The Archives

Notes to a Young Man Interested in My Daughter

I'm now at that stage in life when--as a father of 3 beautiful, sparkly, creative daughters each at or near college age---I have been increasingly called upon to offer "context" for the benefit of certain young men who frequent the premises. Because I think best when I write and often fail miserably to communicate when I simply "speak from the heart," I eventually got around to expressing such thoughts in letter form. I offer it here In hopes that it might help others in a similar position to better articulate such things. To a Young Man Interested in My Daughter, You think my daughter is special. That’s good. It means you’re observant. Her mom and I think she’s special too. At this point, though, none of us can know how your relationship will develop. You might date for a while and get to know each other better and then at some point drift apart for any of a hundred reasons. Or, you might find that the more you get to know each other with all of your individual virtues and talents and quirks and habits and woundedness and dreams—that through the fun and the difficulty and the elation and the hurt of really knowing and caring for this other person, that you are more and more drawn to one another and that the joys and challenges of your friendship and your relationship only make you stronger together. If that’s the case then over time you might become best friends and one day get married and build a life and raise a family together. But as I said, none of us knows at this point, so I’m not concerned about what your long-term relationship plans are. It’s okay not to have any yet.

Art Stories: Gustave Dore’s The Burial of Sarah—An Epic in a Single Frame

Gustave Dore’ (1832-1883) was a French artist who worked mainly in etching and wood carving. During his life, he illustrated Lord Byron, Cervantes, Poe, Milton, Tennyson, and much of the Bible. Dore’s etching of The Burial of Sarah is a great example of an entire narrative (Genesis 23) being told in a single frame. There are a lot of little things going on in this work that most certainly did not all happen at once—like sealing Sarah’s tomb as Abraham was led away. But this is what good artists do—they carefully arrange vignettes throughout the work which lead the viewer’s eye through the scene in a certain sequence. A well-ordered composition tells a story.


A number of months have passed since I kicked off the Spiritually Sensitive Sinners Series. This next installment is a poem. It did not begin inspired by Luke 7:36-50, but eventually made its way there. I am attracted to the theme of dust. We were made with it. The serpent was cursed to eat it. And in this Gospel passage a spiritually sensitive sinner cleansed Jesus’s feet from it.

Adam Young Scores Imaginary Films

You may know Adam Young by his whimsical pop moniker Owl City. But Young also has his hand in a dozen lesser known side projects and bands including Port Blue, Sky Sailing, and Swimming With Dolphins. Recently he delved into another project based on a passion he's had since he was a kid: composing movie scores. Starting this year, Young is planning to release an "imaginary" film score a month based on stories or historical events that mean something to him. So far he's released four scores, Apollo 11, RMS Titanic, The Spirit of St. Louis, and The Ascent of Everest. Here's Young explaining his inspiration for the project:

Collaboration on The Wishes of the Fish King

Collaboration is such a powerful thing. When done well, it can bring together two unique visions --- each complimenting the other --- to form something greater. The process, though, can be tricky because it requires creative compromise. When the project is deeply personal to one of the collaborators, the process becomes even more complicated. I’ve learned a bit more about this while working on The Wishes of the Fish King with Doug McKelvey. I was a little intimidated when Doug asked me to work with him on this book last November. Not because it would be a collaboration, but because when I read the manuscript I could tell that it wasn’t just another project to him. There was tenderness here and real care wrapped up in the lines of this story. Doug wrote the book during and about a special time in his life, when his daughter was seeing the world for the first time, and it was all wonderful and full of magic. He wanted to preserve these poignant and fleeting moments, and so he wrote this story. And now I’m stepping into it 18 years later --- into an already created story, space, and experience that represent a deeply personal and emotional part of Doug. To illustrate something like this, to bring my own artistic vision to an already established creation, can feel like walking into a minefield.

Writing with Flannery O’Connor

Writing with Flannery O'Connor---my six-week online course---is starting Monday. Here's the introductory lecture. To register, click here.

Kickstarter: Ember Falls

In case you haven't already heard, Sam Smith has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Ember Falls, the sequel to his young adult novel, The Green Ember. Click here to check out the campaign and see what they have to offer. They've got everything from books to necklaces to swords, and they need your help to bring the project to life.

Art Stories: One Rembrandt and Two Simeons

Rembrandt painted the scene of Simeon blessing Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:21-35) twice, and the two paintings tell us as much about the artist himself as they do the subject matter. The first, painted when Rembrandt was 25 years old, is a crisp, ornate scene with the temple itself presented as a character in the story (see below). Rembrandt’s characteristic illumination shines like a spotlight coming down from heaven, making Jesus the brightest figure in the scene. Simeon holds the child as he gazes up to heaven. Another attendant in the temple looks on, hands raised in praise. Nearly two dozen other figures line the background, looking on. Here young Rembrandt shows what he’s capable of. Your eye could spend an hour touring the canvas, and you still wouldn’t see all that’s there.

Two songs from Switchfoot’s new album

Switchfoot made the big announcement on Thursday that their 10th album (10!), Where The Light Shines Through, will release on July 8th via Vanguard Records. You can now hear two new songs from the album, "Float" and "Live It Well."

Pre-order Now: Far Side of the Sea

A year ago, Eric Peters set out to make a new record, and now the harvest is nearly here. If you Kickstarted the project, you've already been enjoying the new songs and the new sound. For the rest of the world, the ship comes into port on June 14th, but you can pre-order Far Side of the Sea right now and get an instant download of "Farthest Shore," one of the best tracks on the record. In the coming weeks, look for a full review, a song-by-song breakdown, and a new interview with producer Gabe Scott.

The Secret of Our Hope Lies in the Imagination of Children

[Earlier this week, Patheos ran this incredible article by Jennifer Trafton that everyone needs to sit down and read immediately. It has proboscis monkeys. Need we say more?] "At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder." ---G. K. Chesterton As a children's book author and a creative writing teacher for kids, I have the honor---and challenge---of spending my days both digging for the submerged sunrise in myself and basking in the blazing sun of others. It is a perilous adventure at times, fraught with ninja-kicking dei ex machina and discombobulated spelling. Even as I write this, in fact, I am also faced with the daunting task of drawing an imaginary creature that is the composite of strange body part descriptions by twenty kids---including sixty-five multicolored ears, fifteen moldy toes, elbow-macaroni-and-cheese spines, and a tail that has a fair chance of being ranked among the world's seven wonders. Since I am neither a parent nor a pastor, nor even a traditional sort of school teacher, I often feel that my relationship to children has a slightly different flavor from that of many of my friends and colleagues; I feel less like a guide or caretaker and more like an imaginative cohort, a co-conspirator in all things monsterific or dragonesque. And therefore when someone mentions the innate spirituality of children, I do not at first think of their innocence, their unsettling questions about life and death and the immortality of pet hamsters, or their spontaneous bursts of insight that seem to confirm Wordsworth's suspicion that they came out of the womb "trailing clouds of glory." I think of my students' stories about talking cats, magic portals, giant sloths from outer space, adventurous pizza delivery boys, treasure chests, princesses who go on quests, fiddling skydivers, and bizarre creatures. I think about the astonishing phrases that proceed from the pencils of elementary-age kids---fish eyelashes, bellowing volcanoes, the toenails of dolphins, a song of silver and ice, fairy whispers, the distant explosion of a marshmallow, icicles shivering and shuffling across the sky, the spicy sound of wind by the sea cliffs, or extremely rare petrified slurps. [Read the entire article at Patheos.]

Writing From Your Roots Class

Last Hutchmoot, Jonathan Rogers and I explored what it means to write out of where we're from, which you can read more about here. This summer, starting on June 6, I'll be teaching a 12-week online class based around this idea of writing as a means of discovering place. Here's a brief video introducing the class:

Art Stories: The Wounded Hero

“Our brokenness has no other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it.” Henri Nouwen Vincent van Gogh painted his interpretation of Eugene Delacroix’s The Good Samaritan while living in an insane asylum in St. Remy de Provence only months before he took his own life. During that period, Vincent would occasionally make his own versions of other people’s canvases. He interpreted two Delacroix’s – this one and The Pietà. Interestingly, both of the Delacroix’s Vincent copied involved broken people being held by those who loved them – one, a beat up traveller by a stranger and the other, the Savior of the world by his mother. Due to his own psychological and social struggles, Vincent knew well what it was like to feel left "bleeding on the side of the road." It is telling that perhaps one of the most commonly known details about Vincent Van Gogh, aside from his actual work, is that he cut off his ear in a fit of madness. That episode, and the season surrounding it, earned him the nickname “The Red-Headed Mad Man” from the people in his own community. We remember it still. It was during that season when Vincent painted The Good Samaritan.

Remembering What We Mean

“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” --G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy house ship005It might not be a bad idea just to let Chesterton drop the mic right there and leave readers in a wide and silent space to ponder his ponderous words. Still, at the risk of slapping bumper stickers on the sunset, I want to unpack this notion of Chesterton’s and make it a bit more personal. Because it is so very personal. My Anglican pastor tells me that for him, consecrating the elements for communion was a huge step the first time it was his responsibility to perform the ceremony. The act of consecration is a conscious drawing forth, a lifting up, a marking out, a recognition of these particular things as holy—not because this bread and this wine are any more holy than all other bread and all other wine, but because by this conscious act we are reminding ourselves of the truth that everything in the world will one day be this; all parts of creation will one day be seen for what they truly are, viewed again through the knowledge of their consecration, both in their parts and in the whole. And so, this bread and this cup of wine, so consecrated, are a first fruits, are a reminder, are a means of refocusing our vision with a greater clarity that sees all things, even if only for this flickering moment, as they more truly and eternally are, each imbued with a holy light.

Book Review: Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

Culture critic and religion professor David Dark wastes no time getting to the provocative claim of his new book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious. His statement is right there on the cover, bright red as a warning sign, but that’s only the beginning of a brief, entertaining, and thought-provoking book you’ll want to take your time pondering. Through a short and readable blend of memoir and cultural analysis, Dark is all about nuance and taking time to ruminate on the big questions: What is religion anyway? How does it shape a supposedly post-Christian culture? Can you truly escape it, dismiss it, disown it? Everybody has a weird religious background, Dark claims, opening his personal story with some amusing anecdotes from his own youth (particularly an incident involving guilt-induced, makeshift communion in a Nashville Kroger parking lot). All of us Christian kids love to swap stories about our wackier beliefs that we’ve presumably abandoned, but Dark isn’t doing that here. He owns it, and informs the reader that yes, actually, you are religious.