The Wilderness Is Where Christians Go to (Eventually) Move Forward

 

low-resolution
Download my book for free.

 

Growing up as an evangelical, I learned a simple question that determined what I should believe and how I should put my faith into practice:

WHAT DID PAUL DO?

If Paul did it, believed it, or even suggested it as maybe a good idea, then it was good enough for me. To my shame, I remember telling one of my Bible professors in college that it was more important in my eyes to study the epistles than the Gospels.

He gently suggested that I should reconsider that… and I certainly have.

Prioritizing of Paul aside, it is the great fortune of American evangelicals today that Paul offers us unequivocally excellent advice for our current situation where evangelical Christianity appears to be fragmenting, if not altogether collapsing due to political and cultural compromise.

Far too many evangelicals have aligned the Kingdom of God with a single political party and a patriarchal, white supremacist culture that idolizes power and wealth.

Christians throughout America are dropping the “evangelical” label because it has either become meaningless or has taken on far too many negative associations.

Evangelicals are mocked and disparaged because of the ever-shifting values and moral “standards” of a few talking head leaders who continue to work the political system for their own gain and a sizeable evangelical group that fails to see serious issues such as overt racism and xenophobia as deal breakers in their leaders.

Thoughtful hashtags are emerging around questions of evangelical identity and an evangelical future: #stillevangelical #exevangelical. Back in the early 2000’s we used terms like “younger evangelicals” (via Robert Weber) and “post-evangelical” to describe this fragmenting. Should we drop the label “evangelical”? Abandon the movement? Fight for it?

Significant portions of the evangelical movement are corrupt, but there are many positive members and hopeful signs emerging. Regardless, I am not personally interested in preserving a movement or a label. It may be more helpful to understand where we are, what God is saying, and to sort out what to do next with a clear head.

I’d like to suggest that there is a very simple and productive next step every evangelical can take in response to the failures and chaos of our current evangelical situation, and it conveniently meshes with what Paul did. You can even call it a “biblical response” for bonus points. Here is the plan, ready?

Retreat.

Not forever, but for a while. You could say that many of us evangelicals need to take a retreat of sorts from whatever we’ve been doing. We need to surrender for a season instead of constantly forging ahead, trying to make an overhaul on the fly.

I suggest this because many evangelicals are discouraged, confused, and uncertain about the future. We could stay in the chaos of our movement and try to sort out a next step, or we could retreat, wait on the Lord, and then move forward when we gain a bit of clarity.

Throughout the Bible and the history of the church, there is a pattern of reform emerging from prophets and communities in the wilderness or in solitude. From Elijah to John the Baptist to the desert fathers and mothers, to the many nuns and monks who reformed the church from the solitude of their cloisters, reform and prophetic direction has come from those who retreated in order to seek God before spreading their ideas more widely.

There’s a principle for prayer taught by Henrí Nouwen that we first need to let go of what we’re holding before we can receive something from God. A time of surrender and retreat before God can help us let go of the negative influences on our lives.

I suspect that we’ll look to different leaders and teachers as well as shift some of our priorities on the other side of this retreat.

Here is what Paul reported about his own retreat following his Damascus road experience when his entire world came crashing down:

“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:13-17 NRSV)

We don’t exactly know what Paul did in Arabia, but whatever God revealed to him brought him in unity with the rest of the church (Galatians 2:1-2).

At a time when evangelicals are distracted, divided, and uncertain about what to do about a movement that appears destined for the rocks, there aren’t simple answers or clear next steps. Perhaps we can relate to Paul, finding out that the cause we’ve given our lives to is, at least in part, misguided, corrupt, and even, at times, opposed to the very people Jesus dearly loves.

It’s safe to say that our own wisdom got us into this mess, so it surely won’t get us out of it. If anything, it’s going to just lead us into another mess.

I believe that God has not abandoned us, but if we have any hope of hearing God’s voice, we need to create space for God to speak. It’s not a mistake that John the Baptist proclaimed his message of repentance and restoration in the wilderness—preparing the way for the Lord. Jesus spent the majority of his ministry in relatively isolated spaces as well.

If you’re a discouraged or uncertain evangelical who is dispirited by our movement, then perhaps it’s time to step back. You may even hear the whisper of God to guide you forward, but first you need to venture up to the mountain to hear it.

You can read more about the evangelical retreat by downloading my new book for free on most eBook sites or just $.99 on Amazon

low-resolution (1)

Where Do You Begin with Prayer? Try Thankfulness

The following post is adapted from Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer:

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

After the birth of our first child, I resolved to finally establish a regular, scheduled prayer routine. There was one barrier to any routine, or sanity, in our home:  Our son did not nap.

The only way to coax him into a reliable nap was to take him for a walk. This plan worked well throughout the fall, and since his sleep struggles continued, I bundled him up in massive puffy layers of down for walks all throughout the Columbus, Ohio winters. A bike trail along the river by our home offered 30 uninterrupted miles of walking alongside a shallow little river dotted with a few tiny waterfalls along the way to serve as landmarks of a nap’s success or struggle.

Through rain, snow, or wind, I spent most afternoons walking my son in his jogging stroller along the path with only the noises of an occasional chime of a bicycle bell, the chatter of workers from a nearby office talking a lunch time walk, and the rustle of deer in the woods. During these walks of an hour to an hour and a half, I had the option of playing podcasts or praying. I hoped to do the latter, but once alone with my thoughts, I spiraled into a wreck of negativity, anger, fear, and anxiety. It wasn’t that I was struggling to pray. I was struggling to even get to the point where I could attempt to pray.

Where do you begin with prayer when you can’t even figure out how to start in the first place?

This isn’t a new problem, and thankfully someone from the historic church spent a lot of time working through it. While recovering from a serious wound suffered in battle, Ignatius of Loyola began reading through scripture and had a profound encounter with the risen Christ. As he pursued God in silence and meditation, he felt directed to develop a method of clarifying his thoughts prior to prayer and to cultivate a greater awareness of God throughout the day. This practice, called Examen, was a part of his larger spiritual exercises that he passed on to those in his community that later became known as the Jesuits or Society of Jesus.

The Examen is a series of prompts for reflection that Methodists and students of church history will recognize as similar to John Wesley’s questions for self-examination. The main difference is that Wesley’s questions are far more specific, while the Examen tends to be more open ended and geared toward uncovering whatever is on your mind. Ignatius instructed the Jesuits to practice the examine twice daily, keeping track of their thoughts, emotions, and awareness of God throughout each day so that they could pray with greater intention and focus.

There are different Examen methods and questions based on the spiritual practices of Ignatius. I personally use an app on my phone, but the basic structure of the Examen is as follows:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.

I have found great benefit in the ways that the Examen cultivates awareness of my thoughts and emotions, increases my aware of God, and helps me bring my daily thoughts and actions to God in prayer. Sometimes I focus on a particular question or aspect of the Examen. Other times the Examen reveals a deficit in my awareness of God. Most importantly, I have had to stop seeing the Examen as a kind of test or evaluation for my spiritual progress. Despite the resemblance to the word “exam,” the Examen has been most beneficial as a kind of rest stop or reset point in my day. It offers an opportunity to move forward with greater awareness of God and personal intention.

There’s a strong family resemblance between the Examen and the mindfulness practices advocated by psychology experts today. Many studies are finding that a few minutes of mindfulness have made significant differences in both teachers and school children. In the best cases, a meditation room has replaced traditional punishments for children who act out, as teachers have realized that oftentimes misbehaving is linked with a child struggling to process everything that is going on.

Mindfulness helps us sift away our thoughts and emotions so that we can see the present moment with clarity. It can also shut down ongoing loops of negative thinking, internal commentaries, or mounting stress and anxiety. Instead of assuming we’re at the mercy of our thoughts, mindfulness rightfully restores a measure of our power over our thoughts. Ignatius recognized the value of this hundreds of years ago as he developed the Examen practice, but he also incorporated the valuable prompts that helped practitioners gauge their awareness of God throughout the day.

I had made the mistake of approaching prayer as a kind of dumping ground for my thoughts, but it’s actually better to dump my thoughts out before I pray through practicing the Examen. That frees my mind in order to hear God speak and it offers clarity about which thoughts need to be explored further in prayer. Thomas Merton writes, “The reason why so many religious people believe they cannot meditate is that they think meditation consists in having religious emotions, thoughts, or affections of which one is, oneself, acutely aware” (No Man Is an Island, 32).

This focus on giving thoughts and emotions free reign during prayer can also result in heightened expectations for some kind of resolution to come about in the midst of prayer. Merton continues, “As soon as they start to meditate, they begin to look into the psychological conscience to find out if they are experiencing anything worthwhile. They find little or nothing. They either strain themselves to produce some interior experience, or else they give up in disgust” (No Man Is an Island, 32).

Lest you think I’m more spiritually accomplished than I actually am, the main reason why I persevered in practicing the Examen, even after my son started napping in his bed regularly, was a simple iPhone app. While there are several Examen apps out there, the one I found is called “Examine,” and it offered the perfect opportunity to use my iPhone for a noble purpose.

Practicing the Examen for three months completely blew my mind. As I reflected on the positive and negative elements of each day, I started to notice a troubling pattern: most of my positive moments were tied to my work. I clearly relied too much on my work as a barometer for each day. Consequently, I also worried quite a bit about having enough money while struggling to see God at work in my day. So many of my struggles over providing for my family and trusting God came into sharper focus once I developed a regular practice to reflect on each day. I’ll be the first to admit that practicing the Examen hardly felt even remotely spiritual. I was just thinking about my day, after all. This is not what anxious evangelicals are used to in our pursuit of God!

I can imagine the evangelical response to this in the form of a spiritual drill sergeant screaming at me: “Oh, you feel sad because your kid had a melt down and you yelled at him? Poor baby! And the baby I’m talking about is YOU! Are you worried about money? Maybe it’s time to get off your can and to actually read some scripture, you slacker! Jesus died on a cross for YOUR sins. I bet he worried about that too. Suck it up you contemplative slacker!”

When you’ve thought for most of your life that prayer is more or less the same thing as talking to God and the you can only grow spiritually by doing it better and working harder at it, it’s difficult to believe that personal awareness or “mindfulness” really counts as a spiritual practice. Aren’t there more important spiritual matters we can give ourselves to instead? According to St. Ignatius, the Examen was his one non-negotiable. If you can only find time for one practice, this is it. It’s as if he knew that any struggle to find time or focus for prayer could be resolved if you remain prayerfully aware of yourself through the Examen. The Examen offered what I’ve needed the most: an invitation to step outside of my own head so that I can see where my mind is going and how aware I am of God.

 

Resting at Last

As I’ve grow aware of my own struggles with anxiety, the nature of our anxious times become clearer as well. I spend each day surrounded by endless supplies of anxiety, and that’s with our family never owning a television. In fairness, there are plenty of concerning and troubling items in our news that responsible people must consider. However, anxiety and fear are also powerful forces that are ruthlessly employed on ratings-hungry news shows and social media. Our own agency in managing this anxiety is easy to overlook. Thomas Merton wrote: “Ours is a time of anxiety because we have willed it to be so. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves” (Thoughts in Solitude 82-82).

When anxiety and fear become my default ways of relating to the world, I run the risk of forgetting that there are other ways to approach each day  and to process the thoughts and emotions that come streaming into my mind. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is counterintuitive and countercultural. Abba Anthony once remarked: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'” If our culture has normalized fear and anxiety, then it shouldn’t surprise us that this anxiety and uneasiness will be manifested in our spirituality. Our hard-working, goal-oriented society is bound to latch onto the aspects of religion that measure progress, worry about not doing enough, and fears the “evaluation” of a superior if those goals aren’t met.

The Examen offers a hopeful starting point that believes we not only have a measure of control over our thoughts, but that God is with us in the present and able to lead us if we stop obsessing over the past or the future. Merton assures us that this is an essential step in prayer. He wrote, “One cannot then enter into meditation, in this sense, without a kind of inner upheaval. By upheaval I do not mean a disturbance, but a breaking out of routine, a liberation of the heart from the cares and preoccupations of one’s daily business” (Thoughts In Solitude, 40). There is no summoning God or convincing him to take pity on us as we struggle with our fears and anxiety. God doesn’t play cat and mouse games with us, withholding his presence if we don’t say the right words.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I have found that the Examen is a way to bring my worries and anxious thoughts to God, exposing these dark clouds to God’s penetrating light. Besides the benefit of gaining clarity into my thoughts, there is an opportunity for God to take my unhealthy thoughts captive. Richard Rohr reminds us that our healing comes through our sins and failures. Our sins and failures typically reveal our deepest wounds and needs–both of which need God’s presence of healing and restoration. Rohr writes in his book Breathing Underwater, “You cannot heal what you do not first acknowledge.” However, he takes that a step further as he writes, “In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us” (Everything Belongs,  143).

What makes Jesus so unbelievable to anxious evangelicals such as myself is that he calls me to become more honest than I am capable of being on my own. Only he knows the depths of my fears, the ways I truly lean on my own resources and plans, and the ways that I have made him unnecessary in my life. In many cases, my sins, fears, and anxieties are the products of trying to make it through life on my own. Typically, my sins are the ways I try to cope and manage with life, while my anxieties are often rooted in my fears that my own means and strategies will not work. The Examen breaks through my illusions, helping me to see just how far I have drifted from Christ each day and developed my own ways of dealing with life. As I face these broken parts of myself, I am in a position where I can pray honestly.

Each time I pause to become aware of God, face my thoughts, and look for the ways that God has been at work in my day, I open myself to God’s power and presence. My friend Preston Yancey writes in his book Out of the House of Bread that the Examen is especially useful for seeing what has gone well. I had been so focused on all that I hadn’t done, couldn’t do, or had done wrong that the Examen finally prompted me to focus on the positive aspects of my day and to find God present in these as well. I have become far more thankful since I started practicing the Examen. Thankfulness is an essential part of spirituality, as the Psalms tell us to enter God’s presence with thanksgiving.

 

Making Space for Prayer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed up a moment for quiet reflection. I can always find a reason to keep pushing forward on a work project, to tackle a household chore right now, to reply to a text message or email immediately, or to settle for whatever entertainment I can dig up on my computer in the evening–especially during hockey season. Personal restoration and prayer are hard to fit into our schedules and they’re even harder to protect. Before I had regular, meaningful time for reflection, I didn’t know what it felt like to be at rest in God, let alone to be aware of my interior monologue.

I first attempted contemplative prayer before I learned about the Examen, and I was a hot mess. Nothing made sense or worked when I sought silence before God. I felt lost and completely at the mercy of my thoughts that ranged all over the place. Without the personal assessment of the Examen, any hope of rest or surrender to God remained disrupted or redirected when I sat down to pray. In my bid for silence and prayer, I was facing the truth about myself and my thoughts. Richard Rohr writes, “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, 74).

Contemplative prayer is much like a plant that puts down roots after we have tilled the hard soil of our anxious minds with the practice of the Examen. Every person I know who practices contemplative prayer has come to a similar place in the struggle with distracting thoughts. There are many others who have attempted to practice contemplative prayer only to see it wither in the rock hard soil of a busy, distracted, or anxious mind. I suspect that sometimes our minds are so distracted and anxious that we can’t fully grasp just how distracted and anxious we truly are.

The more technology at my fingertips, from smartphones to tablets, the greater the temptation to keep checking in, to keep conversations going, or to seek a bit of distraction. I have started to rely on having my phone with me at all times, experiencing a mild panic on the occasions that I leave it at home. That emotion alone is well worth exploring!

The Examen has been an essential part of my recovery from digital distraction and my captivity to intrusive technology. I now understand the ways that I use these tools in order to avoid facing my fears and anxieties. I have found that technology tends to encourage “mindlessness,” and this mindlessness of digital devices is a far greater threat to Christian spirituality than any mindfulness practice that may allegedly resemble an eastern religious practice. Without the focused mindfulness of practices such as the Examen, we’ll have every incentive to run from our fears, pain, and faults. Who wants to dwell on the complexities and fears of the present when escape is just a tap away?

While anxious evangelicals may fear that the Examen is little more than a self-centered exercise for spiritual slackers, I have found that it has saved me from unwitting compromise with the ways of this world, from distraction to anxiety and fear. If I was ever on a slippery slope away from God, it was before the Examen revealed just how far my anxieties, fears, and entertaining distractions had pulled me away from God’s presence. With the Examen turning over the rock-hard soil of my mind so that prayer could finally take root, I was finally able to learn what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5). Having learned to stop relying on my own words for prayer and turning over my anxious thoughts, I was finally ready to learn what it meant to flee, be silent, and pray.

 

This post was adapted from Ed Cyzewski’s Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer: http://amzn.to/2zSXXaI (currently $2.99 on Kindle).

The Book That Convinced Me to Give the Enneagram a Chance

The first time I heard about the Enneagram, I was fresh out of seminary in 2005 and blogging with a full head of steam almost every week day. Several popular progressive bloggers had listed in their sidebars, among other badges that we would now deem tacky and unsightly, these little illustrations that demonstrated their enneagram numbers.

Most of these bloggers were “8’s” and it happened that I thought most of these guys were jerks, which isn’t too shocking if you know about an 8’s dark side, so that did it for me. I had no need for the enneagram.

Years passed. Others mentioned the enneagram to me, including my friends Leigh Kramer and Anne Bogel, both of whom I trust as level-headed and well-read people with excellent judgment. At first I flipped through a few type descriptions and took a few online tests, and nothing really checked out. Oddly enough, it’s difficult to know ourselves!

Then, one day, Anne wrote to me that she had a book idea. I read through the first few chapters of her book, which showed how we can use the various personality tests to know ourselves, while also soberly considering their limits.

I loved her sample chapters so much that I was disappointed that I would have to wait a few years before it would be published, but I had no doubt that a publisher would pick it up. In the meantime, Anne gave me a gift, helping me see the ways that my personality impacts my choices and my interactions.

Through her own vulnerable stories about herself and her family’s interactions, I saw how knowing your personality type can prove immensely useful in relationships. Anne provided a helpful thumbnail of the enneagram’s use and limitations, changing my perception of it in a matter of a few pages.

Thanks to Anne and several other enneagram-loving friends, I launched a period of research into the enneagram online, via a few books, and podcasts. Some sites and books and podcasts were more helpful than others, but over time, I finally nailed down that I’m a 9 with a 1 wing. This has become one of the most significant discoveries in my life. Here are a few ways that this has helped me.

For starters, the 9 is a peacemaker who wants to preserve harmony, sometimes at all costs. So I need to be aware of the need to face conflict or discomfort without resorting to passive aggressive responses.

A 9 needs lots of recharging time after being around people a lot or facing a lot of conflict, and this may have been one of two most helpful lessons for myself in my daily interactions with my family. For instance, when my kids are ignoring me and acting out over and over again, it’s not just the kids who need a time out. I need a time out! I need to recharge after facing conflict.

If we’ve had a busy morning helping out at church or we’ve been at a lot of social events, I need to recharge for a bit before I’m able to interact with people. The times when I’ve been at loud parties and just wanted to hide in a dark room by myself isn’t a bad, anti-social behavior. That’s just my inner survival mechanism kicking in.

The other important lesson for my family besides the need to recharge is my response to conflict. I call this, “going turtle.” I have struggled to face conflict over the years, shutting down internally and finding it hard to think clearly. This has often exacerbated conflict, as my inability to speak in the midst of conflict can appear as indifference. As I recognized this tendency in myself, I worked on pushing through my initial fears of speaking up when in conflict. This isn’t true in every situation, but I have learned that speaking up can help diffuse conflict, and that gives me courage I didn’t always have to face it.

I can’t emphasize enough that the enneagram is just a glimpse into who we are and how we function. It’s a very fluid and flexible way of looking at personality, since it reveals how we respond to stress or how we act in health. For instance, a nine reacts to stress with sloth or acedia, and that has proven so helpful when I am going through a stressful time. Rather than beating myself up with guilt over my lack of motivation, I can look into the root cause of the stress. That is far more effective in the long run than just trying to be more motivated!

If you’re a personality test skeptic, Anne’s book is for you. If you’re curious about which tests could actually help you and your family, Anne can help.

The good news is that the wait is just about over. As of September 19, 2017, Reading People will be released into the world. I couldn’t be happier for Anne because I know she put years of research and personal experience into this book. I’m excited on your behalf to read it.

Pick up your copy today. (It’s about $8 on Kindle right now!)

If you want to nerd out on the enneagram a bit, this episode of the Liturgists is amazing.

My Next Book: The Art of the Seals: How to Profit from the Apocalypse

Art of Seals

Are you tired of winning with President Trump? I bet you’re not. Now it’s time to start winning for all of eternity with my new book: The Art of the Seals: How to Profit from the Apocalypse, releasing April 1st. It’s going to be beautiful. You’re gonna love it.

I’m a smart guy. I know things about the Bible. I’m going to tell you about them so that you can become rich before the world ends. It’s coming. Believe me, I know. If it’s not, Trump’s going to make it happen.

Want to become rich before the millennium hits? You’ve gotta know where to invest, who to know, which seals to open, and which properties are far away from the beasts rising from the sea.

Everybody’s telling you the end times is going to be a mess. Blood moons. Death. Plagues. Wars. Frogs. They’re wrong. Those people aren’t smart. They don’t know how to make deals with the AntiChrist. They aren’t winners. They’re losers. Losers end up in the lake of fire.

This is the book that will get you a prime spot in the New Jerusalem. You’re going to love it. Just follow my simple plan for reading Revelation, and you’ll be a winner. You’re going to make the Apocalypse great again.

Place Your Order Today

 

Why I Wrote This Incredible Book

Evangelicals helped make Donald Trump president by huge margins. Biggest inauguration ever. A bigly victory. Democrats are embarrassed. Sad.

America’s government is a mess. We can’t even figure out how to give rich people tax breaks any more. It’s terrible. We’ve got terrorists and bad people pouring over our borders. And worst of all, our president, who won by huge margins, hasn’t even started a war yet.

I’m telling you, the end of the world is coming. It’s going to be huge. Explosions, fire, and monsters. The smart people are going to cash in on their knowledge of the Bible while they can.

Don’t miss this opportunity. Be smart. Don’t settle for less, like having Schwarzenegger hosting the Apprentice. Bad host. Not a ratings machine.

The smart people are going to read the book of Revelation to cash in before things get really bad. This book is going to show them how to do it. Don’t miss out.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing things. I’ve been helping people think about the Gospels in amazing new ways. My book about Revelation got the highest review ratings on Amazon ever–did Obama do that? NO! Don’t believe me? I guess you like FAKE NEWS. Bad President. Can’t even get more than four stars.

Christianity is a disaster. Christianity will get all five stars in its Amazon reviews because of me. We’ll make it happen, believe me. I’m going to win.

You’re going to win too. My new book is going to show how Revelation can make you rich. It’s simple. Anybody can do it, but only winners do it because losers don’t do it. Losers lose. Winners are smart. They do things. Like me. I do things.

You should do things too. Like buying this book.

Do it. Don’t lose like the Democrats.

Order my book today.

Get up to the minute end times updates on Twitter or Instagram

 

Is this a real book? Oh, it’s real, alright. You can take that alternative fact to the bank… in Russia. **Swallows gum**

Want to keep up with my real books?
Join my newsletter for discounts, updates, and a bit more:

Sign Up Here

 

 

When Do Christian Books Cause Too Much Damage?

book-christian

The last thing in the world that I want to do is write about that dating book—the one where the author now admits he had no actual experience in putting the book’s ideas into practice. He’s pretty sure that it’s wrong (calling it “speculative”), has been hearing people out, and even has started to formally collect feedback.

With no personal malice toward that author, I would very much like the rest of my life to pass without hearing about him or his dating book again. His book caused so much shame, judgment, and confusion in my own relationships that I’d like to assign it to the dust bin of history and move on. I’m just one of many Christians who grew up with this book and have spent significant time trying to work through the fall out. Even if you weren’t negatively impacted by the book, take a look at a small sample of the damage it has done:

What I Learned from Joshua Harris

Christian Boy Meets Christian Girl

I Kissed Shame Goodbye

Recovering from I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Storify of I Kissed Shame Goodbye Tweets

There are clearly better things to do than discuss books written by self-admittedly unqualified authors that have wounded us, the people we love and care for, or our evangelical brothers and sisters.

Here is my problem: That dating book is still for sale, and the simple fact that this book is for sale hints to me that everything we have feared about the Christian publishing industry may be true. Putting the most positive spin on this I can manage, the publisher of this book is at the very least unwittingly acting in a way that proves our worst fears

If I put my worst fears into stark language, they would be something like this: If you’re not a gay, drunk, adulterer, or heretic, you can write just about whatever you damn well please as a Christian author, provided that it makes money.

A lack of craft can be compensated with a ghost writer and a lack of substance can be excused provided the book makes money. If the book makes money but hurts people, the people who complain are just whiners, divisive Christians, or just collateral damage because the book didn’t harm everyone who read it.

Publishers have some limits, just not consistent limits.

Perry Noble? His latest book release was suspended because he was “too drunk.” Sorry, Perry. We can’t have alcohol abuse sullying the reputation of CHRISTIAN authors and publishers.

However, a pastor in Seattle could spiritually abuse people in his congregation, and he wrote a book on marriage—REAL marriage to boot.

And a very young conference speaker can totally handle writing a book about dating before he actually put any of it into practice. Never mind that the book has caused heartbreak and shame for many of our fellow Christians. It didn’t devastate everyone, so why not keep making money from it?

Where do we draw the line for a destructive book in Christian publishing?

We have piles and piles of stories from people who have experienced shame, intimacy problems, and unhealthy relationships because of this uninformed dating book. Sure, it may have helped some readers become a little more restrained, or at least confirmed their decision because a good looking author agreed with them. But shouldn’t the piles of stories AND the author’s admissions about the book’s speculative content prompt the publisher to pull this book from sale?

People can still buy this uninformed dating book after the author has gone on a national tour saying that he was wrong and has repeatedly apologized for it on Twitter. How is this possible?

I’ve been biding my time, waiting through one interview after another as the author goes on his anti-publicity tour where he admits he managed to publish a Christian book on dating that was deeply flawed and hoping that the publisher will pull the book. And so he says he’s sorry, people applaud his bravery, and then the next day people are still buying his bullshit dating book so that he can apologize to them in 10-15 years for their crippling shame and intimacy issues.

For all of the evangelical talk about preserving marriages, shouldn’t we be concerned that the “go to” dating book of a whole generation has been exposed by its own author as speculative? Doesn’t relying on a speculative dating book for advice sound like a “not strong” and “not healthy” way to start a marriage? Would we use a speculative book for advice on raising children? Shouldn’t we take all of the stories of hurt and heartbreak seriously and demand that the publisher pull I Kissed Dating Goodbye from all stores?

Well, the skeptics say, there were PLENTY of people who didn’t suffer shame and heartbreak, so what’ the big deal?

These are the people that the Christian publisher is no doubt listening to—the people who weren’t harmed by the book that is making them money. The bar has been set embarrassingly low.

Perhaps the people in charge at this publisher don’t see things this way. Perhaps they believe they are somehow doing great good in the world by keeping this book readily available. If they are living in this fantasy, I can only hope that spelling this out may help the light of reality start to shine in.

Looking at the publisher from the outside, there is no logical reason why this book should still be on sale. Period. A publisher somehow found the courage to suspend a book by a drunk pastor, but somehow a publisher is OK with a book by the author who is a well-meaning speaker who just did his honest best to help teens not have sex and made up a bunch of stuff along the way. If this is really a reflection of Christian publishing today, then we have a real credibility problem.

I write all of this as a Christian author who cares about the Christian publishing industry. I believe in many of the authors and editors I’ve worked with. We dare not lump everyone into the same boat here. There are many, many editors who would roll their eyes at the mere mention of this dating book. They know what we all know, but the opinions of individuals are quite different from the actions of organizations.

I know many, many Christian authors who invest years and years into their research and craft. They don’t speculate on anything. They seek out expert help, they go to workshops to get critical feedback, they read voraciously, and then they write really, really wonderful books that help make the body of Christ stronger. Readers may disagree with them on some points, but there aren’t entire movements of people sharing stories of shame, fear, anxiety, and heartbreak in response to their books.

I have also worked with Christian publishers who have extremely high standards. One editor at a favorite publisher of mine wrote in response to my 2006 book proposal that he frankly didn’t think I was qualified enough to write the book I had proposed. He was 100% right, and I had to work harder at my research and put my book ideas into practice in order to further refine them. When a publisher finally accepted my first book proposal, I had spent countless hours working with theology professors, pastors, small groups, and trusted friends. I had piles of research notes, and only a small percentage of them actually made it into my book. When I submitted my first draft, my editor pushed me to make it better, to do even more research, and to turn it into the best book I could produce. The book wasn’t a bestseller, but many college professors started to use my book for their classes, and I largely credit the people in the publishing industry for pushing me to make it a better book.

All of my first hand experiences in Christian publishing combined with my negative experiences with this dating book make this whole story extremely galling for me. I know that Christian publishing regularly does better than this. I know that there are excellent authors out there working with world class editors to give us books that don’t receive half of the attention of this dating book.

As much as I want to go my separate way from the author of this dating book and personally never hear from him again, I am grateful for the steps he has taken. I hope that he can move from remorse to actual repentance for his actions by also publicly calling for the removal of this book. I hope and pray that he can find his way again as a pastor, author, husband, and father. I just hope to God he doesn’t write another dating book.

At the very least, the publisher of this dating book owes us an explanation for why the book is still for sale. If the many stories about the damage of the book or the author’s admitted flaws about its content aren’t enough to prompt the suspending of this book, then we need to know what in the world the people at this publisher are thinking. Until they take action or offer an explanation, it sure looks like this dating book is only in print because it’s still making money, not because it makes the body of Christ stronger.

Make the End Times Great Again with: Tribulation of Love

The Tribulation of Love

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The latest title from Ed Cyzewski, co-author of the NOT bestselling The Good News of Revelation

TRIBULATION OF LOVE
The Beginning of the End Is the End of Her Love’s Beginning

Fiercely independent, wise beyond her years, and strong beyond the boundaries imposed by patriarchy, Rachel’s decision to remain with her Amish community hangs in the balance when a mysterious stranger arrives in her small, rural, bucolic, quaint, buggy-friendly, and ravishingly-named community of Intercourse, PA. Jacob promises everything that she has longed for: freedom, power, and a really, really nice front-loading washing machine.

As Jacob sweeps Rachel up into a whirlwind courtship that gallops rapidly from hand holding to heavily petting her knee, Rachel becomes alarmed by Jacob’s statements:

“We’re going to make the world great again…”

“It’s just a tiny barcode on your hand…”

“Just wait until my friend rises from the ocean for our wedding…”

“What are your thoughts on global plagues?”

Rachel begins to fear that her courtship with Jacob is doomed to perish in the eternal flames of a fiery lake of unrequited passion. She’s also a little sad that the world is about to end.

Should Rachel leave her community behind for the love of Jacob, even if he is evil-incarnate?

Is Jacob the Anti-Christ?

Will Rachel wish we’d all been ready?

Is there any time to change your mind?

Can Jacob make the tribulation great again?

Will anyone be surprised by the choices the characters make?

Why do otherwise rational people listen to pastors who write books like Four Blood Moons?

Do you realize that today is April 1st???

 

You’ll not answer those questions in Ed Cyzewski’s fake new Amish end times romance:

Tribulation of Love: The Beginning of the End Is the End of Her Love’s Beginning

 

Find links to all of my prank book releases here. 

 

If you want to find out what Revelation is actually about, check out these books:

The Good News of Revelation

Revelation for Everyone

Reading Revelation Responsibly

Revelation for Dummies

The Gifts of a Cold Sandwich and a Book Released in Tragedy

roots-and-sky

During the first day of the 2012 Festival of Faith and Writing, I picked up my disappointing boxed lunch in a mostly deserted lobby at the arts building of Calvin College and regretted my decision. While everyone else I knew was going out for lunch, I was going to sit on a step and eat a cold sandwich by myself.

Way to network, champ!

Just as I was about to give up, I noticed an empty seat in a sitting area where five women were eating their equally cold and disappointing boxed lunches. I fought through my social anxiety and struggles with small talk, took the empty seat, and immediately introduced myself to the woman next to me.

Things started to look up immediately.

“Are you the Ed Cyzewski who runs the Women in Ministry series?” a woman across from me asked.

“That’s me,” I replied, relieved that the ice had been broken so fast.

It turned out that this woman, Angie Mabry-Nauta, is a pastor and had really appreciated the series on my blog where I hosted stories of women serving in ministry—a way that I hoped to outflank the tiring “women in ministry” debate. The woman sitting next to her was Christie Purifoy, a blogger and, at that time, aspiring author who had a freaky number of things in common with me.

  • Christie has a PhD in English Literature, the very degree that my wife has been working on.
  • Christie was pregnant and had a nearly identical due date as my own wife, who was pregnant with our first son at the time.
  • Christie also had plans to buy a house in the Philadelphia area, which happens to be my home town.

I exchanged business cards with Angie and Christie, found them on social media, and have since stayed in touch. Christie and I further connected as fellow writers on the Deeper Story website, which is no longer active.

Around two years ago Christie contacted me with some big news. She was finally sending out a book proposal to a literary agent. I enthusiastically read through her proposal and was completely riveted with her prose and story telling.

I’m terrible at endorsements and reviews, especially when I enjoy the book. Do I say it’s a TOUR DE FORCE!? A majestic triumph for the ages!!!!?? I can’t quite figure out the right tone and word choice for these things. It’s MUCH eaiser to be critical, right?

Truth be told, I’m picky, oh so terribly picky, about memoir. 80% of the memoirs that I pick up, I put down before the half way point. I don’t need simple, every day events imbued with embellished life-altering meaning. You ate a piece of bread and you thought some deep thoughts. Get over it and tell me something worth reading.

I’m the ultimate “get off my lawn” memoir reader.

Having said that, when I love a memoir, I really love it. For just a small sample:

When We Were on Fire? Amazing.

Any Day a Beautiful Change? Perfect.

Girl Meets God? Beautiful.

Tables in the Wilderness? I hate you, Preston.

Coming Clean? Breaks my brain.

So when I picked up Christie’s sample chapters for her new book, Roots & Sky, I found artful prose and engaging description of the everyday without unnecessary embellishment. She opens up about the simple longings and desires we all experience and invites us to sit with her over tea or to take a stroll in her garden to talk it over. It’s perhaps cliché these days to say that a book “helps you find God in the everyday events of life,” but this book takes a very unique, artful spin on that concept that I found engaging and enjoyable.

I could not be more enthusiastic about this book, but just as Christie should be celebrating this beautiful book, tragedy struck her family. Christie’s brother-in-law, the husband of her sister, was one of the 12 Marines who appears to have perished in a helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii. Christie has set off to Hawaii in order to comfort her sister and her four nieces and nephews.

I can’t imagine what Christie, her sister, and the rest of the family are going through during this time of tremendous loss. Perhaps as you read this post, which is being posted on Friday, January 22, 2016, the families will be attending a memorial service for the Marines.

Would you like to help Christie and her family at this time?

First of all, I know that they would all deeply covet your prayers—prayers for God to be near those who are grieving so deeply, prayers for God’s provision for this family, prayers for these children who have lost their father at so young an age, and prayers that God will sustain Christie at this time as she comforts and grieves.

Secondly, as Christie has stepped back to serve her family, a group of authors, bloggers, and friends have stepped up to help get the word out about this book. While there is undeniable tragedy and pain in this world, authors and artists like Christie are creating beauty, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. Here are some ways you can help:

Order your own copy of Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. (pre-orders are especially helpful)

Post a brief review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Reviews are critical since so many people buy books online.

Share this book with your network: Check out this new memoir: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by @ChristiePurifoy http://buff.ly/1Ta6PLz.

I’m trusting that God is going to bless a lot of folks through this book, and I can’t wait for you to read it for yourself!

When I Thought I’d Failed and Never Really Lost a Thing

 

First Draft Father

About two years ago I had one of those moments where I realized that weeks of hard work and planning had been undermined by a single click.

One click and everything would have been different, with all of my hard work humming like a finely tuned machine.

The plan was to give away my latest eBook, Creating Space, for free in the Kindle store on Cyber Monday and Tuesday. It was intended to be a kind of subversive, anti-consumption alternative to all of the technology deals out there–us Christians LOVE to be subversive. I wanted to give something away that wasn’t just a product to be consumed. It’s a product that encourages individual creativity, removing people from the consumerism cycle.

That was the plan at least.

I had sent hundreds of emails, lined up guest posts, and created graphics and banners all over the place advertising the free eBook download.

When the time came, the offer wasn’t live.

I’d apparently clicked on the wrong days because of the calendar layout that stuck Monday at the start of the week instead of Sunday.

Those Amazon heathens…

I vented, I huffed, I despaired. What should I do?

I usually take care of Ethan in the morning, but my wife graciously intervened and took him so that I could tend to damage control.

I sent emails apologizing and explaining the error.

I posted updates on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog about the mistake.

I contacted Amazon to try to salvage things, but it was too late.

I felt like the most unprofessional writer in the world.

I was venting just the other day in my journal that I love writing, but the marketing part annoys the heck out of me. It’s hard to know how to market a book that you love and believe in without pestering readers.

I see the general tweets and Facebook posts where folks vent about authors being so pushy with their books, and while I cringe at the thought that they’re talking about me, I do feel like my hands are tied.

There’s this chasm between authors who write books and people who want to read good books, and it’s hard to find the right people to read your books. So you try stuff like free eBook giveaways to see if you can reach people a little bit easier without asking for their money.

I had tried to innovate a little, and right out of the gate, I fell on my face. How humiliating.

After fixing what I could and resigning myself to the release going live on Tuesday, I walked upstairs and found Julie sitting down with Ethan to read him a book before his nap. It suddenly hit me that I really missed my morning time with Ethan.

I usually read him The Foot Book, so I settled in next to Julie and Ethan to read with the same voices and inflections I usually do. Everything was perfect, just as it should be. I took Ethan and rocked him to sleep as usual.

Once I was immersed in the rhymes: “Left foot, left foot, right foot, fight:” I came back down to reality from my funk.

Sure, I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t pleasant. It may have hurt my downloads.

But then again, I hadn’t really lost anything. Ethan got to whack the book as usual and protest being rocked to sleep. Everything most important was just how it should be, and that mattered far more than what wasn’t.

Best yet, when I emailed everyone to apologize, I made a huge spelling mistake in the subject line.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

 

First Draft Father: When You Doubt, Just Start Singing

 

First Draft Father

I’m not quite sure when I started singing to Ethan on a regular basis. Perhaps it was the time I saw my wife Julie sing a high-pitched silly song to him and watched his face light up with a smile.

Now I sing for him all of the time. When I’m changing him. When I’m dressing him. When I’m bathing him.

When we knew that we were going to have a baby, I thought it would be great to sing for him. Then my mind came up completely blank with appropriate songs.

I used to lead worship in church. I’m a creative guy. I can do this: right?

Nothing.

With my mind empty and nothing planned, I just look Ethan in the eyes and start singing whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I make up my own lyrics to popular songs. Sometimes I make up lyrics to songs that aren’t so popular, with the chicken dance tune coming in handy for “lyric creation” on the fly.

Other times I’m rocking him to sleep, singing a little song I made up for him around the time he was born.

When he won’t fall asleep and wiggles in my arms in the still of the night, I sing one of the few hymns I’ve held onto. The last verse of Come Thou Fount is particularly moving for me.

Don’t we all feel that pull to wander, to put ourselves first, and to forget that we have a God who loves us dearly and who longs to hold us close?

I snuggle Ethan close to me, wrapping him around me so he can’t plank.

Prone to plank, Ethan, I feel it…

When I’m singing a made up song, such as my own version of a Johnny Cash chorus “You’re gonna cry, cry, cry,” or a hymn, I remember that anxious father who didn’t think he’d have anything to sing. How we underestimate ourselves.

And that underestimating makes so much sense to me as a writer, as a creative, as a father. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my estimating abilities since I’m terrible at math to begin with. Toss in a dose of self-doubt and insecurity, and you’ll spend your evenings wandering dark hallways bored and lonely with frustration bristling off your lips.

Start singing. That’s the only rule.

Whether your faith is cold and struggling or you can’t figure out what the next sentence will be for your blog post.

You can get there, but you need to start singing.

Doubt only has power so long as you’re silent and immobile.

Faith is that leap into the dark uncertainty where we start singing not because we believe we can make a beautiful song when we start but that something beautiful will eventually come if we leap in.

Sing to God, and he just may show up.

Sing while you hammer out that draft and you might write a few sentences that strike you silent.

Sing to your child, and he may drift off to sleep with a faint smile that creeps out behind his gently pulsing pacifier.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon

Why We Have to Do Things the Wrong Way

 

First Draft Father

Every week there’s something new that Ethan can do. And some weeks he does things that I never saw coming. Take the train for instance:

One of his Nanas gave him a cool train set that is made of wood and has layers of wooden rectangles stacked up on each train frame. He’s at a place right now where he can hold small things or push things away from himself, but there’s no way he can line up a train and push it along the floor.

If anything, he knocks the train over and sends the stacked blocks flying all over the place.

That’s when something interesting happened.

One day I gave Ethan one of the trains to throw around while he sat next to me on the couch. Propped up in a corner, he dumped the blocks into his lap. With the lighter train platform in his hand, he started to fiercely whack the blocks with it. Over and over and over.

The new train game was enthralling. He could hold the blocks, throw the blocks, chew on the blocks, chew on the train, throw the train, hit things with the train, or hit things with the blocks.

What else would a baby do all day?

We have since turned him loose on his train a couple of days in a row now, and each time he’s completely delighted to bang around with his blocks.

I find it striking that I almost didn’t give him the train in the first place. I’d thought that he would just get frustrated with it. Perhaps I imagined him looking up at me with his eyes wide and his palms upturned, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

He knew exactly what to do with it, even if my imagination was limited to the original intent of his toy: child pushing a carefully constructed train around on the floor.

There’s something in this story about parenting that I want to savor, but it’s really something that applies to so many other things in life. How many things are we afraid to try because we don’t think we’ll do them right or well?

Take writing for instance: I live in fear of the old book proposals and magazine articles from three, four, or five years ago lurking on my computer. They’re just so terrible. I worked hard on them, but whenever I accidentally open one, I catch myself cringing at my clunky openings, the meandering points, and the low quality ideas I once considered profound.

Mind you, I didn’t always write duds. I have gotten things published; I’ll have you know. The difference is that writing anything worthy of being published took so much time, so many drafts, and a parade of false starts and scrapped ideas.

I haven’t arrived at some magical place where I can hammer out a single draft and mail it in to a publisher, but I’ve learned so much about stringing words together and how to make them run on their tracks. I started out babbling my words, dumping them onto my page, and banging them together for a few hours.

The results at that time weren’t very orderly or helpful for anyone but myself. Over time the banging and clunking gave way to order. At a certain point, the words clicked together and started to hum along.

The only way to learn is to play with something new, even if you’re playing with it wrong. You just may end up enjoying yourself and picking up a new skill along the way.

 

I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.

 

Read more in First Draft Father.

 Order Your Copy:

Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Print via Amazon