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Friday, April 28, 2006



It's been awhile since I posted because I went to LA on a business trip. Then I spent some time recovering from my business trip.

I went to Fuller Seminary for the Coalition of Ministry in Daily Life.

It was super cool.

Rich Mouw, the president of Fuller, said some good things the first night. Here is a paraphrase:

A lot of the things we say casually reflect a fundamental truth about our relationship to the world. For example, people often say, "What the hell is going on here?" or "What in heaven's name is going on here?"

As we take our faith into our daily life, we need to ask these questions in earnest. Look around at our work situation, notice the dynamic of our office, consider how we relate to our clients, our peers, our colleagues, our patients, our students, our customers.

What in our work place seems to serve hell? What in our workplace seems to serve heaven?

God didn't put us here just to see who can survive until he takes us away again. We are here to show His will in all of the choices we make every day.

Rich Mouw is some kind of genius.

HillCountryWriter Category: High Calling Thoughts
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Thursday, April 13, 2006


Another Easter poem

Passion Play

From a step stool my girl drops tabs in 6 cups,
red, yellow, green, orange, blue, and pink.
She tells the Easter story while we wait
for shells to stain. "This is Jesus,"
C.J. begins. She's got a red M&M doll,
a McDonald's Happy Meal prize. "Here's the cross,"
she says and displays her Popsicle stick
creation from the Baptist egg hunt.
The M&M doll has a clip--so trendy kids
can hang him from their back pack zipper,
I guess. No marketing exec for junk or fast food
foresaw the candy man of sorrows crucified
on my kitchen table, cups of vinegar hissing
disdain around him. In her gospel
Big Bird stands in for both Marys and visits
the crook of my arm. “Here, Daddy, be the tomb.”
Elmo rises a creepy soft angel squeezed, tickled
and giggling against my white washed shoulder
"He is not here! He is risen!"
But our Jesus has not. The storyteller forgot
the hanging candy doll--or worse, I fear--
prefers to see him hang there
an acceptable suggestion of sacrifice
reminding us both to dip our hands
in the bunny bowl for Easter M&Ms,
lilies stamped where Ms should be.
Colored shells bleed on our palms
and the candy Christ speaks,
“This is my body. Take and eat.”

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Easter (a poem)

Here is a poem to inspire people during holy week. Too often, I think American Christians can't be surprised by Jesus anymore. We are caught up in the industry of church, and we need someone to turn over the tables of the money changers.

I'm not saying all Christian businesses are bad. I'm not condemning the Christian publishers or radio and broadcast people. But we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than the world. We must constantly remember the paradox of engaging our culture in a language it understands but still seeking first the Kingdom of God.


I found Jesus in the shower
behind the church pulpit
in the green room built for brides.
I don’t know why he was there
his Styrofoam self crucified, crooked
against tiles, one arm poking past
the creased anti-mildew curtain.

He must have been part of a catalogue
package deal—between advent candles
and bulk host—Buy the cross,
get the Jesus. The cross
someone painted faux wood
and mounted stage left,
empty “because Jesus rose.”
The Styrofoam Jesus, no one painted.
His grimace a ghostly bleached white
waits in that back room for someone
like me to notice while standing to pee
Jesus Christ! in the shower.

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Easter poetry

George Herbert is a great poet. Consider this poem on Easter. More famous is his concrete poem Easter Wings--one of the first concrete poems ever written in English. (A concrete poem takes the shape of its subject--in this case Angel Wings.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Poetry
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Thursday, April 06, 2006


The Church Pitch

The thing I realized . . . all human relationship groups and gatherings are an approximation of the church. People like sporting events because they feel the connection--that is an ingrained desire for a worship community. (Someone said we were born to worship.) We go see movies in the theater because we like to gather in large rooms with one purpose. We enjoy eating out because it feels in some way like an approximation of communion.

Here's the thing even the institutional church is an approximation of church. The Holy Catholic and Universal Church is bigger than any denomination or building or convention or university system. It is bigger than our theological systems and our hymnals and our benevolence programs. It is bigger than our short term missions and our long term ones.

Sometimes people ask me to summarize a book I've written (there's only one) or a long short story. What they want is a pitch, I know but I part of me hates to give them one. I want to say, "If I could summarize it with any kind of real accuracy, it wouldn't be as long as it is."

That's the way Sunday church sometimes feels. Like a kind of pitch. Our Sunday morning worship is important, don't get me wrong. Christians need to gather. We need to worship together. I'm practically addicted to institutional church. I just enjoy it.

The institutional church instructs the body. It serves the body and often the community beyond. But we should never never never make the mistake of thinking it is something more than an analogy or approximation or pitch for Christ's Holy church.

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Easter Morning

Here's the last of our three Easter dramas. My wife is performing this one. I wish you could hear her. I'm biased, but she'd pretty good.

MARY MAGDALENE: We didn't know he was going to die. At least, not any sooner than the rest of us. We certainly didn't know he was going to come back to life.

All that resurrection and life stuff. We believed it in a certain way. I mean, he gave me back my life.

I used to see things. Hear voices. [laughing] I spent a whole year with Samson. You know, the longhaired guy. Judge. Killed people with the jawbone of a donkey. I talked to him everyday—in my head at least. He said I was cuter than Delilah. Yeah, he's been for two thousand years or so.

Jesus was only for three days. We bought spices on Friday. For his body. But we didn't have time before the Sabbath. And there was that stone. Me, Salome, and Mary against that big stone. It wasn’t going to happen, but we went anyway. We had all these expensive spices.

The sun was just coming up. The city was still asleep. But not the tombs. [laughs] Jesus loves turning things upside down like that.

We weren't talking much about anything, but we were all thinking about the stone.

"If it's true about the guards," I said, "maybe they'll help."

Salome looked at me and shook her head. "Roman guards? Sure, Maggie."

Everything we said fell apart like that. Like everything in the world had been hollowed out. I was just a polished shell— How did Jesus say it? A whitewashed tomb, full of inside.

But there was no at the tomb. No guards. No stone.

"It must have rolled away during that earthquake last night," I said.

Salome didn't say anything. Mary started to cry again. We all did.

But we had a job to do. So I went inside.

And there was Samson. Standing in the corner. Or somebody. I couldn't see his face because his clothes were like lightning. And this heat was coming out from him. I was seeing people again.

But I couldn't see Jesus. He wasn't there. I was still crying, and I thought, "They've taken his body." Sometimes they hang them back up. As a sign.

Then, the man in the corner started talking. "You are looking for Jesus who was crucified," he said.

I ignored him, but he kept talking. They always do.

"He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said."

But I ran out of the tomb. I had been there before.

I don't want to be crazy.

Mary and Salome tried to stop me, but I kept running.

There was another man near the tombs. He's not glowing or anything. Maybe he's real. Maybe he knows where they took the body.

"Why are you crying?" he asks.

And here we are in the tombs. He knows why I'm crying.

"Who did you come to see?" he asks.

Is this man real? I don't know, but I need to find Jesus.

So I say, "If you took his body somewhere, just tell me where. Please." And I'm thinking, please, please, be real.

And he says, "Mary. It's me."

And then I see Him. And I'm not crazy. He is alive. He is alive.

[Throughout the round that follows, the choir says, "He is alive!" softly at first, growing stronger and louder until the end. This round based on "He is Alive!" from Actors Not Included: 303 Scripts for Church Drama by Matt Tullos]

READER #1 [descending from the choir]: It is just as he said.

MARY [to the choir]: He is alive.

READER #2 [descending from the choir]: Quickly now, go tell his disciples.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY [joyous]: Why am I looking for the living among the ?

ALL: He is alive.

READER #3 [descending from the choir]: The earth is quaking.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY: The stone has been rolled away.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #4 [descending from the choir]: The government is stunned.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #1: The very foundation of the universe will never be the same.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #2: Satan is defeated.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY: This changes everything.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #3: The captives are set free.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #4: Forget your bitter tears.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #1: Let all creation rejoice.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #2: Let freedom ring!

ALL: He is alive.

READER #3: He will ultimately reign over heaven and earth . . .

READER #4: . . . over cancer, , fear . . .

READER #1: . . . over poverty, hatred, bitterness . . .

READER #2: . . . corruption, prejudice, pain . . .

MARY: . . . and all the powers of darkness . . .

READER #3: . . . because our hope is in His resurrection.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #4: Do not despair.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #1: Trust in the powerful name of Jesus.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #2 [kneeling]: Christ, the Lord.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #3 [kneeling]: The Prince of Peace

ALL: He is alive.

READER #4 [kneeling]: The Alpha and the Omega.

ALL: He is alive.

READER #1 [kneeling]: The Living Word.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY [kneeling]: My teacher.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY [standing]: You are risen today.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY and READER #1 [standing]: Today.

ALL: He is alive.

MARY and READER #1, #2, #3, #4 [READER #2, #3, and #4 standing]: Today.

ALL: He is alive.

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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Here's the second in our Easter series of worship drama at Kerrville First Baptist. Wiley, a man on our drama team wrote this one!

The Cast: The Enemy, Matthew, Nameless Woman, Paul, Blind Man, Jesus

Setting: Matthew, the Nameless Woman, Paul, and the Blind Person face the audience in that order with their heads down. When characters begins their monologues, they look up at the audience. The Enemy never actually binds their hands, he/she only offers the rope to them as a temptation.

Matthew: When I was a kid, I always won Monopoly. Every time. I just understood money. It always came easy to me. But I could never get enough. When I began collecting taxes, I knew there was no end to the money I could make. (The enemy holds out rope as a temptation.) Just inflate my personal fee a bit and I'd have more money than I had ever known. (Takes the rope and begins to bind wrists). I could buy anything. And I did. But none of it was enough. My family gave up on me. Even my friends… well, they enjoyed everything for awhile, but they just didn’t understand. Even I didn’t understand how I could love money more than any of them. It should have set me free, but it just tied me up in knots.

Nameless Woman: I’ve always caught their eyes. Really. I didn’t have to do anything to get their attention. It was so easy. (The enemy holds out rope as a temptation.) Someone said I should get a web page. (Takes the rope and begins to bind wrists) So I did. Before long I was making money. But more than that. People wanted me. I thought they loved me. But it never lasted long. And then I was alone again. Sometimes for long stretches. Wondering, there's more to life, isn't there?

Paul: I've never made a B in my life. I was president of the Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Valedictorian, National Merit. I went to Harvard Law school on full scholarship. I may not look like much, but I know more than you. (The enemy holds out rope as a temptation.) At least, I thought I did. (Takes the rope and begins to bind wrists) I learned all the Laws, and I learned who broke the Laws. Even more than the knowledge, I loved the power it gave me. I started pointing fingers, chasing people down just to destroy them. I was angry and self-righteous. Threw a bunch of people into prison. Even saw one guy get the penalty. Alone at night, I reassured myself. I didn't break the law like those people. I was righteous. Wasn’t I?

Blind Man: I was born with tunnel vision. I could sort of see with these thick glasses. I mean, really thick. If I wanted to read, I had to hold the book right in front of my eyes. Tunnel vision. (The Enemy holds out rope as a temptation.) When I was in the sixth grade, I woke up one morning, and I was blind. (Takes the rope and begins to bind wrists) I thought maybe it would come back, so I didn't say anything to anyone. When I held a book up to my face, no one knew I couldn't see it anymore. Finally, my mom found out. Then everyone. This guy at my church told me it was sin. He said, my parents sinned, so God messed up my eyes. He said that. So I asked him right out. Did God make me blind? He said I did it to myself. He said, it was my sin now. That doesn't make any sense. I'm not perfect, but I'm not as bad as lot of people. And they can all see. If he's right, I just want to know. God, what did I do?

Matthew: (Lowers head.) Bound by money.

Nameless Woman: (Lowers head.) Bound by .

Paul: (Lowers head.) Bound by power.

Blind Man: (Lowers head.) Bound.

(The Enemy exits. Jesus enters.)

Matthew: (Lifting head as Jesus removes the rope) Then I met Him. He taught me to store up treasures in heaven. He taught me to give. He trusted me. He taught me to love.

Nameless Woman: (Lifting head as Jesus removes the rope) He showed me what love really is. He forgave me. How do you respond to that? This perfume meant to adorn me. I poured it all out. To anoint Him.

Paul: (Lifting head as Jesus removes the rope) In one blinding confrontation Jesus revealed Himself to me. My knowledge, my power, all my righteousness disappeared. He showed me what really mattered and I became a servant. I began the good race.

Blind Man: (Lifting head as Jesus removes the rope) They said Jesus was near. I heard the crowds, so I shouted, “Jesus! Jesus!” He heard me. He gave me eyes to see.

Matthew: (Jesus comes to center front, between the Nameless Woman and Paul) Then Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. (Matthew goes behind Jesus and binds his arms.)

Nameless Woman: (Going behind Jesus to bind his arms) One horrible, wonderful day.

Paul: (Going behind Jesus to bind his arms) He was bound to a cross.

Blind Man: (Going behind Jesus to bind his arms) Not by nails.

(They surround Jesus. Matthew and the Nameless Woman on one side, Paul and the Blind Man on the other)

Matthew: Not by ropes. (Taking hold of Jesus’ arm.)

Nameless Woman: Not by men. (Taking hold of Jesus’ arm.)

Paul: Jesus had fed the five thousand, cleansed the lepers, raised the . (Taking hold of Jesus’ arm.)

Blind Man: Ten thousand angels were waiting to set him free. (Taking hold of Jesus’ arm.)

Matthew: But Jesus did not step down from the cross. He fulfilled His promise to His Father. Jesus was bound . . . (Turning back on Jesus and audience.)

Nameless Woman: . . . by such an awesome, powerful love, that He would lay down His life for His friends . . . (Turning back on Jesus and audience.)

Paul: . . . and for His enemies . . . (Turning back on Jesus and audience.)

Blind Man: . . . and for each one of us. (Turning back on Jesus and audience.)

Jesus: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down (Jesus breaks the ropes and throws them on the ground and stretches out his arms.) And authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. (Bows his head.)
Matthew: Release your greed and find the joy of giving. (Kneels, facing the audience.)

Nameless Woman: Forget , you can find genuine love. (Kneels, facing the audience.)

Paul: Human knowledge and power will fade away, but he offers true life, abundant and eternal. (Kneels, facing the audience.)

Blind Man: Find meaning and purpose in your suffering. (Kneels, facing the audience.)

Jesus: At the foot of the cross.

Matthew: We have been made holy . . . (Taking the Nameless Woman’s hand.)

Nameless Woman: . . . through the sacrifice . . . (Taking Paul’s hand.)

Paul: . . . of the body . . . (Taking the Blind Man’s hand.)

Blind Man: . . . of Jesus Christ. (Matthew and the Blind Man lift a hand to Jesus.

Jesus: Once for all. (Takes the hand of Matthew and the Blind Man.)

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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Here is the first in a series of Easter skits our drama team is performing at our church. On the off chance that any other drama teams out there find this... feel free to use and adapt this however you like.

SETTING: The following monologues are based on real testimonies. Each one ends with a reference to one of the names of Jesus: Living Water (John 4:10-15), Living Stones (1 Peter 2:4-6), Living Bread (John 6:51), and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). This round is essentially four overlapping monologues. At the beginning the four actors stand with their backs to the audience from left to right: Bread, Stones, Life, and Water. Each actor turns around when he/she begins speaking.

BREAD: (Turning front) My parents always said they believed in God—if I asked them directly. But they didn't live like they did. They kind of treated God like Santa Claus. Yes, Virginia, there is a God. He was just another fairy tale to them.

WATER: (Turning front) I was confirmed as a kid. We didn’t go to church all the time, but we went when we could.

STONES: (Turning front) My family went to church too, but they were always angry about it. Judgemental. I guess you could say I grew up with the Pharisees.

LIFE: (Turning front) Looking back, there wasn't much dramatic about when I got saved. I just grew up in the Church, you know.

BREAD: (Turning Stage Right) If my parents needed something really bad, they might pray. Ask Santa Claus. But there prayers were more like back alley business deals. I don't know if they were saved or not. They certainly weren't happy.

WATER: (Turning Stage Left) When I got married, my wife and I split time between her church and mine. One Sunday we'd go to her church, the next we'd go to mine. But she didn't get much out of my church. I'm not saying they don't know God. She just had trouble finding him there.

STONES: (Turning Stage Left) With my parents, it was always something. They picked the preacher's sermon apart in the car. They talked about how they would have taught dispensationalism in their Bible class instead of covenant theology. I never knew what they were talking about.

LIFE: (Turning Stage Right) I never sang well, but I knew all the hymns. And I learned a bunch of verses. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was just a kid—playing little league, riding my bike to school, and drinking grape Kool-Aid. But I knew I needed Jesus.

BREAD: (Turning Stage Left) I went to church with a friend when I was a kid. Good friend. Do you remember those felt stories? I loved those. My favorite was the story of the manna. The felt picture looked like oatmeal or something. It looked bad. But it came every morning and kept them alive for years.

WATER: (Turning Stage Right) I could go to either church and feel just the same. I needed to be shook up, but I didn't know it. Pretty soon, we started going to my wife’s church all the time. I was in the choir, and helped out with all sorts of stuff, but that baptism thing. I had already been baptized—when I was a baby. Why would I do it again?

STONES: (Turning Stage Right) They were just critics. My dad complained that they didn’t sing enough old hymns. And my mom complained the church was out of touch with the culture. They'd get so mad every Sunday.

LIFE: (Turning Stage Left) I was only middle school, but I had started living for Jesus. He became my friend. My teacher. In High School I started telling people about him—the same way I would tell them about my best friend or my favorite teacher. I'd just say, "I wish you could know this guy."

BREAD: (Turning center) Manna is what my parents needed. It's what I needed. Just a little bread everyday. Just enough. At my house we never had enough. [pause] My parents spent a lot of money in the bars. A lot of time. We were never starving, except maybe starving for attention. But we were always hungry.

WATER: (Turning center) But then, my wife and I were reading the gospels, and getting baptized just seemed like the right thing to do. So I did. A few Sundays later. There was no great explosion or walls rattling or any of that, but I was committed now. I had recognized Jesus finally. I knew him.

STONES: (Turning center) One time my dad asked, "What would this church do if Jesus came to preach on Sunday? Jesus will never come preach to them!" And I thought to myself. Jesus does come to our church every Sunday. He comes to every church. We just don’t know how to see Him any more.

LIFE: (Turning center) You know, I even went to a Billy Graham crusade once. I was already saved then, but I wanted to go down so bad. All those people going down. Everyone singing Just As I Am. All those people walking to Jesus. So I did too.

BREAD: (Stepping forward) Jesus has words for people like us. He said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever."

WATER: (Stepping forward) Jesus said, "If you knew the gift of God, you would ask for Living Water." He didn't mean the water back up there, of course. He meant Himself. And I said, "Teacher, give me this Living Water so I will not be thirsty again."

STONES: (Stepping forward) Our buildings are made out of bricks and stones. But Jesus is the Living Stone. Men reject Him, but he is chosen by God. And we are chosen too. Like Living Stones we are this church.

LIFE: (Stepping forward) I'll never forget as I was walking down the stairs, Billy Graham told us what Jesus said to Martha when her brother died: "I AM the resurrection and the Life. If anyone believes in me—even though he dies—he will live. And everyone who believes in me will not ultimately die at all.”

All: (unison) “Do you believe this?”

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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Audience vs. Congregation vs. Wild Cheering Fans

What do you call it? On Sunday morning it seems wrong to talk about performing for an audience. The church has assembled to worship God, not sit and watch a performance.

They are a congregation, not an audience. They are ekklesia--assembled in body for the purpose of worshipping God on Sunday, just as they are assembled in spirit and purpose as they go about their daily work throughout the week.

Worship is interactive--or at least it seems to be most effective when it is interactive. When we lead worship in the form of a four minute drama, are we encouraging the congregation to become a passive audience?

Maybe a sports analogy is better. They are the crowd. The twelfth man on the field. But even that analogy has problems because they aren't cheering for the worship team to achieve victory. They are cheering because God has already won the victory.

Maybe I am looking at this backwards. Maybe all of these other human groups are analogies of Christ's church. An audience focuses its attention on the actors and the message, just like a church. A crowd of fans cheer their team onto victory, just like the church cheers Christ. Our idolatry of the entertainment industry comes from our own misunderstanding of the original truth of human gatherings.

The purpose of every person's life and every gathering, crowd, audience, or congregation is always and only to worship God.

The question shouldn't be whether the ideas of audience and congregation are incompatible. The real question is how does an audience worship God. What does that look like in modern America?

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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Easter Dramas

The drama ministry at our church is up and swinging.

This past Sunday was our first of three Easter skits. I wrote the skits along with a member of our drama team named Wiley. Each skit introduces the choir anthem for that Sunday. (Anthem is Baptist speak for the song the choir sings alone.)

The first Easter skit we titled "When I Met Jesus." It was a choral reading. A series of four monologues woven together. It worked pretty well--especially for the first of a series. It was meditative, not at all flashy, minimalist direction, leaving quite a bit of room for us to raise the bar as we lead up to Easter. (This was by design. I'm not trying to say our drama team did not do well.)

Next week, is the skit Wiley wrote, "Bound." This is brilliant. Four modern day Bible characters--Matthew, the nameless woman who poured perfume on Jesus' feet, Paul, and Bartimeas--all discuss their sins in a short opening monologue (about six sentences each). A character we call "The Enemy" offers them rope, which they each accept and use to tie up their own arms so they are "bound" by their sin.

Then Jesus comes in. (I'm Jesus because I'm 31. In two more years, I won't get to be Jesus anymore.) While Jesus unties their hands, they each describe meeting him.

Then, here is Wiley's clencher. They take the ropes Jesus untied and tie him up. The picture is a variation on the crucifixion, but it is pretty vivid.

After all of the characters turn their backs on Jesus, he unties himself saying, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down. And authority to take it up again. This command I received from my father."

I'm very excited to perform this skit for the church because I find it to be personally moving. It shares the good news in a way that is fresh and vivid.

In my excitement, though, I am reminded of the paradox of drama ministry. Is it wrong to think of Palm Sunday as a kind of opening night? We are so excited to share the message God has given us--at least that is how we talk about it. But how do we separate out our excitement for performance in general. Without this excitement, we would never have developed the smallest bit of craft. We would never have the skill sets we need to perform drama for our church. How do we keep this excitement and joy about God and not ourselves? Is it enough to just keep devoting our skits to God through prayer?

I worry. Because I know the dark pride that hides inside me.

HillCountryWriter Category: Drama
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