Filtering by Category: Communication

50 Shows: Making Moments

I have played many shows for reasons both selfish and noble—usually a mix. But increasingly I see my work as a creator as about crafting a moment. A few years ago I sat at a coffee shop and listened to a fantastic singer/songwriter fill the room with a presence—little did I know he would later become a musical mentor. But I was so inspired at the time that I stole an empty coffee bag from the shop to jot down some thoughts. With his careful words, his adept guitar playing, and his experienced voice he had given me a surprise.

I keep an eye out for moments like that so I can slow down and take them in as well as pay attention to what makes them so special. I have become a student of creating moments and these are a few things I have learned.

1) It takes considerable skill. Crafting special moments for others is about paying attention to what is happening and either reacting to or joining in with it. The better you are, the more quickly and flawlessly you can change course.

2) It takes awareness not only of what is going on, but why it is happening. The best moments come when people see through me and let me know it. Be a student of people and what makes them tick. Our culture is quick to assume motivation and slow to listen.  At first ssume you are bad at it by nature—even if you think you are pretty great at it.

3) It takes courage. I once heard Jerry Seinfeld comment that something like 10% of his shows are a flop. Even the best can let you down, if you are depending on them to create a perfect moment every time. The goal is not to get it right always but to always try so that you can sometimes nail it. High chance of failure means you need to not get hung up on the flops.

4) It has nothing to do with any specific artistic medium. A party for a friend, giving a guitar lesson, an office meeting, a concert—they are all opportunities to create something special if you are willing to take the risk.

5) You won't get much glory. You might get a thank you, or even paid, but in the audience's memory you will be a part of the moment but likely not central to it. Even if the moment you crafted becomes a huge prt of their life from that moment on, they probably won't even remember your name or even that you were responsible for creating the moment. Actually you might not ever even know.

6) Lightning rarely strikes twice. Every situation is unique and much of the magic flows from the particular quirks and flaws of a given situation. So stop looking for formulas. 

The Next Album... beginning to percolate. At this point the concept is still vague–only two songs that may or may not make the cut, but the lyrical tone and the musical aesthetic seems to be gravitating toward rock organ and electric guitar, something with more of a live feel, something a bit raw.

As a guitarist, its going to be an album I cannot yet play. As a singer, it's going to require a confidence I'm only beginning to hit on any sort of a regular basis when playing live. As a writer it's going to take a comfort with an honesty tied to an empathy that seeks to build rather than tear down–slowly getting there.

"Passion, honesty, and competence–it was musical heaven." -Jimmy Page

Album CoverI learned a lot about myself on the first go around, or maybe I finally just admitted a few things to myself. I ditched some delusions of grandeur and picked up a few notes of confidence and experienced the joy of something built by a community of people as well as the painful-but-so-necessary reality that without community I'm not going to get much done, especially when it comes to handling details

For those of you still waiting on your 30 second song, I have not forgot about you.

But the second will be better than the first, both in content and execution. As always, my vision outpaces my current skill, simultaneously pulling me to a better place and making me paranoid. I am far from the stereotypical tortured artist, but there is a healthy level of discontentment that helps me move, without drowning out the joy of music.

Whether or not all the sentiment ever becomes recorded sound, time will tell. Either way, vision is a joyful thing.

A Week of Christianese: Why I Think It Matters


In trying to figure out how to cap off the week of Christianese I went through five drafts that amounted to this, Christianese has absolutely nothing to offer followers of Jesus. Out of a desire to inspire rather than destroy, I won't elaborate. Instead, I'll offer an invitation, some might call it an alter call: If you care about cutting out the excess we so easily pile on top of following Jesus, fighting to change the words that you use and the way you use them is a pretty fantastic place to start. 

If I can be arrogant enough to say I'm at least a couple of miles down the path I'm suggesting you take, if you would like any advice on where to start, feel free to drop me a line at




A Week of Christianese: A Q&A With Tim Stewart

J: Tim, thanks for taking some time away from your word hunting to offer a few words of your own. Language continues to fascinate me, in its origins, usage, and change over time. Growing up in Evangelical Christian Culture, I am used to hearing plenty of these sort so of oddities. But I'd have to say, you've introduced me to some doozies. What has been the most bizarre term you’ve found to date? On the bizarre-o-meter, probably the sheer number of variations on "evanjellyfish" (a derogatory nickname for an evangelical) is the winner. When it comes to evangelicals, it seems like believers in America think they're either the greatest thing since sliced bread or else they're the reason that western Christianity is doomed.

J: Personally, Purpling (Also, Making Purple) is my favorite, both for it's awkwardness and the fact that it's trying to bypass direct talk about awkward subjects. While a lot of these seem good for some laughs, have any in themselves helped you understand a concept better?

By their very nature, Christianese terms are usually a mile wide and an inch deep. That is to say, they don't go very far into complex theological topics but they tell you a lot about the many people who do use the term.

I would say that the greatest takeaway I've gotten from studying these various Christianese terms is that even when Christians are using some of these jokey, cheesy, punny words and phrases, they are still very earnest about their faith. People can look at a Christian slang usage and say, "Look, he's using non-serious language, so he must not be serious about his faith either." It's just the opposite really. The more playful a person can be about their language when talking about religion and faith and God, it's almost the more personal and the more profound that person's faith is. I'm sure it's different for every Christian, but it's been a strong lesson to me that I shouldn't measure the quality of a person's faith simply by the sort of language that he or she uses.

J: How has the collection of items affected your own speech and writing?

My ear has become very sensitive to Christianese, either in conversations and sermons or when I read it in books, magazines, and online. I sometimes feel awkward when I'm listening to someone preach and I keep honing in on the Christianese they use, but for the most part I've accepted my hyperawareness of Christian slang as part of the job hazard of being a word researcher. The feeling is similar, I would say, to those folks who have a natural gift of spelling and have fits when they try to read the poorly typed menu at a Chinese restaurant. In my own writing and speaking, I've acquired a strong sense of what is Christianese and what is standard English. I cannot tell you how helpful this is when I'm speaking with non-Christians or writing for a non-Christian or mixed audience. It's my hope that many more Christians will take the time to learn what their most common Christianese words are so that they can turn them off and on as needed to keep their language meaningful and clear.

J: I would agree, I've found these sorts of things more of a hindrance than help to communication. Which makes me wonder how and why these phrases form in the first place?

It's a fascinating area of study. For the most part, Christianese terms are born the same way any popular catchphrase or slogan is born: a person will use a clever phrase and it becomes popular, either gradually over time or in a big explosion of faddishness.

Not all terms catch on, though. There's a somewhat famous American missionary named C. Peter Wagner who has been writing about church-planting and mission work since the 1960s. Earlier this year I was reading his memoirs, Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church: A Memoir, and he has this choice quote about the various Christianese terms he tried to popularize: "I optimistically thought that the names of these diseases, like 'ethnikitis' or 'St. John's syndrome' or 'sociological strangulation' or 'koinonitis' or 'hyponeumia' would become technical terms used throughout the whole church world from then on, but sadly they never did!" We do still use "koinonitis" a little bit, though, so at least one of Mr. Wagner's words did make it into the Christianese dictionary. His other coined words that he mentions in that quote however were never widely used by anyone but himself, and so they probably won't be included in the dictionary.

J: Koinonitis? Does that require antibiotics? What is the most confusing term you've found?

I am constantly getting e-mails and voicemails (and even texts) from friends and contacts who want to tell me about the latest Christianese expression that they just heard someone use. This way I can I keep up on a lot of Christianese terms, both old and new.

Most terms aren't that difficult to track down. I have access to two seminary libraries here in Austin, as well as the mighty power of Google. It's a fairly straightforward matter to find someone somewhere who used the term in a way that I can get a helpful quotation for the dictionary and also provide a definitive definition.

If I had to pick a word that was especially bewildering when I first heard it, that would be "sloppy agape." I'm picking this word because when I first heard about it I was struck by how it's a combination of a fancy Greek word "agape" and a silly crude English word "sloppy." Apparently I'm not the only one who wasn't sure what to do with it. When I completed my research on the word, I discovered that it has three distinct meanings! You can check them all out on the Dictionary of Christianese website.



I'll be wrapping things up tomorrow with some closing thoughts and maybe a suggestion or two. Stay tuned.



A Week of Christianese: Beating a Dead Horse

Communication is a horse I have beat to death. But as I have been bucked off horses too many times to trust them, I’m giving it another go. But this week, with a guest.

I’ve said before (and will say again), I’ve worked pretty hard to gut a little thing called Christianese from my speech, writing and music, which is especially difficult for a little boy who grew up going to church and had a 90% faith based education. While any sort of jargon is understandable, and sometimes helpful in expediting  the transfer of ideas, it has a treacherous edge.

It makes us lazy and closed off.

When you summarize entire concepts into specialized phrases you are, in a sense, ending the discussion about them, putting a bow on top, clapping the dust off your hands; the work of exploration is essentially over.

And it’s silly, especially when someone like Clive Staples Lewis died only 50 years ago. There is a reason you won’t find Christianese among the best writers attempting to follow Jesus (and no I don’t mean Beverly Lewis). Christian Jargon is quite frankly useless when it comes to communicating and evaluating ideas of any kind.

So this week, after several years of hacking away at Christianese like jungle vines, I’m bringing it back in all its laughable and awkward glory. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a “Week of Christianese.”

And now, an introduction.

Tim Stewart of Austin, Texas, is the man behind a little site called, which is fairly self explanatory. In academic fashion, he is documenting such tasty bits as my personal favorite: “Making Purple”


Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 5.27.11 AM

As one who has worked so hard to remove Christianese from my own vocab, I found myself curious as to why anyone would want to document it. But as I’ve learned, Tim cares about communication as much as I do, and so I’ve asked him to share this week about what he’s doing and why.

Stay tuned.

Playing to the Hype... enticing. With six billion people occupying the planet alongside all sorts of deadly animals, tornados, and poisonous foods, there will always be some sort of crisis to address. If you are looking for ways to find or create fear, you won't have to look too hard. As much as we all say that we wish the world were a better place, palpable fear is sexy like adrenaline, and as a result, short lived.

You realize there are still flattened houses in Oklahoma City right? Of course you do, it was all we could talk about for a week. It's also in the front of your mind that there are still tent towns in Port A Prince (that's that city in Haiti that everyone texted $10 to) only a few miles away from the place where bodies were carried by the dump truck load and covered in dirt by bulldozers. And of course we daily think of the many people in Louisiana still grieving in the wake of the most tragic, and still very recent, event of their life.

Of course we do, because we care.

While I've addressed current events before, most of the time I intentionally avoid them. I don't get my jollies by giving a drunk a drink. In fact, there have been several times I've covered a subject that coincidentally hit headlines just before I clicked the publish button.

While there may be a time for breaking news, my goal isn't to throw more sugar into the crisis cool-aide. But it's tempting. Crisis is sexy and sex sells.

If you will allow me to make a left turn...

The_ScreamAs it turns out, our propensity toward national crisis fever is actually about individual crisis and our desire to dramatize, our need to have something tragic happen to us in order to feel like our life is important enough to have actual conflict.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look for it as you go through the checkout line, or ask your friends about how their week is going.

We understand that a meaningful life has conflict, it's inherent in our entertainment. Bruce Willis has to jump through at least eight panes of glass before he can throw Hans Gruber from the skyscraper. But when an East German terrorist fails to show up in our particular skyscraper, we settle for embellishment of relational conflict. We get the benefit of feeling important without actually having to do anything difficult meaningful.

Yippee kay yay.

But characters in great stories don't go hunting for crisis; they're trying to reach a goal (personal growth, liberation of the oppressed, spiritual enlightenment). When you pursue something worthwhile, there will be obstacles to overcome and probably some embarrassing failure.

Meaningful life will result in conflict and even crisis, but crisis doesn't mean you're getting anything done. So stop looking for hyped up drama.

If you are doing something worthwhile you'll have as much of the real thing as you'll ever want.

Trading Hammers

I was doing some book editing yesterday, on a project that I will probably scrap if I continue to dislike it as much as I do now.

Partly I've become more comfortable with my own writing in the past months and there are sections I can most definitely tell were written a year or more ago that feel chunky and awkward. But also, the ideas I've been writing about are beginning to fit like a favorite jacket getting short in the sleeves. I am simply not the same person –thank God, I was a year ago, which is why (If you've noticed) my contributions to this blog have decreased drastically in number in the past month or so.

Post_maul_-_20040819What I mean is, writing has forced me to evaluate the way I see the world, how I create art, what a meaningful life means, and what it means to follow Jesus. In the process, I've tackled subjects I once embraced wholeheartedly, or rather  subjects that once embraced me. And It would be fair to say that my approach to such evaluation has been to smash everything with a maul in order to see what survives.

Demolition is neither the kindest or gentlest methodology. I've had to make some mistakes and apologies along the way. But I was once slave to certain self-imposed ideologies (or maybe idolatries), forcing the same rigid expectations on others that I had on myself, thinking the whole time of God as The-Great-Disappointed-In-All-of-Us. There was a day when I left that house and resolved never to go back, and for good measure I've been tearing down the silly place altogether.

Today, as my pug was re-marking his spot on the pole in front of our apartment, I realized that the demolition was finished. Now this is a metaphor, and there are still demons from my past worldview that need undoing and revising, and I think there will still be times ahead when life needs a sledge hammer, but if I can't learn to put down the ideological tools of destruction, I'll never have a roof over my head.


Maybe it's time to start building fresh on the foundation that proved impervious to my ideological sledge-swinging. Maybe it's time to learn to use a different sort of hammer.