Find a broken wall – and then Rebuild it.

Find a Broken Wall by Brian C StillerFind a broken wall, Brian Stiller says in his new book — and then rebuild it.

This is not a book for everyone. It is a book for leaders of Christian churches, ministries, and organizations. Particularly, it is a leadership manual for those individuals who are called to take on the leadership of deeply troubled churches, ministries, and organizations. In fact, for leaders who are in charge of such troubled organizations — and, sadly, there are many — this book should be required reading.

The books central image is drawn from the Bible book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah found the city of Jerusalem in a very difficult situation and managed to restore the city by rebuilding the city wall and making other important changes.

However, the bulk of the content of Stillers book is not drawn from Nehemiah, but from Stillers own experience. Stiller knows what he is talking about because he has spent his life assuming the leadership of broken ministries and fixing them.

Not everyone is called to lead broken-down, distressed, and undeveloped ministries (page 24), but Stiller was. He assumed leadership of the Montreal and Toronto branches of Youth for Christ when each was in deep trouble, and he revitalized both. After leading Youth for Christ Canada, he became executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 1983 when it was a little known umbrella organization with almost no ministry. By the time he left in 1997, not only was the EFC a highly effective organization, but the Canadian evangelical movement had become an influential factor in Canadian life. Stiller then took over as President of Ontario Bible College when it was bankrupt and on the verge of closing. He turned it into Tyndale University, a vibrant institution with a new $100 million campus.

Two things stand out about this book. One is how frankly open Stiller is about his own failings and the failings of the organizations he restored. For instance, in 1983, he was asked what the purpose of the EFC was, and he recalls, I stumbled and fumbled. I didnt know. (page 83) Unlike authors who offer only sanitized descriptions, he is willing to call a train wreck a train wreck.

The other thing that stands out is the wise insights that Stiller offers which can be applied by leaders of many organizations, whether they are in trouble or not. For instance, Stiller talks about how to focus on vision and avoid diversionary claptrap (page 53); about how to protect an organization from spiritual drift (page 93); about how to deal with boredom, fatigue, or burnout (page 96); about not treating people with different views as enemies (page 144); about admitting mistakes (page 146); about the importance of strategic planning (Chapter 5); and about seeking the good of the ministry instead of self-fulfillment (page 155).

Along the way, Stiller offers pithy comments that remain in the mind to encourage and challenge:

  • Endemic among leaders is the tendency to not listen to what another has to say. (page 26)
  • Review your schedule for the past month. How much time was given to what you really want to accomplish? (page 53)
  • Vision is not a half-baked idea that you ask God to bless. (page 57)
  • Faith is risking, knowing that without the help of the Lord Ill fail. (page 69)

Such insights are invaluable for leaders of all kinds. And, insofar as they help followers understand the issues their leaders wrestle with, the book could also be read with profit by followers. Maybe it is a book for everyone.

Find a Broken Wall: 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders ($26.96 hard cover, $19.95 paperback) is published by Castle Quay Books.

“Silver Linings Playbook” Review

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

The Academy Award nominated feel-good romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook has gotten some extremely high praise and a significant amount of buzz. Starring Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) and Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) it has been nominated for a total of 8 Oscars. But is it worthy?

The film opens with Pat (Cooper) getting picked up by his mother from a court ordered 8-month stay in a mental institute. This opening sequence and the first half of the film are by far the strongest parts of the film, with Cooper in a state of spectacular dysfunction and near incomprehensibility on numerous occasions. Determined to win back his unfaithful wife, Pat begins a disciplined regimen of reading American classics and running.

An unexpected dinner invite sits Pat next to Tiffany (Lawrence), an equally dysfunctional, mentally unstable individual, whose husband has recently died. Sparks fly as they emote their simultaneous physical attraction, and intellectual disdain for each other, arguing about who is more mentally ill. It is this love/hate dynamic, which provides the most interesting tension in the film, with Cooper and Lawrence delivering undeniable on screen chemistry.

However, the movie falls apart as it moves away from complex character study of individuals with mental illness and develops an unlikely and clichéd plot about a wager on a football game, made by Pat’s OCD father (Robert De Niro), and a dance competition Pat and Tiffany have entered. What is more disturbing is that Cooper’s performance suggests such a radical transformation, under the guidance of some equally suspect therapy, as to imply that “love” cures mental illness.

What is love? A question too big to be discussed here, however, Silver Linings Playbook is an impassioned plea by Hollywood to return to the faith of the romantic comedy, the happy ending and the cult of a relationship that is the answer to everything… Silver Linings Playbook denies love rooted in commitment or honesty and continues the celebration of love bound up in passion and chemistry.

While the actors deliver up some big performances, in my opinion it was Robert De Niro who stands out. De Niro’s performance demonstrates a consistency and subtlety lacking in both Lawrence and Cooper’s. The two leads, though especially Cooper, present big performances of a subject unfamiliar and often scary for many of us. Without expertise, it can be difficult to determine the authenticity of these performances. However, it is my suggestion that the ability to play “big, loud and crazy” in such away as impresses lots of people is not necessarily the best test of acting ability, but rather great acting is in the subtlety of performance, something that the film lacks generally but is particularly deficient in Coopers role.

Overall, the film is fun and feel-good– starting out quite strongly but getting bogged down in clichéd plot devices. With strong but overrated performances, interesting and clever cinematography, it is the story, which over reaches itself, that fails to deliver a truly earned and satisfying journey. If it wins Best Picture the Academy should be ashamed.

Book Review: Find a Broken Wall

Find a Broken WallFind a broken wall, Brian Stiller says in his new book—and then rebuild it.

This is not a book for everyone. It is a book for leaders of Christian churches, ministries, and organizations. Particularly, it is a leadership manual for those individuals who are called to take on the leadership of deeply troubled churches, ministries, and organizations. In fact, for leaders who are in charge of such troubled organizations—and, sadly, there are many—this book should be required reading.

The book’s central image is drawn from the Bible book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah found the city of Jerusalem in a very difficult situation and managed to restore the city by rebuilding the city wall and making other important changes.

However, the bulk of the content of Stiller’s book is not drawn from Nehemiah, but from Stiller’s own experience. Stiller knows what he is talking about because he has spent his life assuming the leadership of broken ministries and fixing them.

Not everyone is called to lead “broken-down, distressed, and undeveloped ministries” (page 24), but Stiller was. He assumed leadership of the Montreal and Toronto branches of Youth for Christ when each was in deep trouble, and he revitalized both. After leading Youth for Christ Canada, he became executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 1983 when it was a little known umbrella organization with almost no ministry. By the time he left in 1997, not only was the EFC a highly effective organization, but the Canadian evangelical movement had become an influential factor in Canadian life. Stiller then took over as President of Ontario Bible College when it was bankrupt and on the verge of closing. He turned it into Tyndale University, a vibrant institution with a new $100 million campus.

Two things stand out about this book. One is how frankly open Stiller is about his own failings and the failings of the organizations he restored. For instance, in 1983, he was asked what the purpose of the EFC was, and he recalls, “I stumbled and fumbled. I didn’t know” (83). Unlike authors who offer only sanitized descriptions, he is willing to call a train wreck a train wreck.

The other thing that stands out is the wise insights that Stiller offers which can be applied by leaders of many organizations, whether they are in trouble or not. For instance, Stiller talks about how to focus on vision and avoid “diversionary claptrap” (53); about how to protect an organization from “spiritual drift” (93); about how to deal with “boredom, fatigue, or burnout” (96); about not treating people with different views as enemies (144); about admitting mistakes (146); about the importance of strategic planning (Chapter 5); and about seeking the good of the ministry instead of self-fulfillment (155).

Along the way, Stiller offers pithy comments that remain in the mind to encourage and challenge:
• “Endemic among leaders is the tendency to not listen to what another has to say.” (26)
• “Review your schedule for the past month. How much time was given to what you really want to accomplish?” (53)
• “Vision is not a half-baked idea that you ask God to bless.” (57)
• “Faith is risking, knowing that without the help of the Lord I’ll fail.” (69)

Such insights are invaluable for leaders of all kinds. And, insofar as they help followers understand the issues their leaders wrestle with, the book could also be read with profit by followers. Maybe it is a book for everyone.

Find a Broken Wall: 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders ($26.96 hard cover, $19.95 paperback) is published by Castle Quay Books: castlequaybooks.com.

Jim Coggins (www.coggins.ca) is a freelance writer and editor from Abbotsford, B.C.

Christianity and Creativity: Why Christians need to Make Stuff

(This article is made up of entirely a mixed collection of quotes on the creative process from the perspective of many of the artists who contributed to the recently released book, WeMakeStuff. WeMakeStuff seeks to explore how God made humans creative and desires to provide an open dialogue for creative people to express and present their work. The following quotes were taken from the accounts of the following artists: David Vandas, Ron Reed, Ian Sheh, Chris Loh, Stefan Brunhoff, Carolyn Arends, Fiona Moes, Michal Tkachenko)

WeMakeStuff_FrontCover“And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9, NIV, emphasis added)

I read this once in the Bible and it struck me. Why is this relevant? You’ve got all the epic matters of life and death depicted in the Bible, and then you’ve got this: beauty.

Created beauty that doesn’t seek to be debated or contested. It just wants to be, and from this posture, provoke a subconscious response from those who bear witness. Creation is scientifically amazing to comprehend, but it wields the power to go deeper than intellect and physical senses. It touches the senses of soul and spirit – whether or not we are aware of it.

The life of a creative person is a unique odyssey and creativity is a fluid entity. It changes with the weather, the time of day, our moods, and experiences in life. It doesn’t usually wait for us to catch it, and comes at the most inopportune moments.

For me, the urge to create is like the furnace in the house, the pilot light inside me. And it doesn’t matter what else happens in your house in the dead of winter, what rooms you have to close because you can’t get heat to them, you must keep the pilot light going because that heats the whole house. If it goes out, everything is lost: the pipes freeze, everything freezes.

As creative people, we take from the invisible and push the boundaries of our reality, both internally and externally. Art opens our eyes to the richness of the unknown and obliges us to see what we might not otherwise have seen. True creativity is being able to make the audience see the beauty that is already present and already exists. True creativity finds beauty in the broken and does not elevate the ugly and the evil.

In the act of creativity, whatever that may be and in whatever context, there is a sense of responding to the glory of God’s creation, wholeness, rightness, and flow, which elevates the ordinary to grace. It is part of what we are created as, and created for, by God.

When we witness the transformation of raw material into something beautiful, we are encouraged to remember that other new realities can be made – that perhaps justice can be created where there is injustice, wholeness can be wrought where there is disease and poverty, and community can be made even from discord. Beauty not only suggests these ideals are possible; it also awakens a longing for them.

I believe our Father in heaven is most proud when his children pursue all he has made them for. Doing nothing is actually going backwards. So we move forward. Creating new. New everything. Art. Design. Music. Inventions. Social justice. Business models. It’s the unfolding of what has never been before.

Art is not meant to be an escape from this world of pain but a mission into it. Through creative acts, we attempt to give hope, meaning, and orientation to all that is beautiful and all that is broken in this world we live in.

Creativity can make people see the same old thing in a very new way. It can shock people with truth. It can be a way to love.

(WeMakeStuff Volume 01 is available for purchase at www.wemakestuff.ca. Join the community on Facebook.com/WeMakeStuffVancouver and be the first to hear about upcoming events by following @WeMakeStuffVAN on Twitter.)

In (partial) defense of “Two and a Half Men” star Angus T. Jones

Angus T. Jones has found himself in the middle of a controversy because he has taken a controversial stance against the show in which he stars, Two and a Half Men.

Earlier this week Angus sat down with Forerunner Chronicles, a Seventh-Day Adventist media group that produces what I will call “Christian propaganda,” to talk about life and his new found Christian faith (You can watch the videos below). The interview gets interesting when Angus turns his attention to his show Two and a Half Men. Here is part of what Angus had to say:

If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching Two and a Half Men. I’m on Two and a Half Men and I don’t want to be on it. Please stop watching, please stop filling your head with filth. Please. People say it’s just entertainment… Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you’ll have a decision to make when it comes to television, and especially with what you watch on television. It’s bad news… a lot of people don’t like to think about how deceptive the enemy is.  He’s been doing this a lot longer than any of us have been around. There’s no playing around when it comes to eternity.

It is not surprising that Angus’ words have garnered a lot of attention. It has been made known by almost every commenter on this situation that Angus makes $350,000 per episode and that the show is the only reason that people care about him in the first place. Angus is biting the hand that feeds him, so to speak, which is a cultural faux pas in a society where many people struggle to feed themselves.

Many celebrities have chimed in on the apparent contradiction of Angus’s beliefs. Andy Richter from the Conan O’Brien show sympathized in jest with Angus’s inner conflict of appearing on a show that he would describe as “filth,” and Rainn Wilson and Matthew Perry both parodied Angus’s interview in order to garner attention for their own shows.

In many ways, the response to Angus has been fair. To say nothing about the content of Two and a Half Men and Angus’s justifiable criticisms of it, Angus was out of line in speaking about his show in the way that he did. Angus’s apology acknowledges his misstep:

I have been the subject of much discussion, speculation and commentary over the past 24 hours. While I cannot address everything that has been said or right every misstatement or misunderstanding, there is one thing I want to make clear. Without qualification, I am grateful to and have the highest regard and respect for all of the wonderful people on Two and Half Men with whom I have worked and over the past ten years who have become an extension of my family.

Chuck Lorre, Peter Roth and many others at Warner Bros. and CBS are responsible for what has been one of the most significant experiences in my life to date. I thank them for the opportunity they have given and continue to give me and the help and guidance I have and expect to continue to receive from them. I also want all of the crew and cast on our show to know how much I personally care for them and appreciate their support, guidance and love over the years. I grew up around them and know that the time they spent with me was in many instances more than with their own families. I learned life lessons from so many of them and will never forget how much positive impact they have had on my life.

I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed. I never intended that.

What is interesting is that Angus’s apology makes it more than apparent that having a personal conviction in any way shape or form is a tricky business. The consequences of having a conviction will almost inevitably go beyond the intentions of that conviction.

Thus, what has been missed in this controversy is the deeper conflict between one’s personal convictions and one’s social responsibilities. Should an individual forgo their personal convictions so as to not disrupt social sensibilities? Is there a place for an individual to speak against the system in which they find themselves? And what happens when someone has a change of heart, or more controversially, a religious conversion?

It seems to me that there is often little space for personal convictions, let alone religious convictions, in the public sphere. I think Andy Richter captures the present situation quite well in his amusing message to Angus:

Well Angus, here is my advice to you. Do what I do: smile, nod politely, and trudge onward through the filth. And as for those nagging little things you call feelings and a personal belief system, well there is a place for those and that place is hidden deep down inside yourself where no one, not you, your family, or even the shrink you have been lying to for years will ever find them. You wouldn’t believe how many feelings you can fit down there if you shove really hard.

Instead of speaking about our beliefs or convictions – which are often confused with personal “feelings” – we are to bury our personal convictions for fear of being politically incorrect even if the thing we may be challenging – like Two and a Half Men – is itself politically incorrect. This is why communicating personal convictions in a public setting is a tricky business.

But, just because something is tricky doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. This is why Angus’s attempt to voice his personal convictions should be defended, because if personal convictions are not defended then we are in danger of conforming to the lowest common denominator – something I don’t think anybody would support.

The question then becomes, what would you do if you were Angus T. Jones? Or, what do you do when your personal convictions don’t line up with your social responsibilities? Do you evade or engage?

Pope Benedict XVI says Jesus was born years earlier, the Christian calendar is wrong

The Pope is stirring up discussion surrounding Jesus’ birth just in time for Christmas.

In the final part of his three-volume work on the life of Jesus called Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI claims that the Christian calendar is based on a mistake made by the sixth-century monk Dionysius Exiguus (“Dennis the Small” in English).

The Pope writes: “The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years. The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”

The debate over the date of Jesus’s birth in not new – as there is no reference to when he was born in the Bible – but it is interesting that someone as significant as the Pope chose to add their voice.

But the Pope did not stop there.

The Pope also said that there were likely no oxen, donkeys or other animals at Jesus’s birth. What’s next? The Christmas tree no longer being a historically accurate part of the nativity scene?

Unfortunately, the Pope did not comment on how this potential flaw in the Christian calendar influences the impending end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. Looks like we are just going to have to wait this prophecy out.

Noah film stars Russell Crowe as environmental prophet

Photo from www.imdb.com

The upcoming Noah film made Hollywood headlines when the rains and flooding of Hurricane Sandy halted production and damaged the ark kept in Oyster Bay, NY.

Noah film Star Emma Watson tweeted about the irony, and Russell Crowe (who plays the title character) even managed to need a Coast Guard rescue after kayaking too far out during a break from filming.

This isn’t the Noah we’re used to.

Where press about this film isn’t focused on the super-storm irony, it’s focused on the new take writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) has taken on an old story.

Filmed in Southern Iceland and New York, the setting is arid and desert-like, purposely ambiguous as to a specific time in history. The scorched landscape is central to the story, as the flood isn’t meant to rid the earth of violent hedonists, but a race who’s sin is their mistreatment of the planet.

In the words of Hollywood insider Brian Godawa who read an early version of the script, that means Noah’s considered an “environmentalist wacko” whose warnings of the coming deluge go unheeded.

Godawa sees The Day After Tomorrow-esque extra-biblical narrative as damaging, but not as intentionally malicious towards faith traditions.

“I don’t expect Aronofsky to be true to this biblical message because he probably doesn’t really believe it. He’s just going to use it to communicate his own [message],” says Godawa.

“This movie will be rejected by millions of devoted Bible readers worldwide because once again it subverts their own sacred narrative with a political agenda.”

The movie, to be released next March, might prove offensive to Jews, Christians, and Muslims who view Noah as a hero of their faith. At the same time, the movie may prove to be an interesting fictional amalgam for faith-based people passionate about caring for the environment.

But this all hinges on an understanding that “biblical epic” simply names a stylistic “sword and sandals” film genre, it’s not a badge earned for scriptural or theological accuracy or insight. Aronofsky may include a Genesis outline and several familiar characters, but what the story represents about God and humanity (and potentially even the angelic Nephilim race) seem radically transformed.

 

Rachel Held Evans takes on “Biblical Womanhood”

Popular blogger, author, and speaker Rachel Held Evans has added a woman’s touch to the “Year in the life of” genre of books. Following the footsteps of A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically and Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living like Jesus, Evans took on flowing skirts and headscarves for her new release, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

“I think all women can relate to feeling like they’re falling short of some sort of ideal,” explains Evans in an appearance on The Today Show. “Growing up in the conservative evangelical subculture, that ideal for me had always been biblical womanhood.”

Her experiment included knitting, baking, child-rearing (involving a computerized baby as Evans doesn’t have kids), calling her husband “master” (not as much of a turn on as anticipated, he confides), and sitting on a corner of the roof as penance for gossiping—among many other new practices.

Unsurprisingly, both Evans and husband Dan were glad when the year was over. The more traditional gender roles changed their relationship from the partnership of their previous seven years of marriage. Despite the obvious perks, Dan says it was difficult to see his wife constantly waiting on him. But it wasn’t just the cooking and cleaning that wore on Evans. “I was really happy when the year was over. The first thing I did was cut my hair.”

Some critics consider her work  a mockery of the Bible; and indeed everything from the sewing to the outdoor tenting during her period could reinforce opinions of the Bible as outmoded and patriarchal. She’s also received criticism for using the word “vagina” in her account. She believes this is why her book is banned by a major Christian bookseller.

Characteristic of what makes her popular in the blogosphere, Evans is not afraid of controversy. Instead of avoiding the gender stereotypes that make Christianity unpopular, she tackles them directly, trying to discern which are meant to be taken literally, and which are culturally infused. Her year of literalism is intended to show that the Bible and womanhood are complex, and that not even devout proponents of “biblical womanhood” are really fulfilling all its precepts.

“As a person of faith I love the Bible and I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective,” she says on Today. “That’s why I did this.”

Straight Christian Male Pretends To Be Gay For A Year

Timothy Kurek

How far are you willing to go to walk a mile in another person’s shoes?

For Timothy Kurek, a Portland based author and Liberty University graduate, that meant pretending to be gay for a year.

Kurek grew up a conservative Christian and learned to fear the gay community from an early age. However, an encounter with a lesbian acquaintance four years ago began a journey that changed all of that.

Kurek told ABC News that “God really kicked (him) in the gut” when his lesbian acquaintance was crying in his arms after being rejected by her family and all he could think about were “the arguments to convert her.”

Soon after the encounter Kurek decided to “come out” as a homosexual in order to better understand the LGBT community.

Kurek spent a year living as a homosexual working in a gay cafe, hanging out in gay bars and even joining a gay softball league, all the while maintaining his inner identity as a straight Christian.

The only people that knew of Kurek’s plan were an aunt, a close friend and a gay friend who was recruited to play his boyfriend.

Kurek explained to the Observer that “In order to walk in their shoes, I had to have the experience of being gay. I had to come out to my friends and family and the world as a gay man,” he told the Observer.

The experiment prompted Kurek to write a book about his experience, entitled “Cross in the Closet.”

Below is a book trailer in which Kurek describes his journey from a gay-fearing Christian Pharisee to a humbled Christian who learned to “meet Jesus in drag.”

Justin Bieber’s Mom on Abuse, Abstinence, and God

Messed up teen decides to keep baby then turns to God.

Pattie Mallette - Nowhere but upIt’s not the type of story that would usually run on Ellen DeGeneres or on CTV. A memoir on Christian faith and forgiveness doesn’t normally spawn enthusiastic Twitter buzz from followers of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ashton Kutcher.

But when you’re Justin Bieber’s mom, you gain a pretty incredible platform.

Pattie Mallette was sexually abused as a childrepeatedly. By age 14 she was numbing her pain with drugs and alcohol, and soon she engaged in petty crime and selling pot to support her lifestyle. At 17 she threw herself in front of a truck, landing her in the psych ward. Six months later she was pregnant and got kicked out of her Ontario home.

She was encouraged to abort the baby, but she couldn’t do it. In the next year she found God and her life started to change. At age 21 she committed not to have sex again outside of marriage, and vowed that she wouldn’t even date until her son turned 18, which happened this March.

Although the media is playing down the faith elements in her story (except the surprising celibacyDeGeneres bought her a six-month membership for dating site Match.com) she is having a far-reaching impact with her honesty about the abuse and depression. Book reviews and tweets are full of heartfelt thanks from women who have experienced shame about similar experiences.

In an interview with the National Post, Mallette talks about the privilege and opportunity of her platform.

“I have over a million Twitter followers because of Justin, and they all call me mom. So I feel somewhat of a responsibility to have something good to say. I feel like there’s a lot of people with a platform and they don’t have anything to say or they don’t have anything good to say.”

Mallette, who is open about her Christian faith and personal struggles on her Twitter account and now in her memoir, is choosing to use her unexpected fame for good. She’s pointing to her ultimate source of hope and is encouraging other young women who know the darkness she’s faced first-hand. Putting action behind her words, she’s also donating partial proceeds from the book to a charity benefiting single-parent homes and addiction support services.