Austin Stone Worship Conference + New Album!

Today we are kicking off the Austin Stone Worship Conference at the Austin Music Hall. The Story Team is happy to be a part of the conference, and to get to connect with worship leaders and artists from across the country.

It's going to be a great time of teaching, worship and encouragement. The Story Team is bringing the Story Team Trailer back to gather interviews and stories from conference goers, as well as operating the Story Team Lounge. In the Lounge we will have a gallery of our written work and photography, as well as computers where you can see our films.

Of course, the conference is today, and may not be able to register and get to us in time, but that's okay! The good folks at Austin Stone Worship have a live stream for the conference, so you can watch at home!

Today is also the launch of the new Austin Stone Album, King of Love. It is a fantastic album, with both new and old songs. There are some some really, really great songs on this record. I'm really proud of my friends who put so much into this album, I really think it is a blessing to the church. You can buy it on iTunes today, and I highly suggest you do!

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What you will get from me on Twitter

Twitter is a fascinating medium. It's used for everything from a news feed, a marketing tool, a venue for comedians to get jobs, and even performance art. It even has its own controversies. It's really quite a fun and weird place once you start exploring.

But the truth is, that makes it a little hard to use sometimes. After all, we all come to a diverse ecosystem like Twitter with our own objectives and agendas. Some people want to sell their wares, some want to share ideas, and some people just want to stalk Kimye[ref]Kanye + Kim Kardashian = Kimye. I just found this out today. It's completely disturbing. Like a wreck between two clown cars.[/ref]. In others words, its hard to know what someone does with their Twitter account up front. How many times have you followed someone only to unfollow them soon after because their tweets were not what you expected?

Four years ago, in a prescient blog post actor Wil Wheaton recognized some of the difficulty of knowing what we get when we follow someone and laid out his Twitter use in a useful post. If you're a Star Trek fan, a tabletop gamer or a fan of his web videos and you want to know what you will get from him, there it is. It was a good call then, and with the growth and changes in the Twitterverse, it's an even better one now.

In that spirit, I want to outline for you, dear reader, what you can expect from me, @blundin, on the Twitters.

1. I am writer working on my first book. I also write for and help lead the Story Team at the Austin Stone Community Church. As a result, I post a lot about writing, reading and storytelling. I'm in perpetual learning mode on these topics, and I tend to share what I am reading and thinking about. So, you'll get a heavy dose of that.

2. As I mentioned before, my wife and I help lead the writers for the Story Team. This is our ministry to the church, and we are simply enamored with it. I write about those stories and experiences quite a bit both on this blog, and on Twitter. My goal for this kind of content is to help train and equip others who are leading writers and artists in the church.

3. I work in technology, and I love it. My first website went online in 1994. I was a freshman in high school. It was a tribute site to the Grateful Dead— yeah, I know. But the point is, my day job is all about technology. I program on the side as a hobby. I am fascinated by hardware and software. So, yeah, there will be some tech stuff too.

4. I am an OSU Cowboys fan. I love football, I love basketball, and with the exception of the US Men's Soccer team, those are the only teams I care about and follow. Game days and other times there will be sports tweets, but it's limited to OSU and the USMNT almost exclusively.

5. Other stuff. Yeah, I don't know. I read a lot and like to share, so there's some eclecticism mixed in.

6. Jesus. Yes, Jesus. He is the Lord of the universe and the Lord of my life. He is my identity and my future. I can't not post and share about him. I'm not a proselytizer, but I do believe he is the best news in the world. He changed my life, and he can change yours. I want the world to know, so I talk about it on occasion.

So, that's it. You can call it my half of the social media contract, what I will do. I love the conversations generated by the Twitterverse, join me in it!


Is Austin really a ‘no kill’ city?

Saturday at the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival was a beautiful day. It started off warm, but cooled down to a nice, rare, fall afternoon in Austin. Lindsey and I go to ACL every year and it is a special weekend for us. We get to spend time alone (well, with 50K+ around us), see some of our favorite bands live and discover new ones.

One of the bands we listened to took the opportunity near the end of their set, as many bands do, to make their chosen political statement for the day. This band chose to praise Austin's very admirable position as a no kill city for dogs and cats. Being a dog owner and lover, I love this about my city. I think it is great that we do not kill pets that could be adopted and cared for. According to the Austin Humane Society, they save over 11,000 cats and dogs a year, with most taking only 2-3 weeks to find an adoptive home. This is a truly good thing.

But as the cheers from the crowd rose to greet the praise of the visiting band, one thought came to mind: would this band, and this crowd, praise our city if the same thing could be said for our babies?

Because one thing is certain, while it may be true for our animals it is not for our children. The latest statistics I found online show that 19% of all pregnancies in Travis County (practically synonymous with the city of Austin) ended in abortions in 2011. In the state of Texas in 2009 there were 77,630 abortions, for a percentage of 15% of all pregnancies ending in abortion.

Our priorities as a society are upside down when we cheer a no kill policy for animals, and at the same time support and expand the killing of babies in the womb. It's just backwards.

So, is Austin a no kill city? When it comes to our children, the answer is clearly no.


Love, idolatry and politics

The current political theater and media event that is the government shutdown has brought my view of the changes in my life into stark contrast. And I am pleased with how it looks.

In the past, this kind of 'team' struggle in politics would have fired me up to an honestly annoying degree. My Facebook page, Twitter account and this blog would be filled with links to stories and opinion pieces. I would have seen my self as a social media foot solider in a great digital war. I would have fought for the side of the right and the good, and no one could have convinced me otherwise. Why then, is this not the case today? Well, simply put, God is restoring me from idolatrous sin.

Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god.

- M. Denis de Rougemount

When I came across this quote in the introduction to C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves, I did not grasp it's significance for my struggles. Lewis presents this quote in the context of remind us that, as John says, "God is love," but that does not mean that love is God. This is an excellent principle, and adherence to it by more Christians in the country would be fruitful, but it did not land heavily on me.

Then, in the first chapter on love for non-personal things, Lewis drops the hammer. In the context of man's love of nature he observes that when our love for the created thing is set above our love for the Creator, our form goes all pear-shaped:

This love, when it sets up as religion, is beginning to be a god— therefore a demon. And demons never keep their promises.

What Lewis calls a demon, many of us today call an idol. When we love anything more than God, we take him off the throne and place a created thing in his place. That is pure idolatry. Lewis's insights on how love for non-personal things can easily lead to idolatry was already working on my soul, but the Holy Spirit wasn't done with me yet. Lewis's last topic was patriotism.

Since my early teenage years, politics was a driving obsession in my life. I lived it an breathed it. When I studied journalism I was torn between sportswriting and politics. When I graduated college I briefly considered pursuing a career in politics. As a post-college adult I found much of my identity in it. I truly believed that the right series of decisions by voters, and then politicians could fix our problems. I looked to politics as my functional savior. It was only when I turned back to my true Savior that these sins became so clear, and so painful.

In the last 3 years God has begun healing me of my sins and granting repentance, day by day. Healing is a slow process, and I still bear the scabs that precede scars. But Lewis's words were a balm to these wounds.

Lewis lays out the faults of an idolatrous love of country— which is exactly what drove my political obsession. He shows the reader that idolizing our homeland leads to an inaccurate picture of her history, often glossing over or ignoring completely the horrific realities of her past. Next he points to, "a firm, even prosaic belief in our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others." That doesn't like anybody we know, now does it?

Even more strikingly he points directly to where this leads, and where our country is today. "If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them." That belief, this very one, is the basis for America's position as the global police force. Because what is that other than a naked paternalistic view of the rest of the world? 'If we don't take care of this, who will?' we ask. Lewis goes on to discuss the moral dimension of countries actions, and how these views affect them.

If this is interesting, you really should pick up The Four Loves. My quick overview here does not do full justice to the nuanced and careful reasoning Lewis crafted on the subjects. I have left out many counterpoints and caveats that an interested reader will find edifying.

The reason for this post, questions of proportional length aside, is not to summarize Mr. Lewis's examination of idolatry of nation, but to talk about how I have been healed from one of my besetting idolatries. I found my hope in men, parties and issues. Not anymore.

It's not that I do not have opinions about the goings-on in D.C., I certainly do. But now I know that my sovereign Lord is in control, not political parties and fallen men. So I stay informed, I think deeply about events and I vote. But I do not attach unreasonable hopes to sinners who are just like me. Every day I am getting closer to seeing this world through Christ's eyes, because he is changing my heart. It will not happen fully in this life, because we cannot be perfected before the resurrection, but it will happen one day.

That truth, that unchanging, never relenting, never hiding truth is my real hope.


‘Jack’ by George Sayers

I finished Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayers earlier this week, and I genuinely loved it. This book should have already joined the many biographies in my library. Honestly, I cannot say why I have not read it earlier, because it was right up my alley.

Sayers was a pupil of Lewis at Oxford, and subsequently became a close friend. This depiction of Lewis benefits from his first hand knowledge of the man. It paints an intimate picture of the man, complete with his flaws and foibles as well as his virtues. To my eyes it is not an unctuous portrayal that seeks to polish a friend's reputation, but rather a measured view of the man through research, seasoned with personal knowledge. It was delightful.

My wife always measures how much I love a book by how often I rush to her side to read excerpts. She can testify that the last week or so was filled with these outbursts. Amongst my favorites were the depictions of the man in plain terms, descriptions that showed who he really was. Such as,

From that time on, he found it difficult to spend more than the minimum amount on himself or more than a necessary amount on anyone or anything. His only personal luxuries were beer, whiskey, and tobacco, the first and last of which he regarded as almost necessities. He seems to have never owned a watch or a good fountain pen. What he gained from those years was a complete freedom from the snobbery based on possessions, and a sympathy with and understanding of poor people. The many thousands of pounds he was to give away in the years ahead were nearly always bestowed on those short of money.

As I said before, the depictions are not always so flattering. Jack had a rough early life. He lost his mother at a young age, and the family never quite recovered. As a child and teen, Jack bounced moved through several boarding schools, one of which subjected its students to conditions that read like a small school in a third world country, not what you think of when you hear "English boarding school". These events and more left scars on Lewis that persisted until his conversion.

Sayers paints a great picture of the state of Lewis' soul before conversion, and then powerfully shows how full that change of heart and mind really were. He ushers you into the very presence of Lewis to see what a changed life looks like, and it is a great encouragement.

Sayers does not linger on accounts of Lewis writing his famous works, but he does not short change these periods either. To me, these accounts read like well-portioned side dishes accompanying the meat of the story, which is Lewis as he was. What is covered is insightful and helped me gain a fuller picture of the context of each work, allowing me to examine them from a better vantage point. For the avid Lewis reader, this may be the books greatest trait, even if it is not the entrée.

For anyone who want to get to know C.S. Lewis this book is first-rate. I found that this account also gave me real insight into his works, looking at his books after this biography is an exercise in expanded perception. It did not change my readings of his works, it illuminated their depths in a new, and encouraging, way. It's a fantastic account of a unique man. For that alone it is worth your time.