Reflections on Art, Faith, and Life

Review of “Spiritual Sobriety” – Elizabeth Esther, author

If “Girl at the End of the World” is about abuse, hurt, and despair, “Spiritual Sobriety” is about restoration, healing, and hope. Elizabeth share the next part of her faith journey in a way that shows a light at the end of the tunnel without implying she has THE light at the end of the tunnel. Her book is a hope-filled, “here’s what worked for me” story of recovery, living in the present, and using a renewed outlook on faith to craft a new way of living – one that breeds a future outcome vastly different than her previous life.

Elizabeth’s writing is clear and succinct, and she continues her acute self-awareness. She is transparent about the difficulties of being spiritually sober, and lines out some principles salient to her current walk. In a most inviting way, she welcomes the reader into her new life and provides her blueprint for getting there – just in case the reader might want a similar journey. Her writing is devoid of judgment, which is refreshing and invigorating. She offers a way into what she has found.

I found the subtitles to her chapters possibly more interesting than the chapter titles, and they give the reader a sense of the road map used to navigate one’s self towards spiritual sobriety. Here are some of them: “Reality and the Religious Addict,” “Searching for the Real God,” “Developing a Sober Thought Life,” “The Discipline of Kind Speech,” “How Sobriety Keeps Us from Burnout,” “Recovery in Our Relationships,” “Recovery in Our Churches,” and  “Relapse.” Elizabeth’s real world approach is certainly theologically sound, but thankfully, this is not a theology treatise. It is life-in-the-world approach to God, faith, and living.

Her section on the “misuse of God” was both breath-taking and heart-wrenching. Most of us have either been there, known someone who was, or been guilty of it in our pasts. It beautifully frames the remaining narrative in an engaging and convicting manner.

Her 11 “Common Beliefs and Behaviors of Sober Christianity” by themselves make the book worth reading. Elizabeth has done some thorough and pensive work on her head, her heart, and her beliefs. Be sure you spend sufficient time soaking these in.

Her thoughts and feelings are supported by some great thinkers and writers: Reba Riley, Sylvia Plath, Dennis Linn, Kathy Escobar, St. Francis de Sales, Richard Rohr, Krista Tippett, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Micah Boyett, Maria Popova, Henri Nouwen, Pope Francis, Thoreou, and Michael Helms – to name a few. It was a wonderful choice to also include quotes and anecdotes from “just plain folk” as they responded to Elizabeth’s questions. This provides a beautiful balance between the scholarly and the practical that some writers elude. This reviewer believes hearing from both spectrums weaves a rich tapestry of experiences for the reader.

This can be a quick read or a slow read – whichever the reader prefers, but it really should be a MUST read. The reader will be both challenged and inspired. The reader may take the journey Elizabeth has taken and find themself in a very different place. If the reader can’t fully relate, it will be a resource for ministering to others and helping them with their journey. I highly recommend adding this not only to your library, but to your personal walk. Brava, Elizabeth – you’ve done it once again!!



Dealing with Mankind at its Ugliest

Certainly art, faith, and life have converged in an unkind and unintended way! Because of my training as a musician of faith, I have many hymn lyrics deeply rooted in my spiritual and emotional soi…

Source: Dealing with Mankind at its Ugliest

Review of Eugene Cho’s forthcoming book, “Overrated”

“Overrated” is a clarion call for how God intended us to think and act. It is NOT a missive of comfort. Because Eugene so passionately lives his convictions, he has written a manifesto for living compassionately, loving mercy, and seeking justice. This book is not a message for the faint of heart or the spiritual coward. It is convicting, compelling, and challenging – all the traits a walk with Jesus should entail.

Pastor Cho provides a bold thesis: we may be the most overrated generation ever! Fortunately, he also provides bold assertions to back up his thesis. With a marvelous transparency Eugene acts more like a tour-guide or mentor than he does a judge or jury. His intent is not to make you feel guilt – his intent is to help facilitate change in your heart, your actions, and your life filters. He isn’t calling for more verbiage – he’s calling for sacrificial action.

As a fellow journeyer, Mr. Cho asserts that Jesus wants our hearts, not just our tweets, blogs, posts, rants, dreams, or wishes. This Jesus-claimed heart will beat with the same passion His did for living compassionately, loving mercy, and seeking justice. Eugene calls us back to our real mission – not just “playing church,” but actually BEING church – go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in! And you probably won’t find the kind of people you’re used to in the places you’re used to going – this is the heart of Jesus. A radical, sacrificial search that includes the marginalized and down-trodden of society.

This is not a call to up the attendance at our Sunday “country club,” a.k.a. church – Cho’s call is to a costly social justice that doesn’t just make us feel good about ourselves, but is a well-thought-out method of ministering that actually facilitates true and organic betterment for OTHERS. This is not easy or in most of our paradigms.

As we realize that God wants our hearts, and that He really wants us to live as Jesus did, the most predominant change probably happens in us. Everything else flows from a pensive, deliberately still, self-reflective quietness that eventually erupts in a calling and purpose only God could provide or sustain.

In a poignant and beautiful closing, Cho says, “Rather than fear, guilt, or shame, let’s inspire people with hope, beauty, and courage. Let’s fascinate, not force, people toward the gospel.”

If you are in for a paradigm shift, if you want your heart to burn within you, as did those on the road to Emmaus, if you are looking for radical spiritual heart surgery, then you MUST read this book. With the boldness and humility of a prophet, Eugene Cho leads us deeper into the heart and way of Jesus, so we can be more effective vessels God can use in His ways, for His purposes, in the ways He calls and equips.

“I’m Lost”

As Division chair for the Arts & Humanities at my college, I have fairly frequent visits with the Academic Dean. This morning, I was on my way out of the building where he offices, and I had the most wonderful, random, and “AHA” encounter with a complete stranger. I think it may very well have been a Spirit-moment!

Allow me to briefly set the scene for you: my campus is currently having its annual summer week-long spiritual rally entitled “SoulQuest.” Hundreds of people come from all over the U.S. to attend. Some of the teachers, staff, youth ministers, etc… bring their families, and some of their children are not yet “camp” age, but are old enough to be on their own and about campus.

On my way from the Dean’s office to my office, I briefly crossed paths with a child who was too young to be a “camper,” but was on campus with his family. I said, “hey bud,” and he responded back, “hey.” Next I said, “how’s it going for you today?” The young man stopped, looked at me, thought for a second or two, and then said, “I’m lost – can you help me?!”

I said, “Sure, I’ll be happy to – where you headed?” He replied back, “the boy’s dorm.” I showed him the sidewalk to take that would lead him by one building and directly to the dorm he was looking for. As he began his journey, with renewed vigor and confidence, he turned around and said, “hey mister, thanks!” I answered, “No problem, happy to be able to serve you, young man.”

He was just SO open, honest, and transparent with a complete stranger, that when I returned to my office I couldn’t help but think about what just happened and what some of the applications could be.

Do you remember those times when you were younger where it was ok to just say, “I’m lost?!” There was no image to uphold, no shame, no fear, just an honest self-awareness and assessment. I fear “becoming adult” makes us lose that. After all, we have so much to lose, right? Our image, reputation, influence, etc…. We have all become so “grown up,” haven’t we? And we have brought our defenses, shields, denial, and dysfunction into our selves, our homes, our jobs, and our churches.

I can’t help but wonder if we wouldn’t be better off if we could keep some of the openness and lack of shame a child has. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the times we feel spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, or professionally “out of whack” we could just admit with no shame or consequences – “I’m lost!” We often just keep wandering, hoping someone won’t realize how scared or clueless we are. We’re fearful of being “found out” and we often aimlessly meander trying to find our own way through the maze of life.

Part of my thoughts today were a recommitment to transparency in my life. Do I have the courage to just be honest with people? Can I ask for help when I know I need it without fear of “losing face” with people? How can I encourage more of that among God’s people?

Additional mental gymnastics were applied as I realized that there was something about me that made the young man believe I could help him and that I would help him. I appeared as someone that would help him out of his current situation. This made my wonder – is my spiritual life such that others believe I might be able to help them when they feel “lost.” When life has caused someone to lose their bearings, is there something about the way I live that makes them believe I can help them “find their way?” Am I surrounding myself with others who I recognize can help me when I feel that way?

Is it possible that when those “in the world” look at believers, they don’t really believe that we are people who can help them, or that we would want to? How does one distinguish what that would look like? I’m still giving that cerebral gestation, but I’m grateful that a child reminded me of the necessity of transparency, and I believe I’ll be better this week as I ponder ways I can better reflect Jesus. After all, he had people flocking to Him – isn’t that what believers should want as well? It is FAR too easy to live our lives feeling superior to those who have “lost their way,” and like the Pharisee, thank God that we are not like them. And then we wonder why they don’t want what we have!

Thank you, Jesus, for the nudge you lovingly provided today!

Review of “Life After Art”

Matt Appling has delivered what I believe will be one of the finest and most important books of this year! Let me say up front, that some of you will see the title, “Life After Art,” and immediately think ‘this is not for me – I don’t do art!’ When you do, you will actually help prove one of the books main points. Matt launches into a poignant, and I believe accurate, description of how the lack of creating has produced our current world and world-view.

The author has done a fabulous job with the content, and Moody Press has done an equally fabulous job in creating the book’s design. The cover is artistic, appropriate, and attention-getting. The layout and flow of the book, with different-colored text boxes scattered throughout the pages, is clear, visually attractive, and very easy to read.

Matt weaves his way through the following topics:

  1. why we are all born naturally creative
  2. how we lose our naturally born creativity
  3. society suffers an epidemic of lost creativity
  4. relearning how to create within the boundaries of life
  5. relearning how to take necessary risks
  6. relearning how to be a creator

Matt has a compeling story from his own life: realized talent at a young age, studies in college, various careers and attempts to find his passion and purpose, and finally, landing in his present position as an elementary school art educator. Coming from and maintaining a faith heritage, a direct link is made between the gifts given and the Giver. All the way through the narrative, Matt connects creating with the Creator!

The premise is that when we are in kindergarten, we freely create – because we don’t “know” any better. We are merely attending to our inherent wiring. As we age, we slowly become aware of other people’s opinions, the degree of our skill-set (or lack thereof), and the “impracticality” of creating. All of these add up to many people abandoning something they loved when they were 5. Notice, I did not say “losing” – the author believes this aspect of our true nature lies dormant in too many people. It needs awakening in order for a life to be as full and rich as intended.

Matt’s premise: art is for everyone! Espousing this certainly incudes anything that involves being creative. We should not leave that part of ourself in the kindergarten room. We should not listen to the voices that would steer us away from that guileless love of creating. We should not put stock in the criticism that causes us to neglect something we used to love to do and something we were created to do. In the author’s own words, “this is a book about faith, family, hope, disappointment, dreams, failures, and all the other things that make up adult life.”

We have largely and sadly allowed the “stuff of life” to cover up the desire to find beauty and to create beauty. The resulting cultural and personal shift is to our detriment. Part of the solution is re-establishing the self-unawareness we used to have, the unbridled joy of creating, and the ability to feel comfortable in the inexactness of the process.

Matt has some compeling verbiage on how listening to the majority’s voice has taken us away from some of the things and ways that make us most happy. Re-igniting our creative self, particularly when coupled with re-igniting a direct tie-in with the Master Creator is presented as a way out of the abyss so prevelent today in our culture.

If you are an artist of any sort – you simply MUST read this. If you are not an artist – you simply MUST read this. I believe the tenets suggested by Matt will result in more of us finding our “true north” – both aesthetically and spiritually. Whatever you do, create with purpose!



The Getaway

Recently my wife and I went once again to “our place.” It is a lovely state park in NE with secluded cabins, and all the wonderful accompaniments. Thankfully my wife knows me better than I sometimes know myself – we scheduled this getaway to keep me from working through my entire spring break. It was “nectar of the gods” for my spirit and soul. It was a precious time for our relationship as well. As usual, I needed it more than I realized. 

I promise not to go the land of “too much information,” but reflecting on the experience brought not only relational insight, but in addition, some spiritual perspectives. That is the intended focus of this post.

Let me begin by listing some of things that make our “time away” so wonderful: glances, touches, smiles, laughter, serious conversation, stillness, silence, just being together, reflection, staying connected to each other, no time constraints – clocks/watches irrelevant, much less noise than normal, minimal distractions, fresh air, new perspectives, and priorities re-arranged/confirmed.

I can’t imagine my life or marriage without these fabulous “escapes!” I am blessed beyond belief to have someone to share this life with that helps complete me and assists God in the work He’s trying to do in me. As I sat in the quiet, at the edge of the woods, the faint smell of charcoal in the air, a glorious cup of coffee in hand – I couldn’t help but reflect on how the very things I’ve just described are also essential elements in keeping my relationship with God as it should be.

Relationships take both time and purposeful attention. I’m always glad to give those to the woman I love so much – am I always glad to give time and purposeful attention to the One who loved me enough to die for my sins? Do I offer Him the stillness and silence necessary to hear His words for me. It is SO hard to quiet the voices of culture and hear only His voice. Do I commit often enough to the time that takes?

Do I enjoy “just being together” with God – you know – “hanging out” with my Creator and Redeemer? Is He “fresh air” for my spiritual being? Do I long to stay connected? Do I seek times where the watch/clock doesn’t matter and we can address each other with less noise and distraction? Do I let Him realign my perspectives and priorities?

I want to challenge all of us – myself at the top of the list – to want Him even more than we want those on earth we love. I truly believe the best thing I can do for my wife is not to love her more than anything – it is to love God more than anything and allow Him to continue to mold and shape me. I know – easier said than done – but the difficulty shouldn’t alter the effort or commitment necessary. I believe the more I allow Him to “finish the work He began” in me, the more I will be able to love my wife and make the necessary sacrifices, with the right attitudes, to serve her as she deserves and as would please Him.

If you have a prayer list, and wouldn’t mind putting me on it, it would be great if you would pray that I will more and more want a vibrant and vital connection with the Father – one that shapes my heart, soul, and mind, and one that increases by ability to hear with Spirit ears, see with Spirit eyes, and move at His impulses!

I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives – it is indeed a journey for all of us, isn’t it? Praise Him that He is the ultimate GPS!

Guest blog today – “What Would Siri Do?”

What Would Siri Do?


By: Mitchell Roush

A couple of weeks ago I got an iPhone 4s (I know I’m about 14 months late to the party, whatever), thus upgrading from my smart-phone-want-to-be that had been on its last leg since October.  Among all the bells-and-whistles that come with the iconic apple product, so far the most entertaining pass-time has been finally having my own personal Siri.  For my fellow members of the iPhone cult, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Finally, Google has a voice!  Figuring things out is even more convenient than it was before!  Naturally, this got me thinking.  I posed this question to myself:

To what lengths will I go to make my life more “convenient”?

Safe to say as a society, we’ve never been surrounded or distracted by more noise from the world than now.  The irony is that no other generations have been so enamored with multitudes of “time-wasters” at their finger tips than my generation and the ones behind me.  Result:  We’ve become more bored and complacent than any generation before us. Perhaps the key isn’t desperately desiring entertainment at all moments of the day–but rather devoting oneself to regular time of UN-plugging and substantial, real human interaction.

I’m not highlighting this just to climb on a soap-box.  My hope is by illuminating these tendencies we’ll feel compelled to come back to the heart of the matter:  We are meant for more.  If church is going to make her potential a reality, we must change the paradigm of which we view the world.  This is a great place to start,

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”
  (Matthew 5 : 3 – 10, NIV)

At the end of the day, God’s not going to ask about your “Religious Views” on your Facebook page.

He won’t ask you how many times your quote of John 3:16 got Re-Tweeted.

Siri won’t be able to simplify your faith.

We must be ready to live out this simple truth:  It’s not about me—it’s about us.  If the church is going to take that on as her mission, we must be ready for the Holy Spirit to interrupt our convenience and call us to better things.


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Too Good Not to Share

In his book, “To Own a Dragon,” Donald Miller shares this insight concerning thinking about God as a Father.

“There is a part of me, and I think it is a growing part, that believes if I submit to God, read the Bible and obey his commands, and also talk to Him about stuff going on in my life, in His own ways, He is fathering me toward maturity.

And there is something profoundly humbling about knowing God. I’m not talking about the trinket God or the genie-in-a-lamp God, I mean the God who invented the tree in my front yard, the beauty of my sweetheart, the taste of a blueberry, the violence of a river at flood. I think there are a lot of religious trends that would have us controlling God, telling us that if we do this and that and another, God will jump through our hoops like a monkey. But this other God, this real God, is awesome and strong, all-encompassing and passionate, and for reasons I will never understand, He wants to Father us.”

I just really thought that was worth sharing!


The other day I looked down while wearing a light sweater and saw something odd and white sticking out. I quickly plucked it off my wardrobe to behold that it was a hair from our bulldog. I was somewhat puzzled since our four-legged family member had not been on the sweater. I soon realized that she had been near the closet that housed the day’s apparel. Because of her proximity to my clothes she had left her mark.

I couldn’t help but draw a direct correlation to how we wind up with attitudes, actions, and verbiage we shouldn’t – we allow Satan proximity to our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts. He works subtly – just like my bulldog. I don’t ever see Bella’s hair “flying,” but apparently she can still leave her presence even when I don’t notice anything. Isn’t that how Satan often works? 

We don’t take careful notice and before long, we’ve allowed him more access than we intended, and often with pernicious consequences. We didn’t mean to! I didn’t think anything bad would happen! I didn’t think what I was doing was all that wrong! Oh the things we tell ourselves that enable our unholy behavior!

I truly believe that we do not often set out to allow him access – I just think we’re sometimes careless and don’t realize the effect the Evil One can have on us. I don’t think we’re intentionally bad – I just don’t think we’re as intentionally good / careful as we could be. Wouldn’t our lives be so much easier if we practiced Phil. 4:8? A later epistle tells us to “resist the Devil.” Doesn’t that mean get (and stay) as far away as possible?

I think we have a tendency to try to keep one foot at the Cross, and the other in the world. We use phrases like “it’s not that bad” (which inherently means it isn’t also that good), or “it won’t do much harm” (it won’t do much good either), or “what’s really the harm?” (what’s really the good?)

This is far from me scolding – this is me encouraging because I know how easy it is for me to give things that are not from above more proximity in my life than I should. I think about Jesus, in the flesh, on earth – he was tempted as we are, yet without sinning. He really wanted to be that close to God! Brutal reality is sometimes I just don’t want to be!

Let’s try to insure that Jesus and His ways are what we allow close enough to us to leave their mark. I doubt it can make us perfect, but it will certainly make us more like Him. I think he gave His life so I wouldn’t have to give in to the human nature I have. I think it can be supplanted with the mind of Christ (Phil 2), but it will have to be intentional! I am thankful for his loving grace and tender mercy. I will try not to stain them by allowing the wrong things proximity to my spiritual entity.


I guess since so many people are thinking about “new year’s resolutions,” I will take the opportunity to share some thoughts about renewal. I think we are often confused in our individual lives because of how this word is often used. It usually implies a single “event” – renewing your driver’s license, renewing your car license, renewing your insurance policies, renewing a magazine subscription. These all necessitate a “one-time” occurrence. Due to this, I feel, and fear, that we often bring that filter into our lives when we think about renewing our self in some way.

Renewal is a PROCESS, not a one-time event! I live in a part of the country where we usually experience all four seasons. We often think of spring as a time for new life or renewal. If we think of a season, we will be more on target with how to internalize this concept. A season just doesn’t arrive – it is a process. The snow begins to melt, the grass begins to turn green, the first buds begin to shoot out of the garden – these are all signs that the process is under way, and we can expect renewal sometime in the future. We don’t have instant garden, grass, and trees! It is most definitely a process, and one that brings hope. As we begin to see various signs (“Honey, there’s the first robin!”), we get excited at the transformation that is both occurring and coming.

I think this approach to our spiritual, emotional, and personal lives would reap far more benefit than a “resolution.” If we embrace the PROCESS, than any day is a day in which we can decide to start or continue renewal. If we don’t expect a one-time event, then we can be patient with ourselves and with our God as we renew. Sometimes we’re not even aware that significant things are happening, but then one day we realize, “hey, I didn’t react to that the way I would have several years ago.” That is renewal!

I don’t know how the Spirit works, and never will, but that doesn’t give me doubt that in ways I cannot overtly or quickly see, He is working if I allow it! Renewal is slow. Renewal often involves sacrifice. (We can’t just let the garden and grass go – they need tending to). Renewal involves patience. Renewal involves humility and transparency!

Let’s not beat ourselves up over another failed “resolution,” rather, let us commit ourselves to allowing God to work renewal in any part of our lives that He needs to. Let us allow Him time to do things His way, and let us work on cultivating the attitudes and processes necessary for new life. No one is stuck where they are! We each have a choice to make – we can allow renewal, or we can resist it.

Won’t you join me in a cycle of renewal? Our famililes, jobs, relationships, and churches will all be better places if we spent more time allowing God to renew us as He needs. There won’t be a “checklist” like with a set of resolutions, but possibly the rewards and motivation are better. Remember the Psalmist said we could be “like a tree planted by water.” But also be aware he said that the tree yields its fruit “IN DUE SEASON.” Allow yourself to be transformed by the renewing of your minds, hearts, thoughts, actions, vobacularies, etc… and enjoy both the process and the product!