Minimalism: Life as a Story


We are all born with a journey to make.

Your life is a story.

Is it a good story?
boring story?
event-filled story?

The point of a story is not to win. Money or success or accolades. A great ministry.

The point of every story is the character arc.
The protagonist has to change or it’s a bad story.
He has to go from stingy to generous.
She has to go from shame-filled to confident.

And here’s the part nobody likes: pain is the only way we change.

If you’re a writer and your story is all happy and no pain, your character can’t change, and therefore it’s not a great story. It might be slightly entertaining for a second, but it’s not transformative. Cotton candy story.

If you’re a human and your story is all happy and no pain, you can’t change, and therefore your life is not a great story. It might be peaceful and comfortable, but you won’t transform, you won’t grow. Cotton candy life.

The biggest thing that I’ve found that helps me get any traction on this is to throw off everything that hinders. Minimize. Streamline. Focus on one thing at a time, get rid of anything that isn’t contributing to who you want to become.

This is hard. It’s a narrow path.

But the amount of life you receive is closely tied to the amount of meaningless pleasures you’re willing to let go of to pursue a better story.

Claudia Discovers God’s Variety

Claudia’s father came into her room early one Saturday morning.  “Wake up, sweetie,” he said softly, and only after standing by her bed for a few minutes, just watching his daughter sleep peacefully.  “I have a surprise for you.”

“Oh daddy, you ruined it.”

“I ruined what?”  He looked around the room, puzzled.  “What, what did I ruin?”

Claudia sat up and rubbed one eye with one hand and stretched the other arm up towards the ceiling.  She’s not used to getting up this early.  “You ruined my dream.  I was performing a beautiful ballet in front of a big room of people.  I was just about to do my final chasse and you woke me up.”  Claudia didn’t even seem to be talking to anyone in particular; she was sitting cross-legged on her bed now, staring off into the distance as she recounted her dream, apparently still lost in the whole thing.

A teasing smile came across her father’s face.  “I guess we’ll have to wait until tonight to find out if they liked it or not,” he said.  He always knew how to make his only daughter smile.

“Oh daddy,” she said.

“Get dressed.  I’ll meet you in the car in three minutes,” he said quickly, and left the room.

The drive was long – almost an hour – but they played “I Spy” on the way to their destination, which made the time pass quite quickly.

Claudia’s eyes lit up when the car entered a huge, tree-lined field.  Could it be?  It was!  “An orchard!” she exclaimed, beaming from ear to ear, leaning forward in her seat so she could get a better view.

“An orchard,” Claudia’s father said affirmingly.

Ever since Claudia heard her father tell the story of the giving tree, she has wanted so badly to visit an apple orchard.

They exited the car and stood for a moment at the beginning of a seemingly endless row of apple trees.  “I want to tell you a little about apples, Claudia.”

Claudia put her small hand inside her father’s much larger one and looked up at him.

“Take a look at all these trees.  On these trees, Claudia, there are not just red apples but green and yellow apples, and different shades of each.  And there are not just big apples but small apples, too, and not just sweet apples but tart apples as well, and some even have a combination of both.  And there are differing textures, too – some are really crispy while others are softer.  Do you know how many different kinds of apples there are, Claudia?”

“Well my favorite is Red Delicious.  That’s the kind mommy always gets.  She says they’re better than the sour yellow ones.”

“Red Delicious is one kind.  There are also Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Breakey, Braeburn, Winesap, Rome Beauty, Norland, McIntosh, Jonathan, Vista Bella, Bolero, Fuji, Gala, Goodland, Honey Crisp, and that’s just the beginning.  There are hundreds.”


“Hundreds.  And that’s just the variety of apples!  Think about bananas and pears, grapes, kiwis, oranges, papayas, grapefruit, pineapples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, tayberries, cranberries, cherries, mangoes, tangerines, watermelon, muskmelon, cantaloupe, peaches, plums, and nectarines, for starters.  And this is just fruit!  Think about all the different kinds of vegetables, as well!  And these are just foods, and foods are just one of the many things God has made.”

Claudia was just staring at her father, smiling.  She likes it when he talks about the physical world.  He gets lost in a world of his own, she often tells her mother.

“Why did he do it, daddy?  Why did God make all the different kinds of apples and oranges?”

“Y’know, I’m not exactly sure why, baby.  But he seems to be pretty enthusiastic about it all.  He said ‘It is good!’ and was satisfied with it, so when we taste and touch and smell it all, we can agree with him and say ‘It is good!’  It’s a beautiful thing to live in God’s world and imitate his own enthusiasm for it.”  He looked down at Claudia, who was just smiling up at him.

“Let’s go get some apples,” he said.

“Yay!” Claudia responded.  And they spent the whole day wandering through the orchard, picking apples.

Dear Ocho, Thanks For Everything. –Your Former Resident, Bob


Recently I’ve been questioning a lot of things.  I’ve begun to wonder way beyond the assumed point of view that I and the community I’ve come from see things from.  Even the basic questions I’m questioning; who says those are the right questions to begin with?


A boy named Bob is born.  Bob is raised in a town called Ocho; he goes to school in Ocho, learns all the ways of the other Ochons, and goes to Ocho University.  Then he gets a job in the neighboring town called Chi.

The children in Chi are raised in a different way than the Ocho children, but Bob is able to get along fairly well.

Bob moves again, this time to a town nearby called Negen.  Bob finds out that this town is even more weird and he has a hard time getting along.

Because of these experiences Bob gets curious about other places – if these nearby towns are different than his hometown of Ocho, what else is out there?  So Bob dives into books for several years and learns as much as he can about the surrounding world.  His findings intrigue him.  Bob learns that his town Ocho means “eight” in another language.  The neighboring town of Chi means “seven”, and the town on the other side means “nine.”  Bob learns of hundreds of thousands of towns that stretch in each direction.  Every town is so different from the others that in a town like Eighteen they have no word for “food;” the idea does not exist.  Bob comes to realize that everything he has grown up believing about the world is only believed by fellow Ochons, with some basic ideas overlapping with the nearby communities.

They don’t know what a flower is in Fourteen, and in Thirty-Five there is no such thing as a question.  In Forty-Two their language is neither spoken or written.  As relatively close as Sixty-One is to Ocho, their bodies are drastically different, resembling something more like a puddle than an upright figure.  Once we get past One Hundred and Fifty there aren’t any more words in our vocabulary to describe them.


Someone might ask Bob, “So do you still believe in our deity?”  He doesn’t think it’s a yes or no question.  He would like to tell his ignorant inquirer that she lives in a very small view of the world if that is the question she is stuck on, anyway.  But by now he’s used to dealing with people from Ocho so he might say “Yes” just to get her off his back.

There may be no such thing as a stupid question but there are an awful lot of robots who can’t see beyond Ocho’s town limits.  Odds are Bob’s inquisitor will have a series of questions about Ocho’s deities and then interpret his answer in light of her Ocho education.

There’s a reason Bob sleeps late on the weekends.

God is Silent and He is There

There were some weeks when I was not a Christian because I felt so intimate with God.  There were weeks when I was a Christian because our tradition invites us to remember that sometimes God is hidden.  And even though God is hidden, God is still present.  
–Lauren Winner


“That’s not why I believe in God, Jamie – for that reason.  That’s not why I believe in him,” Jordan said, sitting on a tree stump and looking straight ahead.“Then why, Jordan?” Jamie said, raising his voice a little but still within a conversational tone.  “I don’t understand you.  I try to but I just don’t.  We’ve known each other since we were little.  We’ve done everything together.  Now here were are all grown up, able to make big decisions on our own.  And you still believe that Sunday School stuff.  I don’t get you, man.” 

Jordan smiled.  “A lot of times I don’t get me, either, Jamie.”  He thought for a few moments.  “You talked about God’s silence, how he’s never there when you try to talk to him…”


“And there doesn’t seem to be scientific proof that he exists.”


“But that’s not why I believe in him – those reasons.  I’m totally with you on a lot of what you’re saying.  Do you know how many times I’ve asked God to speak to me and he hasn’t?” Jamie gave a slight shake of the head as if he was interested in the answer but not too interested.

“Thousands,” Jordan said confidently.  “Thousands.  Do you know how many times I’ve actually heard God?”

“God talks to you?”

No,” Jordan responded immediately, “That’s just it – he doesn’t.  I’ve never heard God speak to me in my life.  I used to convince myself I did, because that’s what a good Christian does.  There have been times in my life when I tried so hard to hear him speak, but guess what?  Nothing.”

“That’s ridiculous.  You’re crazy.  Stupid, actually,” Jamie said matter-of-factly.  “And you still believe he’s out there.  He doesn’t speak, there’s no evidence of him, and you still think he’s there.  It’s literally unbelievable to me, Jordan.”

“I hear ya, man.  I really do.  And I think I might depart from what a lot of the pastors and scientists would tell you, but I honestly don’t give a rat’s excrement instrument.  I decided a short while ago that I’m not going to give the formulaic answer that I thought I was supposed to give all these years.  I’m just going to tell you what’s actually been happening to me, and you can take it for what it is.”

Jamie’s interest was piqued.  He hadn’t heard Jordan talk this seriously in a long time.

“I don’t hear God.  I don’t see God.  All the Evidence that Demands a Verdict-type books that scholars can write don’t do much for me.  I’ve read them.  Frankly I don’t care if you can or can’t prove God’s existence with a philosophical argument or with scientific data or a steady diet of positive music for the whole family.  As time goes on, Jamie, the reality of God being there – just being there – gets thicker and thicker.  His silence is deafening to me.  In a crazy, possibly sick sort of way, the longer God is silent, the louder he becomes.  Have you ever been around someone that doesn’t talk a whole lot, but when they do it’s pretty profound?”

“My dad, actually,” Jamie confessed.

“It’s almost like the wiser the person is, the less they speak.  It’s like he lets everybody’s words leave their mouths and even though he knows they’re just babbling about nothing and if they could actually hear themselves they would be embarrassed, but he doesn’t say anything.  He lets them keep talking.  And slowly some people start to realize, just because this wise person is in their presence, that their words are pretty insignificant.  The wise person’s silence becomes more and more evident.  I think it’s like that with God.  For me it is, anyway.  The longer I live in this world the louder his silence becomes.  I’m getting to the point where God’s silence is so much an evidence that he’s there, I forget that other people don’t think that same way.”

“You’re nuts, Jordan.”

“My point exactly.  But I told you I couldn’t give you the answer I’ve been trained to give you.  I can’t do it.  Mostly because I actually don’t believe it – the formula answers.  They’re not real to me.  What’s real to me is that God’s silence often overwhelms me.  The air around me is so thick with him that all these debates on whether or not he is or isn’t there seem like taking 10 steps back.  Wait, we’re still asking if he’s even there?  To me it’s like saying, ‘This tennis ball in my hand is a tennis ball,’ and a Ph.D guy says, ‘No it’s not.’  Uhhh…alright, you guys keep talking, I’m gonna go play with the dog or something.”

“You’re nuts but you’re funny.”

“Thanks for that, anyway.  You’re as stupid as I am, by the way,” Jordan joked.

“I know.  I know.”

A few hours later in his dark, quiet room, Jamie laid his head down on his pillow, and the silence was slightly louder than the night before.

NT Wright: Christianity Is For This World


These two quotes are from an interview with NT Wright in Christianity Today on the difference between certain versions of Christianity and the one he feels is closer to the Bible’s version:

Christianity – Saving Souls?

For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
The longer that I’ve gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were actually talking about, the more it’s been borne in on me that that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work.

Christianity – Not For This World?

Our Western culture since the 18th century has made a virtue of separating out religion from real life, or faith from politics.When I lecture about this, people will pop up and say, “Surely Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world.” And the answer is no, what Jesus said in John 18 is, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That’s ek tou kosmoutoutou. It’s quite clear in the text that Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t start with this world. It isn’t a worldly kingdom, but it is for this world. It’s from somewhere else, but it’s for this world.

The Story of Reality

Imagine William Shakespeare wrote a play (hard to imagine, I know). It’s such a great play that many people think that actors should be hired to act out the play on stage. The problem is that the play is supposed to be five acts, but we only have the first four acts and the beginning of the fifth in our possession, with hints of how it will end. Most of the fifth act has been lost forever. What do we do?

It seems like the best thing to do would be to hire actors who are well-versed in Shakespeare, give them copies of this unfinished play to study, and then have them act out their interpretation of what they think the fifth act would look like.

In the same way, the story of reality, the story of God, the story the Scriptures reveal to us, is a play with the first four acts and the beginning of the fifth written out for us. We humans have been hired, so to speak, to act out the fifth act of this great play on the stage of life, knowing what we know of the first four acts.

This play was not designed to be read and enjoyed by only a certain group of people, but rather is intended for anyone and everyone. In the same way, the story of God, the story of reality, the story of the Scriptures is meant to set the stage for anyone and everyone to act out the fifth act; it’s meant for all humanity.

Since we don’t have the final act of Shakespeare’s play, it wouldn’t be right to complete the drama once and for all. Even the well-trained actors need to be open to different versions of the play. After all, the play will look different as it is acted out by different people in different time periods. The goal is not to once-and-for-all decide what Shakespeare meant to do in the fifth act.

In the beginning of Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, (review of Velvet Elvis) he says something similar to this, but he uses the illustration of an Elvis painting instead of a Shakespearean play. Bell then concludes the introduction by saying, “Welcome to my Velvet Elvis” – I.e. this is my interpretation of act five.

Throughout Christian history, and in our world today in 2006, there are many different groups giving their interpretation of act five. Most of them, unfortunately, will tell you not, “This is my Velvet Elvis” or “This is my Act Five,” but rather, “This is the Act 5.”

My goal is to become an actor well-versed in the first four acts so that I can faithfully live out on the stage of life the fifth act.