Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Flash Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because sometimes there's reason my dialog sounds eerily like a Dos Equis commercial.

I've been reading a lot of N.D. Wilson lately, which is to say, as of five minutes ago, I've read everything he's written: The 100 Cupboards Trilogy, Leepike Ridge, Ashtown Burials, Death by Living and Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

The author who forces you to read everything he or she has written is a rare find and I can count the ones I've met with my fingers. P.D. James was one of the last such discoveries for me and that was about eight years ago, and those wondrously haunting, psychological, bloody murders got me through the hardest days of seminary. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is the book that made me realize I'd have to read all of Wilson's stuff and his first nonfiction work.

What I like about Wilson? His irrepressible, G.K. Chesterton-like happiness in the created world, a faith that inspires humor (all too rare), and his optimism about death.

Wilson's writing jones is impressive, but what I enjoy even more than his wordsmithery is his outlook. It's a dogged, tenacious happiness that few possess and fewer still could explain or express. Christians should be happy, even when we're beat up. We should find a lot to joke about, starting with ourselves. If you follow Jesus, then you're in the camp that states unequivocally, Death is already the punchline of God's comedy, death has been had, death poses no real threat. Wilson:
This world is beautiful but badly broken. St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even in its groaning. I love this round stage where we act out the tragedies and comedies of history. I love it with all of its villains and petty liars and self-righteous pompers. I love the ants and the laughter of wide-eyed children encountering their first butterfly. I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn't stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story. And like every good story, there will be an ending. I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be.
Other reasons I like Wilson: He has five kids. Renovates his own house. Has a high tolerance for risk, reasons outlined above, and...he writes. All said, this guy does my heart good. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Post on the New Blog

If my site stats aren't lying, looks like some of you keep a watchful eye on this blog. Or maybe you're sound asleep, I wouldn't blame you. Anyway, I just wrote my first legitimate blog post in a few years and it's on my new blog, Return of the Brick House.

If any of you have migrated over to Twitter, I'm on there as well.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I Am Blogging Again

Last weekend at the Mumford & Sons concert, my friend Erik said, "It would be kind of cool if Arcade Fire walked out on the stage with them."

And while we're on the subject of monstrous understatements, here's another one.

Been awhile since I've blogged here.

Life has picked us up and swept us along for the last couple years, and writing went by the wayside. However, I made a promise to myself that once I finished remodeling a home office in our new brick house by downtown Kansas City, I would start blogging again. After two years of work, the office is done, with the exception of some trim that I'm turning a blind eye too, and I have, in fact, made a modest attempt to jump start the writing motor.

The new blog is called Return of the Brick House. There are words and pictures there.

The About page would be a good place to start.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Crossroads Church KC Summer 2010 Update

If you didn't know, my family has been working to start a new church in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, an adventure that has been exciting, exhausting, and very rewarding–pretty much everything we signed up for. Here's our latest update.


Lindsay and I were standing in an outdoor concert venue when Fall arrived. Like the Holy Spirit, it caught us by surprise and gave us chills. Autumn trends to snow and ice pretty fast in Kansas City, but it does give me an opportunity to glance back at the summer and write a long overdue update.

Stop-Motion Summer (Choppy but Good)
In our 1.5 year experience starting Crossroads Church, summer has been choppy, with our team on a rotating vacation schedule as the city heats up. However, Jesus has been good to us, and we’ve seen slow and steady growth happen in the last several months. John and Hailey are a recent addition to our team, both making their presence felt. John, a talented musician, is helping lead our worship services and Hailey is helping stage our services and City group with a great eye for aesthetics.

We’re still meeting for informal services in the Arts Incubator (AI), which has been a great location for us, imbedded in the arts community. The director there has continued to work with our team and has made a couple additional spaces available as our needs have changed. We’re slowly getting acquainted with several artists, and praying for more relationships. Matthew, who has recently jumped in at Crossroads Church with his wife Karen and three kids, has just been approved as an artist at the AI, and we’re looking forward to how seeing how God will work through this.

We’ve seen a steady stream of new faces at our informal services, and some of those people have stuck around and bought into the vision we have for seeing downtown KC transformed with the landmarks of the gospel–prayer, preaching, life together, belief in Jesus (Acts 2). Our team, which originally could have met in a closet, now could fill a coffee shop venue nicely. Others are entering the community and considering what it means to be involved at Crossroads–including some who have been outsiders to the gospel until now.

Fewer Moving Parts (= Fewer Broken Pieces)
We’ve multiplied our most basic discipleship piece, Core groups, which are 3-4 men or women meeting together weekly to pray, get in the Bible and hold each other accountable to our mission: Love Jesus, connect people, transform cities. We now have five of those groups operational. I’m thrilled that Mark, who committed his life to Jesus over the summer, is part of my Core group.

We’re also poised for our first City group multiplication. City groups meet in houses for food, prayer, and Bible. They also help us hit the streets to serve our city by adopting local causes (like the Arts Incubator, beautification projects, and children’s art programs). Along with our services and Core groups, these make up the building blocks of Crossroads. We like the “fewer moving parts” idea!

Social Currency (This is a Team Sport)
A couple days ago we hosted a “First Friday party” at our house, inviting a bunch of friends over for a colossal bar-b-q before downtown KC’s biggest monthly event, the First Friday Art Walk. If you’d showed up you would have seen a packed house of people hanging out, talking together, and enjoying the cool evening on our back deck, which overlooks the Crossroads District. This is the kind of party we love to host. It gives us opportunities to spend time with the people we think Jesus would befriend. In the next month, we’ll be repaving a community basketball court, helping clean an art gallery and volunteering at a fundraiser for the local arts scene. We’re looking to meet genuine needs, invite our friends along, and speak the gospel with our actions as well as our words.

At the moment, Crossroads Church is rich in leaders and servants if not in dollars. God has sent us some people who love the gospel enough to let it challenge and shape them, who increasingly see gospel as a life-changing mission and the church as more than a social club. These are people who get up when they get knocked down, accept challenges as part of the game, and love KC and each other. We’re proud of them and eager to tackle the future with these men and women.

Chaos Lives Here (At Our Address!)
On a personal note, Lindsay and I have become somewhat acclimated to the chaos of simultaneously starting a church, remodeling a house, and raising solar-powered, action-figure boys. Since the church is still growing, we’re still demolishing walls, and we are pregnant with baby #4 (due March 14), none of this will end anytime soon. When you have a minute, pray that God will keep giving us times of rest, peace, and renewal in the middle of all this. We appreciate it.

Also pray for Crossroads that we’ll be people who are committed to steadily living the gospel. In the most important sense, the next months hold more of the same. More championing the gospel in sermons and conversations. More modeling the gospel with our hospitality and generosity. More inviting our friends to join us in pursuing Jesus.

Thanks for your prayers, and may God bless you wherever you find yourselves.


Arie (AJ), Lindsay, Aidan, Asher, Ezra, and boy? baby #4.

Crossroads Church Kansas City

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Good Chaos

With three boys aged four, two, and 10 months, our home is your basic wildlife sanctuary. The same goes for Crossroads Church, about a year old, and our informal services in the Arts Incubator (started November 2009).

Last Sunday, Kansas City was drenched by thunderstorms, and during our morning service we unplugged our floor lamps and used buckets to catch the spray from the leaky ceiling and window frames. When the heat index rises above 90, we bring in multiple tornado fans to simulate tropical breezes. When there's a band rehearsing on the floor above us or someone operating a table saw in the ground floor workshop, we crack jokes and turn our mics up. Off the cuff. It's how we roll. A little chaos never hurt anyone.

Like I said, Lindsay and I have three boys, Aidan, Asher and Ezra. All three are intense, high-energy, and double as midget clowns. In addition, our place is almost 100 years old and requires a lot of TLC and outright remodeling, much of which Google and I are tackling together. So preferences aside, the reality is that our home is part circus, part construction zone, part trauma ward. All this is so fascinating that we invite people over all the time to enjoy the show.

All of which raises the question: When craziness is a regular life rhythm, how do you make it a dance step? How do you make it the way you roll, and learn flexibility, as opposed to becoming an insomniac and getting a bad nervous twitch?

Well, number one, you look for furniture that could withstand small arms fire.

Number two, you place a premium on spontaneity. "Stay loose" becomes more than a sports mantra. Creativity is huge, because the first plan is rarely the final word.

Having things just right becomes a good punch line. You get used to dramatic mistakes, multiple vehicle smash-ups (with Tonka trucks), and leaks that you might have been able to fix without smashing a hole in the wall. You learn not to take yourself so freaking seriously, because the illusion of control, which is always fragile, frequently gets fried like an old circuit.

My best answer for developing an aesthetic of chaos? Humility. Laughing at myself often, repenting more frequently than I have, shrugging when plans boomerang away. It's OK, they were just good ideas.

But I'm not just trusting the Universe, here. Pro bono joy is not the vibe of our politics, culture, economy, local repairmen (trust me on that one). I'm definitely not in control, and I'm amenable to this because someone more qualified is in control.

Paul, one of Jesus' earliest and toughest followers, describes, "the immeasurable greatness of [God's] power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Ephesians 1:19-21).

The kicker is that Paul writes this letter under arrest, chained to a Roman soldier, awaiting a rigged trial that will result in his execution. Paul writes about Jesus' invincible power, stronger than death, on his way to death row for following this very Jesus.

Not quite what you'd expect. Apparently chaos is best countered with an equally unexpected bravado. Appearances are misleading. When life is a tornado, it turns out that God uses tornadoes. That tornado never had a chance. We listen to guys like Paul, a man like Jesus, who was something more than a man, and it turns out that God isn't beyond making death his pawn.

In light of this, a baby church, a three-story, 100-year-old brick house, and three kids who practice mixed martial arts on each other are manageable. Humility makes sense when God has a startling plan for bedlam. I'll keep trying to laugh, and hang loose, and not take myself so freaking seriously. If I smash a hole in this wall, maybe we'll remodel the bathroom sooner. If I can't sleep, maybe I'll get some writing done.

Jesus can make even chaos good.

x-posted on

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Monday, March 08, 2010

2010 NCAA Tournament Bracket

With Selection Sunday a week away, here's a mock 2010 NCAA bracket from the guys at Rush the Court to whet your appetites. 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for the Big 12, with 7 teams making the cut, KU locking up a #1 seed--likely the overall #1--and K-State earning a #2...something unheard of and unimaginable as recently as a year ago. Go Big 12 and Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Deep Church Review (Jim Belcher)

As a theological and cultural trend (in a fairly small circle, anyway), emerging church peaked a couple years ago. At least it did for me. I attended a conference on emerging church. I took a class on emerging church. I wrote papers and articles on emerging church. I read books on emerging church. Lots of them. I consider myself part of a particular stream of emerging church. And then I got thoroughly tired of emerging church.

All that to say, when I noticed Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, in 2009 I dismissed it offhand as yet another tome sifting the relative merits of different authors and theologies, and decided in three seconds that No, I didn’t need a review copy.

Some time went by.

Then last month I picked up a copy of the book and noticed Tim Keller’s blurb on the cover: “Very important.” I flipped it over and read endorsements by Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell. And I decided I needed a review copy after all (Thank you, IVP).

Deep Church may be the most helpful ec-related book written to date. At the very least, it’s up there with Alan Hirsch’s masterful The Forgotten Ways.

Jim Belcher is a clear thinker and able writer who, like many twenty and thirty-something Christ-followers, deeply feels the “protest” elements that drive much of the emerging conversation. He acknowledges the various ways that the evangelical church in America has veered into institutionalism and stale understandings of gospel and mission.

However, not content to merely react, Belcher is committed to finding a way forward that corrects the imbalances and arrogance of traditional Protestant religion while avoiding the pitfalls of some emerging theology. He aims for a “third way” or “deep church” (C.S. Lewis’ phrase) that is informed by historical church tradition and sensitive to our cultural climate.

Belcher is also a church planter and pastor, and therefore has that rare quality of “welding theology to practice with a blow torch”–an achievement this blog always rushes to admire.

Deep Church is a gift to those looking to be the biblical church in emerging culture while continuing to learn from the past. Grab this book. It should be on the shelf with volumes like Total Church and The Forgotten Ways.

Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Top Albums of 2009

Someday I'll actually complete a Top 10 albums list in the year it refers to, and all of you will be shocked and disoriented. But until that day, I'll continue to write these posts in January.

I enjoy most genres, with a couple exceptions, but that said, this list gravitates toward the indie side of the tracks, and reveals my deep-rooted love for more straight-up indie rock. But Top 10 music lists are all subjective in varying degrees, so take it for what it's worth. Suggestions or commentary? Lay it on me.

This list originally appeared on Twitter/Facebook, but this blog version will include my honorable mentions as well. Bonus, right? Here we go:

15. Bomb in a Birdcage by A Fine Frenzy, catchy, pretty pop reminiscent of Feist.

14. Before The Frost...Until The Freeze by The Black Crowes, gritty rock infused with soul.

13. Other Lives by Other Lives, epic, beautiful, acoustic melancholy.

12. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, bouncy, eclectic, playful indie.

11. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear, "rustic, ethereal pop-folk?" Possibly. Intriguing? Definitely.

10. Together Through Life by Bob Dylan, warm, breezy, bluesy, with lots of accordion & wry humor.

9. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix, energetic rock + keyboards + synth = ridiculously catchy pop.

8. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case, pitch-perfect, wistful, indie folk from poetic singer/songwriter.

7. Noble Beast by Andrew Bird, wildly creative lyrics and melodies sung with humor, verve & sweetness.

6. Give Up The Ghost by Brandi Carlile, achingly heartfelt, get-stuck-in-your-head folk-rock.

5. Kingdom Of Rust by Doves, sprawling, textured urban rock that's tough but shows lots of heart.

4. Fantasies by Metric, new wave indie with electro-pop flair, tight vocals and a killer vibe.

3. Hospice by The Antlers, hushed, heart-wrenching, indie rock that pulls you into a spectral story.

2. It's Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, electronic disco-rock dances, rocks & reflects with sublime poise.

1. Wilco [The Album] by Wilco, brilliant, poignant, driving indie rock that hits on all cylinders.

Honorable mention: Fate by Dr Dog, Lost Channels by Great Lake Swimmers, Manners by Passion Pit, Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot, Wait for Me by Moby, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart [self-titled], The Long Fall Back to Earth by Jars of Clay.

Unsortable: No Line on the Horizon by U2. A great rock album that, in my opinion, more than lived up to its advance billing. Despite its unsexy mainstream-ness, this album should have appeared on my list somewhere, but...I forgot. And the "Top 16 Albums of 2009" doesn't have the same ring.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! The Long View & C.S. Lewis

In lieu of a December update on Crossroads Church Kansas City, we’re praying that all our friends will enjoy the haunting beauty, stark reality, and startling joy of Christmas.

C.S. Lewis called the life of Jesus, “true myth,” meaning that the birth, life death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus has the power to shape and transform all our lives at a depth that we, at the height of our materialism, merrymaking, medicating, and good intentions, will never scrape.

When God became man, Heaven came to earth.
When Jesus lived here, his kingdom took root.
When he was murdered, our sin and darkness died with him.
When he resurrected, he killed death and crushed sin’s power.
When he returns, all earth will be transformed.

So wherever we find ourselves in late December 2009, we are freed to celebrate the stable, shepherds, and infant Savior in light of Jesus’ full life, which includes a chapter still coming. That’s the day when “baby Jesus” returns to earth as a resplendent, triumphant, divine hero and all his people join the party.

In C.S. Lewis’ words, that will be when, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is morning.”

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

3 Rhythms for a Better Life

Today is a good day for this blog. A good day for this blog to be alive. A good day for this blog to be in existence, even though it is still hosted on and is therefore limited in its upward mobility.

Today is the day I sit down and write a post.

The last year of my life has been spent fund raising, team building, strategizing, praying, honing vision, buying a house, demolishing & remodeling said house, developing connections in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, chasing our three boys, ranting at pigheadedness wherever I find it, leaving my coffee addiction for an espresso addiction, laying awake at night, and, in short, working to get an urban church plant off the ground in Kansas City.

Things are going well. I can't complain.

However, this blog is one thing that has definitely been lost in the shuffle. Other things are my polished mid-range hoops game, my reading list, and, strangely enough, a favorite hat.

But as my family transitions into the holiday season, we're deliberately scaling back our Frenetic Activity Level to something closer to a 7/10. Doing some blogging is going to be part of my job description for the next several weeks, and, if things go well, who knows what could happen in 2010.

Lately I've been thinking about the short list of important things that act as health indicators in my life and how several of them are MIA. Here's what I've come up with as I tried to answer the question, What regular rhythms lead to health and wellness (spiritual, emotional, physical) in my life? In some ways I'm jumping the gun on New Year's Resolutions, but who has time to write a blog post on New Year's?

I used to know, the way you know in your frostbitten fingers and achy knees that Spring will come, that there was a place for a short-but-very-tough, sharp-shooting, almost-dunking white guy in the NBA.

For all five of you who have continued to track this blog even though I haven shamefully abandoned it, what are rhythms that act as health indicators in your life? Let me just preemptively say that these should be rhythms other than eating, sleeping, breathing, etc., so save it for comedy hour, smart a**. Since small children have been known to read this blog, I'm also taking rhythms of another, specific type out of play. Today we will faithfully maintain our PG rating. Ok, then.

Here are my top three:

1. Reading without an agenda. I like to read and I've spent a lot of my time reading, more time than I've spent watching TV (yes it's true). Therefore, if I can so say modestly, I'm very good at it. When I sit down to READ I can, you know, plow through a lot of reading. I can read an entire historical fiction novel in about five minutes. A book on philosophy or advanced physics takes me about ten. (Anything off Oprah's book list hits the mat in three min or less.)

Not really, but I frequently find myself reading merely for information these days. Reading with an agenda. As a guy who is convinced that the best books capture and stir our imaginations, it becomes painfully obvious that reading this way short-circuits the main point. I need to read slowly and reflectively. And not only commentaries and strategy books, but fiction, poetry, and the Bible.

2. Playing basketball and reawakening my lifetime dream to play in the NBA. I used to know, the way you know in your frostbitten fingers and achy knees that Spring will come, that there was a place for a short-but-very-tough, sharp-shooting, almost-dunking white guy in the NBA. Maybe starting as a back-up for the Clippers, then getting traded to the Mavs, and eventually playing a lot of minutes for the Celtics.

How did I know this? It simply became obvious as I played a lot of pick-up ball, taught defenses to fear the second coming of White Chocolate, and developed a hoops motor that could run for hours and defend taller players. I need to play more ball. I need to almost-dunk again. I need to recapture the dream. Pickup basketball was welded into my DNA and I'm blaming God for that. When I get to play ball every so often, I wear my other hats with a cavalier joy (except for the missing one).

3. Writing because I want to and can. This one is similar to my first rhythm. Sending off barrages of emails to not count. Updating my Twitter does not count. Texting a friend does not count. What I have in mind is writing in a purer form, a form that will not become obsolete even when Twitter becomes obsolete because, hey, 140 characters is almost an entire novel.

I enjoy making off-the-cuff decisions and crafting quick strategies as much as any other guy who grew up with a lot of siblings playing Risk and aiming for World Domination. But that kind of thinking doesn't replenish me. For me, the best kind of thinking happens when I slow down, stop hurrying, and put pragmatism in my back pocket. Writing my thoughts down, journaling, has been invaluable for me in the past and I need to return to it.

There's a kind of agile, strategic thinking that gets you through the day and, in the bigger picture, ensures the gears of commerce and finance keep on grinding. But behind this buck-stopping and call-making is the vision and steady spiritual intent that guides every last-second decision and, in fact, makes the daily triumphs and gaffes worthwhile. For me, writing, while simultaneously listening for God's voice, is how this deeper, wiser, vital thought takes place.

There you have it. Three rhythms that have been missing in my life for awhile. Three rhythms that I would like to see return. We'll see what 2010 holds. Any rhythms of your own?

X-posted on

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife