Show Your Work: the book that singlehandedly saved the entire internet for me

I started blogging back in the early 2000′s. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was kind of an early adopter. A cool community arose which included people from all kinds of backgrounds. The one thing we had in common was blogging. It was this big, crazy pile of creativity, and I loved it. Then blogging became the next big thing. The community vibe was still there, but it sort of splintered into all these different little niches. Then it went mainstream, and it felt like everybody was trying to sell something.

I pulled an Old Yeller on my blog, and dove headfirst into Twitter and Facebook. For a while there it felt like the good old days with blogging. A bunch of people from all over the place gathering around a big water cooler. But these platforms soon lost their luster as well. My Twitter feed is filled with paid ads and shameless self-promotion (On a side note, Facebook has surprisingly stayed pretty cool for me. IDK – maybe because Facebook only shows me what I “like”?).
I repeated this cycle a couple more times. Posterous! Tumblr! Google+! But it all started to feel the same. I was about ready to throw in the towel.

Then I came across Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. That book might have singlehandedly saved the entire internet for me. Where I had been blaming the various social media platforms, this book helped me to realize that more than anything, my approach and my attitude needed to change.

You might have seen Austin’s work before. He is known for doing this cool newspaper blackout art. He also wrote a great book a couple of years ago called Steal Like an Artist which is a manifesto for bringing ideas into the world. Show Your Work is an extension of that concept, giving tips for artists and creative types to building and fostering community. The central theme is built around this idea of “showing your work”, or letting people rally around your works in progress in an organic way. Not ready to “show” anything yet? No big deal – point people to other things that have influenced and inspired you.

Perhaps my favorite concept from Show Your Work is this idea of a “scenius” (via Brian Eno). Kleon correctly points out that great art isn’t made in a vacuum. Great painters flocked to Paris in the 19th century. Great writers flocked to Paris (what is it about Paris?) in the 1920′s. Songwriters go to Nashville; filmmakers go to Hollywood. You get the picture.

I know in my experience that Third Day wouldn’t have made a splash without the inspiration Georgia bands like R.E.M., Drivin n Cryin, and The Georgia Satellites. We also were a proud member of a local Christian music scene with Jacob’s Trouble, The Waiting, and Smalltown Poets. We also were part of a broader Christian rock scene with groups like Newsboys, Big Tent Revival, and Audio Adrenaline. Whatever you are into, you will benefit from seeking out like-minded souls and spurring one another on.

On a side note, I’m not exactly sure what scene this blog belongs to. Is it music people who write? Is it writer people who like music? I’m not really sure, but I’m going to have a whole lot of fun trying to figure it out!

At any rate, I’ve realized that instead of looking for the perfect platform, I need to be looking for a scene. And as I find like-minded souls (I’ve already found a few!) I’ll point you in their direction. Instead of looking for a big old crazy pile of creativity, I need to create one. And share it. That’s part of why I’m doing this goofy blog-every-day thingy to begin with.

Here’s the bottom line: do something cool. Every single day. But don’t stop there. Be sure to tell us about it. Show your work!

Here’s your chance: if you’re up to something cool, by all means “show your work”! Use the comments section below to tell us what you’ve been up to.

Ask for the old paths

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” ~ Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)

NOTE: I typed this up and was getting ready to hit “publish”. Then I noticed in the “related posts” that I’ve already done a post using this same verse and this same anecdote! If I wasn’t doing this blog-a-day thingy, I wouldn’t post this. Oh, well. I actually go a different route with the application, so maybe you’ll get something out of it even if the first part feels like deja vu :)

Kennesaw Mountain is one of my favorite hiking spots. It’s not far from my house, and it contains a whole network of trails. Depending on the mood you’re in, you can walk for a couple of miles, or you can walk all day. You will see Civil War ruins and deer. Lots of deer. You quickly forget that you’re in the middle of the chaos of Atlanta. It’s a real gem.

I was hiking there a few weeks ago, and came to the crest of a hill. A side path branches off at this point, with signs pointing towards the visitor’s center as well as several of the park’s landmarks. It’s not overly confusing, but if you haven’t been there before you might not know exactly which way to turn.

I stopped to catch my breath and take in the view from the hilltop. As I stood there, a man walked up, bringing with him a flurry of stress and frustration. “Excuse me, sir. Do you know the way to the visitor’s center?”

From our little crossroads, two of the three directions would go to the visitor’s center. One was a scenic but strenuous way up and over the mountain. The other was a little longer distance-wise, but was much easier and he would probably get there sooner.

As I started to explain this to the gentleman, he held up a hand.

“Sir, you don’t understand. I know these paths rather well.”

Whether he didn’t like my answer or was just too impatient to listen, I’ll never know. But the man boldly took off. Not on either of the trails that led to the visitor’s center, but on the third trail. In the opposite direction. At best, he was walking a couple of miles out of the way, but this involved making a turn onto a side trail at some point. If he stayed on the main path and followed it all the way around, it could be ten miles or more until he reached the visitor’s center.

The more I think about that guy, the more I realize we are alike. So often when I face decisions in life, I don’t seek advice. I just tear off on my own. “It’s OK, I know these paths rather well,” I think to my self, when that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

So much about the world today feels new and unprecedented. Just a few years ago, who ever would have thought we’d be carrying computers in our pocket? It’s tempting to say we’ve got new problems so we need to look for new answers.

But instead of saying “I’ve got this,” we should do what that verse above says. We should “ask where the good way is”. And there are so many places to ask:

1) The Bible – So many folks speak up for the right to own a Bible. But how many people actually crack it open on a regular basis? Cultivate a regular Bible reading habit, and you will see your life change before your very eyes. If you’re looking for a starting point, I love Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. It offers a dozen different techniques for delving into God’s Word. And the appendix offers one of the best guides for personal devotion.

“Cast your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:7

2) Prayer – God has made himself available. And he wants us to share what’s going on in our lives, big and small. Starting a habit of prayer takes patience and discipline, but it can be one of the most rewarding things you can do.

3) Conversation – Sometimes asking for the old paths is a literal thing. Look for people in your life you can ask for wisdom. Attend a small group at your church, or a neighborhood Bible study. Find an online book club. If done properly you will soon find that this goes two ways – you might be surprised to find that you’re the answer somebody else is looking for.

Speaking of conversation, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you have any insight on prayer, Bible study, or conversation? Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments section!

 

 

The magic of beginnings

“And suddenly you know: it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ~ Meister Eckhart

My daughter and I were watching one of those hoarding shows. You’re probably at least aware of them. They find somebody who hasn’t thrown anything away in like ten years and then they bring in their family and everybody is grossed out. Then they bring in a therapist to get at the root of the problem, and a professional organizer gives them a few tips. Then at the end they fast forward a few weeks and show how everything is better.

I normally zip past those shows. They’re kind of gross but it’s more than that. Something about it hits really close to home. No, I don’t have a compulsive shopping problem and I don’t have piles and piles of junk at my house. But I can totally relate to the idea of not being able to let go of things.

Stephanie and I were talking in the car the other day, and I think I kind of blew her mind. I have this thing, and I always assumed everyone had it. You see, I still hold onto conversations that happened decades ago. Multiple times a day, I hit on these little emotional land mines. Something happens, and it triggers a memory from a long time ago. And they’re usually not pleasant. Apparently it’s an introvert thing. So, if you’re an introvert, you probably relate. If you, like Stephanie, are an extravert, I might have just blown your mind as well.

So even though I’m not a hoarder in the look-at-that-freak-on-tv kind of way, I am an emotional hoarder in a major way. At any time, I am carrying around a bunch of memories, good and bad, along with a big old pile of unmet goals and unrealized dreams. Just like the folks on that show can’t live in their house, sometimes it’s kind of hard to live inside my head. It’s hard to think about anything new with all that mental clutter.

Building on that thought, I have three things I want to share with you:

1) Earlier this week I started rereading G. Lynn Nelson’s excellent Writing and Being. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but he hits on the emotional and spiritual benefits of keeping a journal perhaps better than anyone. Great book. So I’ve started that one (and am actually doing the exercises this time!).

2) I was listening to James Altucher’s excellent interview with Seth Godin this evening (Episode 206 on this page). Godin said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning*. Actually, I’ve heard him say it before, but something about the context really hit home with me this time.

“Everyone should have a blog. And everyone should blog every day.” ~ Seth Godin

His idea goes way past blogging and gets to the heart of why so many people (like myself) have so many unfinished projects lying around. By writing every day, you will a) get better at writing and b) you will get past that inner fear we all have and get better at speaking up.

3) While I’m not saying I’m going to blog every day forever, I am going to post every day this month. And then we’ll kind of see how it goes from there.

While it’s daunting to think that I am going to have to come up with thirty one things to write about, I am confident that I can get through it once, and then do that again thirty more times. Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, there’s something magical about beginning. And I feel like every day can be a new beginning. And besides – it’s been quite awhile since I posted anything here – I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few things to say.

Maybe by getting some ideas out there I can clear room for new ones. Maybe I can even stop the hoarding – I’m not sure how it works. But I’m pretty sure that I’ll be in a better place for having done it. We’ll see…

*1.21 gigawatts, you know.

 

 

A Wrinkle in Time

I’ll never forget the first book that absolutely blew my mind, the one that forever changed my relationship with words. I was first exposed to this classic in the first grade, not as a traditional book, but as a film strip. Remember those?

My mom had just started working again, so when school let out my brother and I would usually stick around for the after school program. Kids in after school ranged from kindergarten to fifth grade. Younger kids like me were thus exposed to a lot of things earlier, like big kid books (and bad words!). Usually me and my brother would go for an hour or so to after school. It was pretty crazy how Lord of the Flies things got in that short hour, but that’s for another blog post. Usually we’d have a snack and then play a bit, inevitably building some kind of fort or another in the woods behind the school, and then we’d get picked up.  They usually showed a video or a film strip at the end, but we were long gone by then.

But there was this one day where we were among the last kids. We didn’t get picked up until like 6. It was winter and the weather was bad, so we didn’t play outside that day. As I sat in that first grade classroom with the Letter People on the wall and the desks pushed together in little islands,  I remember thinking about how late it was. At that age you don’t think about time and get frustrated. You just notice how things are different from usual. And when you’re six you don’t count time by clocks. My stomach told me all I needed to know. The cookie and chocolate milk snack they gave us right after school had long since worn off.

On this day they played a film strip called A Wrinkle in Time. Before they started it, a teacher tried to explain it. She talked about how your brain is wrinkled and every time you learn something new you get a new wrinkle, and how the kids in this story learned what they needed to do just in time. In hindsight I know that is not at all what the book is about. But on that afternoon in 1980 in that classroom with the desk islands and the Letter People, it sounded good. At least not boring.

I remember watching the film strip and being absolutely mesmerized. The plot revolved around a girl who was struggling at school who met up with these three strange ladies who take her on all these crazy travels by tessering  through time and space (the theory behind tessering is where the book’s title actually came from). The villain wasn’t really a traditional “bad guy” at all but rather this forboding dark cloud called The Black Thing. All of these elements made for a fantastic tale like nothing I’d seen before. I tracked down the book in the school library and I was hooked.

Around this same time our family moved. It wasn’t a huge move but it represented so much to me. That area has been swallowed whole by metro Atlanta now, but back then moving 5 miles meant moving to the country. The view out my bedroom window went from a tree lined neighborhood to a pasture: I was literally awakened by cows every morning. There was a creek down the street where me and my brother would go wade in the water. The nearest kid my age lived a mile away.

Something about the books I was reading, and A Wrinkle in Time in particular, acted as an anchor during our move. I think the main thing that struck me about that book was how the magic was woven in with ordinary life in a way that made it feel real. Instead of having kids fall down a rabbit hole or walk through a wardrobe to find the fantasy world, the fantasy world coexisted with our own. Instead of the kids going to this other place, the other place came to them. At this point my life had begun to lose its magic. It was encouraging to know that maybe, just maybe, there was still a little bit of magic out there in the world.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and Third Day was in the studio working on a Rich Mullins tribute project. I asked the producer what he liked to read (I ask that a lot as an ice breaker) and he mentioned L’Engle. I had read a few of her kids books growing up, but I had no idea that she wrote books for grownups and that her Christian faith shone through her writing. She has since become my favorite author (again!) and a wellspring of inspiration for my music and writing pursuits.

I have encountered so many people who have been similarly inspired. A Wrinkle In Time was one of the first children’s novels with a strong female protagonist and has been a source of empowerment for countless girls who read it. I can’t wait to read it with my girls. I hope they are inspired in that way too. I hope it makes them ask big questions about good and evil, about God and love. I hope it means as much to them as it does me.

If you’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time, I totally recommend it. You also can’t go wrong with her memoirs: A Circle of Quiet is stellar, and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art is an absolute classic.

What about you? What was the book you read as a kid that made you fall in love with books?

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That time I was in Guideposts for Teens

I can’t believe it’s been 14 years since this article came out.

We were in a meeting with our management and somebody was talking about pitching stories to magazines and asked if anybody had any stories with heart in them because that’s what magazines were looking for. I just stared forward into space. I try to get involved in meetings, I really do. But they always seem to run long and my enthusiasm seems to wane before other people’s and I kind of zone out. Just send me an email instead.

But when I left that meeting I felt a tug on my spirit. The kind of tug that usually has God in the middle of it. I knew I had a story. I didn’t know if it had heart in it, but It definitely had pain. I figured if I could share it then it might encourage somebody else who’s going through pain. So I got out my cell phone and called my manager. This was 15 years ago so remember cell phones were enormous then and didn’t have color screens or internet or Twitter or games or anything but that’s another story.

I proceeded to tell my manager about all the stuff I went through in high school. About how I was hit by a truck my freshman year and my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer my sophomore year and then he died my junior year. I didn’t really remember my senior year too much.

Next thing I knew somebody from a magazine came out to our show in Rome, Georgia and did an extended interview. A story was written, and then they sent a photographer to our show in Chicago. I ended up being on the cover of Guideposts for Teens. I remember hating that picture – they wanted me to smile and if you know me you know that I’m not a smiler.

At the time it had been almost ten years since my dad died. What’s crazy to me is it’s now been almost 15 years since that article came out. Reading it now is hard because of the high school tone (remember it was written for that audience) but shining through was the fresh, raw, feeling of losing my dad. Nowadays I’ve kind of lost that feeling. Which is a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because most of that pain has faded. Not gone, just faded. For a while after I lost my dad it just felt kind of numb. And for a few years it was like a scab – everything was cool but if I bumped it things would get hurt and raw and bloody. Now it’s become part of my story, part of who I am.

But it’s bad because as that pain has faded, so have the memories. Memories that I had just thought I’d always carry with me. Now that I have kids of my own, I wish I could tell them more about their grandfather. They probably wouldn’t care so much now but one day they’ll want to know. So I just try to write down everything I can remember.

Which is why it’s good to hold on to articles like these.

The Horse, This Boy, and This Blog

“You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.” ~ Austin Kleon

The last time I left you, it was last year, and I was reading to my daughter. We’ve done a lot of reading since then. We finished The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, then dove into The Chronicles of Narnia. Last night we started The Horse and His Boy. It seems Abbie is intent on finishing all seven of the Narnia books before we move on to anything else (as you can probably imagine, I’m totally OK with that!).

I’m sure entire books have been written about the benefits of reading with your kids, so I’ll spare the attempt here. But It’s been so fun reading with Abbie. Especially since we’re reading some of the classics that influenced me so much as a kid. And she actually wants to read them. All of them. I can’t begin to tell you how proud it makes me that Abbie is excited about these stories that have been a lifelong passion of mine.

And it hasn’t just been inspiring for Abbie. Something about great art makes me want to make art. Just as hearing a great band makes me want to “get the boys together”, great writing makes me want to write myself. Last night I felt like writing online for the first time in months, so I decided to tentatively dip my toe back into the blogging world. This post marks that first fledgling step. I won’t be as prolific as I was last year, I can assure you. And that’s probably for the best since I was probably writing at a faster pace than you guys were interested in consuming.

That lack of inspiration was one reason for my departure for sure. I think the other, for want of a better word, was that I lost my voice. It’s like I was trying to write what a blogger was supposed to write about. It felt forced and seemed a little too didactic, maybe even a bit preachy. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t me. So I quit. Not the best tactic if you’re interested in blog traffic, but if you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that’s beside the point anyway.

So look for some regular posting here. No promises on the frequency but posting nonetheless. And it should be fun, as I experiment around and find a voice I’m comfortable with. I’m going to start, of course, with talking about some books and influences – basically what’s been rattling around in my head these last few months.

Thanks for reading, and for putting up with my zaniness!

-Mark

A book a day: some thoughts on procrastination and productivity

There’s a saying somewhere about the sins of the father catching up with the children. I would tell you about it, but I put off looking it up…

I am a procrastinator. There, I said it. But if you’ve been around these parts long at all, you already know this.

There are times when having a “just go with it” mentality pays off. For example, my family has a blast on vacations, and I think a lot of that comes from just letting the day come as it will. I love seeking out little adventures when I am on tour, and a lot of these happen because I “just go with it”. Hey, it works.

But then there are times like now. It is a week before Christmas, and like everybody, I am ridiculously busy. Between Christmas parties and shopping and finishing up with the kids’ school, there’s not really any room for error. But added to that mix, I’m reading a book every day this week. Yup. That’s probably worth an explanation.

My daughter Abbie came home from school the other day upset. She had a project where she was supposed to read 5 books and do a report. I was ready to give my Anne Lamott “bird by bird” speech. But then I did a little math in my head. Her project is due Thursday, and with her fourth grade reading speed, there is NO WAY she can read all these books in time and write a report.

Then, like Adam West era Batman, it came to me.

I’ve…got…a…plan.

“Abbie, do you have to read all of them yourself, or can you read them with your parents?”

“The teacher said we could read them with our parents.”

“OK sit down. Let’s go.”

Abbie and I sat down. I got some firewood off the porch and got a fire going in the fireplace. We reclined on a bunch of pillows as the fire began crackling in the background.

I cleared my throat.

Then I began to read aloud “The Secret Seven” by Enid Blyton at absolute breakneck speed. We started the book at about 8 PM. I only paused once to get a glass of water. By 9:30 I crossed the book’s finish line.

It was really strange. But a good strange. It felt really fast for me to read it out loud, but it was just right for the listener. Abbie got it. She actually loved the book. And I did too. Last night we repeated the process with a Nancy Drew book. It was actually a little tougher reading. I liked this one a little more, but Abbie didn’t track quite as much with this one. it was a “newer” Nancy Drew book and a little more YA than the classic ones. But we still really enjoyed it.

Tonight we’re going to read a third book. Combined with one that she had already read and another that we had recently finished together, she will get her five books in.

And the funniest thing happened in the process.

We had a blast.

“So, Jo Jo, what did you learn today?”*

  • I learned that procrastination is neither good nor bad. It is a work habit. If that’s the way you operate, and you still get things done, accept it. You can certainly change it, but if it works, it’s a starting point.
  • I learned that memories are made when you do things out of the ordinary. Even though this was crazy, I know Abbie and I will remember this and talk about it for a long time. And it’s going to be a fun memory!
  • I learned that kids have to take ownership of their own habits. Through this process, Abbie learned that she probably could plan ahead next time. I helped her with the reading, but she’s doing the report. We can help her, but it’s up to her to own it.
  • Most of all, I was reminded that the important thing is not how it gets done, but THAT IT GETS DONE. In my line of work, it’s fun to do the interviews and talk about how the songs got written and the album got recorded. But you can’t do that if you don’t DO THE WORK**.
  • Moving forward from this experience, I think I’m going to set a blogging schedule. I will post to this blog on certain days, every week NO MATTER WHAT.

Bottom line: DO THE WORK.

* If you have children of a certain age, you will remember Jo Jo’ Circus. At the end of every episode they asked that question…

** There’s a great Steven Pressfield book with that title. Definitely worth a read!

 

The tiny, yet major, problem I have with The War of Art

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, has been buzzing around internet circles for several years. It was never a bestseller, but has become quite popular through little more than word of mouth. And rightfully so – it is a really good book. But I have a tiny problem with Pressfield’s book. My issue is small, but I think it cuts to the core of my failed attempts at motivation. And unless you’re one of the fortunate few blessed with Olympic levels of willpower, I bet it has something to do with your motivation problems as well.

Before I get too far, let me start by saying that The War of Art is one of the books that has had the deepest impact on me over the last decade. It has literally changed my relationship to my work as a musician and writer. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. Pressfield’s message goes way beyond art – it could easily apply to a business or weight loss or any endeavor in which you’re trying to step out of your comfort zone.

The War of Art is split into three sections. The first section talks about Resistance, the force that fights for the status quo and prevents us from doing the things that we know we need to do. This is the part of the book that gets talked about the most, and it is definitely the section that spoke to me. My experience as a musician and fledgling writer bears out the fact that whenever we try to better ourselves, there is a mighty power that is working against us. In calling it Resistance, Pressfield did a bang-up job in putting a name to something that we all face on a daily basis. He also goes to great lengths to accurately describe how this powerful and destructive force manifests itself.

The next section talks about “going pro”. Pressfield asserts that a subtle shift in how we approach our work will be all the answer we need to defeat Resistance. We should look at our creative and self-improvement pursuits the same way as we do our day jobs. Punch the clock and get to work. In doing so, we will get everything done whether we feel like it or not. I think this solution misses the point just a bit. I’ll come back to that in a second.

The final section of the book talks about the spiritual side of creative work, Pressfield rightly points out that all creators of great art have acknowledged this spiritual dimension. In describing it, he talks about invoking angels and Greek muses. I imagine he probably got a lot of flak about this section of the book. While I don’t personally ascribe to his brand of spirituality, this section didn’t really bother me.

What did bother me, then? I think the book does a wonderful job of describing Resistance, but stops just short of calling it a spiritual issue. And by putting the spiritual dimension last, the idea of “turning pro” simply becomes good old-fashioned human striving under a new name.

Put the spiritual first. Because it’s a spiritual issue.

You see, here’s what I think. I think God made us in his image. God created. It’s the very first thing he’s recorded as doing. Creating is a beautiful thing, and we’re all – yes, that means you – meant to do it. But we humans went and screwed it up. One bad apple spoiled the whole lot of us.

And that is the core of the problem.

Call it Resistance. Call it the devil. Call it whatever you like, but the fact that we don’t create is a deeply spiritual issue. While there are a tiny fraction of us who are able to accomplish a lot through sheer force of will, we will all – yes, that means you – fail at some point and in some way.

The only way to confront a spiritual problem is through spiritual means.

And God has an interesting way of going about this. It’s not through a full-frontal assault on our spiritual enemy. Human striving and willpower come into play very little, if at all. I absolutely believe God cares about what we care about, big and small. And he wants to help us. But while God wants us to succeed, he wants something else first. He wants us.

He wants us to spend time with him. He wants us to pray. He wants us to read his word. He wants us to care about what he cares about. Make this your top priority, and everything else will fall into its proper place. And God will, in a very literal sense, make his home in your heart. I don’t know about you, but I think this gives me a motivation that far exceeds anything I could ever gain through human willpower.

If you want to try the human striving route, by all means. Set some goals and make some lists. Try harder. Grit your teeth a little tighter and grimace a little more. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s probably not going to work. When that happens, come back and read this post again in a few weeks. It will still be here.

Try this instead. Try something different. Try something truly radical. Make your relationship with God the number one thing in your life.

Try it for a few months and see where he takes you.

I dare you.

If you’ve ever read The War of Art, I’d love to hear how this post hits you. It’s been stirring in my heart for a LONG time. If you’ve never read the book, I recommend it! Either way, I hope this post encourages you to dig into God a little more.

Review: All In, by Mark Batterson

I was on vacation with my family the other week. We were out driving and my girls saw a Christian bookstore. Hey, you don’t have to ask me twice. So we stopped. One of the books on the bestsellers shelf was a title called All In by Mark Batterson. I was intrigued. I had never read anything by Mark Batterson before, but was vaguely aware of him. I’ve seen his book “The Circle Maker” quoted in a few places online, so figured I’d give this one a whirl. I own a lot of books, many of them unread, so I try to practice a little patience when it comes to buying books. But something felt a little different this time. It’s almost like the Holy Spirit was telling me to buy this one. And I’m so glad I did.

All In is one of those books where you can almost figure out what the book’s going to be about just from reading the title. In this case, it’s about making the decision to go “all in” with your faith, just like pushing all your chips onto the table in a game of cards. Once you go “all in”, you will want to go “all out” by living a life of radical faith in the “all in all”. You stop holding back and start giving your all for God, living a life that will impact the world for his kingdom and his purposes.

While the general message of the book is pretty straightforward, Batterson has a practical down-to-earth, everyman sort of writing style. It is easy to read, but don’t let that fool you. This book is loaded with wisdom that can only come from a faith that has been lived and tested in the real world. But most of all, Batterson’s passion for his faith is contagious. I don’t know how anyone could read this book and not get fired up.

The book has several great illustrations from the Bible as well as from the author’s own life. Faith is not a thing of mere theory to Batterson. Rather, he lives out his faith in the day-to-day. And that is very refreshing to read. The concept of “rim huggers” and “cliff climbers”, taken from the story of Jonathan in the Bible and Batterson’s experience hiking in the Grand Canyon, is an image I will carry with me for a long time. I was also inspired by the stories of radical giving, including stories from Mark’s own life, as well as businessmen who literally gave God everything they had.

Now there is one tiny little “grain of salt” I would have to add about the book. Batterson is a preacher, and that shines through, mostly to good effect. He is a master at one-liners, such as “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, he isn’t Lord at all.” But at times, it feels a bit formulaic, kind of like a sermon series. And most of the faith examples in the book revolve around Batterson’s church. That is to be expected, but for someone not part of that particular church it makes for a hard storyline to follow.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. This would be a great read for a new believer wanting to take the next step. I would also suggest this book to anyone who feels a little stale in their faith and wants to reignite their passion for God. A recommended read for sure.

What I’ve been up to, and what’s coming up

So I missed a couple of weeks of blogging, and was a little bit torn about how to handle it. There are basically two routes, and both are equally valid.

Route one would be to just pick right up with another post and not acknowledge the “gap”. This would work great for an impersonal and informative type of site. While I hope that what you find here is informative, I intend to be anything but impersonal. My goal here, borrowing an idea from Red Smith, is to sit down at a typewriter, open up a vein, and bleed. So if I’m not being personal, I’m not doing my job.

Route 2 is the “apology”. I am a fan of several podcasts, and also read several blogs. It is generally understood that most people who maintain these types of sites are busy people with families and day jobs and lives. So it is not uncommon for “breaks in the action” to happen. I still find it a bit comical, though, when a podcaster doesn’t post a new episode for a few weeks and then feels compelled to apologize and explain what they’ve been up to. (I listen to one podcast in particular that starts almost every episode with an apology!) But then I go and miss a few weeks of blogging and I see where they’re coming from. I don’t even know where to start, so I feel strangely moved to apologize and tell you what I’ve been up to.

How about a “secret option C”? How about I don’t apologize, but still tell you what I’ve been up to?

I like that route. So here goes nothing:

What I’ve been up to

  • I went vacationing with my family over Thanksgiving. We took our camper to the Florida panhandle for one last hurrah before it gets too cold. Speaking of too cold, it was a little too chilly for swimming, but we got in a good amount of beach time. We also did some geocaching and saw Frozen (great film, btw!).
  • I did the Black Friday thing for the first time in forever. We bought a TV on the cheap. I think I finally (sort of) get it.
  • I’ve watched a ton of college football. I try to be very diligent about not watching too much TV, but I usually kind of let it go during the month of December. Georgia Tech played Georgia valiantly and came up just a hair short. And then Auburn (my wife’s team) goes and beats Alabama and gets themselves into another championship game. So football fever is in full effect at the Lees’.
  • Third Day did a short run of Christmas shows with Michael W. Smith. We were in the Upper Midwest. The weather was cold, but the concerts were HOT (I just rolled my eyes at myself). Seriously, it was a blast touring with Michael and meeting some great fans in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Go here to read my blog updates on the Third Day website.
  • Beyond the above, I’ve been practicing a lot of guitar (brushing up on Christmas songs!) and gearing up for Winter Xtreme as well as The Roadshow in January. We’ll have a short break for Christmas, but then it gets just as hectic as ever!

So there’s what I’ve been up to. But why stop there? Here’s sort of where I’m headed with the blog over the next few weeks:

What’s coming up

  • Let’s face it – Christmas is a busy season. For me to try to post fast and furious like I did earlier in the fall would be unrealistic for me as the blogger as well as you the reader. Look for about three blog posts a week until at least the second week in January.
  • With New Year’s around the corner I have a couple of posts about motivation in the works. I’ve also been working on a post to coincide with the release of The Hobbit this weekend.
  • I was surprised and delighted with the response I got from the Bible reading challenge. I have thought about formalizing that into some kind of email series. It might be as involved as 21 posts to encourage people for every day of the challenge. If something like that interests you, please let me know.

With all of that, things should be pretty busy around these parts in the foreseeable future. If there are any other topics you’d like to see, feel free to let me know by sending an email or leaving a comment.

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to what the future will bring!