Shuffle Up and Deal: Mark Oestreicher...

What day is it again? Friday? Oh my gosh! That means it must be time for another edition of "Shuffle Up and Deal"! Hmm... Whose iPod would the readers of this blog really like to be able to take a peak into? How about Mark Oestreicher, better known as Marko! I have known Marko for about a year and a half and can say that I love being his friend. Not only is he a cool person in general, but he's a great dad to his kids, an awesome husband to his wife, and an amazing source of knowledge about youth ministry. After all, he's been doing it for somewhere around 25 years! He serves as president of Youth Specialties, a tremendous organization committed to encouraging and resourcing youth workers everywhere. A great volunteer, dad, friend, and dude.

Let's see how great his "First Five" are...

1) Life in the D by Brendan Benson

2) All About It by The Getaway People

3) Come On Home by Franz Ferdinand

4) 40 by Starfield

5) Change II by The Alarm

UPDATE: When Marko emailed me his songs, he actually included 10. As per the rules of "Shuffle Up and Deal" I only posted five. But I feel like being a maverick this week, so here's Marko's "Second Five"...

6) Show Me How to Live by Audioslave

7) Claire de Lune by Claude DeBussy

8) Deep River Corp. from The Very Best of Asia Lounge

9) Babylon II by David Gray

10) Looks Like I'm Up Sh** Creek Again by Tom Waits


Lady In the Water: Pt. 2...

Yesterday, I posted my review of Lady In the Water. I wanted to write about the three prevalent themes that I felt like the movie presented, but I ran out of time (and room on the page). So, here we are again. Ready to go.

As I said before, I love to examine the messages that a film is trying to convey. Often times, films are able to teach us so much because we are able to suspend reality for an hour and a half and put ourselves in the place of the characters in the story. Since Monday night, this film has been on my mind. I've been chewing on it. Trying to understand the themes and break them down enough to apply to my own life. Maybe writing some of it out will help with that.

WARNING: This contains spoilers!

Theme #1: Discovering Our Purpose
In the film, Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is a man who has lost much. As a result, he has abandoned the world. He hasn't retreated to a cave and become a hermit, nor has he launched himself into space. But, he has done what I have done so many times; he has become the walking dead. Even though he passes residents in the breezeways of the apartment complex that he supers everyday, he doesn't allow himself to do life with any of them. He doesn't allow anyone to get close enough to touch his soul. In his days before working as a superintendent, he had a purpose; a calling. He was a doctor. After a painful event in his past, he abandoned that purpose in a dangerous exchange that so many of us make all the time: we abandon what makes us us in exchange for the false promise that seclusion will keep us safe. (More on this later) This movie is about Cleveland rediscovering his purpose.

"All creatures have a purpose", says one of the characters in the movie. And that statement is so true. We do. We all have a purpose. Our purpose in this life is to honor God by loving Him as hard as we possibly can, to receive His love (allow ourselves to be loved BY him), and love others in the same way that we love (honor, take care of, watch out for, etc.) ourselves. We each have these broad purposes in our lives. But, I believe that we each have specific purposes in our lives as well. I believe that God has given each of us gifts (talents, abilities, pre-disposed inclinations, etc.) that He means for us to use to serve those around us. Cleveland learns, through his encounter with Story (Howard), that he is meant to be a healer. Which leads us to...

Theme #2: Discovering Our Giftings
In the film, Story has been living in the complex pool for a time, but has discovered it is time for her to go back home to the blue world. Through the memories of an old Chinese lady, Cleveland uncovers why. It seems that Story is destined to become the queen Narf (Sea Nymph) and has to get home in order to do so. Part of her story is that several humans will be instrumental in her departure. One will be a guardian, who is meant to protect her. One will be a symbologist, who will uncover messages from the universe within some object that is native to them. A group of them will be a guild, whose hands will strengthen and uplift the group. And one will become a healer, who will bring life. Cleveland, because he finds Story, thinks that he is the guardian. But when he encounters the evil Scrunt, which is bent on killing Story, he has no power over it, as the guardian should. It isn't until later on that he discovers that he is the healer. And it's when he discovers this, that he feels the most fulfilled.

God has given each of us gifts. These gifts are meant to be used to help others. When they are used for this purpose, we find fulfillment. We find fulfillment because we are taking part in God's plan for mankind: a plan to restore us to what we were supposed to be...

Theme #3: Discovering Our Part In the Body of Christ
One of the things that I loved the most about this movie is how this group of strangers, led by Cleveland, rallies together under a common purpose. By rallying together, they discover that they each have strengths that the others don't. They discover that they each have a specific purpose within the group. I think that being a part of a group is extremely healing for Cleveland. As I mentioned before, so many times we exchange our relationships with other people for a risk-free life of solitude. So many times, when someone hurts us deeply, we think (I think) that it would be better to not let anyone anywhere near our hearts ever again. And even if that means a life of loneliness, at least it also means that we won't have to experience pain, as a result of caring for someone so deeply, ever again. The problem with this, is that God designed us to do life with other people. He designed us to be a part of a group. To love. To risk. To feel the hurt, but also feel the joy. We cannot let our past pains affect our present need for relationship. (Boy am I preaching to myself on this one!) Can we live life on our own? Yes. Can we live life in the way that it is intended to be lived on our own? No. It's like asking can a car move without gas. Yes, if you roll it down a hill. But, it can do so much more with the right fuel.

Maybe the reason this all hit me so hard is because I'm dealing with a lot of this stuff in my life right now. I know about my purpose within my relationship with God, but I struggle with doubts as to my purpose in my chosen career. Am I really called? Couldn't someone else do a better job? Do my giftings really fit this job? Isn't there someone more gifted? More qualified? And the thing that I struggle most with is finding my place as part of the body of Christ. I love my church. I've been here for a year and 3 months and it has been a struggle for me to find a group of people that I can have community with. (Truth be told; I secluded myself for the first 6-8 months I was here due to my own loss.) Please don't hear me say that I doubt all the time. At the end of the day I know this is where I'm meant to be. But sometimes it's a struggle.

I hope that some of these thoughts (although not fully formed or finished) can help you a little. I'll probably be chewing on them for some time...


Lady In the Water...

"He's hearing the voice of God through a crossword puzzle!"

Ok, I know that I'm going to take some flak over this review. Some people have called my tastes in movies into question in the past. But, for the past 6 years, I have considered myself somewhat of a student of film. But not just the typical things that critics look for in movies (acting + story + cinematography + etc.), although I love that stuff. But I look at the messages that a film sends out too.

So, in this review, I'll spend a short amount of time reviewing the actual film, and then concentrate more on the three major themes that I felt ran throughout.

Lady In the Water
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 mins.
Directed By: M. Night Shymalan
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard

Ok, much like my review of Superman Returns, I want to start by saying i am approaching this movie with a nominal amount of bias. I love movies, and for about four years during, and after, high school wanted to be a director. I obsessed over Stephen Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock. I watched everything they made and read everything I could about them. So, in 1999, when Shymalan came out with Sixth Sense, I felt as though the next great genius had shown up. I love every one of his movies. Ok, Ok...Unbreakable was sweet up until the end. And the Village was predictable. In fact, I guessed the ending 1/4th of the way into the movie. But they are absolute works of art! Shymalan is a master of the camera! He has an amazing eye! And even his worst film (which most critics are saying is this one) is still better than the rest of the crappy remakes and sequels that hollywood is churning out these days. So, with that in mind, here is my review...

What follows is a SPOILER FREE review.

If you haven't heard anything about this movie, here's a brief rundown of the plot. Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is the building superintendent of an apartment complex. He's a quiet guy with a tuttering problem who mostly keeps to himself and seems all and around like a pretty sad and tired guy. One night, he spots somone spashing about in the water of the pool at the center of the complex. He approaches the young lady named Story (Howard) only to discover that she is a narf, or sea nymph. What follows throughout the rest of the film is the telling of Story's...well...story and how Cleveland, as well as other residents of the complex, must ban together in order to save her from the evil Scrunt and help her return home.

There is a big to-do about this movie in the press for a number of reasons. 1) Aparrantly, Shymalan and Disney, who had made his previous four films, had a falling out over the script to this picture. I read an article in TIME describing it briefly, but as I understand, there is an entire book about it, called The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale. 2) This movie is a little bit of a departure from Shymalan's previous bait-and-switch formula. But, as I said at the top, this is a spoiler free review. So, let's get down to the nitty gritty...

So, what was good?
-Giamatti is superb. I simply do not understand why this man has not been awarded an Oscar yet. He is a master of the everyman. The way he portrays Cleveland as a broken man who has abandoned the world, yet is awakened upon meeting Story is superb. It's almost as if you can see hope appear in his soul. Please, AMPAS, give him an Oscar!

-Bryce Dallas Howard is a star on the rise. This woman can definitely play drama. I'm very interested to see a little more of her range in the coming years. She plays the part of Gwen Stacey in next summer's Spider-man 3. So, you know, she'll need to find some sort of major motion picture vehicle that a lot of people will see to get her name out there.

-If you're any type of "film as art" person, then you have to love Symalan's camera placement. He explores new point-of-views in a way that reminds me of early Spielberg. The way he sets up shots is beautiful. He's also a very suspenseful filmaker in the sense of holding a shot for that extra second or two. I think that, when he does that, he draws the fear out of you. Rather than moviemakers who show every scary thing, who try to put the fear in you.

-I love the supporting cast in this film. All of the residents of the apartment complex are so utterly charming that it makes you want to live there.

-There was quite a bit of exposition. Part of the charm of the movie is that the characters find out about the story right along with the audience. I actually enjoyed this aspect of the story. Most people won't.

-By departing from his bait-and-switch formula of film making, Shymalan has painted himself into a corner. You either give the audience what they've come to expect and here them cry out, "Predictable!" Or, you give them something different and they cry, "Lame!" It's a no win.

And so, to Lady In the Water, I give the honor of being awarded with a certified 3 Yarmulke™ rating.

I think that this is a must-see, but maybe not an opening night. Great message. Great acting. But it may be too different for most moviegoers to embrace.

Whoops! Looks like I didn't talk about the themes! I'll post again tomorrow with those!

The Answers To All of Life's Tough Questions...

Today I ran across an article that could possibly answer every burning question that you've ever had about life. Have you ever heard of Mental Floss magazine? Yeah, me neither. But you can bet your sweet potatoes that I'm getting a subscription now! Evidently, Mental Floss is all about useless knowlege (my favorite type). Well, here's there list of the "25 Most Important Questions In the Universe". And not only were they cool enough to compile the list of questions, but they even threw in the answers for free! Click on the link and gain more knowlege than you could ever hope for. Here's a teaser of what's inside...

-Who’s That AOL Guy Who Eerily Knows When You’ve Got Mail?

-Is There One Move That’s More Likely to Win a Game of Rock-Paper-Scissors?

-What are Sea-Monkeys®, Anyway?


Shuffle Up and Deal: Mike Lovato...

We're back with a post-Summer Camp edition of "Shuffle Up and Deal"! This week's guest is a former colleague and good buddy from my time in Orange County, Mike Lovato. Mike is the Student Ministries Pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, CA. He was one of the guys on our old team that i would frequently turn to for wisdom when it came to ministry. Not only because he had already been a Middle School Pastor, but because he was full of it. Wisdom. I mean... He's one of the greatest guys on the planet and I love having him as a friend.

Let's see how his "First Five" measure up...

1) Release the Deep by Telecast

2) Constancy by Slick Shoes

3) Gemini Dream by the Moody Blues

4) Silver Clouds by the Cells

5) Get Down by Audio Adrenaline


Ok, I'll Admit It...

Last night I spoke at a beach camp in Encinitas. The people that hired me to speak told me I had 45 minutes for a message. "45 minutes!", I said. "That's way too long. I'm aiming for somewhere around 25." They said, "Are you sure? I mean, you are a little long-winded." To which I replied, "Yeah, I'm kind-of long-winded, but not that long-winded!" Well, apparently I am. Now, bear in mind that I said I was aiming for 25 minutes. How long would you guess that I talked for? 30 minutes? 45? 50? Maybe even an hour? Nope. 82 minutes. One hour and 22 minutes. True, I had a 15-20 minute comedy bit at the beginning. But 82 minutes!!!! How any of them were awake at the end is beyond me...


Poor Planning...

Wow. First, I do want to apologize to all of the faithful readers of my little blog. I'm sorry that I haven't posted regularly in almost two weeks. As some of you may know from the previous audioposts, I was at Summer Camp last week. Well, instead of resting this week with the intent of recovering fully, I had the wisdom to plan three events for our ministry. Then, on top of that, I said yes to speaking at a camp. I know. I'm dumb. So, all of that to say, don't give up on us. As soon as I get past this Friday, I'll resume my blogging life as usual. I'm going to the San Diego Comic Con this weekend. Maybe I'll blog about that...


Highway To the Danger Zone...

Tonight (Friday) at church, our High School Ministry ran the service. High School students led worship for the whole church body, performed a skit, emceed the service, and the High School Pastor, Brian, gave the message.

I had the dubious task of performing as Principal Hoover in the skit.

Please notice the diagram above. It's a drawing of our stage in the worship center. You'll notice that it's shaped like a half-circle with a kind of "T" shaped platform in the middle. Because the platform is shaped like a "T" it leaves two triangle shaped holes in the stage.

Yeah...I fell through the one on the right tonight during practice. There I was; minding my own business, not looking where I was walking. And...boom! I'm four and half feet lower.

Brian rushed onto the stage to see if I was OK. Truth be told it didn't hurt at all. More of a giant noise. But no pain. By the time everyone realized what happened, I had already rolled over on my back and started laughing. I realized 25 minutes later that I cut my ankle open pretty good.

Yeah...Good times...


Shuffle Up and Deal: Allison Hibbard...

It's time to "Shuffle Up and Deal"! This week's guest is an amazing friend of mine from my time in Orange County, Allison Hibbard. Allison is one of the pastors who works on the Junior High team at Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, CA. Here are a few fun facts about her: 1) She is one of the more creative people I know. 2) She is one of the only people in the known universe who can hold their own in Pop Culture Trivia with me. 3) She is extremely passionate about her relationship with Jesus and about showing Junior High students how they can grow in their relationship with God. She's an amazing pastor and a great friend. So what were the "first five" songs that came up when she hit "shuffle" on her iPod?

See for yourself...

1) Autumn In New York by Harry Connick Jr.

2) Before Me and You by SHeDAISY

3) I Guess It's Chritmas Time by N*SYNC

4) Rock Steady by No Doubt

5) This Love by Maroon 5


Camp Time Races Sing This Song...

Sorry for the lack of posts for the past couple of days. We leave for Summer Camp on Sunday, and as you can probably imagine, things have gotten a little busy. Don't worry though, as tomorrow will still bring a new "Shuffle Up and Deal"! I'll try to get in a book review from the fast before we leave, and then some audio posts while we're there, but no promises. I'll get back on my regular posting schedule after we get back on the 15th. Until then...


Your Just Desserts...

Wow! That was a long, and kind of heavy, post! For those of you who read the whole thing, here's a little treat to say thank you. For those of you who didn't, thank those that did. Welcome back KITT. I give you: More HASSELHOFF...

"Quick Thinking" or Thoughts From My Fast...

My TV fast is over. At 12:30pm on July the 1st, it ended. "So Josh, did you turn on your TV and bask in it's soft glow for 16 hours as soon as the clock ticked off that last minute on Saturday?" Naw. In fact, I was here; in the office, working on our weekend service. I didn't turn the TV on until much later at night after I had been home for about 2 1/2 hours. And even then, I felt strangely guilty about it.

For those of you who started reading my blog recently, you can read all about why I fasted from TV here.

For some of you, this 30 day excercise may seem small. But, for those of you who know me personally, you know what a big deal this sacrifice was. I wanted to take some time to write out some of my thoughts and some of the things that I learned from the past month, in the hopes that, in some small way, my journey could help you along on yours.

I'll post thoughts and learnings here, in this post. And I'll post book reviews in posts to follow...

Thoughts I Had & Things I Learned From My 30 Day TV Fast:
* The dust on my TV screen is caused by the static electrical build-up that happens when the TV is turned on. Thus, my TV has been dust free for over 30 days now...

* I sleep better when I don't fall asleep in front of the TV watching The Colbert Report and then get up around 3am to get in bed...

* Silence isn't as scary as I thought...

* I have a lot more self control than I thought. This excites me and makes me somewhat proud. It also makes me a little scared; as I can no longer use the excuse "I can't help it" for most of my behaviors...

* Not that TV, or any other form of media, is bad, but the less distractions you have in your life, the easier it is to hear God... Of course, this is coming from a single dude who lives alone and has almost no responsibilites aside from his job.

* I feel like this past month was one of the best in the past year and a half. I felt more at peace, rested, patient, and less anxious than before. I think this could be attributed to the fact that I had about 6 more hours in my day than usual. (That's right. SIX.)

* Through reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection, I've realized that I have a major deficit in who I am as a pastor. (This is a long one!)

I've thought for some time that, as a pastor, I have three jobs:
1) Know God.
2) Get to know people.
3) Introduce the people that you get to know to the God that you know.

I know that there are about a million little things that pastors do, but I think that they could all fit into one of those three categories.

Within my job as a pastor, I have two planes that I operate on:
1) Ministry This is all of the parts of my job dealing directly with students. I think that I have a pretty good handle on this. Please don't hear me say, in any way, that I'm the greatest at this. I don't think I'm anywhere near the top. I know that I have a lot of growing left to do. But, I feel like it's in me. You know? It's in my heart. I love it. I love my students and so I would do anything for them. So, as far as the ministry part of the job goes, I'm decent.

2) Management This is the part of the job that involves everything I do with my adult leaders. I came to a realization on the plane ride to Chicago that I suck in this area. I think that this stems from a couple of different things:

a) I don't know my team. I mean, I know them, but I don't know them. This is my fault. I haven't made the effort I should.
b) I've been a ball hog. When I first came to my church, I was operating under the false assumption that, if I could prove to the team that I had inherited that I was great at everything, and didn't need them, that they would be so inspired by my awesomeness they would want to follow me to the ends... Unfortunately, this coupled with the natural tension that arises whenever an organization gets a new leader alienated a lot of the team. As a result, lots of relationships need to be rebuilt and lots of new team members need to be recruited. This is also my fault.
c) I'm a wuss. Andy Stanley says that the leader isn't the one who had the big idea, it's the one with the courage to step out, take a chance, and try. I have not had much courage so far. I've let what others think about me and a fear of failure, not my calling from and my identity in Christ, control my decision making. As a result, I've had lots of missed opportunities and have not given my best in everything. For me, I would rather fail and know I gave my best, than succeed on a ho-hum effort. This is one of the more frustrating of the things I've seen in myself. Once again, my fault.
d) I'm not working from my strengths. I've spent too much time trying to do things that I'm horrible at and not enough time doing the things that I'm good at and excite and fulfill me. Stanley says that, most of the time, there are others just waiting to tackle the jobs you're bad at, but won't give up. These people are usually gifted in the areas that you're not, and by giving these things over to them you and they win. You guessed it, my fault.

This realization really hurt. It was like a punch to the stomach. For so long I had thought that our team was unhealthy and needed to improve, but I had no idea how to treat the ailment. Then I realized that I had diagnosed the wrong disease. The team wasn't the problem, I was. Or AM. My leadership had lead us to where we were.

So, I hit my knees, asked for forgiveness, and begged God to show me what needed to be done. (See! I told you it was a long one!)

I'm not far into these learnings, so no significant changes have happened yet. But, I've begun to put some things into place that I think will help. I've made it a point to meet with each of my leaders individually. I'm trying to figure out what they rock at and what they love, so that I can get them doing that.

This is, of course, not the complete list of learnings from June; the month without TV. It's just some highlights. Maybe, you've just gone through your first year of ministry. Maybe you've just gone through your 18th. Wherever you're at, I hope that you're learning. I hope that you're constantly trying to improve on yourself. To change for the better. To become better at what you do today than you were yesterday. For your sake, for the benifit of those you serve, and for the honor of the God who sacrificed His only Son so that we could know Him.

Now that's a sacrifice...