This is my top 5 list for 2017. In no particular order. Music, Comedy, Movies, Podcasts and Politics are all covered. You may agree and you may disagree but hopefully you will find something new in here that you didn’t know about before.
So let’s get going. We’ve not got much time left.
Look I am as sick of writing New Years’ Resolution posts as you are of reading them. This is the time of the year when we bloggers can’t think of anything else to write so decide to get high and mighty and tell you why you suck.
But let’s be honest, we never learn. Every year we come back to the same guilt and shame and announce to the world via Twitter that this is the year that we lose weight or take up running or whatever. Continue reading
I am not in control.
You are not in control.
This may be the most important thing I’ve learned as a writer. It’s what I would tell anyone who creates anything. Whether you’re writing a blog post, preparing a sermon or painting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid who is making masterpieces out of stuff that’s lying around or whether you’re a seasoned novelist who has written 20 New York Times’ Bestsellers.
You aren’t in control. And as soon as you realize that, the sooner you can start making some really great stuff.
Even when you come up with an idea. It’s not really your idea. Yeah, you were maybe the one who one who write it down or had an inkling to suggest something, but honestly that doesn’t mean it’s yours. Where did it come from? That’s what I like to call an elusive question. One that the more we attempt to answer, often the further we are from finding an answer.
Consider this in some ways, an elusive blog post.
When I write I often try and have some ideas or seeds ready to go. So if I’m out and about and I notice something or hear something or wonder something, I will jot it down. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether it fits into something that I’m already working on or whether it’s interesting to anyone else. If it hits something in me, I’ll make some sort of record of it. Maybe I’ll take a picture and make a note and reference it in Evernote.
I’ll usually give it a tag of some sort e.g. Elaine’s Freakout or Franco, General Hospital or Numb Slog.
Descriptions and tags that right now mean nothing, but someday may just be the missing piece of the jigsaw that I’ve been looking for.
Remember to make a note about whatever this thought that comes to mind is, even if it’s 3:25 in the morning. This is so important!! I’ve had ideas that I’ve thought were genius and I wouldn’t need to write down, disappear like a dream. There are foggy memories of having a great idea that become faint mirages. Something but now nothing.
I’ve thought of jokes in my sleep that I literally remember thinking I can’t wait to tell Britty this joke when I wake up and realizing the joke is terrible. Remind me to tell you my Brad Pitt joke next time I see you.
But it doesn’t matter. I wrote it down. It may come in handy someday, even if just to use in a blog post about how crap an idea it was.
Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred to the writer.
Then maybe later I’ll be writing a blog post about a particular topic and I’ll review my tags and I’ll see if there are any interesting connections. Connections that if I was trying to intentionally arrive at, would never stick. But when my stance in the world is to be alert to what’s going on around me, you’d be surprised at the things that fit together eventually.
Also, it doesn’t have to be good. In fact, it should probably be really shit. That’s where the good stuff tends to come from. Another in fact; usually the things that you think are really great and are going to go viral, don’t get much response and the things you’re so embarrassed about sharing, resonate on some weird level with people.
The best ideas too, come from the least expected places. Often I do my best writing in the shower or sitting on the toilet. They common factor here is not some weird fascination I have with my bathroom but that it’s here that I’m often disconnected from my phone or my computer. Those things become a distraction where Twitter stops me from pondering and being in awe and just being silent.
The silence is where the best noise comes from.
I don’t understand it either.
Again, we’re not in control.
And that’s it really. Sure we need to actually sit down every single day and do the work. And sure, we need to edit it and maybe we can to learn to find our voice by taking a course. But the ideas, rarely come from simply trying harder.
And the more you do this, whether you’re any good at it or not, the more you’ll want to let go. The more value you’ll see in those frustrating days when everything you write is just BLeurgrhhgreathhgghhghsdgjh!!!!! It’s not a waste of time, it’s necessary. Like a good sculptor, our job is simply to chisel away until we find something that has been there all along.
We’re not creating it so much as we are discovering it and giving voice to it.
That’s the important work.
Because in there, when you least expect it, is where you find the great.
I remember the first time I had my writing published online. It was for my favorite website and I couldn’t be more excited. I had dreamed about the moment for days as I spent far too much time analyzing each word and sentence to make sure I had the best piece of work I could possibly produce.
Finally it was ready and I sent it in excited to receive all the congratulatory comments. I refreshed the page over and over on the day it was going live, excited to see my face and words online somewhere other than my own blog.
It went up and I waited for the first comments to come in. It was going to be flooded with admirers and the site was probably going to crash, so incredibly fresh and innovative were my ideas.
Then the first comment finally arrived. Here it was. My life was going to change forever.
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”
Obviously I must have clicked on the wrong post. But no, that was definitely my picture in the top corner and those were definitely my words in the post.
This was not the initial reaction I had anticipated or indeed hoped for. But there it was.
Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that this was my first comment. Who wants people to like what you do anyway right?….RIGHT?! I have written many more blog posts since then and I’ve received probably a 50/50 split between positive and negative comments.
I’ve been called arrogant, dumb, a heretic and many other names.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how often you receive criticism, it’s difficult to not let it stick. I can receive ten positive comments and one negative and it’s that one negative that sticks with you.
It hits you in the gut. It doesn’t matter if it comes from someone completely anonymous; you know, those Twitter egg people. It still gets me every time. I overthink it and spend far too much time mentally getting back at them and putting them down with a quick witted response that there will be no coming back from.
It consumes me.
Slowly though, I’ve been learning there is a better way to react to criticism. First it’s important for me to sit with whatever it is I experience when I’m criticized. You see I’ve started to see that facing criticism is actually a healthy endeavor. That ultimately there is no positive or negative criticism, just transformative.
What would happen if instead of seeing praise as positive and criticism as negative we see it all as an opportunity to learn something? When I say this, I don’t simply mean that criticism keeps us humble. I mean that criticism gives us a chance of responding with Grace to the critic.
Because for anyone who has ever worked in customer service will attest, the customer is not always right.
For me at least, criticism doesn’t exist in a vacuum but amongst an experience of addiction, co dependency and fear.
Here’s what I mean by that.
As a former addict, an addict who is a Christian at that, anytime my addiction took a hold of me it evoked strong feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings similarly didn’t exist in a vacuum but in the middle of relationships and how I responded to everyday life. So you know, everything. It produced a strong co dependency in me where I needed others to be cool with me, since I was definitely not cool with myself.
Which means criticism took on extra power. Even if I knew deep down that the criticism I received wasn’t true or that the critic didn’t really know me and my intentions; my co dependency wouldn’t allow me to truly believe that. Furthermore, I wasn’t even able to split the honest concern from the trolls. All I knew was that I was being “attacked” and because I was an addict and carried huge amounts of shame with me everywhere, it was probably justified.
They were probably right.
This occurred in every single sphere of my life.
Our ego kicks in heavily when we’re criticized. Now, I’m not simply talking about the typical idea of ego in terms of thinking “I’m great” or “I deserve to be respected because of how awesome I am”. Those are simply symptoms of the larger psychological idea of our ego’s job as a protection from pain.
We don’t like criticism because it threatens our very understanding of the world and our place in it.
Take for instance, how anytime a traditional Christian belief is questioned and the reaction that provokes. It’s ultimately a reaction of fear. What if my understanding of God and the world around me is a little shaky? It doesn’t help that this often occurs in a sub conscious way. If we’re so sure that our beliefs are correct there is no need to react with fear. It doesn’t have to hit us.
But it does. Every time. Right in the gut.
And if you’re an addict also, that punch in the gut is also a line of people taking their turn slapping you in the face.
So everything suffered. My relationships, my creativity, my self esteem. The criticism of my beliefs or words even when they were supplied from people who I know love me and care for me, were taken as a damnation on my very existence. Under everything was a deeply engrained belief that I am a bad person, so any criticism was just a timely reminder of this ‘truth’.
Even praise or affirmation didn’t help, not only because shame was so deeply engrained but also because when shame is a constant voice whispering into your ear, praise is seen as misguided or uninformed.
Criticism stifled my creativity because it reminded me of how much of a horrible person I was.
Praise and encouragement stifled it because shame knew better than the person offering encouragement. Like searching for an exit from a maze, only to find yourself back in the same spot 20 minutes later.
Now I allow myself to enjoy praise and criticism. They don’t have to be my enemies. I can dance with them.
Inevitably, as the shame and co dependency from my addictions began to heal so did my creativity. It came from a purer place. I was able to be proud of my work even if some didn’t agree with it. I didn’t and don’t have to be correct all the time.
We don’t need to be afraid anymore. We can develop a greater capacity for Love.
Many Christians misconstrue the idea that we need to be humble as meaning not being proud of our work or being excited that others are benefiting from it.
And for a long time that was how my belief functioned.
Yet my beliefs about the world instructed me to react with my back up anytime some one disagreed with me too. Whether that was my theology, views on justice, politics or anything else. If one part was wrong, then everything must have been wrong so I carried a huge pile of guilt and a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach full of anxiety and worry. Instead of trusting my gut, I assumed that it was lying to my face.
The secrets of addiction, compounded with any inkling of criticism led to me shutting down. I stopped enjoying music, art, relationships, life. The real me, the one I recognized from a distant past became ever more a blip on the horizon. It dawned on me that there are groups of people in my life who don’t know me at all. On one hand that makes me sad but honestly, mostly excited for what will come from this day forward.
Now, things are different. As I’ve healed from addiction I am learning to accept that being wrong does not require me to give up on my journey. I am beginning to view Grace in a new light too. It’s not about saving me to go to Heaven, rather it’s a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that allows me to interact with everyone, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.
Regardless of your political or theological views.
It even makes room for Arsenal supporters.
I don’t need you to like me or like my work anymore. I’m ok with you calling me a heretic. I’m ok with you not getting it. I don’t need to persuade you. It may just not be for you right now.
If my work helps or encourages you I am thankful and grateful and I would love to continue that with you. I want to help you explore your own journey and discover your own creativity.
Because I don’t think I’m an asshole anymore, it means I don’t have to think you are either.
I am ready to move forward.
My gut was once my enemy.
Now it’s my best friend.
Why it’s ok for Christians to watch Fifty Shades Darker and The Shack (and probably the Batman Lego movie too).
I wrote a post recently about my love of Horror movies and how they connect deeply with my faith. There aren’t too many other movies that we Christians lose our shit over, more than Horror movies.
Except movies with a bunch of sex. Or violence. Or anything that makes us laugh or cry. Even cartoons aren’t always safe.
This leaves us with slim pickings. Superhero movies are the exception because they save Pastors time and energy having to think of sermons. Why spend time exegetically deciphering Leviticus 28 when you can compare Iron Man to Jesus?
So with the recent release of the movie, Fifty Shades Darker and the upcoming movie depiction of The Shack, I’m sure there won’t be a lot to comment on.
Our instant reaction to anything be it movies, books or music that we’re cautious of, tends to be to criticize it without actually having experienced it ourselves. Famously, many denounced Rob Bell’s Love Wins without reading a single word. To be fair, many criticized it after reading it too but it’s still extremely common for us to close ourselves off to something without giving it a fair go.
This is why when Christians decide to review such things, they can come in for criticism for doing so. Recently both Martin Saunders, the film critic for ChristianToday and Craig Gross, of xxxchurch have both had to endure this for actually paying to see Fifty Shades Darker. Even though both generally came to the same conclusion that it depicted a relationship characterized by “abusive, controlling behavior”; this didn’t stop many having their say. Not so much about the movie itself, but about the fact two prominent Christians paid to see it.
Contrary to this, blogger Tim Challies recently wrote a post detailing why he believed even going to see The Shack would be sinful. Growing up I was under the impression from various sources that we had to be afraid of the world. Anything “of the world” or “secular” was dangerous. Playing football on a Sunday was going to send me straight to Hell.
Thankfully, I had a mum who wasn’t afraid of the world and who encouraged us to explore it and be intrigued by it. There wasn’t a sense that going to a concert of my favorite band was going to turn me into a devil worshipper. I remember when she even tried her best to get my friends and I into the Empire to see Therapy? soundcheck since we were too young to actually go to the gig. Quick Mum brag.
We were too young, but we went anyway and it was awesome.
All that being said, I understood that the world was ok. There were experiences to be had, some that may be frightening, sad, discouraging but also ones which were hopeful, exciting and full of Love.
They’re all part of the deal.
The Bible itself is full of verses and stories about not being afraid.
Yet, fear is the most prominent emotion for many of us. It’s so engrained in our subconscious that we’re blissfully unaware of it.
Fear of the other is a regrettable characteristic for many in the church today. Despite the examples that Jesus set where he constantly and frustratingly for the religious elite, spent time and energy with the very people who were believed to corrupt everything. The very people that were set on the destruction of His faith.
He spent time with Roman Tax collectors, he healed Roman soldiers kids, He rebuked the religious for attacking a prostitute. And, He never went to Church.
When our goal as Christians is to get to Heaven and to avoid anything, be it movies, music, tv etc that could get into our minds and corrupt us, our reactions should not be that surprising. But this is not a life of freedom and is simply another version of legalism.
That’s all very well you may be thinking, but what if this stuff does seep in and change us. This still doesn’t negate the question of why we’re afraid that will happen.
Things like meditation and yoga, which have been taken up by many in the church and have helped develop their spirituality and faith are seen as dangerous. The risk of becoming possessed by something dark is real, we’re told. Yet, what does this tell us about our belief in God and His power? That if we exercise or if we close our eyes and be still, He is powerless to the Devil?
I think most of us would consider this kind of ridiculous. But it’s a belief that is pervasive to many.
The purpose of being “set apart from the world” is not one where we try and shelter ourselves from anything that we decide is harmful. Being set apart means we have an alternative that is better.
If we don’t like the way relationships are portrayed in the Fifty Shades series, we can’t complain unless we’re offering a better way of discussing relationships and sex.
If we’re afraid of how God is depicted in the Shack, we need to ask ourselves why do so many resonate with the view it does portray, and why is the story we’re telling not helping more people find meaning in life, including all the joys and suffering it allows.
Christianity’s view of itself is often that we are on the winning side. But when you are the winner, you don’t need to constantly defend yourself. You don’t need to keep attacking. You don’t need to keep justifying. You’ve won.
If only there were some topical example I could use.
This is why we do not need to be afraid of movies or books or comedy or cartoons or music or anything else. Maybe these things are gifts that allow us to go deep and question the doubts we have about who God is to us. Is he a God that is afraid or one that doesn’t need to cower?
We attack because we feel threatened, not because we are strong. We attack because we doubt, not because we’re sure we’re right. We stop dead at criticizing without offering anything better because we’re not really sure there is anything better.
Only when we’re honest about this are we able to actively engage with the world from a place that desires to offer Hope and Love and something different. Because we’re actually experiencing it ourselves for once.
That is the true message of Christianity. A gift that is not ours to hold onto to solidify party lines or denominational differences or borders, or even to close ourselves off to that which frightens us.
A gift that is only useful when we engage with the world. Not because we want to save it, but because we are it.
So you’re safe. The devil won’t get you.
Until the Love Wins movie comes out that is.
Rob Bell gets accused of not mentioning Jesus enough but there is a moment about 15 minutes into his “don’t call it a comeback” Grand Rapids show as part of his new Everything Is Spiritual tour where he mentions Jesus.
But you may have missed it. In a seemingly throw away statement it’s almost as if He didn’t want everyone to hear it. That this Jesus is somehow so much more unique, exciting and imaginative that you could even handle.
Which is one of the criticisms that Rob Bell has faced countless times. He talks about spirituality and Jesus and God and Love in ways that we don’t like. Ambiguous, mysterious but intriguing.
Where on earth could he have got such an idea for talking about spiritual matters like this?
For the rest of us, Rob Bell gets it.
In what I think is over two hours (I never once felt like checking my watch) which seems like both a long time, whilst never being boring and yet nowhere near long enough; he describes the trajectory of the world from the big bang to particles to atoms to Molecules to cells to you and me, human life.
I don’t remember science, last period on a Friday ever being so thrilling.
Even his fiercest critics have conceded that Rob Bell is a wonderful communicator and by keeping us engaged for so long on what is essentially a very basic science lesson, it’s almost as if he’s showing off.
But you’re maybe not interested in the science stuff. You want to know how he weaved Jesus, God, and the Gospel message into all of this.
He begins by linking the ever forward trajectory of existence from the big bang to the tiniest particles to complex human beings to itself. We’re all connected. In every progressive step there are characteristics of before to be found in it’s make up. The potential for all the joy, pain, awkward conversations, Taylor Swift, first time you tasted Chocolate, thrill and every other experience under the sun was present there in the beginning.
In one important analogy so desperately and currently needed, he showed us that racism is the inability to connect with someone of similar substance.
Loneliness is going in the wrong direction because it’s the antithesis of all of us being connected.
Cells, sub atomic particles, racism, loneliness. It’s all the same. We need to connect to move forward.
You want a message about the need for church to be real and authentic with the world and itself? You got it.
You want a repent message? You got it. If you’re not moving with others in the direction we need you to, you better rethink what you’re doing.
When you provide evidence from English researchers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson from their book “The Spirit Level” that the larger the gaps between the rich and poor in countries, the lower the literary rates, more serious mental health and the lower life expectancy not simply for the poor, but for the rich, it’s hard to not see Jesus in all of this.
Maybe Jesus isn’t explicitly mentioned as much as some of us would like, but He is there in everything tonight.
We need to be generous, peaceful, hopeful and graceful to each other. Getting more stuff, finding that individual inner peace for yourself is not enough. Connection with others is where its at.
Finally, Rob Bell takes some time to connect what all of this means practically in three areas of our lives. Our past, present and future.
There were many collective mmmm’s throughout this evening. Not the “that’s an interesting thing to know” type but that “deeply felt, everyone knows it, even if we never explicitly knew how to express it”, type of knowing. These all happened during this last phase of the night.
A beautiful example of all of this at play between hundreds of complete strangers.
This part of the evening was for me the most meaningful.
Through stories of people who experienced deep suffering finding each other by simply saying “Me Too” to hilarious stories of dealing with the fallout of his book “Love Wins” (which he describes tongue firmly in cheek as being unique in the history of published literacy since everyone loved it, even the people who didn’t read it) a few years ago, Rob Bell showed us that even when the very thing that our ego fears most happens, shame, we’re still standing.
“You’re fine, you’re good. In fact you’re great!”
This isn’t a wishy washy new age message, the Universe loves you dude message, like so many of Rob Bell’s critics have accused him of delivering before, but a hopeful, Jesus filled, Spirit filled, Gospel good news filled message that we all need to hear.
You get the feeling that through all of everything that Rob Bell is excited as ever about sharing this with people. I for one am grateful for someone who is able to communicate all of this in new, fresh ways which sends you out with a new found peace and vigor for discovering the mysterious wonder and Love of God. Rob Bell, as he reminds us tonight about human beings, is just getting started.
Farewell no more.
Welcome, Rob Bell.