The advent of YouTube in 2005 created an unprecedented opportunity for average people to create content and share it with the world. Of course, a lot of people took this opportunity to just create cat videos (and where would we be without them). Ten years later though, it has led to the rise of a new kind of entrepreneur and celebrity—the YouTube star. These are creative people who have found a niche and created a following, sometimes of millions of subscribers, by producing regular content of some form, whether that’s makeup tutorials, video-game playthroughs, or humorous vlogs. A rare group of these people have even become successful millionaires, as companies have tapped the advertising potential of their large audiences.
My favorite YouTuber isn’t one of these millionaires. He only has about 840,000 subscribers—which is a pittance considering that the top channel on YouTube has 43 million subscribers. He also doesn’t take advertising deals just for the sake of earning money off his fan base. His name is Olan Rogers.
Now that you’ve given up something for the past forty days, what are you taking on for the next forty?
“If Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things on. . . . If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.” —N. T. Wright
We are in the midst of the season of Lent, a period of 40 days traditionally set aside by the Church throughout history for contemplation and preparation leading up to Holy Week and Easter. It is a time to grapple with sin and mortality, the consequences of the fall, and to look forward to the overcoming of the Curse through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
For me, the observation of liturgical seasons is aided by many helpful practices and tools, one of which is listening to music. Here’s some of the music that I have/am listening to during Lent and through Easter.
The other day I was performing the adultiest of adult tasks—paying the bills. Does anyone actually enjoy doing this? Probably not. If anything, I enjoy the satisfaction of having paid my bills, of being a responsible human being, and knowing that, for at least the next month, nobody is going to come knocking on my door to bust my kneecaps.
So there I was, having just filled out a check to the gas company. I stuffed it neatly into the provided envelope and sealed and addressed it. My wife keeps the postage stamps in her desk drawer, so I opened it to find that we had two sets. One was a collection of regular old American flag stamps, the kind you can get year round. The other was a set of Charlie Brown themed stamps, depicting nostalgic scenes from that classic holiday film, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Unless you’ve been stuck down in a Sarlacc pit, you probably know that the latest Stars Wars film just opened. The excitement has been enormous because Star Wars has been a cultural phenomenon for so long, enchanting the imaginations of kids and adults alike.
One of the most fascinating things about the Star Wars saga has always been its mythic quality. In fact, George Lucas has long admitted that he built much of its structure on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth structure, also know as “The Hero’s Journey”. Campbell’s argument is that this storytelling structure resonates deeply within all human societies and cultures as a common touchstone that helps us make sense of life.
Coming from a Christian perspective, writers like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien approached this idea from a different angle, arguing that there are common threads of mythology in all cultures and ages because all men are created by God, and have echoes of the True Myth within their hearts. This True Myth comes into history and is made real by the Incarnation of Jesus.
Would you wait
several thousand years
for someone to make good
on their promise,
especially if you knew
they had the power
to fulfill it in a moment?
if you were sitting in the dark,
and your only hope
was the long, slow deliverance
Last December, my wife and I watched Home Alone for the first time in years. Call me lame, but I have some very fond memories of turning on the TV after Thanksgiving dinner every year and watching Kevin McCallister defend his home from the Wet Bandits. And maybe I’m riding on pure nostalgia here, but after all this time it’s still pretty darn funny.
On a more serious note, I noticed that Home Alone bears a resemblance to at least two other classic Christmas stories that we revisit at this time of year: Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is, in each story the protagonist experiences a supernatural or apparently supernatural absence. Kevin McCallister, in a fit of petulance, wishes to never see his family again, and wakes up the next morning to find the house empty, having overslept everyone’s mad rush to the airport. George Bailey, at the lowest point of his life, wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence the angel proceeds to show him a vision of exactly what the lives of those around him would look like if that were so. And of course, Scrooge is given supernatural visions into both the happy past he has forgotten, and the future world in which no one mourns his death.
Animated doodle videos to accompany audio lectures have become increasingly popular in the past few years, so much so that even C.S. Lewis is getting in on the action, posthumously. I discovered this YouTube channel CS Lewis Doodle through my friend Glynn Young’s Saturday Good Reads. Check out one of the videos below:
[This is a post adapted from a session co-presented by Chris Yokel and Jonathan Rogers at Hutchmoot 2015. The post comes from Chris’s portion of the talk]
Scott Russell Sanders says in the preface of his book, Writing From The Center:
How can one live a meaningful life in a world that seems broken and scattered? That question has haunted me for as long as I can remember. Insofar as I have found an answer, it has to do with understanding my place in marriage, family, and community—my place on earth, and ultimately in Creation. To be centered, as I understand it, means to have a home territory, to be attached in a web of relationships with other people, to value common experience, and to recognize that one’s life rises constantly from inward depths.
I want to build upon this idea, mainly by sharing a bit from my own journey toward being centered, my own wrestling with where I come from and how that has shaped and is shaping me as a person and creator. And finally I hope to share some perspective and lessons on what it means to write (or create) from your roots.
These days, our culture appears more and more defined by a sense of rootlessness. More than ever, people are packing up and moving away from the places they’ve grown up in, and staying away. They are also moving from place to place within their own lifetimes, like American nomads. Some people, like New York Times reporter Michael Powell, would observe that this sense of wanderlust has always been part of the American character and spirit. Still, it can be observed that American character notwithstanding, we are much more mobile than our ancestors were.
Why do ghost stories exist? Well, one might simply answer that they exist because people have had real encounters with the supernatural. But these are only encounters, and a personal experience can be kept to one’s self. Why do ghost stories exist? Why the need to communicate such strange tales to others?
Let’s step back from the question for a second and take another perspective on the ghost story. Perhaps ghost stories are, as Freud argued, merely dreams from the childhood of our race come back to us, rebelling against our materialism. Or perhaps they are metaphors for the internal battle of man vs. man, of the thoughts of the “establishment” vs. the “marginalized” who do not quite fit the system or threaten to destabilize it. Even in this case, ghost stories, as stories, are meant to deal with something out in the open, to externalize an experience that is internal.
In 1982, while he was working as an animator for Disney, Tim Burton wrote a creepy little poem called “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” because of course that’s something that Tim Burton would do. About ten years later, he began production on an animated film based on the storyline of this poem. In 1993, the stop motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas was released to the world. It tells the story of immortal skeleton king Jack Skellington and his failed quest to run Christmas for himself. Having just discovered it several years ago and quickly turning it into an October movie tradition, I’ve begun to ponder whether there is more to this spooky story than just jack-o-lanterns and monsters.
I recently came across an article by Michele Filgate on Literary Hub entitled “Writers and Their Favorite Tools.” Filgate indulges in a bit of shop talk on tools of the trade, but also explores some of the nostalgia and memory behind why we use the tools we do. That, and this recent video my wife shared awhile back, got me thinking: if car enthusiasts can talk horsepower, and hunters can swap stories of guns and bows and calls, why can’t we as writers and artists and singers talk about our favorite tools? So, whatever your artistic bent is, what are some of your favorite tools of the trade, and why? I’ll start:
When it comes to writing poetry or prose, I usually get ideas when I’m out walking, so I like to carry a pocket Moleskine. I also have a larger, paperback size Moleskine for when I want to do some longer form drafting without feeling cramped. I also recently purchased some Shinola Detroit small ruled page notebooks that I’m looking forward to trying.
For writing with, I’ve long used the smooth Pilot G-2 05 gel pen. It just flows nice and lasts forever. Recently I discovered the Moleskine Roller Pen .05 mm Fine Point, which is really nice, although tends to smear because I’m a lefty. I did briefly try a Bobino pen that hides in the cover of my notebook, but I don’t like it very much because it feels too insubstantial and the writing is dry and scratchy.
I’ve always considered Jon Foreman to be a prophet of sorts to the postmodern world. Ever since Switchfoot, his main musical venture, broke into the mainstream with “Meant to Live,” his songs have challenged us to consider the meaning of our existence here on earth, and our often futile chase after fleeting pleasures. Along with these themes, his songwriting has harbored an increasing focus on death, and seeking out true life in light of impending mortality. The lyrics of “Where I Belong” come to mind, from one of Switchfoot’s more recent albums, Vice Verses:
But I’m not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive
Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
These themes of death and desire come to full fruition in Foreman’s latest solo EP Shadows, which is part of a four EP project called The Wonderlands, a set of twenty-four songs moving through Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn.
My 12 week online class, Tolkien I: The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, starts on August 31, followed by Tolkien II: The Lord of the Rings in the spring of 2016. Find out more and register here. In the meantime, here’s a little about my own personal journey into Tolkien:
My love affair with the mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien has been relatively short but passionate. As a child, I had a peripheral knowledge of some book called The Lord of the Rings by someone named Tolkien that was considered to be relatively important. But I never read it, or The Hobbit for that matter. In fact, I did not crack the covers of these books until about fourteen years ago. I heard that a movie of The Fellowship of the Ring was being made and would come out in December of 2001. Given my faint knowledge of Tolkien and his greatness, I kept up on its development, and when it came out, I went to see it.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Read the first part of this series here.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first writing conference. Having never been to one before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I ended up gleaning a lot of great advice from the experienced writers, editors, and publishers who were gathered there.
One moment that particularly stuck out to me was during a panel discussion, when one of the writers dropped a comment that has been on my mind ever since. He referred to the work of writing as being a creative “long obedience in the same direction” (which is a quote from Nietzsche but has also been popularized by author Eugene Peterson).