Is The Fault In Our Stars The Future Of Literature?

wallace Claire Wallace is a senior in High School in the fast paced culture center of Glendale, CA. When she isn’t devouring books, she’s hawking them, talking them up and organizing book discussion groups.


In school I have read many famous classic books, which most people define as literature. In their own time, these books were well known and usually popular. I got thinking, “What about today’s popular books?” Will they stand the test of time?

The Fault In Our Stars Banner

Will a supernatural romance or a dystopian future become our next Moby Dick?

Personally I don’t think so. I believe the book that will be considered literature, read in schools and studied, is The Fault in Out Stars. It has beautiful writing, rich literary devices, and most of all, it will continue to resonate beyond its time.

The writing in the book is majestic. It has what I like to call these “profound moments,” – basically when author, John Green, writes a passage prominently presenting a theme and usually it’s beautifully written. An example of this is when the character Augustus confesses to the main character of Hazel (no I am not giving anything away, it reveals it in the movie trailer):

“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you” (153).

One of the main themes is expressed in this declaration, the idea of fate versus the idea of choosing. Not only does John Greene just write it, he puts it in a love confession, between two teenagers, setting the stage for another theme, one about love.

This is the kind of passage where, as soon as I read it, I just want to read it over and over again. It captures my attention.

Literary devices, yeah, they can be associated with school, but they bring so much to a story. One of my personal favorites is the constant symbolism of names.

First is Hazel, a girl with terminal cancer and the narrator of the story. Her name, Hazel, is an in-between color neither totally brown nor totally green. This represents Hazel’s state of being. She is in-between life and death but also as a regular teenage girl; she is in-between childhood and womanhood.

Then there is Augustus Waters. Due to the cancer, Hazel is drowning in water but in comes A. Waters. He shows her how her life is not just a side effect of dying but so much more. And just like every human needs water to live so does Hazel. Augustus Waters helps her truly live.

The Fault In Our Stars, at first, seems utterly unrelatable; a girl with cancer, having to live in this state of in-between. Yeah, I am not sick. I have no foretold death.

So why is it so relatable?

The idea of oblivion is hard to understand, and we choose to ignore it but that does not change the fact that it is there. How do we deal with it when we are forced to acknowledge it? That is what this book shows: a girl dealing with oblivion but also within that, love.

As humans we can all relate to love.

This is the briefest of examples of why I believe this book will continue. I truly believe that will become one of the great classics. In future generations, someone will look back, and look forward and wonder what book in their time will become like The Fault in Our Stars.

What do you think? Is The Fault In Our Stars the next Melville?

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Where Do We Begin? The Rubble? Or Our Sin?

I love it when Popstars are the Prophets. I love it when a song, a lyric, a melody moves into you, through your ears and straight to the heart, making us change the way we think about the world around us and our role in it. Bastille has a song like that for church leaders. Turn it up!

Bastille: Pompeii

The Important Question

Did you hear the question that singer Dan Smith asks over and over and over in the song? “Where do we begin? The Rubble? Or our Sin?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The song, “Pompeii,” juxtaposes a city being overtaken by, well, the very historic volcanic pyroclasm (you can never say that word enough), and a life taken over by sin (“my own devices”).

It’s a portrait of sin collapsing upon a life, the way that the volcanic cloud crashed over the rooftops of Pompeii.


“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices //
In your pose as the dust settled around us.”


Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Cosmetic Theology

The question, “Where do we begin? The rubble? or our sin?” is the right one.

The Church is in the sin/forgiveness business. The Gospel is about a God who steps into the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius in our lives and begins to sweep away the ash, revealing a life that will now be overcome by his, and only his, love.

As a church leader, I’m often tempted to ignore the painful distraction of walking with others through the rebuilding of their exploded lives. It’s even more tempting to get cosmetic, to fix something that needs fixing, paint something that needs painting.

Where do we begin? Addressing the pain and destruction of sin in the lives of those we are called to love and lead? Or to remodel the sanctuary and let people work it out on their own?

When we look at Pompeii, we see a city in need of new walls, fresh paint and manicured lawns. If we were able to get a contractor and a capitol campaign, people could move back into Pompeii. But so what? Who needs another retail condominium?

There were real people in Pompeii. People like you and me, who had experienced personal cataclysm long before an environmental one:

sin

People sin. We do. It’s the way things are. It’s not popular to talk about. At all. Sconces and pew cushions…now that is more like it, right? It might be easier, but it’s not the Church.

The question is: Do we have the courage to get down into the messy, complicated, uncomfortable reality that all people wrestle with daily?

Bastille ask a question that we need to answer: Where do we begin? Since the Gospel proclaims freedom to those who are covered in sin, would we rather proclaim that freedom? Confront sin and point to the God who forgives it? Or redecorate the Welcome Room and perfect the practice of something closer to a theology of cosmetics.

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. [Gal 6:1;MSG]“

God in the Ruins

When Jesus answers the question, it’s always going to be about beginning with sin. Rest assured that as Christ would walk through the uncovered ruins, the rubble wouldn’t be on his mind.

The people would.

Forgiveness is measured in lives, not walls, souls, not paint. A cosmetic makeover is nice, but soul-change is necessary. While a new color scheme is great, a new life is greater.

The truth is, living like Jesus never feels nice. We tend to want to point out the cosmetic changes that will one day make “all the difference,” but Jesus looks beyond the gloss and bokeh – pries deep into the places and spaces we believe are too dark to be seen and plants a light there, makes a home there, speaks to us from there. Where does he begin? In the places we most wish he wouldn’t.

And that’s where we belong.

Captivated By God

This is a brief response to a question that was asked in a sermon by Jason Heppner, preaching June 29, 2014 @glenpres // #3 in our GPC@TheMovies Sermon Series.

There was a moment in his sermon where he asked this question. I started to just write down the question, because it’s a good one, but before I knew it, I had filled a page of my journal.

When was the last time you were captivated by God?

The times when I have been most captivated by God have always been when I see God at work in the lives of the people around me. I want it to be the surreal and miraculous personal moment, but it doesn’t ever seem to be the case. It might be that I don’t notice, possibly because I’m always going, always thinking, always asking, always listening, reading, talking. Maybe the miraculous is actually something that is the greater part of my life.

When I notice the hand of God at work in my life is when I see it clutch the heart of someone standing close by. When I notice the breath of God blowing through the world around me is when I hear it catch in the voice of my neighbor because they have in some way seen the face of the living God.

I notice that.

It’s possible that I’m so drawn inward that I simply can not see the miracle moments as they happen to me. That, or what I experience is so normal that I don’t know I’m experiencing it.

I rely on the reaction and the response to the “With God” experiences of others to deepen, to broaden, to multiply the profound nature of my experience.

That captivates me.

Why John Green Should Have Planted A Church

There this little literary avalanche called The Fault In Our Stars. If you haven’t ever heard of it, you will, but chances are if you read blogs you have read the book. You have also probably seen the movie. 

why john green should have planted a church

The fine folks at Fast Company recently published an article on author John Green’s personal approach to becoming huge. While this will be good for all hard at work writers, I wonder if it doesn’t have wider implications that could benefit the church

These are the six ways that Green described as building his audience (which is large, loyal and growing). If writing best sellers weren’t his gig, I bet that if he had planted a church…it would’ve been huge as well.

Start Small

Commit to what you are doing, not the outcome. When John and his brother started, they were using Youtube to build a following. For the first 120 videos, they had 200 viewers. When it came to growth, it was all about timing. They weren’t trying to be huge. They actually valued their 200 viewers. They took that number seriously. Their more than 1.5 billion views began with their approach to those early numbers. Start small and take small seriously, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.”

It needs to matter to you as well. 

Phoniness is Deadly

rob bell poppins Wisely, Green says, “All you can be is you.” It’s not about dressing correctly, or growing a soul patch. You don’t have to have church in a bar or a strip club to be hip. You have to be you. If you are truly being you, then people will understand what they don’t like. At the same time, they will love what they love about you. You won’t ever have to wear plaid just because that’s what the hipsters are wearing. 

I’m bald. That’s all I can be. I have three kids and a tired disposition. I can’t start preaching like Mary Poppins or Rob Bell. You shouldn’t either. 

Unless you happen to be Mary Poppins or Rob Bell.

Be An Open Book

“Sharing your life–adversity and all–makes an audience genuinely care”
Church Leaders need to step out from behind the veil and lead openly. People are drawn in because their leaders struggle, too. Here’s the thing: if no one has to be OZ, then anyone can learn to lead. 

We like to believe that other people are just like us, even if they happen to be further down the road. The further down the road, the more I believe they can lead me…especially if they experienced the same kind of struggles and issues that I am going through. 

Don’t Settle For Ordinary

Seriously, look around your church for things that are done just because they’ve always been done that way and stop doing them. You will grow immediately. More people are inspired by surprise than you think. Change is art form, but you only learn art by creating it. 

Most church leaders I talk to are frustrated beyond belief because their are too many holy heifers and not enough alters. Ordinary will kill you. I suggest you kill it first. 

Use Your Audience For Good

Mission is more than check writing, it’s the reason you exist. In a few short weeks, my church will be ready to roll out a bold mission statement that I am already waking up early in the morning to be a part of. 

People want to be attached to something that adds value. something that inspires their soul. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but regular life empties our buckets. You have an opportunity to connect people to the greatest bucket filler that exists in the cosmos. 

As a result, We have committed to run marathons for clean water in Africa with Team World Vision. Over 40 runners have raised tens of thousands of dollars, over funded water projects and have managed to lose a few pounds. 

Why do you exist? Is it about miles on the road? Or butts in the pews?

Keep Creating

To quote my favorite church leader/blogging pastor, Carey Nieuwhof, be committed to change in a rapidly changing world. How can the tidal movement of culture inform who you are reaching and how you are reaching them? How does radio effect your worship? Film your environment? TV your approach to communication? 

Did you know that people love to listen to sermons? They do…they’re just called TED talks. Have you considered creating 18 minute stand alone blow your mind homilies? Soon I will publish a post on Bastille’s Pompeii. Did you know that pop music is asking questions that the church won’t? 

Who are you learning from? Who is encouraging you to change your approach? What is your next book? Your next post? Do you draw? If not, why aren’t you painting? Ever hear of Jackson Pollack? Jimmy Buffett used to surf all day before recording his records. What do you do before you write a sermon? 

tattoo you In the words of the erstwhile theologian Mick Jaggar, “Start me up.” Get going. Create. Your people, your staff, your family, your soul will thank you.

Question

How can any one of these six Faults In Our Stars change the way you approach your ministry world today?

PS: I wasn’t just being ironic with the title, it could’ve gone either way. 

four for solomon

The Truth About Imperfection

“I’ll go to church when I have my life together.”

I have heard that comment more than a few times. Like we think that we have to do the work for God. At some point, we have to stop believing/preaching that line of BS. Lemme tell you, you can’t get your life that together! You don’t have to be perfect to hang with God. Historically, God seeks out imperfection.

That’s how I got invited to the party, G!

four for solomon
four for solomon

King Solomon had it all! He had money, power, fame, women, everything that goes along with being a celebrity superstud — and he had just managed the colossal blunder of doing everything God told his people not to do. What was that?

Marrying an Egyptian. 

If there was anyone who needed to get their life together, it was the King. 

Marrying an Egyptian was something that God has said specifically not to do, “Don’t marry women from other nations! They’ll bring their gods into your home and heart and that will be that. You want sex? Then worship whatever they tell you to.” 

Plus, creating a political allegiance with Egypt was moving history in the wrong direction. God had saved his people from Egypt. He had removed them from slavery in the house of Pharaoh and here was Solomon making Pharaoh his Father-in-law. 

If there was anyone that deserved God’s indifference, his ire and anger, it would be Solomon. But that isn’t the story. What actually happens is that God says to Solomon, “Ask me for anything and I will give it to you.”

What?

Instead of a blank stare, God gives Solomon a blank check. 

From the early king days of Solomon, there are three things we can trust. 

God isn’t waiting for you to do everything right. 
God isn’t wanting you to be perfect before you show up. 
It’s more like God is waiting for you to be…there. 
Exactly like you are. 

God will be faithful to you long after you have given up on him. After you have moved on, God is still moved in

Solomon becomes the wisest stupid person ever. 

Kings from every empire come to revere him. 
He is second on the list of the 100 richest people in history. 
And yet, he marries 700 women and keeps 300 secondary wives. 

I did the math…
     
That’s a different woman everyday, every two years and nine months.
     
A different woman everyday, every three years, two months and two days…if he takes a Sabbath rest. 
     

Anyone who is married knows that one woman is like 700. That’s more than enough.

His heart chases after the pleasure of excess and an excess of other gods. Ultimately, his legacy is the loss of everything that’s important: his nation, his heart and his name. God made him Wise, but it never changed the fact that he was an idiot. 

The book of Ecclesiastes is all about how a person’s heart ultimately finds no satisfaction in things. There’s only so much you can do with money (Donald Sterling). Only so much you can do with power (Donald Trump). Only so much joy you find in celebrity (um…Donald Bieber).

And once every three years plus change? Please! 

You might have the kingdoms of the world,
but end up not wanting them. 
The heart was made for God. 
And God is the perfect fit for the heart. 

“I’ll go to church when I have my life together.”

How about this…no one has their life together. Anyone who says they do, is trying to sell you something.

We are all poets and painters, bluesmen and bards slowly unraveling the beautiful tapestry of what it is to be alive.

If you have been sold the line that God needs you to be perfect before you engage a life with God, then I’m sorry. It’s simply not true. There are a lot of wise people who say stupid things, and visa versa.

So, if you’ve been waiting to be a part of a life with God, go for it. Don’t wait. There’s something about your imperfection that God loves right now.

And that’s the truth. ksr

orange conference

Orange Conference Leadership Quotes for the Changing Church

Last week, a team from my church, Glendale Presbyterian Church, traveled to the ATL to attend the Orange Conference. Orange Leaders created an absolutely astounding experience all around. This was easily the most impactful, influencing conferences I have ever attended.

orange conference

Below are some important and incredible accessible link to related resources. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but these recap some of the content part of the conference.

If you are looking for ways to connect to the conference, or connect to a conference you weren’t able to attend, then this is a great places to start.

Before I arrived I read these three post (including session notes) by Carey Nieuwhof who, in my opinion, is the blogging platinum standard for church leaders that are influencers and change agents.

Starting A Church For Unchurched Families
5 Traits Of Future Churches
Launching A Church With A Strategy To Reach Unchurched People

More from Nieuwhof:

5 Surprising Lessons Church Leaders Can Learn From Business Leaders

How To Keep Your Church From Growing Old

Creating A Lead Small Culture

Again, Nieuwhof is a fantastic resource for churches who want to change and need some help connecting the what to the why to the how.

I met Brian Dodd in the Sessions. I’ve followed his blog for years, Brian Dodd On Leadership, and it was finally great to say “Hello” in person. He was attending to create session digests which you can scan here. Brian listens for great leadership quotes and then posts those gems on pages like these. I’m linking several that I thought were quick, informative and should give you something to think on.

Leadership Quotes from Carey Nieuwhof

Leadership Quotes from Geoff Surratt

Leadership Quotes from Leadership Forum

Leadership Quotes from Mark Batterson

Leadership Quotes from Jeff Henderson

Leadership Quotes from Derwin Gray

Leadership Quotes from Andy Stanley

Leadership Quotes from Perry Noble (& Sr Pastor’s Lunch)

BONUS: 20 Leadership Quotes and Leadership Lessons from The Amazing Spiderman 2

Rob Cizek, who I just discovered via twitter, blogged the conference. Here is his post, Top Ten Leadership Quotes from Orange Conference 2014.

road to orange

reza aslan poll

Why 97% Are Wrong About Jesus and the Church

When you look at the historical Jesus and don’t factor in the actual, supernatural Lord, God King of the Universe, Jesus, you wind up with polls like this one:

Reza Aslan Disapproving Church

This is a poll created by Reza Aslan, who last year made quite the stir with his book, Zealot (you can read a post I wrote on it by clicking the link). When you look at the poll, do you agree or disagree?

Jesus ought to pay more attention

The premise is hugely flawed. If anything it should reveal to what degree we think of Jesus as a historical dude and not a supernatural, cosmic creator-redeemer. You can ask this question another way, “If Jesus happened to pop back down to earth from Valhalla, Club Zed, or wherever he is at the moment, what would his response be to his body, the Church?”

The Astral Projection Jesus

For this question to make any sense, Jesus has to become a meta-physical guru who can Astral Project his soul out of his body. One of the tenets of the Biblical Jesus is that he is incarnate, imminent, God with us. The Church is his body and is filled by his Holy Spirit. So, for Jesus to come and suddenly express disapproval is to assume that right now, he has absolutely no idea what is going on.

We have to assume the absentee version of Jesus, a god who is off living the dream instead of present in the reality of the world he died to save; as though Jesus is completely unaware of anything that is happening in the way he expresses his being.

image

If Jesus suddenly returned and entered into this conversation I believe that it would go something like this:

Reza: Hah! I bet you’re surprised!

Jesus: Surprised that you have so much free time, maybe.

Reza: No, surprised that the Church has behaved so disapprovingly without you! (grimace)

Jesus: I’ve been with them the whole time.

Reza: No, but like, they totally aren’t like you thought they would be. Right?

Jesus: I’ve been with them the whole time. They are me. I am them.

Reza: But they haven’t acted perfectly the whole time. They’ve done some messed up stuff!

Jesus: I’ve been with them the whole time. They are me. I am them.

Reza: But they have Crusaded and Westboro’d and stuff…

Jesus: I’ve been with them the whole time. They are me. I am them.

Reza: But they haven’t done what I think they should do.

Jesus: What was that?

Reza: I think the church should look like my version of what I think you are.

Jesus: Exactly.

A poll like this casts a horrible pall over Christianity (and screams “post-modern irony” because we didn’t need the help of a poll), but the truth is, in the eyes of God I just don’t think that we are that surprising, unless…

9.7 out of 10 Christians are Horrible!

Another thing this kind of poll reveals is that in reality we see “The Church” as a building and not a people.

The Church is people.

If this is true, then this poll actually says many things that have little to do with the question, but I’ll just mention two.

One, 97% of people who took this poll disapproved of people who associate themselves with “The Church.” I can’t really argue with that. It’s most likely totally true. I know that I have days where I’m a jerk. Run into me on one of them and you’re view of the whole church could easily skew toward *disapprove*. But doesn’t that simply mean that you are disappointed in the fact that I’m a person, or you are disappointed in my failure to live up to your expectations?

Two, if the church is people, then 97% of us are jerks.

And that is a huge problem. And a problem that I haven’t encountered. Granted, I’m a Christian so I may have jerk blindness, but as I’ve travelled the world and the country, it just hasn’t been my experience.

A question like this one is too artificial. Ironically, it measures the judgmentalism of the poll participants who are disapproving of their perceived judgmentalism of Christians. If anything, it reveals that we are all just…people.

Surprised?

I hope not.

Things like this just get under my skin due to their excessive levels of Stupidium. I think a better question, a more honest question, would have been this:

If Jesus were to suddenly return today, do you think he would approve or disapprove of your expectations for Christians and ideas of what the church is supposed to be for you?

I have an idea.

Perhaps we should stop taking polls based upon what we think Jesus thinks. Maybe, we should just stick to what Reza Azlan thinks, which is what I think this was all about in the first place.

mad world drama

Mad World//Hosanna Palm Sunday Mash-up

This is a drama we did at Glendale Presbyterian Church on Palm Sunday. One of our members, had the inspiration to mash up Mad World by Tears for Fears with Hosanna, the Hillsong anthem. I thought the result was chilling, sobering and opened a window to Palm Sunday, that hadn’t been opened to me before.

The beginning part is mostly me singing, but the drama awesomeness gets going soon enough.

How do you use drama in your worship gatherings?

Jesus Wife Fragment

Jesus’ Wife: What Does It Mean?

So here’s what happened: Two years ago, a fragment was found with the words, “and Jesus said to his wife.” Ahhhhhh, what does it all mean? Now after two years, the report is in that the parchment is not a fake. Ahhhhhh, what does it all mean?

Jesus Wife Fragment

With the word in on the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ fragment, I can imagine that their are a lot of folks saying, “I actually think it makes sense. It means Jesus was more like me. That makes me feel better.” 

So, since the fragment has been judged as ‘not a fake,’ what does it mean for Jesus’ marital status? Was Jesus married? Or wasn’t he? Here is a post that I wrote when news of the fragment broke nearly two years ago. I think it’s all still valid.

Jesus: Single Jewish Messiah

As I noted in the post, a married Jesus (if he was God, which I believe he was) would be an incestuous God. The Father loves the children, but he doesn’t marry them. The Father creates children, but he doesn’t reproduce with them. 

Since marriage is not a bad thing, in fact just the opposite, if Jesus had gotten married, it would have added chapters to the Gospels. There would have been no need to move toward priestly asceticism. Like, none! And I believe that that would have been some pretty great news. 

These kinds of discoveries (like the Gospels of Thomas and Judas) tell us much more about the authors than the subject. Marriage was still being worked out in the early church movement, i.e. “Is it OK to be married and serve the Church?” It seems archaic to us, but it was very real to the 7th Century Christians.

Jesus: Pretty Much Whoever We Want Him To Be

minotaur I could write something about you. Anything I wanted, in fact. Imagine that I did and that in a thousand years, someone found it and subjected it to linguistic study. Would the thing be authentic? Yes. Would it be true? Not necessarily. I wasn’t even trying to communicate truth, I was trying to explain why you are so stubborn. That’s why I added the bit about you having the head of bull. Should people in the future believe, then, that you were part human, part bull? The ones who want to will. 

The point is, historically, anything can be said about Jesus. We can call him Willy Wonka, but that doesn’t make him a chocolate magnate in search of an heir. Nor would it mean that Oompa Loompas are real. Sorry.

We will continue to ‘find’ manuscripts that say amazing things about Jesus, but that doesn’t make them true. It makes them real, but at some point Christians have to trust the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures that we already have. Otherwise, as we find **new** material, the patchwork Jesus that will emerge will pretty much be whoever we want him to be. And we actually don’t need anything **new** for that to happen. 

Jesus: Just The Facts

I believe that we have to be careful where we piece together our image of Jesus. The facts are what we have in the Bible. There’s absolutely no reason to hide things about Jesus, the man or the God. If he wandered the Indian countryside for 18 years, as some believe, then not only would that be in the Gospels, but India would be dead center in the Christian map. The Bible conspiracies are too conspiratorial for me.  

  • If he were married, then we would have been told. There was no upside to hiding a wedding simply to inspire generations of celibacy (that didn’t even work). 
  • And we don’t need a **new, improved** fragment to prove that women can be disciples. It’s all already there.
  • The desire for there to be secret, supressed information is fun and all of that, but honestly, we have more information already than we know what to do with. 

    The End

    The problem with my opening statement and with those who cling to to the hope that Jesus was ‘just like me,’ is that that is not the point of faith in Him. We are not the center of the Universe. While it’s true that Jesus understands every bit of what it is to be me, he was never just like me. God’s job is not to become more like us. Our job is to become more like Him: the holy, merciful and fully incarnate God that we see an unmarried Jesus.

    How are you responding to the nuptial news?

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