My Recipe for Humble Pie

Humble Pie (behance.net)Image credit: behance.net

Thought for the Week

One of my most important life experiences was also one of the most educational. And by “educational” I mean painfully humbling. Healing River was my first feature film as a writer-director. I thought I knew everything I needed to know: I had an MFA in directing and four years of post-graduate training; I’d taught filmmaking at three universities, produced and directed dozens of short films. What else was there to know?

A lot.

At the end of week one my Producer said he was hearing complaints, “only no one’s telling you to your face because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Hey, at least I was a likeable loser. Oy!

So, I prayed. Because God has no problem telling me things to my face. And he gave me his prize recipe for Humble Pie:

  • Step One: Gather ingredients (call a meeting).
  • Step Two: Mix ingredients (admit you’ve screwed up and ask for help).
  • Step Three: Bake at extreme high temperature (listen to their complaints, write down their suggestions, and earnestly thank them—they’re giving you one of the most important lessons of your life)!
  • Step Four: Remove from oven and allow to cool (send team home with promise to apply their suggestions).
  • Step Five: Serve warm, topped with a generous layer of fresh whipped humility (diligently review and apply their suggestions—over and over again)!

Some specs: Much of what I learned at that fatal meeting is applicable to any leadership environment—corporate, education, volunteering, even parenting. Here are some of the specifics I came away with:

  • Give clear, concise directions, and then trust your team to do their jobs (whether lighting a movie set or designing digital widgets).
  • Give immediate “Yes” or “No” answers (“Well, yes and no…” Oops).
  • Don’t think out loud – It comes off as indecision, and leaves people feeling uncertain.
  • Don’t talk “big picture,” talk their picture, i.e. talk about the part they’re tasked with. (Vision is a beautiful thing, but don’t rattle on about it!)
  • Be specific (Not “She’s depressed, so she drinks and wanders around,” but “she enters here, pours herself a drink here, then goes and stands here.” My lighting crew didn’t need to know why she was drinking, they needed to know where!).
  • Affirm people—and be specific about that too (“Perfect! I love how the camera moved into the close-up just as she started to cry!”)
  • Save notes from your team members in a “Read This!” folder — and review and apply those notes daily!

I’d like to say I performed brilliantly after that. I didn’t, but I did improve. So, no, I’m not a perfect director, but when it comes to eating humble pie, I take the cake. Oops, mixed metaphor.

I’ll try to be more specific next time.

Healing River has won over 20 movie awards and nominations, and been one of the top-rated inspirational films on Amazon Prime for over a year. It’s also available on TubiTV, Roku, and other streaming platforms, as well as DVD at most retail sellers.

Posted in Humor, Memoir, Movies, Videos | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Be the Light

Be the LightArtwork by Nikita Veprikov

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:16

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

When the Mysterious Comes Knocking…

'Dead End' by DrawKill (deviantart.com)Artwork by DrawKill

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

Zack and Gina Dore were interrupted mid-play (or mid-fight, they could never tell which) by the most mysterious person they’d ever known, or likely ever would. The big red-headed woman’s clothing and scent, though not unpleasant, were indescribable: comfortable yet exotic, foreign yet familiar; her hair was the color of a forest fire, her skin the color of clotted cream, her mouth as wide as a mime’s–everything writ large. Most startling of all were her eyes, which were deep-set, dark as chocolate, and surprisingly beautiful. Belying her jovial demeanor, they betrayed a recess of sorrow deep within.

“Aunt Aloysia!” Zack squealed as he leaped into her arms. She squeezed him until he bulged, and then put him back down, allowing him a moment to regain his normal shape.

“Hi, Aunt Aloysia,” said Gina, no less pleased, but fourteen. Aloysia opened her arms, and Gina disappeared into them.

“Hargarererurmmph,” she mumbled into the big woman’s pillowy uni-front.

“Yes, I know, dear, I know.”

Warm greetings aside, this was not a normal visit. Which became clear when Aloysia took both of the children’s hands in hers and said in crisp Queen’s English, “No time for ceremonial shilly-shallying. We’ve business to attend to.” And then, waxing mystical, she added with a Hindi dialect, “It is most important to not be seen. Where, then, shall we go that we may not be seen by that which would keep us from attaining a most precious purpose?”

Gina and Zack took a moment to decipher, and then replied in harmony, “Ohhh,” and took her free hand. Aloysia kept the shabby carpet close to her side as they led her down the stairs and toward the basement door.

Meanwhile, Mom came home gunning to clean something. Her devotion to cleanliness was legendary; she’d have washed soap if it was possible (this would have been annoying in anyone else, but somehow Mom pulled it off). She knew at once from the exotic scent that Aunt Aloysia was here, and rushed into the house, expecting to find her favorite eccentric in the den unveiling each of the mysterious gifts she’d brought, but Aloysia wasn’t there. Neither were the children. She hurried up the stairs, calling, “Zacky? Gina-bear?”

It had taken Aloysia two full minutes to shimmy down the basement stairs. Although it added to the difficulty, she’d refused to set the carpet down or to let Gina and Zack carry it for her; she wouldn’t even let them touch it. Once they made it to the bottom, she dropped it and took both of them in her arms, her dark eyes moistening.

“My dear, dear children…it may be that I will not see you again for a very long time.”

“What?”

“Why?”

“Because,” she said with a Scottish burr, “where I ha’ been, ye now must follow. Where now ye go, I can go na more.” This must have meant something dismal because she said it with a tone of deep remorse.

Gina and Zack observed a respectful if bewildered silence.

Mom stepped over The Hobbit on the upstairs landing and opened the door to Gina’s room. “Gee-bee?” No one. She hurried down the hall and peered into Zack’s room: “Zacky?” Nothing. Just the sound of Ginger jogging on the hamster wheel. She pulled down the attic ladder and shouted, “Hey, you guys. C’mon. You’ll melt up there!”

Meanwhile, in the basement…

To be continued.

φ

Thoughts: Have you ever known a walking enigma, someone who was patently odd, and yet somehow completely trustworthy?

Wishing pix-Map

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Living Wonders

If you look up “natural wonders,” you’ll see some amazing rock formations and majestic snow-covered mountains–wonders indeed. But the most marvelous thing of all is that our planet is full of living wonders. Enjoy these images of life on earth — and have a wonder-ful weekend!

Click on any image to enlarge it or to start slide show

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Our Just-the-Right-Height New Christmas Tree!

Short people don’t usually come to mind when we think of disadvantaged folks. I mean, Lady Gaga, Prince, Ariana Grande, Beethoven, and Picasso seem to have done alright for themselves. Still, there’s a certain stigma to the label “short.”

So, I was thinking maybe it’s time to retire the word, when my wife and I stopped by Starbuck’s for Christmas-themed lattes. And then it struck me: From now on we should refer to everyone as either tall, grande, or vente!

The next day, our new Christmas tree arrived straight from the North Pole (a.k.a. China)! We excitedly began assembling it, only to discover it was a foot shorter than our old tree! Ahem, I mean, it was a foot taller. Wait, that doesn’t make sense because it’s actually, you know, shorter. No, I mean, um, less-grande. No, wait, that sounds sorta derogatory. Arggggh!

Let’s just lose the labels altogether. I mean, as any self-respecting chihuahua knows, size isn’t the measure of a dog. Or a tree. Our new tree has a style all its own, and that’s all that matters. And besides, with the top-notch attached, well, it’s just-the-right-height!

Happy December, everyone!

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One of the Most Terrifying Experiments in Science History

Featured Image -- 65868

4c6d907a80572047b4e8074028cf0fbfMy Featured Blogger this week is Muurian of UptownNerd, a Nigerian Legal Practitioner and novelist with an insatiable hunger for knowledge. Muurian writes on a wide range of topics, here a notorious lab experiment with frightening implications about human society. Read on.

Uptownerd.com

The Universe 25 Experiment is a scientific experiment performed by American top scientist, John Calhoun. In the experiment, the scientist used an artificially created mice colony to perform an experiment to help further understand the dynamics of the human society.

John Calhoun built a colony of micefor the experiment and brought in hundreds of mice to fill it in. The colony itself was built as a paradise, containing surplus food and water with all good housing conditions that you will expect in a typical paradise. He called it “Paradise of Mice”. The plan was to watch the hundreds of mice live in this ideal world of surplusage, multiply and seemingly enjoy themselves forever.

HOW BIG WAS UNIVERSE 25 IN CALHOUN’S EXPERIMENT?

The Universe 25 was the biggest of John Calhoun’s compartmentalized rat utopia experiments. Although he started the scientific inquiry in a rural place, he later got his own lab…

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God, Summer Camp, and Talking in My Sleep

My Real Memoir

We’d finally arrived at big kid’s camp! Camp Osceola, amid the pines of Southern California’s highest mountains, was amazing. The moment we got off the bus, we were assigned to our cabins. We ran to our new homes, claimed our bunks, chose our group name, and then spelled it out in rocks outside!

My BFF Jeff and I bunked together. We’d had untold numbers of sleepovers, and apparently had adopted an unconscious language unique to us. The next morning, we were rudely awakened by laughter. The other boys were standing around guffawing. Apparently, they told us, Jeff and I had carried on a conversation in our sleep that went something like:

“Hey, Jeff, why buy marble tree?”

“Because plumber.”

“Ah, horse in my shoes.”

“Neato. Got mom with monster hammer?”

“Uh-huh. And twice meatballs.”

“Oh, OK, good, goo. Poot.”

Jeff and I did everything together. Except one. Inspired by endless sky and rocky peaks, I began hungering to commune with the infinite. The YMCA had a voluntary “Ragger” program, a de-militarized equivalent to Boy Scout merit badges. We were invited to make a voluntary vow, something secret between us and God. I decided to stop saying “bad words” I’d adopted in emulation of the “cool kids” I didn’t really want to be like anyway. We were given a colored scarf (“rag”) to wear as a symbol of our vow, and then led blindfolded to a holy place called Raggers Point, where we could sit and talk with God.

I still had no clue how to do that. So I looked at the view for awhile, and then made my oath to stop cussing, or at least say, “I’m sorry” each time I did it. No Monty Python-esque voice boomed out of the sky, “Gee, that’s swell, Mitch!” No cloudy animated finger wrote, “So happy to hear it!” Heck, I’d have even settled for gibberish, like the stuff Jeff mumbled when I asked him questions in my sleep! Nothing. Not even nonsense.

I went for another rag the following summer because I really liked the color, but I eventually learned to feed my hunger for the infinite with things like music, girls, and dreams of fame. Still, the longing never was never satisfied. Because, as it turned out, those things were only big enough for a me-shaped hole. They eventually started to rattle around and finally disappeared altogether into that infinitely larger…

God-shaped hole. 

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Big Choices Are Hard

Choices

Thought for the Week

“Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Were any words ever so familiar and yet so little-followed? Ironic, since it illustrates Jesus’ very point. He’s not saying that the majority of people choose the wrong path in life, but that the majority don’t choose at all. And that, in not choosing, they’re simply carried along by the herd down the broad path that leads to—well, we all know where animals who are being herded end up.

Little choices (“Earl Grey or Chai?”—those kinds of choices) are easy. Big choices (“Who shall I be?”—those kinds of choices) are hard. And so we focus on the little ones and avoid the big ones. But, as Neil Gaiman notes, “If you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say ‘what kind of tea?’” Yes, choosing is hard…

But the alternative to making big choices is a life that isn’t a life.

“The right choice is hardly ever the easy choice.” ~Rick Riordan

“To take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.” ~Madeline L’Engle

“To say you have no choice is to relieve yourself of responsibility.” ~Patrick Ness

“You can’t control your fate by refusing to make choices. I didn’t discover my destiny until I faced my circumstances. It’s about making choices you don’t want to make; that’s what decides your destiny.”  ~The Wishing Map

“We don’t get to choose what is true. We only get to choose what we do about it.”

~Kami Garcia

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, The Wishing Map | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Hello, God?

(See videos at end of this post)

funny-protest-signs01My friend Mina is proudly neopagan. What’s a neopagan? Good question. It would be easier to say what a neopagan isn’t, since they represent more of a subculture than a specific set of beliefs. Mostly, though, they are Not-Christian-ians. Which was the key to Mina’s “conversion,” in the first place. It wasn’t about what she was for, it was about what she was against.

Mina was raised by legalistic parents for whom God was The Great Killjoy, his motto: “If it feels good, don’t do it!” What she fled to when she left that narrow (and unbiblical) set of beliefs was the extreme opposite, a sort of religious democracy in which everyone gets to define who or what they want God to be. Mina bristles at the slightest suggestion that God might not be customizable. Fact is, I’m not sure she actually even believes in God. But that’s not the point. The point is that she has a right to define him, her, or it the way she wants to!

But what if there is a God?

bread_with_legs___by_ambitiousartisan-d6y8btoI’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have a body and a personality with likes, dislikes, abilities and passions. Now, there may be someone, in say Indiana or Indonesia, who believes you are “a walking slice of pumpkin bread” — and I would defend that person’s right to believe what they wish —

But that wouldn’t make it true.

When God first spoke to Moses, Moses asked, Who shall I say sent me? “I AM WHO I AM,” God replied, “tell them I AM sent you.” (Exodus 3:13-14)  God’s point?  “I am not who they say I am, I AM WHO I say I AM!” And, you know, He kinda has a point.

The comedy sketch Hello, God? first performed by my old duo Mitch & Allen, addresses some common misconceptions about God, misconceptions based on speculation, rather than revelation. Bottom line:

  If a person (divine or otherwise) does not choose to reveal themselves  —  we can never really know who they are.

In Hello, God? a young man attempts to reach God by telephone. Instead of contacting the God who is, he ends up dialing a series of misconceptions, i.e. God who isn’ts.

Dear Mina, I love you. And I pray that one day you’ll come to know the God who is, a God who, however uncustomizable, is infinitely more wonderful…than any God who isn’t.

You can read or download the complete script by clicking here!

hello-god_340_340

And you can watch the old Mitch & Allen videos right now!

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Religion/Faith, Videos | Tagged , , , , , | 48 Comments

The Woman at the Front Door

There's Someone Outside by YaseminmslImage by Yaseminmsl

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

The big red-headed woman stepped up to the front entrance of the Dore’s house, clutching the carpet close to her side. She looked nervously about, and then peered through the sidelight window next to the cheerful green-trimmed door. So sweetly domestic, she thought. So blissfully unaware. She reached down and tried the knob. It was unlocked. “Aha!”

She started to enter, but just as she did, the door jumped off its hinges, folded in the middle, and began flapping about like a second grader’s drawing of a bird come to life. It dove menacingly at her, trying to snatch the carpet.

“No! You can’t have it!” The woman took off one of her gigantic shoes and hurled it at the door-bird. It swallowed the shoe, then started coughing violently, spitting out splinters–and then as quickly as it began, the incident ended. The door fell to the ground and twisted like a wash cloth ringing itself out. The woman gave it a sharp kick. It spat out the offending shoe, slithered toward the entrance, shimmied up the doorposts, and wiggled back into place, tame and sweetly domestic once again.

Meanwhile, Zack and Gina Dore were upstairs playing, or fighting. They were never sure just which. “Get off, Zack!” Gina grunted. It didn’t sound sincere because she was giggling when she said it; it was her angry giggle, not her having-fun giggle, but Zack couldn’t tell the difference. He had a wiry strength that belied his travel-kit size, and was now using that strength to keep his sister pinned down.

Gina was mad at Zack for everything he’d ever done—“I’m sick of your hair cooties, and I’m sick of your stupid spazzbot routine!”—and mad at him for things that had nothing to do with him—“And I hate cedar trees, and I hate furry animals, and I hate exams…”

None of this was true. She’d always loved cedar trees; and she’d ached to have a puppy or a kitten for as long as she could remember, even if they did make her eyes puff up like golf balls (unconsciously, Gina felt “the furry animals” had all gotten together and rejected her en masse); and, well, exams she could live without.

Zack did his killer cyborg impression: “Eeep-eeep-eeep! Gnar, gnar!”

Gina finally managed to throw him to one side, and roll away. “Get off!” she screamed.

“I’m off!”

“Yah! He vas on, but now he’s off,” a voice boomed in a thick Norwegian accent. The red-headed woman’s voice was, like everything else about her, big. She was well over six feet tall, and nearly as wide. She looked, smelled, and sounded like everywhere she’d ever been…

Which was everywhere.

To read the next episode, click here.

φ

Thoughts: Has anyone ever appeared at just the right moment and spun your life in a direction you hadn’t known it needed to go?

Wishing pix-Map

Posted in Books, Humor, The Wishing Map | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments