40 Day Fast

Tomorrow is the last day of the 40 Day Fast. There have been a number of good posts recently, including this one by Kristin about fair trade. Check out inspiredtoaction.com in the coming days for a roundup of this year’s campaign.

edited to add: Kat has a post about the end of this year’s 40 Day Fast up now, and included the audio for the JJ Heller song I quoted in my post at the beginning of the 40 days, Little Things. Give it a listen.

David Dark – A Space of the Talkaboutable

As I’ve mentioned before, I find David Dark to be one of the more thought provoking authors I’m reading now. And I enjoy every chance I have to hear him speak or talk over coffee. When we met at a coffee shop near his house a couple weeks ago, our conversation ranged from discussion of one of my favorite films of last year, There Will Be Blood, to church to relationships and how our sharing our secrets helps those around us have courage to share some of their own.

A friend of David’s sat down with him recently and asked him questions with a camera rolling. There’s at least an hour of footage that will be edited and posted on David’s blog as it becomes available, and the first clip is up now. In it, David shares about his work in a movie theatre as a teenager, and how it was a “space of the talkaboutable.” And he talks about his definition of the word “apocalyptic,” a central idea behind his book Everyday Apocalypse. He says, “Apocalyptic, as I understand it, is not so much about buildings being destroyed or the end of civilization so much as cracking the pavement of the status quo. Apocalyptic names what we could call socially disruptive newness.”

New book from Frederick Buechner

Last time I counted, I had about 15 books on my bookshelf by Frederick Buechner. A good start, but I’ve still got a way to go before I catch up with Eric Peters and Andrew Peterson, fellow Buechner aficionados. One of his books I’m reading now for the first time, Secrets in the Dark – A Life in Sermons, was given to me this past Christmas by my brother and his wife. And there are several more books by him on that shelf that I haven’t read yet. After reading his newest book, The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany, when it came out a couple weeks ago, I wondered why I have any books of his that I haven’t dropped everything else to read. And I figured out that it is for the same reason you set aside a good bottle of wine.

Last week, while browsing at a used bookstore with my friend Clint, I pointed out a good Buechner book to start his collection. And on Thursday, I loaned two of his books to another friend, Andy, after quoting several passages to him over lunch. Andy has already posted a paragraph from one of them on his blog. As I mentioned, I read The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany a couple weeks ago just after it was released. My review is up now at the Rabbit Room. Check it out. It wouldn’t be a bad choice with which to start your Buechner collection.

Shaping our inarticulate feelings of reality

Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church was one of my three favorite books I read last year, so I always enjoy reading his articles for Christianity Today. Tuesday, CT posted an article from him, Found in Space – How C.S. Lewis has shaped my faith and writing, that is adapted from the upcoming book, Mere Christians: Inspirational Stories of Encounters with C. S. Lewis. In it, Yancey talks about reading the space trilogy, his introduction to the writings of C.S. Lewis. Echoing what Guillermo del Toro said in the interview I quoted last week, he writes, “[Lewis] made the supernatural so believable that I could not help wondering, What if it’s really true? What if there is a God and an afterlife and what if supernatural forces really are operating behind the scenes on this planet and in my life?”

Pointing out our need for and the importance of myth in popular culture, he quotes William James, “… in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion.” You might want to read that again. I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it until I have it memorized.

Here’s the link to Yancey’s article.

Andrew Peterson signs to Centricity Records

The official news broke last week: Centricity Records has signed Andrew Peterson, and will be releasing his new record, Resurrection Letters, Vol. II, on October 21st. I posted a link to the press release last week on the message board on AP’s website, and last night linked to an article Christianity Today put up about Centricity Records, with several quotes from AP.

The press release is now up at the Rabbit Room here.

40 Day Fast, 2008 – No other hands…

This post is my contribution to the 40 Day Fast. I blogged last year about Blood:Water Mission, and decided to do the same again this year because I believe in the work they are doing. Blake is blogging for team two today

In Frederick Buechner’s book Telling Secrets: a memoir, he recounts in brief a story he had shared in an earlier book:

“I described what from the outside looked like a trivial domestic scene with my mother but which turned out to be such a watershed of my life that I must describe it briefly now. We were just about to have a pleasant dinner together when a friend of mine telephoned to say that his family had been in an awful accident and to ask if I would come wait with him at the airport where he was to catch a plane to where the accident had happened. My mother was furious. She said I was a fool to think of ruining our evening together for such a ridiculous reason as that, and for a moment I was horrified to find myself thinking that maybe she was right. Then the next moment I saw more clearly than I ever had before that it is on just such outwardly trivial decisions as this – should I go or should I stay – that human souls are saved or lost. I also saw for what was maybe the first time in my life that we are called to love our neighbors not just for our neighbors’ sake but for our own sake, and that when John wrote, “He who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14), he was stating a fact of nature as incontrovertible as gravity.”

I started writing an essay last year that I haven’t returned to yet, titled On Being Selfish. The gist of the essay was that, while I help others in part because of the consequences for them if I don’t, I’ve come to realize that one motivation for me is the knowledge of what kind of person I’ll become if I don’t, what it will do to my soul if I make every decision based on how it will benefit me, based only on what I can get out of it.

In last year’s post about Blood:Water Mission, I wrote about how often a mother or her children are forced to walk 15 miles or more to get water. They do it to get water to survive, but without a clean water source, the water they go to such lengths to obtain will eventually kill them. I wrote about how the need to travel such distances for water not only affects the health of the family, but, because it can take up most of the day, the ability to become educated and to accomplish other basic tasks, and thus retards the process of a family, a community, rising out of abject poverty.

Today, I’d like to write about another issue that Blood:Water addresses that I haven’t seen talked about much: sanitation. Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for an hour at a coffee shop in downtown Nashville with Aaron Sands, Director of Donor Relations and Development for Blood:Water Mission. While we were talking, Derek Webb, one of the spokesmen for Blood:Water, came over from a nearby table he’d been working at, and we talked about the Ride:Well bike tour, which ends this Saturday, and some of the ways one participant, author Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz, To Own a Dragon), has been able to raise awareness of the work Blood:Water is doing, like with this video.

During the course of our talk, Aaron mentioned the difference it makes if health and hygiene are addressed when they enter a community, and how the benefits are even greater when sanitation is addressed as well. When he got back to the office, he sent me this statistic from the 1000 Wells Project staff: “Our experiences as well as countless studies show that providing clean water in a community will bring a 15-20% reduction in water borne diseases. If health and hygiene training (handwashing, food prep, etc) is provided as well, the reduction improves to 35%. If sanitation is addressed, a 60-65% reduction in water borne diseases occurs. Clean water is a doorway in, but is limited in its effect because habits and practices (and places to do them) must be reformed as well!”

The main campaign Blood:Water has going on is their 1000 Wells Project. Four years into the project, they have been able to fund 340 wells in 11 countries, making clean water available to more than 276,000 people in Africa. Each well provides water to anywhere from a few hundred people up to a thousand, on average. They have wells in smaller villages that provide all the water a community needs, and then they have wells in places like refugee camps in the Sudan, camps that are home to 40,000 people. At one point they had seven or eight wells in one camp, with people still lined up to get water around the clock.

The wells do more than just provide water to live. In places like Rwanda, they have seen communities come together over their mutual need for clean water, people groups with a long history of animosity putting aside their differences, for at least a little while, and beginning to build relationships. Blood:Water works with local groups in each community that are given the task of instructing people in health, hygiene, and sanitation practices, as well as being responsible for maintenance of the well, so that long-term change will happen. “By working in partnership with community members at the grass roots level and with larger organizations dedicated to their empowerment, the 1000 Wells Project is contributing to the holistic development of 1000 communities.”

If you want to be a part of the work Blood:Water Mission is doing, they have a number of suggestions on their website of ways you can contribute. Their Two Weeks of Sacrifice campaign is an easy way you can help make a difference, and one I’d recommend.

Quoting Frederick Buechner again, in his book Secrets in the Dark – A Life in Sermons, he has one sermon that I find myself returning to again and again, Waiting. He writes,

“Much of what goes on in churches, I’m afraid, is as shallow and lifeless as much of its preaching, and as irrelevant to the deep needs of the people who come to church hungering for a sense of God’s presence that they more often than not never find. The church is not just in the hands of the charlatans and clowns who are apt to be the ones who represent it to millions on television, but in the hands also of good and faithful people who nonetheless often seem to be going about the business of church, the busyness of church, with so little real conviction or passion or joy that it is no wonder pews tend to be emptier every year. And yet, in spite of all this, the church is also, in St. Paul’s unforgettable metaphor, the Body of Christ. On this planet at least, church is the only body that for the time being Christ has, which is to say that you and I are the only bodies Christ has. He has no hands to reach out to people with except our hands, no feet to go to them except our feet, no other eyes to see them with, no other faces to show them his love.”

I’m reminded of a quote that author/musician Michael Card has on the wall of his recording studio: “Let the excellence of your work be your protest.” While Mike was thinking of his music when he had that quote printed there, it applies across the board. So when I get frustrated with what I sometimes see in the American church or on religious television, when I don’t like the image presented of the Church, my response should be not one of despair or cynicism, but an increased desire to be the body of Christ, to show his love to others. To take personal responsibility for the perception those around me, and those across the world, have of Christ’s body. To live as if the Gospel were true, as if Christ truly will make all things new. As if Christ has made all things new. And hopefully I’m tending toward the latter response a little more every day.

Guillermo del Toro on metaphor and small decisions

As I mentioned in passing in an earlier post, I saw Hellboy II: The Golden Army on opening night with a couple of friends. I thought it was a great movie, a lot of fun (especially the scene involving a Barry Manilow song). Jeffrey Overstreet offers his thoughts on the movie and links to other reviews he found insightful here.

I just came across this interview with Guillermo del Toro in USA Today where he makes a number of comments I found interesting, as well as offers details about his future projects.

“I’m eager to explore themes that lend themselves easily to metaphor,” he says. “The fantastic is the only tool we have nowadays to explain spirituality to a generation that refuses to believe in dogma or religion. Superhero movies create a kind of mythology. Creature movies, horror movies, create at least a belief in something beyond.”


“People tend to think that big things only happen to big people,” he says, finally. “That 11-year-old girl is powerless. That 12-year-old kid is a nincompoop. The great quests, the great decisions only happen to great people. I think that is not true. The small decisions we make every day define who we are and define the world around us. … I’m interested in the essential importance of the small decision. … You can be a cashier at a 7-11, or you can be the person at the Kentucky Fried Chicken counter. But I bet to you there is a decision every day in your life where you affect somebody else. I bet that is true.”

JJ and Dave Heller are back in the studio

On Monday, JJ and Dave Heller went back into the studio with producer Mitch Dane to start work on their fourth project together. I dropped by the studio for a couple hours yesterday, just in time to hear Cason Cooley lay down some piano, accordion, and B3 parts on several songs. The new material sounds great. Dave just posted a video he put together with some highlights from this week.

Stay tuned to JJ’s blog, thelovelylittlethings.blogspot.com, for more details about the new record and progress reports.

Buechner on Faith and Fiction

One of the books I’m reading now is Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark – A Life in Sermons. It contains thirty-seven sermons, and I’ve been trying to read one or two a day for the last week or so. In the one I read this morning, Faith and Fiction, Buechner draws a connection between faith and the way he approaches writing stories, and once again articulates what Faith is better than anyone else I know.

I lean over backwards not to preach or propagandize in my fiction. I don’t dream up plots and characters to illustrate some homiletic message. I am not bent on driving home some theological point. I am simply trying to conjure up stories in which people are touched with what may or may not be the presence of God in their lives as I believe we all of us are even though we might sooner be shot dead than use that kind of language to describe it. In my own experience, the ways God appears in our lives are elusive and ambiguous always. There is always room for doubt in order, perhaps, that there will always be room to breathe. There is so much in life that hides God and denies the very possibility of God that there are times when it is hard not to deny God altogether. Yet it is possible to have faith nonetheless. Faith is that Nonetheless. That is the experience I am trying to be true to in the same way that other novelists try to be true to the experience of being a woman, say, or an infantryman in World War II. In all of them, there is perhaps nothing more crucial than honesty.
If you are going to be a religious novelist, you have got to be honest not just about the times that glimmer with God’s presence but also about the times that are dark with his absence, because needless to say you have had your dark times like everybody else. Terrible things happen in the four novels (Lion Country, Open Heart, Love Feast, and Treasure Hunt) I wrote about Leo Bebb. In a drunken fit, Bebb’s wife, Lucille, kills her own baby, and when Bebb tells her long afterwards that she has been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, she answers him by saying, “Bebb, the only thing I’ve been washed in is the shit of the horse,” and dies a suicide. Poor Brownie, reeking of aftershave, decides in the end that his rose-colored faith in the goodness of things is as false as his china choppers and loses it. Miriam Parr dies of cancer wondering if she is “going someplace,” as she put it, or “just out like a match.” The narrator is a rather feckless, rootless young man named Antonio Parr, who starts out in the first book with no sense of commitment to anything or anybody but who, through his relationship with Leo Bebb, gradually comes alive to at least the possibility of something like religious faith. He has learned to listen for God in the things that happen to him anyway, just in case there happens to be a God to listen for. Maybe all he can hear, he says, is “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Or, if there is more to it than that, the most he can say of it constitutes the passage with which the last of the four novels ends, in which he uses the Lone Ranger as an image for Christ: “To be honest, I must say that on occasion I hear something else too – not the thundering of distant hoofs, maybe, or Hi-yo, Silver. Away! echoing across the lonely sage, but the faint chunk-chunk of my own moccasin heart, of the Tonto afoot in the dusk of me somewhere who, not because he ought to but because he can’t help himself, whispers Kemo Sabe every once in a while to what may or may not be only a silvery trick of the failing light.”

Natalie Grant – I Will Not Be Moved

Speaking of Natalie Grant (see previous post), she just shot a music video for I Will Not Be Moved, my favorite song from her new CD, Relentless.

One advantage pop singers like Natalie have over the singer/songwriters I usually listen to is they can afford to have the top guys mix their projects and make them sound like a million bucks. That is definitely the case with I Will Not Be Moved. It’s a more aggressive track than you’ll usually find on one of Natalie’s projects, with big fat guitar chords and huge rock drum sounds.

And then, of course, the reason I really love the track – the strings. They were arranged by her husband, Bernie Herms, with music prep by yours truly. We recorded them on December 30th of 2006, if I remember right, with about a 20 piece string section at Paragon Studios, on this song and one other track, Our Hope Endures. If you pay attention to the strings while listening to I Will Not Be Moved, you’ll notice they are only there for eight measures, in the instrumental breakdown before the last chorus (at about 2:42). The track breaks way down, and the strings give you that big lift into the final chorus. It’s the perfect track to listen to in your car, with the volume cranked all the way up. Unfortunately, none of the things I really love about the track come through in the music video, with the compressed audio. But it’s still worth watching. If you like the song, you can buy it on iTunes.