Monday, October 14, 2013

The odd markings of death

Most of us have no problem celebrating birthdays...that is unless we're turning 29, 39, or 49.

Remembering the day we got married is usually an amazing day, as well... unless that marriage is difficult or has ended in divorce.

If you're not already depressed, read on, but know this post contains some heaviness.

The older we get, the more our years become filled with memories both positive and negative. We have more friends who enter our lives that bring us joy, but also conflict. As our families expand we have more celebrations of life through births and weddings but we also face the reality of tragedy through death and division. As we grow older, the more relationships we gather and the more we must say goodbye to people we love. It can be celebrities, neighbors, friends, and families... our lives become marked by death individually and corporately. One day someone is there, an another they are not.

One generation memorializes death by terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and another generation will never forget the presidential assassination on November 22nd 1963.

So, as weird and unwanted as it is, our lives, our years, become marked by death. It's so odd. But it illustrates how our lives were meant to be lived. We live life in a rhythm, in seasons

 Ecclesiastes 3 says:
 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
   a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing
  a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
 a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

In "times" like these, God encourages, permits, and urges us to sit quietly, express anger, shed tears, fall into the arms of others, and simply acknowledge this is not how life was meant to be. We can't always makes sense of it. We are not yet in Heaven. We are caught in a world where there is more than meets the eye, supernatural and evil forces pressing against God, his goodness, and his creation (us). And the whole time we make our way through, whether we feel victorious or defeated,  we can be confident that God is with us. (Psalm 34:18). And we are able, miraculously, to find and to pray, for Heaven (and all it's amazing qualities) to come to Earth, and to come to our lives, into our hearts!

Today, I'm marked by the unfortunate memory and unnatural death caused by suicide. It brings up sadness, confusion, and the reality that this world is not our true home. It reminds me that we are complicated beings, we are prone to self-destruction, to hurt others, to lose focus on our life's purpose, and to deny the beauty of our worth and value by the one who created us. But I"m thankful to be comforted by the love of God, and the promise of Heaven.

See, death was not God's plan. In our sin, humans initiated this (in the Garden of Eden).

We failed to trust God, broke his plans for our lives, and had to suffer consequences (experiencing distance from him and physical death). But the God sent Jesus to make all things right. Jesus makes things new. And now we are invited to walk with God as Father once again. Jesus reversed the effects of our sin. So although we still die a physical death, we are invited to live forever with him. We can live in his love and live in HIS comfort THROUGH the pain of this earthly life. God has given us a way of making sense of life's darkness. 

So whether you find yourself in a "season" of transition, hard decision making, unemployment, financial hardship, conflict, depleting heath, marriage difficulty, grief, loneliness, disappointment, or  ______________ (fill in the blank). You are invited to live in the abundant life and power of Jesus, who gave his life for us, so that he could offer us his Holy Spirit to live within us. He can be trusted, and with him, we can overcome anything. No sadness, discouragement, or trouble needs to overtake us. It's OK to enter and experience the odd markings and rhythm of these things, for we can't avoid them. But we mustn't be defined by them.

John 16:33

Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world!"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Note to self (& for all pastors & leaders to read)

If you're a pastor or church leader, I want to share this confession of sorts with you. And if you're not, I want you to eavesdrop because this involves you, too.

Last week I had the privilege to learn from leaders all around the world via Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. 

16 hours of people talking, about leadership, on a video screen. (I didn't get to go to Chicago, just watched it via satellite).

 Although that much TV watching did make me tired, I felt non-stop encouragement, challenge, affirmation, and a call to step up and out to lead. It came at the crazy, right time for me. I'm excited to see how some of this shapes me in the next year.

Some take-aways and reminders for me from the conference included:

*Good, clear, and often communicated vision is essential. People need to know where they are going.
* We need to risk and try new things, for failure is a must, because we learn and grow from it.
* Bravery is a must, for we  have been called into greatness, and it takes courage to change the world.
* Leadership is about multiplying our influence, but we must be careful not to diminish others in the process.
*We need to make room, equip, and invite new leaders to join us. We must pour into the next generation. Good leaders don't hoard. We need to make room for more leaders to emerge.
 * Great leaders repeat their simple themes.
*Choose great people to serve and lead with so you are not alone in leadership.
* Great organizations/groups create new expressions and experiment with creating new organizations/groups
*If you are one who helps others, who must be one who allows others to help you.
*The church is God's unstoppable force, never forget it

One of my favorites, a featured TED talker, Brene Brown, called hundreds of thousands of people
to vulnerability, to being honest and finding strength and bravery by being honest (which can result in living with out shame).

There was all that, and more, and I will be a better leader because of it all. 

But, I have to address and call out a message that I don't think this leadership conference meant to communicate. 

Because the conference vision was to raise up and encourage godly leadership, many of the speakers were pastors who speak/preach on a regular basis. I noticed a trend in these speakers. Many of them shared and affirmed (with many heads nodding in agreement) how difficult it is to preach week to week. Preaching is stressful and with it comes a lot of pressure. For instance, the weight not only of prepping for Sunday messages week after week is burdensome, but delivering them, and dealing with the aftermath, particularly on Monday can be overwhelmingly problematic for pastors. A few speakers even commented they feel so insecure about how "good" their messages were afterward (or how they were received by their hearers), that they were inclined to drive their cars over cliffs. Or if suicide wasn't their first choice they'd opt to crawl under a rock to avoid people until they could make themselves valuable again by preaching a show-stopping message.

I get this, I really do.

We put so much effort and energy into preaching, pastoring, presenting, (bearing our soul) etc, that we think somehow we can mess it up so bad that the church will crumble because of it. I've been there.

In our minds, if the people don't laugh at all our jokes, take notes on everything we say, or come running down the aisle to give us praise, I mean, give their lives to Jesus, because they were so moved by our words, then we SUCK and we should quit.

But what are we really thinking here?

I'll tell you what we're thinking:
It's all about us.

Are we that important that we think our life is worth nothing after one bad thirty minute speech?

What about God's power, and the work his Spirit is doing? What about all the OTHER people in the room on Sunday with whom God has gifted and are called to build the church up?  The work of the church is not about one pastor, it's about all of God's people.

When we pastors think the success of our church or ministry hinges on us, our abilities, our charisma, or our thirty minutes on Sunday, we need to have our own "come to Jesus moment."

This is where we need others, especially those not pastors and church leaders, to know how valuable and needed they are. Help out us pastors and remind us often, "It's not about you," because we need to call this what it is. This type of thinking is more about our ego and how good our "presentation" was, rather than if God moved in people's lives.

I love how Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 2: 3-5.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.   
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

What is Paul saying? He knows what it's like to be nervous! But he was depending on God rather than on how clever his words came out.

Honestly, I think I'd/we'd rather have people's lives rest in our wisdom and how creative we can be at presenting it. We may be too familiar with settling and judging our success by our persuasive words that we miss out on actually seeing supernatural things happen.

Now, please keep in mind, I'm writing this blog for myself, you just get to eavesdrop on my vulnerability-- (thanks to Brene Brown who said it's good to admit your all your emotional baggage).

I get this. I really do. And I'm convicted by it.

When I/we think like this, it just shows I am/we are consumed with ourselves. The whole deal about pastors saying they want to kill themselves on Monday is a whole other conversation...for more on that see my suicidal thoughts blogs one and two. 

So....I made a note to myself, that funny enough, the week before I sensed God had already given to me.

I was praying and dreaming some things about the future when I knew God began to drop some knowledge on me!

This is what he said:

"My church is about me. You get to play a great part, and that part is equally important to all the other parts. so make room, invite, and empower all the church (God's people) to do it's part. 
So, with urgency I share this with you my fellow leaders, pastors, speakers, worship leaders, chaplains, etc. You, what you do and what you have to say, is not the most important part of the Church and it's gatherings. (Whew! For me, that's actually very freeing.).

We need to intentionally make a way for all of God's people to live into their roles as disciples, to express their parts of the body. That's when God's church is functioning completely.

So I told myself again, and I'm sharing this with you- if you are a leader/speaker in some way:

You are not the most important person in the church, Jesus is. 

That is so liberating. (Read Colossians 1:15-20).

When I/we think the church lives and dies off of what we have to say/do, we create this vacuum in which sucks all the life and power from the church and puts it right into us.

That is not necessary.

Here's what I think Jesus would say to us pastors/leaders if we let him look into our eyes and speak into us on this topic: 

That youth intern who hasn't been to seminary yet is just as important to the Father's work as you. Invite him to hang out with you and affirm his passion for prayer and the love he has for people on the margins. Invite him to teach the church about what he's learning with the students and that those students are just as important as your mission trips around the world. The music leader shares equal worth with you. So value her and empower her to share her stories as she strums that guitar to lead others to express their love for me. Tell her the Church needs to hear how she came to know me because they can learn from what I did in her life. And that quiet, stay at home mom trying to quiet her baby in the back of the room, is just as important to my mission  as you. Invite her to see her worth in my kingdom and her discipleship gifts as just as important as your preaching. Ask her if she wants to share a message on a Sunday some time, and train her to see her voice is just as valuable as yours. And that high school student with braces and acne texting while you're preaching? He is just as important to my church as you. Call him into using his tech abilities to serve and get the word out to others via Social Media and other creative means. Spend time listening to his questions and doubts, encourage him that his thoughts are valuable and that you need him to fulfill my call on the church and that you all serve together.  And that guy who always arrives late to the worship gathering and interrupts you with his loud motorcycle friends in the parking lot? He's just as important as you. Teach him that his relational compassion to reach out to his fellow biker buddies is just as important as your twenty hours of Greek interpretation. Remember I love you, and I live in you. Remind all my people that I died so that the Holy Spirit would come dwell and empower all of them.  All of my people together, make up my Church. So lead with grace, in my power, as I lead you.

So, I'm making this note for myself and sharing with you Reverend so and so, Minister she she, Chaplain he he, etc.

May you be free to live in God grace on you, and privileged to serve Him, knowing you are loved, and called to be A PART of His body, completed by many. And may I, may you, never forget, Jesus is the true leader, the true pastor of His Church. May we let him pastor us so we can live in his love, free from the need of our ego.  And remember, you ARE IMPORTANT, just not the most important.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

God flipped my script.

(As seen on Fuller Seminary's Website)

In high school and college, my life was all about acting! But when I started following Christ, I wasn’t sure I could be a Christian and a performing artist. How could they co-exist? I assumed theatre wasn’t the best place to be a Christian, “those thespians” were bad influences, and Shakespeare was a little too racy for Jesus.

I was encouraged my skills would be best used for church skits and youth group. So, I spent my time dancing in a Technicolor dream coat, choreographing hand motions to Steven Curtis Chapman, and casting out demons, in mime. 

And, truthfully I enjoyed it. (I was even convinced seeing any movie that wasn’t PG-13, or under, was sinful).
After college I entered full time ministry. And the story flipped.

God reignited my artistic passions and stretched them beyond what I thought was Biblically “legal.” Someone in my church hooked me up with a talent agent, which I was sure was grounds for burning at the stake.

Then, I stumbled upon Fuller and found myself in classes like, “Theology and Film,” and “Evangelism and Pop Culture.” Somebody pinch me. You’re telling me in order to get my Master’s degree, my classes require me to watch rated R movies and go to the Sundance Film Festival? What will the church ladies say?
God’s kingdom was a lot bigger than I had thought.

I realized my early days were preparation for my ministry calling. Now, I’m a pastor, AND an actor and filmmaker.

I serve in Peninsula Covenant Church to equip our congregation. I get to create media, (and my characters aren’t always required to sport sandals, a tunic or a beard), and offer opportunities for people to engage meaningfully with truth through discussions and experiences on our campus and in the community. We set up film screenings to dialog with filmmakers (and the Church ladies bake cookies). 

We’re launching arts programs in schools and we’re discovering God’s kingdom everywhere, not just in our building on Sundays. And I’m encouraging our church to hang out with those “crazy artist people,” AND also to become one. For we have a lot to learn from both the artists and the art they create.

Fuller’s emphasis on Theology and the Arts energized my creativity and affirmed my life’s purpose. It was perfect timing and amazing training. And Fuller also connected me to the
BayArea Windrider Film Forum: “Cinema in Conversation.” 

This is a mini Sundance Film Fest, right here in Menlo Park!  This year it will be on  June 27th, 28th, and 29th
We’ll be watching films and exploring life issues with the people who create the stories that move us. And we’ll be challenged to think deeply and take action at Menlo Atherton Performing Arts Center (MAPAC).
 Invite your friends, especially the ones who’d never go to a Sunday service. Because they just might encounter God in a movie theater. I do all the time.  
 Join the conversation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Do I get to take my bones to Heaven?

When I put my kids to bed, I have a ritual. It can take up to an hour. We do the normal things  like stories, prayer, singing, snuggling, etc. But I've also created a "ticket system" for fun stuff like hanging on my pull-up bar, piggy back rides, or being tossed on to our bed. And, where it bites me in the butt is when I'm tired and I just want to tuck them in quickly and kiss them goodnight, (so I can crawl into my own bed or just be with my wife), they call me out.

"That's it? That's so short. What about Gapastonia Kingdom?"

And I just give in!

What's Gapastonia Kingdom you might ask? Just wait.

Basically, there's no getting out of this bed time ritual, ever..or until they're in middle school, or whenever they become too cool for my stories and snuggling.

But now, it is so worth it. I cherish these times. I lay with them, pray with them, and remind them of how loved they are. Sometimes I lay there and fast forward ten, twenty years, and I admit I shed some tears thinking about they day they'll move out and be out of my care. And I also lay there long enough to fall asleep myself. (Actually, five to ten minutes of being horizontal can do me in). 

But tonight-I just had to blog about our conversation.

It was about Heaven.

It all started when the driver of Princess Wendora's carriage was comforting her in the rain, on the day before her wedding to Prince Antonio.

Yes, I have created a whole story, a cast of characters, which takes place in Gapastonia Kingdom, and revolves around three princesses who are sisters.

Sound familiar?

Tonight, I told them some of the prequel, before the princesses were even born.

I told them about the night before the royal wedding, when our antagonist, the sinister Chantro, schemed to ruin the wedding with a horrible storm. Trees were collapsing on top of the castle (it also happened to be really windy in Redwood City), and the rain was drenching princess Wendora's pre-wedding party.

The carriage driver, who was delivering the princess' dress, showed her comfort and kindness. As she cried, he hugged her. Princess Wendora noticed he had large scars in his hands. It didn't occur to her until later who this mysterious man was.

Let me just say, my girls eat this up. Sometimes I have to choke back the tears watching their little faces take it all in. I love it.

But, to make a long story short: Prince Antonio and Princess Wendora wed the next day on a beautiful sunny morning after battling an evil rat, having a visit from a dove with an important letter, prayer from the king and queen, and finally when they chose to be brave. And the story is always: "To Be Continued."

But after I finished we were discussing "the man with the scars."
They began to ask about what Jesus looked like in Heaven.

"Is he Shiny?
Does he have wings?
Does he still look like a boy?"

I loved their questions, and funny thoughts about what life would be like after we die.

"Dad, when we go to Heaven do I get to keep my skin?
What about my bones, can I take them to Heaven?

Can we fly in Heaven? I hope so. I want to fly fast and eat my food in the air.

Is there dogs in Heaven?
What about cats? And if there are, are they nice dogs and cats or mean ones?"

I tried to let them be curious about the answers and let them explore a bit. I asked them  what they thought and simply tried to steer them toward simple truths that I know.  Because I truly don't know if there will be tigers in Heaven, I just know if there are, they won't bite us.

 But the one thing I kept saying was: 

There is nothing to fear in Heaven.
There are no mean people or mean animals in Heaven.
Everything is beautiful, perfect, and with out pain.
And Jesus still has his scars, forever, so we'll remember the great love and sacrifice he made for us. 

"So... there are nice tigers in Heaven?
Oh, then I want to ride one.

Dad, when I die, I want to die with mommy"

Ok, great.
Good night.
 I love you.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I am Judas.


I "played" Judas, is more accurate. Last night was our church's, "GOOD FRIDAY" experience. All over the world, the Friday before Easter, people remember Jesus' crucifixion. And this year I happened to be stepping into a new role, so I was very excited to experiment and create, like an architect, a new structure in which to do that.

Before I continue, let me share a side note highlight:
I should blog about the great group of talented and committed people that gave their time for the past month to make this happen, so let me make a quick shout out to the PCC GF cast/crew, you know who you are: WAY TO GO!!  I was grateful to be on a team with you all. Well done and thank you!! So many people over fifty people (costumers, actors, musicians, singers, hair/beards/make-up, lighting/tech/set design crew) took a chance and made this experience possible. This was also a true community effort. People of all ages from all walks of faith. Amazing. (And I also loved doing it with my two oldest daughters, such a cool experience).(Music from the night can be found here on Spotify.)

Back to....

Judassssssssss. Hissssssss. Boooo. Hisssssss.

He's always villianized. Isn't he?  That's why I HAD to play him, something I've never done before. (His  role was one of the smallest on the stage in our "play," so it also allowed me to direct the rest of the elements).

But, the honest truth is, after spending so much time in Judas' sandals this month, I feel as if I my attitude toward him has changed.

I don't think he realized the ramifications to his choices. Did he really want to be known throughout history as "the Betrayer?" We remember him as the one who started it all, who gave over his friend, the Lord, to arrest, beating, mockery, and death by torture. (I even staged the actual scene as an homage to the great western shootouts.)

But as I read, researched, and developed the back story for my "character," I found myself empathic.
 I think he thought it was going to turn out different, a LOT different.

 I couldn't help but be sad for Judas, not angry.
Because maybe I would have done the same thing. Maybe YOU would have to.

We all love Peter's story, he denied Jesus, and wept bitterly after the rooster crowed, but then he had a "happy ending." He went on to receive forgiveness, ate some fish on the beach with Jesus, and become a powerful force to be reckoned with.

But not Judas.

He didn't return back. He chose to separate himself, and that's how he died, by his own hand, disconnected from Jesus.

I get it.
I understand how one could go there.

I've wanted to "force" God's hand.
Hurry up, God, GEEZ!!
I've wanted Jesus to rise up and do things MY WAY, not patiently, silently, and compassionately as he prefers.  

How many times have I doubted God's love for me?

How many times have I chosen to wallow in my own shame and sin, as if I were unforgivable?
Too many to count.

What about you?

But I've learned to choose to live in forgiveness, not remorse.

I've learned to battle the lies that whisper I am "nothing, a screw-up, insignificant, and a mess."

I was so thankful for this opportunity to dig into the story of Judas.

That's why I had to make this short video of how I interpreted what happened, "After The Kiss."

After The Kiss from Tony Gapastione on Vimeo.

Remember, Judas was with Jesus for three years. Jesus chose him as a follower. Judas saw all the love Jesus had for people. He heard all the messages Jesus preached. Yet, somehow, he made a choice  NOT to believe. (A choice many still make today). He made a choice to sell out, literally, for thirty pieces of silver.

He made a choice to allow Satan to enter him (Luke 22). He agreed to betray Jesus into the hands of the officials. BUT I really believe, that had he turned back, had he REPENTED (which just means to turn around and change one's thinking and actions), he would have been forgiven, by Jesus himself.

If you don't believe that, refresh your mind with some of Jesus' last words. "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." Jesus utters this from his agonizing, bloody, painful place on the cross--on behalf of all those who nailed him there and continue to mock him. If that's not forgiveness, I don't know what is.

But Judas chose to believe he was unforgivable, and he took his own life. Because I've recently been through the harrowing experience of suicide, this was especially close to my heart.

The Bible states that Judas had remorse, and even returned the money he was given.
I'm actually glad Matthew states that. It is almost as if, Matthew, one of the twelve, Judas' friend, wanted his readers to know, that Judas did feel: something. He wasn't just a villain. Although he allowed it to happen, there were greater forces of evil at work, and Judas was just a pawn. Satan was not only at work, but had overtaken him. And that's our every day reality. Read Ephesians 6.

The sad reality is that, #1-remorse is not enough. Ignorance doesn't excuse us. But the GOOD NEWS IS #2-Jesus ALWAYS make a way out. The question is, will we take it?

Jesus' death on the cross took our sin, our shame, guilt and fear.

Yet we think we should pay for it ourselves. But Jesus willingly went to the cross for us.
And unfortunately, some, like Judas, choose to take it upon themselves to pay for their own sin, and choose to be separated from God.... forever.

But this is the GOOD NEWS of Easter. GOD LOVES US AND FORGIVES US.

BECAUSE OF JESUS WE ARE FREE, and can be, now AND forever.

If Jesus has set you free, you are REALLY FREE! (John8:36).

And you are invited to that freedom, too, no matter what secret, shame, infidelity, or indecency enslaves you.

Come and be free. God loves you, no matter what!
If you are in the Redwood City area, join us for Easter morning. I'll be there, and we'll have baptisms, one of my favorite pictures of this freedom we have. If you are not local, google where a local church meets and join them tomorrow. There are so many great communities of people who believe this great story and want to help you grow in your understanding of love and forgiveness!

Ahhhh. Now that Good Friday has passed, I'm excited because I get to enjoy some rest come Monday, shave off my scraggly Judas beard, and to eat a chocolate bunny...or three.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Tonight marked the closing of a chapter for me. When I came back from Sabbatical in September, I really sensed God was calling me to focus my time more on my leadership, prayer, and creativity. I had no idea, (and still sometimes don't) how that would work itself out.

Although I'm not moving out of the area, or away from Redwood City, I'm now moving from my leadership role with PCC's young adult (YA) ministry into a new role within PCC. I've grown in this pastoral role since I moved out to California fifteen years ago, in 1998, so it is bittersweet to say goodbye to being the PCC Young Adults pastor.

In my new role, "Creative Arts Pastor," (I don't cling tightly to titles), I'll be focusing on creating spaces for more prayer gatherings, experimenting with new ideas for worship and the arts-initiating movement and teams in creativity in our worship gatherings , and creating opportunities in the arts for and through PCC (starting arts programs in schools/community, etc)--and more video/film projects. Things I've been passionate about and been doing "on the side" for and through PCC for years-and what we've been doing in young adults (you'll see below) videos, drama, etc, forever-- and now I'll just be focusing on that aspect for all ages in the church family. (I'll still be involved with our Young Married's ministry monthly, too).

I'm sad to not be involved in the young adult ministry officially, but I know seasons must change--and it is my time to transition. That doesn't mean that I won't be visiting the YA gatherings, and more importantly that I won't be connected to the YA people, just that my direct involvement will change and a new leadership and vision must emerge. (There will be a "volunteer" team leading for now, until a plan develops for the future). Currently there are passionate leaders who love God and the community of people, and who also adapt quickly to change, who are pioneering and praying about some new things. Deep inside, I know that this must happen for growth and expansion of this community under God's direction, and I'm actually envious that I won't get to be a part of what's next! This community understands the kingdom and yearns to see it come! (Thanks for all who prayed for me tonight. That's how I want to live)!

 My biggest concern is that any of our young adults would feel forgotten or left out. I truly care about the leaders and people of the YA community and my hope and prayer is for their best. That's the part that I'll miss, being with them! (And I hope many of them will cross-pollinate and partner in the creative endeavors on PCC's horizon).

I keep telling myself: God is/will be doing some great new things!

As I've been working in my two roles the past few months, I haven't had lots of time to let things soak in. My time has been ramping up to Good Friday and Easter (both of which have lots of creative elements that I'm excited about), so I haven't fully had, or allowed myself, the time to really know how things will feel. So I expect April and May to be really be the time when reality sets in, when everything in my current routine changes. My Tuesday nights won't be spent they way, I'll no longer be leading our Church's summer ministry internship, and my schedule will radically shift.

Reminding myself again: God always is good and doing new things. And I'm looking forward to them. As I look back, this season has brought with it an incredible amount of reflection. And I'm thankful for the joy of memories.

Thankfully many of my reflections come with visuals. I've kept a lot of pictures and videos. Even before our lives were shared over Facebook, our community of people loved to capture life behind and in front of the camera.

Over the next couple months, I will be releasing bits and pieces of these reflections through videos and pictures. For my first snippet, I'll share with you GHETTO ANNOUNCEMENTS! Before there was imovie and Final Cut pro, I would use two VCR's to make these video announcements every week, with the help of a very creative, talented, and improvisational team! Enjoy.

Ghetto A's Week 1. 2001 from PCC Young Adults on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My fortune is found in the famous One

I'm currently in LA, sitting in a Cafe off of Hollywood Blvd. I'm spending my last few hours of submersion into filmmaking, movie watching, and the entertainment industry. It's truly been an inspiring time where I can actually say I've "grown." I've changed a bit. I saw about twelve films last week, cried, laughed, discussed and argued over storytelling, good acting, thematic elements on about five-six hours sleep a night. Which is less than I usually get at home with three kids, five and under, yet, of course, it was filled with so many encouraging conversations that leave me overwhelmingly inspired creatively. I'm ready to see some things happen!

Here are some thoughts arranged in no particular order:

1-First, I missed my family. I have to give my wife a HUGE shout out (as well as the village of the extended family and friends), who made this week possible for me to be away. It's been a little over one week, one hundred and sixty eight hours, since I've left. Even though I got less sleep then when we had an infant, I am more energized and refreshed than I have been since my summer sabbatical. Probably because I could be "tired" and not have to change diapers, feed anyone but myself, and not have to speak if I didn't want to. This was an option my wife didn't have this week, so I am so thankful for her partnership. I thought of her every day in gratitude. She deserves her week away, now, or least many nights off from putting the kids to bed! (Which I fully intend to give her when I return). And I can't wait to hug my kids!

2-A strange and sometimes uncomfortable thing that I often took advantage of this week was: FREE STUFF! It seemed everywhere I went there was free food, free lattes (yes, I had two a day), and free make-up (of which my wife will benefit). This is called SWAG. Free stuff ,usually for people who can afford to pay for it, anyway. Weird, but yes, I enjoyed it. Funny enough--the one day I was enjoying a free Morning Star Vege Burger, (of which I ate daily at Sundance),  I was also reading a book that had a section entitled, "No Free Food." I had to disagree with his thoughts at that moment as I enjoyed my pro-bono lunch. (See it to the right in the picture here).
 (The menu at the counter).
I was haunted by this sobering thought. Why is it that we give hundreds, thousands of dollars away to the richest people on the planet? I wrestled with this a lot this week. It is so easy to get sucked into the glitter of Hollywood, and I really wanted to temper my experience with being mindful to remember, I always am living in God's kingdom, and I want to be living his values. Which I was so grateful to have opportunities daily to pray with people, listen to their hurts and stories, and point people to the way, the truth, and the life. Which is the invitation/call for all of us in life, no matter what kind of passion/job we spend our time doing. We can live compassionately and generously, without greed.

3-They say, whoever "they" are,  that so much of the entertainment industry is "who you know." And there is a LOT of truth in that. I got invited to a table read of a screenplay entitled, "The Scoundrels Club." What a fun experience. Jeff York, was the winner of a contest that flew him out to Park City, UT, to have his script read by professional actors (which I fooled them into thinking I was).  The only reason I was sitting at that table was because I knew someone. I thank my buddy, Christian Anderson, who let me ride his coattails. It pays to make good friendships in this industry. 

 I also got to be a part of the 19th Annual SAG Awards in LA. I was basically a do-anything production gopher who did things like prepare paint sharpies for Celebs and shuttle the actual actor trophies across the auditorium and red carpet. It was quite fun and surreal seeing all the people I normally see on the big and small screens. Yes, like Hugh Jackman, and the casts of the Office, Downtown Abbey, and Glee. All because of a family connection. The only reason I was eating Wolfgang Puck gourmet food, schmoozing with actors, and wearing a suit was because I knew someone. And want to know how I was reminded of the values of the kingdom? In the bathroom, this guy, Oscar from the office, smiled and handed me a paper towel. Which caused me to pay it forward. I got a lot more stories like that!

4-"Celebrities are real people just like us." I know some grocery story magazine (People, maybe?) has a page highlighting famous people pumping gas, getting tickets, and eating bran muffins to show the world that even though they are filthy rich, they still have to pick up dog poop (most of the times). But see #2 and don't feel too sorry for them because they still have a lot of perks. The red carpet glitz and glam of Hollywood life can be a bit ridiculous. All the hype and money spent  on such events can be downright shameful when across the seas there are people starving and dying of preventable diseases. Wow, this was always on my mind. I really had to ground myself in this reality as I participated in these fancy events.  One of the things I took away, (nothing new), is that fame is fleeting. No matter who you are: the high school valedictorian,  the college football quarterback, Miss America,  the top selling software guy, the new mom, the award winning actor--every season comes to and end. Those feelings, the spotlight, the "whatever," will end. The reality is, that death is inevitable for all, but most of us like like it isn't. And someday we'll all be taking our last breath and reflecting for a split second if we truly lived a worthwhile life, which I'm determined to do. Although I love this entertainment and filmmaking industry, they must always be a means to something bigger: like enjoying healthy relationships, creating meaningful stories to impact our hearts,  and discussing real issues with others that propel us to be good humans who make a difference.

5-This leads me to my next thought. I spend a lot of my time preparing and planning for something that happens within a building regularly during the week. I teach, craft, brainstorm, and plan ways to help others experience truth, life, and love--(much like I said above: includes trying to encourage healthy relationships, good management of life's resources, and impacting the world for good and justice). That being said, we can learn a lot from movies and how they impact culture.  Thankful to the Windrider Film Forum for helping to shape this for many of us at Sundance last week. Maybe now, more than ever, I see this medium of story-telling through film and media as one of the greatest ways to reach people and move people's hearts to action. I have to continue to chew on this, but as I looked at how interactive the filmmaking events were,  (and so well organized) and how many great conversations were had, I can  safely say that everyone who participated in these events was moved in some way.  I hope to see some of this impacting what I do in Redwood City. (Below filmmakers from one of my week's favorite films, "Toy's House.").

6-We are created to have relationships. We are created to engage with others. Full theaters of film loving people resulted in lots of new friendships and inspired dreams.This is a simple truth of humanity. When you make time to do the things you love with others who share that love, you can't help but experience beauty, connect, grow close, share life, etc.(Below a crowd gives a standing ovation to the winning film, "Fruitvale," and a sign reflecting a space where workshops and panel discussions were held.).

7-Finally, I'm affirmed, once again, that I cannot escape my soul's purpose, what I believe God put within me. I have been created to create. Making films, collaborating on team, a film crew, telling meaningful stories, and acting brings me life and I know it brings life to others. I must give my time to this, or a part of me will die. And so I will be making more time to do so, and glad that my role within PCC is moving into that direction. I am praying for more clarity on that and a healthy transition for for all involved.

So, overall I am excited to return and share my experiences, but especially to be with my family. In closing,  It was This video below encapsulates the good, the crazy, and the downright superficial nature of this industry, this beast that I love. This beast that I am called to fight with, conquer, tame, and speak into my life and the lives of those around me. I love navigating through it and I love that I get to be a part of it because it both challenges me to grow and allows me to be used in the lives others.

So, although it's easy to forget, I will be intentional.  I will not seek fame, nor fortune, but find my fortune in the ONE who is already famous, and who's name will be lifted up among the nations.
And that's a wrap.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy New __________________

Usually I don't choose lots of structure. I love the flexibility of my schedule, the spontaneity of creativity, and the freedom to do new things. (Especially when it comes to worship gatherings, I'd rather pray and linger for hours than schedule minute by minute).  And don't get me wrong--I'm not advocating for anarchy here or  that we should all live in a nudist colony, just making a point about something I'm trying to understand about myself.

As much as I'd like to consider myself a "free-spirit," for some reason I simply cannot bend when it comes to the start/stop of Christmas.  I can't handle Holiday decorations and Christmas songs in January. For me it starts right after Thanksgiving (which I know is too early for some) and finishes when December ends.

I like it to end, when it's supposed to end, which in my mind should not extend past January 1st.

However, my kids don't share my convictions (and obviously the rest of my city doesn't either). My kids are still belting out, loud, proud, and off-key: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," at all hours of the day and night (with the wrong lyrics) and probably will until July. Then I drive around town and see Christmas trees still displayed in houses and LED lights and neon statues all over the neighborhood. I feel like I'm a part of some conspiracy I can't escape.

 I can't explain it. It's as if my heart/mind are ready to move on to what's next, and what's NEW (which commercialism would have me believe it should be Valentine's day), but I keep getting pulled back into the past. (Which again, I'm a sap, I love good memories and reflecting on the good old days, but I'm just saying..take down the Elf on the Shelf, people).

Which leads me to my next pet peeve. The New Year Started about eleven days ago. So how long until we stop saying "Happy New Year?" Until February? Am I just a Grinch? I think not, I just think I'm right...

Just kidding.

I think it's something about wanting to have appropriate understanding, or boundaries, of a season. Although you could disagree and find a great argument in which to combat me, or just tell me to loosen up.

And I'm sure theologically I could write a whole other blog making a case to keep our Christmas lights shining all year through in order to center our wholes lives on Christmas story, and be true Biblical people who light the world for Jesus, but I'll pass. just a small little way,  could this feeling, maybe, be another sign that we live in the tension of eternity? A tension that communicates things aren't always as they are supposed to be and we must find a way to exist in the midst of constant, mess, constant transition, constant reality stretching experiences.

A few weeks ago I talked about this tension of grief illustrating a bit of tension between the "kingdoms" we live in. listen here. 

So here comes my analogy.

We are continually trying to make sense of this eternal story, (God creates, God comes close, we destroy, we push God away, God redeems, God invites us close again) and these seasons we live in, whether winter,spring,summer, fall, or our life-stage and age, are just "whispers" reminding us that we were made for somewhere else. Like Adam and Eve, we were all made for the Garden. We were made for the freedom, clarity, and the closeness of the Garden, but we messed it up, he intervenes, and helps us to make sense of the world and live like we were made--for Heaven.

We were made to live in perpetual beauty, with no confusion, and no starting/stopping of celebrations, relationships, or life itself.

So, for what it's worth, I wish you simply a HAPPY NEW PERSPECTIVE or whatever it is you need to center your life on God in 2013. Happy New  _______. You fill in the blank. What do you need this year, this season? Whatever it is, I know that God is able and enough to fulfill you. And I started this year reminding myself of Ephesians 3:14-21.
For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

This is my prayer to remember God can do more than I could ever ask or imagine.

And this is my prayer, too, that whatever you do, you take down your inflatable people, blinking icicle lights, and over-sized, ginormous ornaments that are so heavy they are breaking the trees in your front later than February 1st.. Thank you.