know exactly what it is. Still, I think there's a kind of collective wisdom in the people who frequent this blog. So, I solicit comments about this. I know some of you are going to want to respond with questions of your own. Please resist that urge. I don't have time/energy to respond to anything really deep right now. Helpful suggestions, insight and general impressions are more of what I'm looking for here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Memorial Day Weekend

I'm headed out of town this weekend again. Florida this time. Panama City to be exact. I'm speaking at a retreat for singles, and I'm thinking about the past.

Not really in a nostalgic sort of way, but the first topic I'm going to deal with is why we allow the past to define us so much. I have to be honest and say that there are things from my past that I'm ashamed of. Some of that shame is negative and based on distortions and half-truths. Some of that shame is warranted as it reveals the gap between who I have been in my life, and who I am meant to be.

Surely, if people lose their sense of shame, they lose something of what it means to be human, right?

And yet...I am a different person (in more ways than one) than I was. Seneca said you can never step into the same river twice. How much more true it is that we never meet the same person twice -- all that has come before leads us to who we are today and what we will experience tomorrow will help make us a different person the day after that.

I am growing, and I am changing. I continue to learn and progress. God is not finished with me and has promised to see this process of transformation through to its completion. There is a role that I play in this process, but I cannot claim responsibility for it, nor can I take the credit for it. God is the one who makes the wind blow. My job is to figure out which way it's blowing and try to harness it as best I can.

And in the process, I will fail. When I fail, as odd as this sounds, the Apostle Paul's advice is to forget about it. Put it in the past. Learn what there is to learn. Confess where that's appropriate. Work to set things right. And when all that's over -- put it in the past and move forward.

I know...I know.... I'm too hard on myself sometimes. I beat myself up for things long gone. I remember too well the negatives and forget too easily the positives. That should be reversed, and I know it. I'm working on it. But without a sense of how fallen I have been in the past, I will not appreciate the heights to which I have been lifted now.

This Memorial Day weekend, I am called to remember. And I am called to forget as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Top 10 List Part Three (Non-Fiction, Christian)

This is the last one of these I'm going to do for a while. But, knowing my readership, it'll probably stir up more comments than the other two did. Here are my Top 10 recommended Christian books. I mentioned in an earlier post that I've tried to avoid text books and really scholarly stuff, so keep that in mind as you browse:

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

Heaven Is A Place on Earth by Michael E. Wittmer

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Confessions by Augustine

The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

My apologies to friends near and far who have written books that are wonderful but did not make the list. I could easily have included 100 books here, but I wanted to be as brief as possible. That also explains why there's only one book per author on here. I could have listed 10 by C.S. Lewis alone!

Go ahead and share with me what I'm missing here.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Someone Else's List

While we're on the topic of good books (though I see not many of you are conversant in the non-fiction miscellaneous category), the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2005 have just been announced. I've only read a couple of these books, but I have to say that Scot McKnight's book The Jesus Creed is on my list of top 10 overtly Christian books. I'll share the rest of that list in a couple of days.

Oh, and Scot has a great blog. He's been doing some incredibly insightful blogging about the emergent movement (can we call it that yet?) -- especially the interaction he does with D.A. Carson's new book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Look back in his archives to April 19 for the really good parts.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Top 10 List Part Two (Non-Fiction, Misc.)

This category is way too broad, but I couldn't think of any other way to put it. These are books that I really enjoyed. But, as you can see from even a glance at the list, they're all over the map. There are books on baseball, philosophy, baseball and philosophy, a travelogue, psychology, etc. Consider this a "catch-all" list.

Some of these are Christian in orientation -- though I'm not sure any of them are explicitly so (unless you consider Anne Lamott explicit in her Christianity -- in which case, you ought to have a conversation with my mother). Some of these titles are deep and somewhat difficult to read (Friedman). Others are drippy and sappy but hold a sentimental place in my heart (Leo Buscaglia!).

Okay, okay, I've stalled and apologized enough. Here's the list:

Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball by George F. Will

Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter's Box by Eric Bronson (ed.)

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Love by Leo Buscaglia

The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Armand Nicholi, Jr.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson

Friedman's Fables by Edwin H. Friedman

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

There you have it. There all relatively recent books, and I'm sure I've left some really important pieces of literature off. Who wants to tell me what I'm missing?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Top 10 List Part One (Fiction)

Before we get started here, let me just say this: Something is bound to get left off the list. I've left off Joseph Conrad and Tolstoy and Hemingway and Dickens and a host of others. You'll see some recurring themes. I love southern fiction. I like it when a writer can speak from a place of faith and conviction without getting preachy. There are probably too few female writers represented, it's contemporary stuff, and it's mostlly white, American/British/Canadian writers. Still here are my Top 10 Recommended Novels:

Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor

Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Run With the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Okay, tell me what I missed.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Relationships Are More Important Than Rules

We have a lot of bedtime rituals in my house. One of my favorites started with my oldest daughter Anabel but now includes all three of my girls. I go into their room just before lights out and say, "I love you, but only this much." I hold my fingers apart about an inch.

They say, "No, Daddy."

"Oh, you're right," I say. "I probably love you this much." Hands about six inches apart.

"No, Daddy."

"This much?" Hands getting wider now.


And on and on it goes until I stretch my arms out as wide as they will go. "Daddy loves you thiiiiiiiiiisssss muuuuuuuch."

"And more and more and more."

It's like a liturgy in my house. Every night the same thing, and every night we go through the whole thing.

One afternoon, my wife desperately needed some time alone, so I told her I'd watch the girls. She looked skeptical. "Are you sure you can handle them all by yourself?"

"Jill, I'm a grown man with a Master's degree in Theology. I think I can handle three kids. Besides, the small one is asleep."

She left, and I told the girls to play quietly downstairs. Then I settled in on the computer up in our office, leaving them to their own devices because I have a Master's degree in Theology and am, in fact, a moron.

After about 20 minutes, I realized that it was really quiet downstairs-- too quiet, if you know what I mean. I came down to find that my three-year-old Eliza had taken an aqua-marine crayon and colored on every flat surface on the first floor of our house. The stove, the refrigerator, the bookshelves, the fireplace. When I entered the living room, there she stood -- on the sofa -- back to me -- coloring the wall in big, broad strokes.

She felt the weight of my stare and slowly turned. She knew that she had sinned and that the wages of sin is death.

She suddenly threw her arms open as wide as they would go and said, "Daddy, I love you thiiiiiissss muuuuuuuuch!" What are you going to do?

Sure, there were consequences -- she had to clean it all up (and...yeah...I helped her), but here's the point: Sometimes relationships are more important than rules.

Eliza knew what she had done was against the rules. She didn't need me to yell at her or send her to her room for the next 90 days. At that moment, what my daughter needed most was to know that our relationship was too strong to be broken -- by sin, by failure, by anything.

There's another part to our bedtime ritual. As I stand there with my arms open wide, I ask them a couple of questions: "How long will Daddy love you?"

The correct answer is: "Forever and ever and ever."

"What will ever make Daddy stop loving you?"

The correct answer to that is: "Nothing in the whole wide world."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Making A List

Did any of you even watch the Mr. T debacle?

I'm making a list -- actually I'm making three lists. The first list will be Christian books. The second list will be fiction books. The third list will be miscellaneous non-fiction. I'm leaving the heavy stuff off -- no Heschel, no Schaeffer, no Adler, no Neibuhr, no Wright.

What really bums me out is that limiting it to 10 has forced me to cut some great books and authors from the list. But I'm working on a real, honest to goodness, "you can find it on Amazon.com" reading list.

I appreciate your suggestions -- some of you have prompted memories that actually landed books on the list so far (Mr. Ingle, thank you for reminding me of John Henry Toole's masterpiece). So, if any of you have any more suggestions, keep 'em coming. The list goes up Friday.

By the way, I'm leaving off a book that I'm reading right now. Probably too heavy, and I'm not sure I like it. But it has the greatest title I've ever read: Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian: A Paleofundamentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelicalism, Especially Its Elites, in North America by Robert H. Gundry.

I wonder what that pitch meeting was like.

Eerdmans representative: "So, Dr. Gundry. Tell me about your new book idea."

Robert H. Gundry: "Well, first let's get the title out of the way."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

No One Reads Books Anymore

It's somewhat disheartening for a writer to ask about your favorite books and get a fat lot of nothing in response. So, may it never be said that I'm inflexible and deaf to the felt needs of my readers.

In honor of the recently past Mother's Day holiday, I give you: Mr. T sings "Treat Your Mother Right."

Trust me -- it's even worse than it sounds.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Read Any Good Books Lately?

My friend Jeff Sandstrom (Dove-Award Winning Producer Jeff Sandstrom, that is) spent the weekend with me in southern California. We did some consulting for a very large Korean church here, and we had a great time. We even ate kimchee.

Jeff's a great guy, and we have a lot in common. We had a great time and laughed a lot at all the same things. We ate dinner at Gladstones, and we listened to some really good jazz -- on the radio even.

Yesterday, at church we sat and listened to more than 100 Korean kids singing songs that Jeff produced for Integrity music's ShoutKids records. We both got chills as we thought what it is that we get to do. We travelled 2,500 miles across the continent and met a nine-year-old Korean-American girl named Hannah who recognized my voice from KidJam Radio and Parenting Matters. Once again, I heard people tell me that this material is changing their world. It's gratifying and humbling at the same time.

It was the first time Jeff had ever seen me teach, and he got to watch it go on and on. The Five Hour Workshop never lasts just five hours! After it was all over, we ate way too much and stayed up way too late talking about books and music and theology and philosophy. Just my kind of night. He likes to give me a hard time about just how much I read, but then he asked me if I would put together a reading list -- the top 10 recommended books from John Alan Turner.

I have my ideas about what should go on the list. But I'm wondering -- which books would make your top three?

Oh, by the way, my wife says she was #10,000.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Congratulations, Whoever You Are

At some point in time this weekend, I crossed the 10,000 hit mark. I can't really remember when I put the counter on the site, but I'm pretty excited about all the traffic here. The comments have been really good and insightful -- respectful for the most part and appropriately playful. I feel like we're creating something of a community here, and that feels good.

I wish I knew who the 10,000th visitor was. I'd buy you lunch or something. Regardless, I want to say thank you to all my faithful readers. I know my numbers aren't anything like some of the other blogs out there (Wade gets 800 hits a day! At least that's what he says.), but I had no idea when I started this that it would become a place where people from such different backgrounds with such different perspectives could come and talk about faith and how it works out in everyday life.

So, 10,000th visitor -- congratulations, whoever you are.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Feast Day

Gabriel is right -- I probably am too hard on myself and self my younger self short. And David is right -- the past has brought me to the present, and the present is pretty good.

So, this weekend is going to be one, long "feast day" for me. It's one of those "only in Malibu" days -- probably 70 degrees with a nice breeze blowing off the Pacific -- crystal clear (I can see all the way out to Catalina). I even got a little sun on my nose this afternoon. I'm going to eat food I like and drink what I want to drink. I've been walking around with my mp3 player blasting music I like (U2 is currently playing -- "Vertigo" for those who are wondering).

Sure, there are things that could bother me. I taught this morning and had maybe 15 people in the class. My car is broken back in Georgia and is probably going to cost more than $400 to fix (I got that call this morning at about 7:00am PST -- what a way to start your day!). My father...well, let's just not get into John's continuing search for approval. IT'S A FEAST DAY!

Steak Quesadillas at Howdy's for lunch. Jon Mayer in my ears ("Bigger Than My Body"). A wife who affirms and blesses me from the other side of the country. The water is blue, the grass is green, flowers are blooming everywhere I look. Feast days are fun.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I Do Not Want What I Do Not Have

Everywhere I go on this campus I am confronted with scenes of myself as a young man. I do not always like what I see here. The phrase that keeps coming back to me is wasted opportunities. I was handed this collegiate experience, and -- rather than make the most of it -- I furthered my own self-destructive tendencies.

Man, I wish someone had been courageous enough to confront me with stuff way back then. I actually caught myself singing that Rod Stewart song "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger."

And yet...I have a fantastic wife. Thank you, Ross Thompson, for reminding me of that last night. And my kids...I don't have words to describe the way I feel about them. And the work that God has provided for me in this season of my life is rich and meaningful.

Regrets, I have a few -- and they are not too few to mention. But God has redeemed the wasted years -- the years the locusts of my own immature appetites have eaten. And I can stand on this hill all these years later and say -- with a mostly straight face -- I do not want what I do not have.

...except a million dollars.

...and a mercedes.

...and a pony.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Your Weltanschauung Is Showing

Greetings from Malibu, California. I'm sitting in a cafe at Pepperdine University overlooking the Pacific Ocean -- reflecting on my day. I'm here at the Pepperdine Lectures to speak Friday morning. They gave me one class to teach How Now Shall We Live As Parents? One class to teach a 70,000 word book.


It's amazing to me that there has been so much talking and writing done in Christian circles on the importance of understanding our worldview. And yet the tribe of my heritage (the Churches of Christ) still hasn't much of a clue about the whole thing. You should see people's eyes glaze over when I tell them what the book is about.

"Oh, it's a book about parenting? Can you tell me how to get my kids to sit still at the dinner table?"

"Well, actually it's more about how parents can help their kids grasp a Christian worldview."

"Great! Worldliness is a big problem with kids these days. Most of them don't even want to come to church on Sunday nights."

"Yeah...uh...it's less about behavior and more about thinking and interpreting the world properly."

"I know all about that. I did a devo for the teens a couple of months ago about how dangerous the world is and what a slippery slope listening to rock-and-roll music is and going to the R-rated movies."

Helping your children develop an accurate worldview (from the German Weltanschauung) is not about behavior modification. It's not about getting them to sleep through the night or training them like dogs (I seriously get this from a lot of damaged parents -- they think they're supposed to train their children like dogs or horses or some other animal).

It's about helping them see the world as it really is. It's about helping them develop a filter through which they can interpret life as it is happening.

Your worldview shows up in why you vote, what you watch, where you shop, how you drive. Your worldview determines how you talk to yourself and others -- how you treat your neighbor and whether or not you can forgive your enemy. Your worldview is demonstrated by your thoughts, feelings, words and actions.

And here's the scary part: If you say you believe one thing, but your behavior reveals something completely opposite -- guess which one your kids will remember.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What in the World (view)?

I have an education. And I read a lot of books. I actually read text books sometimes. I know -- it's a sickness.

For the most part, I have to say that my education serves me well. I can converse on a number of topics and can go quite deep in the areas of philosophy, theology and psychology. Because of my education, I can understand things that are quite complex, and I can sometimes explain these things to other people in a helpful manner.

But sometimes my education makes me sound like I'm just spouting so much gobbledy-goop.

Moreover, I frequently can't tell when I'm doing one (explaining things to people in a helpful manner) or the other (spouting so much gobbledy-goop).

For example, if someone asked me to define a "worldview", I would say: A worldview is the lens through which you interpret all of life and the universe in which we live.

That makes perfect sense to me, but I can't tell if it will make perfect sense to anyone else. Could I get a little help here? Someone please give me a good, simple, working definition for a worldview. If you're the lucky winner, your answer is probably going in the book.