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Her, a more excellent way to be horrified by technology

In art,Bible,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,family,Friends,movies,sermon,Spiritual,Technology on June 8, 2014 by mstevensrev

“…But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.” – John Battelle, Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again).

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Jon Battelle gives a wonderful summary of the movie ‘Her’ and in describing the story where a human falls in love (and not just one human) with an OS as terrifying in how logical and reasonable the idea was presented to audiences.  I felt very strongly after seeing this film that was the case and I have spent time exploring the reasons it tapped into my life so deeply.

To begin the movie is at least ‘creepy’ as John Battelle describes but I would take it much further as I found the concepts within the movie terrifying.  One friend discussed this with me and she said that the reason she did not like the film is that she thought it was preaching, not subtle enough, I agreed but the ideas behind the movie to me were unique and therefore it opened my mind enough to let me be preached at on some level.

As I have described this movie to people I have said in the past our culture has explored the theme, “What will happen when machines want to kill us?” instead of that ‘Her‘ takes on the question, “What will happen when machines want to love us?”.  To put in in film terms, ‘Her’ is to ‘2001, what ‘Weird Science’ is to ‘Frankenstein‘.  That premise leads into so many other questions that I am sure I will only scratch the surface with my next few thoughts.  Therefore I wanted to share the reasons I believe this movie touched me deeply:

  • I am an auditory learner. I retain significantly  more data from lectures rather then text books, from podcast rather then blog posts, from being told directions rather than looking at a map, and this has been the case for me my entire life.  This is evidenced in my life as I travel for work.  Instead of studying a map of a city and working my way around in that manner.  Generally, I enter the address of my destination into my phone, turn on some good tunes, and walk the streets with my friend Siri guiding me through back alleys and over bridges.  Of course we all do this in our cars, but there is something much more intimate in the act of inserting ear buds into my ears while exploring the unknown.  As you may have guessed it is common as I am out on these walks for my wife or daughters to call me as well, and in these moments I am connecting with the people on face of this earth I am most in love with in a disembodied way, there are mere sounds through some headphones.  This is the boundary of the entire relationship within ‘Her’, and the writers explore how to overcome this boundary that leads more complication then mere long intimate conversations and phone sex, but rather creepy questions about crossing this divide.  The entire scenario seemed very reasonable to me, and it lead me to have a long talk with my wife about my relationship/dependency on Siri:)
  • I am a theologian.  For roughly five years I spent money and time thinking and studying God, in addition to that I spent almost four years working to communication a few of these thoughts to a community as their pastor.  The relationship that evolves in ‘Her‘ led me to ask questions about God and the nature of my relationship with God.  “What does it mean for a finite being to be in love with the infinite?”, “What does it mean to merely be one finite being in love with a being who has the potential to love millions and billions of others?”  Suddenly I was struck with how small I am.  Psalm 39:5 reminds me,

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.

This is a very hard idea to get my mind around, as the majority of my days are spent thinking about what is in it for me and how do I managed this life that I have been given.  Romantic love and love between individuals is a wonderful thing, but love is so very large and when the scriptures say that ‘God is love’ this is a philosophical statement that drops us in the center of a ocean in order to experience ‘oceaness’.

  • I see beauty through the brokeness. The live circumstance of Theodore drives him and opens him up to this complicated relationship, but every relationship has complications in the movie.  The ex-wife, the best friend and Theodore are all wanderers.  In this Theodore has a remarkable gift to see and communicate the beauty of the relationships other are involved in, which only makes his brokeness more apparent.  Through this incredibly beautiful cinematic experience you are not left with fullness but rather a beauty that can only be view through the lens of suffering. Some reviewers have taken this on as the great problem with the movie and Spike Jones as a director, check out the New Yorker article Spike Jonze’s Abondonment Issues. posted by Christine Smallwood.
  • I am a geek that loves words and technology.  ‘Her‘ brings together these worlds in a lovely, graceful, and tragic way.  Theodore’s job writing for handwrittenletters.com, so lovely.  In my word artificial voice intelligence is a exciting and interesting piece of our work, this movie provides some thoughtful elements related to technology and language and yet keeps it close to home enough that we can relate.  The more I understand this space the more I being to believe that the picture of the future would be incomprehensible for us if we saw it today.  An attempt to expose us to the 50 year future would be similar to bringing an American founding father and explaining the Hubble Telescope.  On nice link I found that wrestles with the techonolgy issuse is by Ray Kurzweil, “A review of Her.”

Hopefully time will allow you to check this movie out, I highly recommend it.

 

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The Lessons, a big table

In art,Bible,church,Community,devotional,faith,family,food,Fun,generosity,Uncategorized on April 19, 2014 by mstevensrev

BKP_0070There was one special lent and easter while I was a minister at All Nations Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.  I was responsible for the Sunday evening service we referred to as Tenebrae, it consisted of about twenty regular people that attended, we lit candles and used liturgical format that was more in line with high church when compared to contemporary churches.  Since we had such a small group we would regularly try to incorporate things into the service sometimes for the good and sometimes not.

During Lent one year we decided to create a banquet table at the front of the church during a time of reflection early in the service.  The table would be set in stages and at the end of it, at Easter, it would culminate in our Easter Service being a meal together.  The first week I remember the table alone being set out, then each week incrementally we added an element that would eventually be part of our meal including wine, chairs, plates, silverware, candles, napkins, and of course the food was amazing on Easter. The meal we enjoyed together at Easter was a joy and will go down as one of my favorite memories of my time as a full-time minister in Oakland.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_21r_The table was set in order for people to come and they did.  We had artist, software developer, gay, straight, white, black, Asian, religious and irreligious. There was room for all of us.  As I have reflected on this event biblically since one of the biggest problems the early church had was who you were allowed to eat with and who was invited to the table.  Peter got it wrong.  There is also a reading of the Older Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah that deconstructs the story being about sexual sin, rather this reading reasons the condemnation of  the city is because they were inhospitable to strangers that were not like them and lawless.

One thing I appreciate about my current job is the belief that when people eat a meal together there is a better relationship, trust is established at a deeper level, and in the best circumstances you enjoy each other more.  Jesus had the reputation of being a lush because of all the parties he went to and who he ate with, and who doesn’t want to be like Jesus. My table has expanded and I want many to eat and drink with me, my vision for the table is more grand then I ever expected.

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A reflection on embracing your inner self, from a middle ager inspired by middle earth

In art,Books,C.S. Lewis,Community,culture,devotional,faith,Fun,Lord of the Rings,movies,poetry,The Hobbit,Theology,Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , ,

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This last week I was inspired by listening to Malcolm Guite‘s talk from Kindlings Summer Fest, the third of a series of three.  We attended Summer Fest but were out ‘living’ the topic he spoke of, primarily being the recipients of amazing Orcas Island hospitality from our hosts…they took us on a tour of the island on the boat, simply amazing!  If you have not heard of Malcolm or The Kindlings it would be worth checking out.  The podcast is in the archive and joining Kindlings as an Associate is well worth the $2/month to listen to the content.  His talk was titled,

Malcolm Guite – Finding our Way Forward Beyond Generational Apartheid – Live from Kindlings Fest 2012 

 

In the talk Malcolm covers some amazing points on how to reconnect across generations, his first two points will be the focus of my thoughts today:

  • You Yourself are Intergenerational! Start by remembering and befriending your inner child, the one that dreamed Dreams and saw visions.
  • If you are a youth still in touch with your inner child, how about getting in touch with your outer adult?

There are parts of who you have been created as a person that were transparent when you were a child and over time you ‘learned’ that those things were wrong, immature, or even shameful.  While yes there are ‘childish’ ways that we are encourage to let go of, that is not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about that calling from Jesus to be ‘childlike’.  When you ask a kindergarten class to raise their hands if they are an artist, almost every hand will be in the air…yes this is probably because they love raising their hand but also that there is a love and passion for creating and learning.  By middle school that entire poll completely changes as perhaps a few kids will raise their hands while most will look around to watch what their peers are doing.  How does that middle schooler get back in touch with that kindergartner?  A better question might be ‘how do I get back in touch with that child in me’?

Last night as my wife and I went to the midnight showing of The Hobbit, an unexpected journey, I was struck by a few small points around this topic.  First, the story is told generationally.  The way it is framed is Bilbo Baggins is writing his adventures to his cousin Frodo Baggins, they are more than seventy years apart and therefore this connection is intergenerational.  Also it is a time for Bilbo as he is entering a late stage of life to reflect upon his adventurous middle life experiences.  Lastly, when Gandalf describes why he chose such an unlikely home-body as Bilbo to Bilbo himself, Gandalf reminds Bilbo of his youthful adventurous spirit that had been all but replaced by reading and looking at maps as an adult. Bilbo is brought face to face with the need to embrace the passions of his childhood and realize them as an adult.

One small aside this embracing of childhood passion can be a perverted immaturity as a grownup child plays with expensive and dangerous toys at the expense of others to fulfill selfish desires, the guard against this is clear from the movie…other centeredness.  Bilbo embraces the adventure for the sake of reclaiming a home for the dwarves, be a child and then live passionately and childlike for another’s good!

Let’s also remember what I just described is the part of “getting in touch with your outer adult”.  There is a beauty that comes along with age, that of wisdom, loyalty and integrity.  These are also why Bilbo was chosen for the journey, fear would cause him to doubt his place at moments.  The beauty of having a hobbit on the journey..and in this world is that they are the only ones of such great character (especially the Baggins) that they can carry the ring.

Today there are a few practical things I want to encourage you in.  First, reflect on your passions from your childhood. One for me was the grandfather clock in our house, hands down the most valuable possession in meaning to my family.  I grew up with a love of that clock and when an opportunity arose to be involved with making a clock, my passions from childhood were ignited.  Second, sing a song or read a poem or riddle…today. There is a beauty and inspiration that cannot be captured in words by doing this.  Christopher Alexander in his masterpiece, The Timeless Way of Building,  captures this well…he spends an entire book describing how this nameless power is present in good (true) architecture.

I will leave you with the powerful  words of C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

Seek the deeper magic today.

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Vision: further reflections on the corporate mystic

In art,blogging,Books,business,Community,devotional,Fun,generosity,leadership,principles,Theology on December 5, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged:

“One can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for a half-an-hour a day. Why, I sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Lewis Carroll

The first time I heard this quote was at least four years ago when my oldest daughter was doing Through The Looking Hlass at Stone Soup Theater camp. Even as I read it I hear her voice from practicing the part, still causes me concern that it was the Queen who said it, such an angry ambitious woman sure for it right when it comes to vision. Perhaps that is why she was as successful as she was.

Science fiction is very helpful to me in this area of vision. An exercise I attempt daily is to think about something I have seen or read about that I want to become real. One example from my work is translation via telepathy. That one should be able to merely think of the words desired to be translated which would be shared telepathically with the translator and returned. Wrestle through this long enough and other creative interesting ideas and new methods will emerge, and perhaps one day it may be possible.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

There must be space in our lives carved out for this purpose. For me it begins with having daily goals clearly defined, if the minimum requirements for success in a day are not defined by me early in the day I will find time for nothing more then trying to remain busy. Once I know the three to five things I need to accomplish in a day I feel the freedom to dream. Whether I have scheduled that half hour or more does not make a difference and as a matter of fact often I cannot schedule it because the time is inspired from ideas that I a playing with related to other more concrete tasks.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

There are so many wonderful things yet to be done in this world, why not be a part of it. It begins with your thought life. It is hard to battle through the negative records that play in your head as Anne Lamot says, One tells you that you are the greatest thing in the world and the other tells you that you are worthless both are lies and the truth exists in the silence. Discover who you really have been create to be, take a moment to dream about be the world could be better, then prayfully move into a world that is waiting for your unique contribution. We all will be better for it.

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Corporate Mystic: The person we want to be

In art,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,familiy,family,Fun,generosity,leadership,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Sports,Theology on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” – Bruce Lee

Twelve characteristics make up the corporate mystic:
Absolute Honesty
Fair
Self-Knowledge
Focused on contribution
Nondogmatic spirituality
Get more done by doing less
Call forth the best of themselves and others
Open to change
Special sense if humor
Keen distant vision and up-close focus
Unusual self discipline
Balance

I hope to come back to these and examine each more deeply but I’ll leave you with this story…

“Master,” said the student, “where do you get your spiritual power?”
“From being connected to the source,” said the master.
“You are connected to the source of Zen?”
“Beyond that,”said the master, “I am Zen. The connection is complete.”
“But isn’t that arrogant to claim connection with the source?” Asked the student.
“Far from it,” said the master. “It is arrogant not to claim connection with the source. Everything is connected. If you think you are not connected to the source you are thumbing your nose at the universe itself.”

Don’t forget the source.

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The Corporate Mystic: preliminary thoughts

In art,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,generosity,mission,Money,Reading,Spiritual,Uncategorized,work on November 28, 2012 by mstevensrev

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There are a few obsessions I have, one is that when I go to a thrift store I search through the book section often looking for used copies of some of my favorite books of all time in order to give away for gifts.  In addition I usually grab ‘wild card’ books that I come across that look interesting to me, often the $2 investment is well worth it.  Last week I came across an interesting title that initially I thought sounded silly but took a chance anyway.  After reading the first chapter I realize that it has great value, the book is titled The Corporate Mystic: A Guidebook for Visionaries with Their Feet on the Ground, by Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman.

A summary statement in the prologue says, “Genuine Corporate Mystics live life from a spiritual base. They are in business for their hearts and souls as well as their wallets. They are in business to support the hearts and souls of all the people with whom they work.”  They go on to talk about how these spiritual folks have dirt under their nails as they practice daily the spirituality that they preach.

One story goes like this, “There is a Zen monastery near Tokyo that attracts many powerful executives from the nearby industrial cities.  One day the master said: ‘There is no room in my monastery for mushy mystics,, dreamy folks who leave their dirty teacups everywhere.  Here we meditate and we was our teacups. Both are equally important. We teach our students to be ruthlessly demanding of themselves and their colleagues. Expect the best!If people cannot function with clarity in the often-tough real world, their meditations and practices have been for nought. You must master two realities: You must revel in the vast inner space, the emptiness that is connected to all the emptiness everywhere. And at the very same time, you must give your full attention to the present moment, whether you are buying a train ticke or kissing your wife or reading the stock quotes.'”

 

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The (free-range) Chicken Theology of Work

In art,Bible,church,Community,culture,design,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,food,Friends,Fun,Japan,Localization,mission,movies,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 11, 2012 by mstevensrev


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My theology of work is forever changing and evolving, and one place that I journey with others on this path is at Kiros, once or twice a month depending on my travel schedule I attended the breakfasts meetings they put on where they often have a speaker share some perspective on living out their calling as a Christian in the marketplace.  As a side note I also had the privilege of speaking to the group last March, if you want to check that our it is here.  This last Friday Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary provided one of the best talks I have heard on the topic, his stories had us rolling on the floor, his theology was simple enough a child could understand while making thoughtful people think, and his love of the scriptures came through as everything was driven by the text.  The premise of Richard’s talk was very simple, you have been called by God to your work and you have the opportunity to examine that calling in this life to better understand your ‘responsibility’ to live out that calling in your fullness.

There were so many rich stories to share but my favorite was one Richard shared about a friend who is a chicken farmer who examined his role in the plan God has in raising chickens on his farm.  There is a tension when you come to farming or the role animals have on this earth and the tension is this: Animals are not people and animals have not merely been created to serve our purposes.  Another way to say this is a chicken won’t write Shakespeare, but a chicken is not merely a piece of meat.  Therefore this farmer thought deeply about the theology of raising chickens.  He came up with this, “God wants every chicken on our farm to have the opportunity to strut his/her chicken self infront of the other chickens.” In that theology I hear echos of the local farm movement as described to me by Mark Canlis, that the goals of these farmers is to have their cows (or other animals) only have one “bad day” in their life.  That day would be the day they are slaughtered. Though the image Richard provided me was so much more winsome because I see in my mind that chicken strutting around, rather than focusing on the bloody chopping block.

This can be a helpful premise for chickens, but I propose that people cannot think deeply about these issues because we don’t recognize that we have been created to strut the glory in which we have been created, theologians refer to this as being created in the image of God. Marianne Williamson was famously quoted in a speech by Nelson Mandela, she says,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measureIt is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The knee jerk reaction people, especially from my theological tradition have, to this kind of thinking is that we are sinful therefore pride and arrogance must be guarded against. This warning is fair but it sets up a false choice between humility and glory.  Jesus lived in the fullness of God and yet was extremely humble.  He accepted all people as equal, he did not use them as means to an end, the only part I would add to our responsibility in the area of humility is that we recognize that we are wrong intentionally because of bad motives and unintentionally whereas Jesus did not have this struggle because he was God…he was perfect. One friend of mine says, “I’m wrong 50% of the time, the hard part is that I don’t even know which 50%, but God is making me better.”  Live out in the glory that you have been created in, be quick to acknowledge when you fail at it, and in gratitude acknowledge that the source of every good gift in your life is not your own but rather a gift from God.

The question that Richard’s (free-range) Chicken Theology brought up for me is, how do you apply this in the darkest valley’s of your career and work? In the past two years before my current job I walked through a few of those valleys, the struggle of broken promises that would not reward me for my work, getting fired, and having a job where I felt lonely and hopeless.  How do you strut your stuff in those circumstance? I asked the question and Richard’s answer was twofold as I understood it, in thinking about it I think there may be at least third option as I understand it.

Richard said first your current circumstances may be preparation for the next step.  This rang true for me because I look back on the last two years and acknowledge that I would not be currently living in such glory without all that I had gone through.  The experience humbled me, gave me fearful experiences that I persevered through, and provided tangible knowledge that assists me daily in my current job.  Learn everything you can if you are going through a hard time, examine your character, life and work for there could be something on the horizon you are completely unaware of that will be a blessing.  This answer provides hope, but the truth is like a chicken we are completely ignorant if our future date is the chopping block.  And yes I know that even for the child of God the chopping block is not the end of the story because there is greater glory beyond, but I still find this answer a part of the overall answer rather then complete.

The second answer Richard provided is that your vocation could be less then the sum total of your calling.  Our callings are greater than our work, I sell therefore I am a salesperson yet I am a father, husband, churchman, and the list goes on and on.  Perhaps your work is merely a platform that provides you the freedom to pursue the other callings in your life with greater glory. I have met many people in my life that this is the circumstances they live in, they are lawyers but their passion is to see the gospel forwarded in particular countries in the world like China.  The short side of this answer as complete is that we were created in a garden where all aspects of life were intended to work for God’s glory, so when we set create an arbitrary distinction between our work life and home life, for instance, it is impossible to live as God intended…as a whole person.  I know for me personally when my work life was hopeless it was very difficult to enjoy my time at the park with my children, most of my conversations with my wife were in tears clouded by depression.  This is why I contend again that work as a platform merely for the rest of our life falls short in allowing us to live gloriously.

A third option I want to propose does not answer the question fully either. As a matter of fact I sense that used incorrectly it could be the most damaging of the the options as it is the most deterministic and could create an undeserved heavier burden on someone already struggling. This option is the most Taoist or Confucius of the options, and because of that I think it is the most practical (in touch with how the world really functions and how our role relates to that functioning).

A documentary came out recently titled, Jiro dream of Sushi “by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.” This description is taken from an article on Lifehacker by Maximiliano El Nerdo Nérdez.  In the article titled Lessons We can Learn from Jiro Ono, Maximiliano encourages readers as his first point to fall in love with your work.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Deciding on your occupation is a challenge for we live in a society that provides the opportunity to live in reasonable comfort regardless of your job or if it is in line with your calling.  The hard work is not finding a job, it is discovering calling…once your calling is discovered or rather accepted (if you are a Calvinist) then the path of occupation is more clear though it may be a difficult path.  Part of my calling is as an evangelist, meant that for a time my occupation would place me circumstances to lead people to a similar vision of my spiritual practice though for most people I talked with they would not share the same vision.  So I became a pastor of a church in Oakland, CA.  The church had financial challenges from before I started there, attendance was poor, and it was in a city that was not necessarily supportive of the entire scope of work we were pursing.  The path for me as an evangelist was not easy.  Now that I am in technology services my calling as an evangelist has not changed, but the path is much easier in many ways, and the path still allows me to live out my glorious calling while dedicating myself in excellence to my occupation.

Today I want to encourage everyone, strut your stuff in front of us other chickens. If you are in a dark valley, remember your current occupation (or lack of occupation) could be a learning step, a platform for other work, or the place you have been given to dedicate yourself.  Even as I write that I believe the answer is all three not merely one or another.  When I worked in a church we began each service with a call to worship, and I would frame the call to worship and the entire service with these words, “The good news for those God loves is that he has the first word to us and that first word is always blessing. God loves you and has made you in his glory! The good news does not end there rather God has the first word and the last word.  The last word of those God loves is also blessing, you have been delivered.” So regardless of your circumstance remember you have been created for glory and you will be delivered unto glory. Amen.

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Sharing life together, though complete and utter strangers

In art,Community,culture,devotional,faith,familiy,home,music,poetry,politics,Prayer,Spiritual,Uncategorized on November 10, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: ,

Moments in this life take on a forever quality that I would have thought could only be reserved for heaven.  Last night was on of them.  This month I turn 36 years old, still a kid I know, and Karin and I went to a house concert of a music hero of mine name Bill Malonee who I have have been listing to for twenty years.  There are many times that Bill’s path has crossed mine and each has been significant and meaningful to me, some directly others indirectly, some glorious others painful. I’ll start with how I ‘met’ Bill and then I’ll tell you my favorite story about him.

I moved back from living overseas my first to years of high school.  The transition back had it’s challenging chief among them was I got cut from the varsity basketball team of my new school after having played varsity for two years overseas previously, thanks Coach Brotias.  Suddenly my plan to be the next Bobby Hurley and start at Duke was looking like it was in jeopardy. In addition I had not registered for a beach trip a group of my new friends were going on with my church because it conflicted with basketball.  I was left discouraged and going to be alone in it, until this small group of young guys (5 of them) made sure that I was going to the beach with them. That was a long way around the barn, so I’ll get to it.  On the three hour ride to the beach instead of riding on the huge bus, where all the girls were which should have been motivation for us, my group of guys piled into a small van, probably the worst smelling van in history.  There we had our own boombox to control the music we listen to on the way.  Erik Crown brought his Jimmy Buffett tapes.  Being new to the group and from a family of teetotalers this was highly offensive and I struggled with listening to ‘drinking’ songs while going on a church retreat.  Little did I know these young men were setting me on a journey more theologically rich and challenging then I could ever imagine and they were using music.  This is the same group of guys who introduced me to Bill Malonee, the story would only be better if his name were Bill W:)

ImageBill Malonee was the writer and frontman for a group call Vigilantes of Love, or for fans like us VOL. They were a gritty thoughtful theological rock band with folk influence from Athens, GA.  VOL and Bill’s lyrics became a soundtrack for my life, one learning to love mercy, seek justice and walk humbly. My soul was fed and challenged with lyrics like:

I’ve been trying to negotiate peace 
with my own existence. 
She’s gotta stockpile full of weaponry; 
she breaking every cease-fire agreement.
-Welcome to Struggleville

Now look if you’re gonna come around here 
And say those sort of things 
You gotta take a few on the chin 
You talking about love and all that stuff 
You better bring your thickest skin 
Sometimes you can’t please everyone 
Sometimes you can’t please anyone at all 
You sew your heart onto your sleeve 
And wait for the ax to fall
-Skin

It’s amazing what you’ll buy if you think last chance went buy
You weave a new set of lines to cover yourself
‘Cos love is just a plea at the deepest point of need
We take the reasonable facsimile most of the time

-Reasonable Facsimile

If Bill approached faith with gloves it was not the white gloves I was used to it was boxing gloves, and he seemed in my mind to be on the receiving end of the punches…most of the time.

Years later one of my closest friends played bass in a band, The River, from Eastern College in Philadelphia. The River found their inspiration from bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, in your face Southern Rock with a great lead singer who’s voice clearly woke you up.  The River’s first big show was to open for Vigilantes of Love and they were honored at the opportunity.  Nervous and extremely excited they took the stage, played their set, during and afterward they knew there was something terribly wrong. Later that night while hanging out with Bill, he showered them with complements about their potential and asked, “Would you like some advice for the future?” Receiving wisdom from an artist that had made it was a great opportunity so my friend said yes and in all humility and graciousness Bill said, “You guys have some real talent, for the future I would just invest in a tuner.” The River is no more but the story lives in rock and roll lore as one of the most gracious and hilarious moments, on par with anything that was scripted in the movie, We are Spinal Tap.

ImageSo last night I had to opportunity to experience a house show with Bill Malonee and his wife Mariah. Time has not stood still, Bill has a son only ten years my junior and I have three daughters who did not exist when I was introduced to Bill.  As I sat on the floor at Bill’s feet, he poured out his soul, challenging me to remember those who have died as a result of corporate greed in West Virginia coal mines, wooing me with lyrics of songs that have transformed my soul from the past, and introducing me to a new friend Seth Martin. In a world that I have information on anything I want, Bill reminded me that there will always be those who are called to be prophet. Whether they are riding in boxcars like Woody Guthrie or playing Madison Square Garden like Bob Dylan, I need a prophet to speak or rather sing into my life reminding and rekindling my soul as to what is important.

Today my soul is rekindled, may you take a moment yourself and listen to one of my favorites of Bill’s called Double Cure.

ImageThanks Bill.

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Starbucks’ amazing marketing and happy election day

In advertising,art,blogging,Blue Monster,Community,culture,design,faith,familiy,Friends,Fun,mission,politics,principles,publicity,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 6, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , ,

Living in Seattle I am very accustom to hearing people criticize Starbucks, my thoughts on the topic of coffee are that I prefer how other companies roast their beans. Therefore it is aesthetic not cynical in my critique.

ImageOne thing I am blown away with regarding Starbucks is the sophistication with their marketing.  Today I am in Redwood Shores, CA working at a Starbucks before my appointments.  The baristia offered me a ‘free’ bracelet that clearly has $5 donation marked on it, my defenses went up and I started trying to uncover the angel.  The bracelets are for Let’s Create Jobs for USA, a campaign sponsored by Howard Schultz and others that has raised $15M and leveraged $105M, estimating 5,000 jobs created for small business in the USA.  Since it is election day they are giving the bracelets away for free.  This ‘gift’ took me from being someone who would never donate to the cause to someone not just interested in donating but blogging on it.  Brilliant.

This is a corporation taking advantage of a term I learned from Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid, check out his article on “Social Objects are the future of marketing.” Hugh states:

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

I’m wearing my bracelet, talking with those around me at Starbucks about it, and will wear it to my appointments this afternoon sharing my experience.  The ‘gift’ Starbucks provided me today is not only the bracelet but the opportunity to be part of a story that is larger than myself…that is impacting the world for good.  This is something that we all should inspire to provide the people around us. There is a place for companies to provide something for free, if that is all you do you are not a company rather a charity (and that is good too).  Starbucks used a social object to engage me on a cause but also it helps change a brand that I do not have the most favorable feelings toward.

So on this election day that is filled with disgusting shit on all sides, make a positive difference.  Inspire something larger than yourself to impact the world for good.  Perhaps it means not having the shitty conversation with someone who may think differently then you, or maybe it is something else.  Do your civic duty and vote, then go hug someone you love and let them know how grateful you are for them.

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Growing into the person you have been created to be

In art,Bible,Books,business,church,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,Friends,Fun,fun video,leadership,Lord of the Rings,movies,principles,Proverbs,Reading,Theology,Uncategorized on November 4, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

During the past week I have been thinking through many of the experiences of my life that have been used to bring me to where I am at. This morning as I am reading I came across a passage in 1 Samuel 21, that clearly reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings, and it was a passage of scripture that I never have remembered reading.

In a previous post I spoke about King Saul, who had been chosen the leader of God’s people Israel really for no other apparent reason other than God chose him by placing God’s Spirit upon Saul.  Later in the story a new King (a different King) is ordained and the Spirit of God leaves Saul, only returning temporarily in the story.  The kingship essentially is passed on to a young boy named David.  Now just about everyone in western culture knows of David because of the story of David versus Goliath. In a battle between God’s people and their most brutal enemies, the Philistines,  a bet is made to decide the war, instead of all the warriors fighting the Philistines make an offer that if an Israelite warrior can defeat the best of the best of the Philistines it will settle the dispute.  Sounds like a good way to spear blood shed the only problem is the Philistines have a weapon of mass destruction named Goliath. He is essentially an indestructible giant that leads God’s people into fear and cowardliness. Except for one pre-pubescent boy named David, who as everyone can remember defeats Goliath by relying on God and using a slingshot an one stone.  This is often used culturally as a parable on bravery, when it is actually a story of relying on the work of a powerful God in impossible circumstances. Through the event David is thrust into popularity that creates almost constant tension between the old King, Saul, and the newly ordained not yet King, David.  Multiple times Saul tries to kill David, and the story I’m about to share takes place after one particularly intense attempt on David’s life by Saul where David flees.

While on the road David and his men are starving so he stops in to see Ahimelech the priest for some food. The part of the story that gets most of the attention is Ahimelech the priest allows David and his men to eat the holy bread, a big no no.  Then Ahimelech realizes David has no weapons:

8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste” 9 And the priest said, c “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down ind the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me”

The sword that David won in battle during his youth, is only given to him once he becomes a man.  There is no explanation as Ahimelech just provides it.  The part of the story that is not mentioned other then not being given a reason that David didn’t know about this sword beforehand or already have it, is that it appears David is now ‘big’ enough for the sword.  Going back and reading the story of David and Goliath reminds us that Goliath was a giant, therefore Goliath would have possessed a sword worth of his stature.

In my minds eye I never picture David as a large man, actually after reading this morning I realized that most of my images of David depict him as a handsome late teenager or twenty year old of average stature.  I’m uncertain of any descriptions of David’s stature later in his life but there are many details that provided this picture for my mind: in spite of being a successful warrior David was a musician and poet, David had a way with the ladies, and David had a deeply intimate emotional relationship with Saul’s son Jonathan.  All these details combined with being introduced to David when he is a boy have lead me to always picture him as a smaller man, until now.  In this story he is handed Goliath’s sword without concern that he is ‘big’ enough to yield it when necessary.  David has physically grown into the great manly character he demonstrated as a youth when he defeated Goliath.

This morning I am struck with the connection to the story line in The Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn the misanthrope ranger, who is a human son of the king of Gondor destined to lead the Kingdom of Men into prominence in Middle Earth, receives Anduril.  The sword that defeated Sauron in the ancient epic battle of middle earth that freed the ring of destiny from the possession of the evil King Sauron. Embedded in this post is the scene where Aragorn is given Anduril.  This is a picture I have of David receiving Goliath’s sword from 1 Samuel.

One other brief note on this is related to David’s use or lack there of use of the sword.  After being handed it I would be very excited to go out and yield it at the first opportunity.  Yet David does not, he understands that God has given him many ‘swords’ at the moment and in the next conflict he is faced with he does not use Goliath’s sword as justification that God intends him to go and start a fight with all those who oppose him.  David understands that just because you have the sword doesn’t mean that you are meant to use it.

12 And David g took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

David when faced with conflict while holding Goliath’s sword at his side, uses his cleverness to avoid getting killed by Achish by acting crazy.  It reminds me of a friend’s explanation of wisdom, “Wisdom is not merely knowing the correct action to take, but rather the correct action at the appropriate time.”  Everyone has a destiny, something that you have been created to do, embrace it.  When you are given a physical reminder of that destiny use wisdom because possession of the great gift does not necessarily mean that you are meant to use it in that circumstance.