Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TPT: Why Did I Get Married, Too?

This week's Trailer Park Tuesday spotlight is Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, Too?, which is out on DVD today.

Four couples reunite for their annual vacation in order to socialize and to spend time analyzing their marriages. Their intimate week in the Bahamas is disrupted by the arrival of an ex-husband determined to win back his recently remarried wife.

If you haven’t seen the movie, pick up the DVD today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Christian Fiction: A Love for Tomorrow

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

A Love for Tomorrow (Second Chance at Love #2)

Whitaker House (September 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***


Vanessa Miller is a best-selling author, playwright, and motivational speaker. She started writing as a child, spending countless hours either reading or writing poetry, short stories, stage plays and novels. Vanessa’s creative endeavors took on new meaning in 1994 when she became a Christian. Since then, her writing has been centered on themes of redemption, often focusing on characters facing multi-dimensional struggles. Readers and critics alike have responded with overwhelming affirmation with her work topping several bestsellers lists and receiving numerous awards including “Best Christian Fiction Mahogany Award” and the “Red Rose Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction.” Her first Whitaker House book, Yesterday’s Promise debuted at #1 on the Black Christian News Network’s Bestsellers List.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603742085
ISBN-13: 978-1603742085



“Our wedding is next week, Michael. How can you possibly have cold feet now?” Serenity Williams asked her fiancé with her hands on her hips.

“This isn’t about cold feet, Serenity. You’re not listening to me. I’m telling you, I can’t marry you. I’ve been trying to convince myself for weeks that it will work, but I realize now that it won’t.”

This was not happening to her. This was some crazy dream that she was going to wake up from any minute, because there was no way that the good reverend, Dr. Michael Randolph—the man she loved and had been planning to marry for the past three years—could be standing in front of her one week before the wedding, trying to call it off. But, just in case this wasn’t a dream, Serenity decided to play along. “Okay, Michael. Please tell me exactly what I haven’t been listening to.”

Michael took off his black fedora, revealing his full head of wavy, black hair. “Can you sit down on the couch with me so we can talk?”

She didn’t want to sit down and talk; she wanted to get married. Michael owed her a wedding. After all, she had spent five years with this man. They had dated for two years and then gotten engaged. That had been three years ago. She had told her friends that she and Michael had decided to wait until his ministry got off the ground before getting married, but, in truth, it had been Michael’s decision to wait. Now that his ministry was growing, what did he want her to do—wait another five years so he could work on expanding his church so that it reached megachurch status?

Michael sat down on the couch and held out his hand, gesturing for Serenity to join him.

She sat down next to him but said nothing.

“Serenity, the first thing you need to understand is that I love you more than life itself. It is because of how much I love you that I can’t go through with this marriage.”

When am I going to wake up? Serenity held up her hand. “Wait a minute, now. I’m totally confused. Are you really telling me that you can’t marry me because you love me too much?”

“Let me finish, honey,” Michael said. He took a deep breath and then trod on. “We’ve put off our wedding for three years now, because I’ve been hoping you’ll get over your competitive ways. It’s this constant rivalry between us that’s driving me crazy. I’m afraid that the love I have for you will fade because of the competitive spirit you have.”

“The competitive spirit I have?” Serenity exploded as she stood up. “I’m not in competition with anybody. I’m just doing what God has called me to do.”

“That’s what you tell people. But it’s obvious that you are competitive. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you weren’t.”

“Okay, so what if I am a little competitive? What does that have to do with you and me? You’re the pastor of a church. I don’t have a church; I travel all over the world preaching, and I have a television ministry.”

“See? That’s what I mean,” he said, pointing at her. Then, he stood up, too. “You’re always throwing the fact that you have a TV ministry in my face. And you love it when other preachers invite you to speak at their churches. You’ve even been trying to get behind my pulpit for the past year.”

“That is not true. I have never asked to preach at your church. I have more speaking engagements than I can accept in a year, so I certainly don’t need to beg anybody for the opportunity to preach.”

“See, there you go again. Every time you open your mouth, it’s always to say something about what you’re doing in ministry and how you’re in such high demand.”

It wasn’t true. Serenity had never bragged about her ministry. At least, not in the way Michael was making it sound like she did. Yes, she was grateful that God had allowed her ministry to grow in the manner in which it had over the last two years. And, yes, she expressed that gratitude to anyone who would listen. But she wasn’t bragging. She was trying to communicate to others that she understood how blessed she was. Serenity’s father was a bishop who presided over seven megachurches and ten smaller to medium-sized ones. He had often tried to get her to take over one of his churches as a pastor, but she didn’t believe that God was leading her in that direction.

She had stepped out in faith when she’d started her television ministry on a newly developed cable channel. Her television program was part Oprah, part Joyce Meyer in style. She interviewed many pastors and teachers of the gospel. And then, when she was invited to minister, she brought along her camera crew and broadcast those events on her program, as well. She and Michael had discussed the format of her show at its inception. At the time, he had thought it was a great idea. He’d even told her that he could see her show going big time.

He just hadn’t told her that, when it did, he would hold it against her. “Michael, please don’t do this. Maybe we need to see a marriage counselor so we can work this out before the wedding.”

“Don’t you find the fact that we need a marriage counselor before we even get married a bit ludicrous?”

“I don’t know about that. What definitely seems ludicrous to me is the fact that you’re jealous of a ministry that God’s hand is on.” She took a deep breath, tried to calm herself, and said, “Look, Michael. I’m thirty-four years old. You’re forty-two. We both agreed that now is the perfect time for us to have children. I’ve waited for you for five years. Why are you backing out now?”

“I’m sorry, Serenity. I just can’t marry someone whose ministry overshadows my own. The next thing I know, people will be calling me ‘Mr. Williams’ instead of ‘Pastor Randolph.’” He shook his head. “I just can’t deal with that.”

This was real—Michael was calling off their wedding—and Serenity felt as if her world was coming to an end. “What do you want me to do, Michael? Do you want me to give up my TV ministry? Is that it?”

He put his hat back on. “No. That won’t work. You’ve created such a following now that, even if you weren’t on TV, preachers would still be calling for you to speak at their conferences.”

“I don’t understand. I thought you loved me.”

Michael didn’t respond. He picked up his car keys and walked out of the house without looking back.

If he had turned around, he would have seen the tears that flowed down Serenity’s face and the longing that she felt way down deep in her heart. But Michael didn’t care about that. He cared only about being “overshadowed.” Why hadn’t she seen this coming? Her best friend, Melinda Marks, had tried to warn her two years ago, when she’d said, “Trying to do the will of God and the will of your man gets hard sometimes.”

At the time, Serenity had thought that Melinda was referring to her relationship with Bishop Steven Marks. Steven and Melinda had been engaged long ago, but Steven had felt that he couldn’t marry a woman who wanted to preach the gospel rather than stay at home and be a wife and mother. So, he’d called off their wedding. But God’s will had prevailed in that situation, and Steven and Melinda had finally gotten married eighteen months ago.

As she wiped the tears from her eyes, Serenity told herself not to worry. Michael would come to his senses, and they would be married on Saturday, as planned.

But on Thursday, her father, Bishop Lawrence Williams, called and informed her that Michael’s secretary was phoning everyone on the guest list and letting them know that the wedding had been cancelled. That’s when Serenity finally faced the fact that Michael wasn’t coming back. He had allowed his ego to override their love, and she was crushed.

“Why didn’t you tell me, sweetheart?” her father asked.

“I thought he would change his mind. I just didn’t believe he was serious.”

Serenity had been calling Michael for the past three days, leaving messages on his answering machine and voice mail, letting him know that she still loved him, and that she still wanted to go through with the wedding. Why should she have to wait ten years for Michael to come to his senses, as Melinda had done with Steven? Serenity was convinced that if they just went ahead and got married, they would be able to work everything out later.

“Why is he doing this?” her father asked, cutting in on her thoughts.

“He says I’m too competitive—that he can’t marry a woman who overshadows him and his ministry.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry to hear that. But if that’s the way he feels, then he doesn’t deserve you. I believe that, if you’re meant to marry a preacher, God will send one who can handle your anointing.”

Serenity didn’t respond to her father’s remark, and they brought their conversation to an end. But, by the time she had hung up the phone, she had made a very clear resolution. She wouldn’t waste another minute of her life on another ego-driven preacher.


Pastor Phillip McKnight was a man who had been greatly blessed by God. There was no other explanation for the extraordinary life he’d led. He’d played sixteen years of professional football, being traded only twice and winning a Super Bowl championship with both teams. The last team he’d played for had been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’d been thirty-seven and still fit enough to play, if he’d wanted, when he’d voluntarily retired. But Phillip had other things on his mind. He’d earned millions of dollars from his winning football career, and now he wanted to live out the rest of his life serving God and winning souls for the kingdom.

When he arrived at the new building of the church he pastored, New Destiny, he entered, eager to check on the progress of the construction workers. He had given up a lot to build this church, but he had no regrets. In his lifetime, he had experienced fame and fortune, the likes of which most people only dream about. But none of the things he had accomplished ever truly fulfilled him. Then, one day, he’d met Jesus, and it was as if the blinders came off. He began to see things so much more clearly. He received new direction for his life.

Jimmy Dayton, the foreman for the construction company, met Phillip in the fellowship hall. “I’ve got something to show you,” he told him excitedly.

“Lead the way,” Phillip said, hoping that at least one of the rooms in the church was finally finished. They had been making plans for the building for a year and a half, but construction hadn’t started until nine months ago. Right now, New Destiny was holding its services in a high school gymnasium, and he was getting ready to come home.

Jimmy opened the double doors to the sanctuary, and Phillip walked in, his eyes beholding the beauty of the navy blue wall-to-wall carpet and the matching cushioned pews, which spanned the three-thousand-seat sanctuary. The glass podium he’d ordered was in the pulpit area, waiting for him to stand behind it and preach the Word. He turned to Jimmy. “This looks incredible! What else is finished?”

“Just your office, but the structure is solid enough for your congregation to have services here soon.”

“This is the best news I’ve had all week!” Phillip exclaimed. “I’m glad I stopped by today. How soon can we start holding our services in here?” He couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice.

“Probably in about two weeks or so,” Jimmy said. “We need to get a couple more things done before the safety inspection.”

“Okay—but hurry up! I can’t wait to have our services in this sanctuary,” Phillip said before heading for his new office, where he sat down behind the desk. He finally felt like they were making progress. That sense of satisfaction enabled him to take out the envelope he’d been carrying around all day in his pocket and put it on his desk. He looked at the envelope for a full ten minutes before picking it up and opening it.

Slowly, he unfolded the divorce decree and stared at it for a few moments before throwing it back on his desk. Then, he leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and prayed for strength.


No, this man is not keeping me waiting like this, Serenity thought as she looked at her diamond-studded Gucci watch. It was one of her favorite accessories. The watch had been priced at two grand, but Serenity had talked the store manager into halving the price. Her father always told her that a woman should treat herself to something special every now and then. So, while she’d been on her honeymoon in the Bahamas—without the groom—she’d purchased this gorgeous watch without a second thought. She loved the look and feel of Gucci on her wrist.

But her beautiful timepiece was telling her that her interviewee was twenty minutes late. The infamous Pastor Phillip McKnight had cancelled the interview they’d scheduled for two weeks ago so that he and a group of evangelists, ministers, and church members could travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to help with the disaster relief efforts after the terrible earthquake that had racked the country and claimed so many lives. Serenity wholeheartedly understood Pastor McKnight’s desire to be in Haiti during the country’s time of need. She had even set up a disaster relief fund on her own Web site, encouraging the viewers of her Christian television show, Walk This Way, to donate money. But Pastor McKnight had been back in the States for three days now. What in the world could have caused him to be late for their rescheduled meeting?

Serenity hadn’t wanted to interview Pastor McKnight in the first place. She was more comfortable with female preachers and teachers on her show, and she thought that her viewership, consisting predominantly of young to middle-aged women, would benefit most from hearing about the accomplishments and visions of other women around their age. But her producer kept telling her that women were also interested in men who served the Lord. So, here she was, being mistreated by another arrogant pastor who thought the world revolved around his inflated head.

Well, enough was enough. Serenity would not wait a second longer. She was going to gather up her camera crew and head back to Chicago. But, as she stood up, the office door opened, and a broad-shouldered man with skin the color of milk chocolate rushed through it. She had seen Pastor McKnight on television when he’d played for Tampa, but that football helmet must have blocked her view, because she had never imagined that the man was this fine in the flesh. Serenity sat back down and tried to process everything she knew about Pastor Phillip McKnight. He was a former football player who’d started building the church he now pastored a year before retiring from the NFL. She also knew that he was divorced.

“Sorry I’m so late,” he said with an apologetic smile. “I got a flat tire on the interstate and had to change it.”

That explained the dirt smudges she saw on his dress shirt. “I thought you forgot about our interview,” Serenity said, not willing to let him off the hook too easily.

Phillip stretched out his hand, and she took it. As they shook, Phillip said, “I could never forget an appointment with Serenity Williams. Even four flat tires couldn’t keep me away.”

Serenity pulled her hand out of his grip. The man was charming, but he was a preacher, and that made her mistrustful. It also made him off-limits. Ever since that swollen-headed reverend, Michael Randolph, had dumped her because her ministry was more successful than his, she had sworn off preachers. Even her brother, Larry the egomaniac, freely admitted that he wouldn’t be able to handle a wife who made more money or was better known than he. Falling in love with a preacher was for women who looked good in straitjackets and liked padded rooms. Best just to get this interview over with and forget she’d ever met Pastor Phillip McKnight. “So, would you like to talk in here first, or would you like to show the camera crew around the church so they can shoot some footage for the show?”

“Umm…well, I—I guess we could talk first, if—if that’s okay with you,” Phillip said.

“Are you sure, Pastor McKnight? Because, if you’d rather work with the film crew first, I’m okay with that.”

“No, no—please, sit back down. I’d like nothing more than to speak with you right now.” He sat down behind his desk and then said, “I forgot to charge my cell phone.”

What does that have to do with anything? Serenity wondered as she looked at him with questioning eyes.

Phillip pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and set it on his desk. “I would have called to tell you that I was going to be late, but my cell died on me.”

“Okay,” Serenity said. She had already moved on and wished he’d do the same. She pulled her notepad and pen out of her purse. “This is a pretty big church building for such a young ministry. Most preachers begin their ministries in storefronts or other smaller locales. What made you decide to go so big so soon?”

“No small talk, no chitchat; just get straight down to business, huh?”

Serenity put down her notepad. “I wasn’t trying to rush you, Pastor McKnight. It’s just that my father taught me about the value of time, and I try not to waste it.”

“Your father seems like a wise man. That’s why I have a meeting scheduled with him next week. I’ll be sure to let him know that his daughter still follows his advice.”

Serenity’s curiosity was piqued. She wanted to know why Pastor Phillip McKnight would leave the warmth of Tampa, Florida, to come to Chicago during the season of snowstorms and winter chills, but she didn’t ask. Instead, she said, “Make sure to bring a heavy coat and a pair of gloves. They don’t call it the Windy City for nothing.”

“I plan to. Your father already warned me about the weather. But he promised that your mother would fix a warm meal for my trouble.”

With a furrowed brow, Serenity said, “My mother normally tells me when she and my father are hosting out-of-town guests. I’m surprised she didn’t say anything about your visit.” Then, as if shaking off the shocking news, she picked her notepad back up. “Shall we continue, then, Pastor McKnight?”

Phillip put his elbows on his desk and smiled at her. “Would you do me a favor?” he asked.

“That depends. What do you need?” she asked with a wary grin on her face.

“Would you please call me Phillip? I don’t think we need to be so formal, especially since I’ll be meeting your parents next week.”

Okay, the suspense was killing her. There was no way she was going to be able to wait until she was finished with her work to call her mother and find out why Phillip was coming to dinner. “So, why are you and my father getting together next week?”

“I guess I’m kind of looking for a spiritual father, of sorts. I’ve been a pastor for only two years, and I’m getting to the point where I really need some godly guidance and mentoring.”

“Are you saying that you’ve decided to voluntarily bring the church you built under another man’s leadership?”

Phillip shook his head. “I don’t see it as the church I built. This church was built by God and the people of God, and I just want to continue to honor Him in all that we do.”

Most of the pastors Serenity knew weren’t eager to submit themselves to another man’s leadership. Michael, for example, had always complained about the things her father would ask him to do when he’d presided over Michael’s church. Even her thickheaded brother complained about their dad poking his nose into his business from time to time. Serenity had to admit, Pastor Phillip McKnight seemed somewhat different. But there had to be something wrong with him—after all, his ex-wife had left him for some reason, right?

Serenity had finally agreed to do this interview in part because she’d figured it would give her an opportunity to show her viewers how egotistical and pride-filled Pastor McKnight was. This might just be her chance. She leaned closer to Phillip and, in the most innocent voice she could muster, said, “You sound like a reasonable man, Pastor McKnight. One would wonder why your wife divorced you.”

Phillip flinched, then said, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you wait for me in the sanctuary? I’ll change my shirt, and then we can give the camera crew a tour of the facility while you interview me about the ministry.”

She didn’t miss his emphasis on “about the ministry,” and she was immediately horrified at what she’d said.

Phillip had changed the subject, and she was more than willing to move away from it, as well. “You keep extra shirts at work?” she asked.

Phillip stood up and pointed at the dirt spots on his shirt. “Never know when I’ll get all grimy changing a tire.”

“My father keeps extra clothes at his church office, too.”

“Smart man,” Phillip said.

She laughed as she stood up. “Okay, I’ll wait for you in the sanctuary.”

Before she could turn away, Phillip said, “You have a beautiful smile, Serenity. You should always keep a smile on your face.”

The compliment made Serenity uncomfortable. She turned and headed out the door as quick as her three-inch heels would carry her.


Why did I say that? Phillip wanted to bash himself in the head for speaking like that to a woman who obviously wanted nothing to do with him. Serenity Williams had practically run out of his office, as if he’d told her he had swine flu or something.

Phillip took off his soiled shirt, reached into his closet, and grabbed a blue button-down. As he put it on and then turned to the mirror to examine himself, his thoughts turned back to Serenity. He had been watching her program for more than a month now—not every day, but he made a point to watch whenever he could. Somehow, he’d never imagined that her hazel eyes would sparkle as brightly as they did in person. And that smile of hers almost took his breath away. Actually, Phillip wished it had taken his breath away, for then, he wouldn’t have been able to embarrass himself with stupid talk.

How could he have come on to Serenity like some high school jock with a crush on the prom queen? He lightly slapped his cheeks with his fingertips. “Get yourself together. Go out there and act in a professional manner,” he instructed himself, pointing a finger at his reflection in the mirror.

Phillip left his office, determined to conduct himself in an upright way. Serenity might very well be one of the most beautiful women he’d seen in a long time, but he was a man of God, and he knew how to control himself. “Okay,” Phillip said, clasping his hands together as he stood in the sanctuary, looking from Serenity to the camera crew. “Is everybody ready to get this tour started?”

“We sure are.” Serenity stood up and introduced Phillip to the camera crew, which consisted of two guys. “This is Lenny,” she said as she pointed to a tall, slim Conan O’Brien look-alike. “He’ll be snapping pictures.” She then pointed to a slightly balding African-American man wearing blue jeans and a shirt with palm trees on it. “Bob will be shooting all the footage.”

“Hello, Lenny. Hello, Bob.” Phillip nodded at each man.

“So, where do you want to start?” Serenity asked him.

“Well, you’re already in my pride and joy.” Phillip lifted his arms and did a full circle on the plush carpet of the sanctuary. “This is the first space that was finished, after the office complex. We wanted to be able to have services here, even while the construction crew was pounding their way through the rest of the building.”

Serenity looked from the pulpit to the many pews that lined the first floor and then to the balcony. “This is a beautiful sanctuary. I love the navy and burgundy colors you chose. Very bold, but still warm and inviting.” She turned to Phillip and asked, “How many people can you fit in this sanctuary?”

“It seats about three thousand.”

“For such a young ministry, that is an awful lot of members to have.”

“Oh, we have only about eighteen hundred members, but I believe that we will quickly grow into the place.”

“Sources have said that you put up five million of your own money for this project, but I’m surprised that a bank would loan you the rest of the money you needed without the membership to back it up,” Serenity said.

“I’m still raising capital to finish the building. We’re a work in progress, as you will see.”

“So, the bank wouldn’t loan you the money?”

“We’re in a recession. They loaned me half of what I needed, and I have to come up with the other half.”

“But you’ve already put up so much of your own money. Do you think you’ll get to a point where you’ll say enough is enough?”

Shaking his head, Phillip said, “I would give that and much more to the vision God gave me.” What he didn’t say, though, was that following God’s purpose for his life had already cost him dearly. He had been willing to give the money, but watching his wife walk out the door had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. “Let’s move forward, shall we?”

Phillip led them to the office suite and let them snap pictures of the staff members as they went about their various tasks. Then, he showed them the spaces that would one day be the youth center, additional classrooms, and the fitness room.

“I have never seen a fitness room in a church complex,” Serenity said, signaling Lenny to continue snapping pictures of the equipment.

Phillip picked a fifty-pound weight off the floor and put it back on the rack where it belonged. Although the room was not yet finished, several men in the church had set up the equipment and begun using it, anyway. Guys didn’t need much—just some barbells and a bench press. Ladies, on the other hand, would want to pretty the room up, get rid of the dust and clutter, hang mirrors, and so forth. “I believe in the importance of staying in shape—taking care of God’s temple,” he said.

“I guess you do,” Serenity said with a thoughtful look on her face. Then, she snapped back into professional mode with another question. “So, what does a day in the life of Phillip McKnight look like?”

“I’m not very complex. I get up around six in the morning. I go for a run, then I dig into the Word of God and pray, have a quick breakfast, and come to the church. Once I’m at church, I either plan my sermon or do some other work around here.”

“Speaking of your sermon,” Serenity said, “what time do you want us back here tonight so that Bob can film the message?”

“The service begins at seven, but I normally don’t start preaching until about seven forty-five.”

“Okay,” Serenity said as she held out her hand to shake Phillip’s. “I think we got some good footage today. So, we’ll wrap up for now and finish everything this evening.”

As Phillip took Serenity’s hand in his, he had to remind himself that this was a business meeting and not a first date. He wanted to kiss her hand, but he restrained himself. When he released her hand, he noticed the Gucci watch on her wrist. His ex-wife had liked expensive things, too, and he couldn’t help wondering if Serenity was just like the woman who’d left him and taken half of his hard-earned money with her.


Publisher’s Note:

This novel is a work of fiction. References to real events, organizations, or places are used in a fictional context. Any resemblances to actual persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.

All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version, © 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Love for Tomorrow
Book Two in the Second Chance at Love Series

Vanessa Miller


ISBN: 978-1-60374-208-5

Printed in the United States of America

© 2010 by Vanessa Miller

Whitaker House

1030 Hunt Valley Circle

New Kensington, PA 15068


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Miller, Vanessa.

A love for tomorrow / by Vanessa Miller.

p. cm. — (Second chance at love; bk. 2)

Summary: “Christian television show host Serenity Williams is determined never to fall in love with another ego-driven pastor, but then she meets Pastor Phillip McKnight, whose kingdom vision and humble personality begin to change her mind”—Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-60374-208-5 (trade pbk.)

1. African American churches—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3613.I5623L68 2010


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical—including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system—without permission in writing from the publisher. Please direct your inquiries to permissionseditor@whitakerhouse.com.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Christian Fiction PreOrder Pick: The Bridge Of Peace

The Bridge of Peace (Ada's House, Book 2)

Book 2 in the Ada’s House series

by my friend Cindy Woodsmall

Available September 7

Love and lies abound in Dry Lake, Pennsylvania.

Old Order Amish schoolteacher Lena Kauffman has laughed off the prominent mark on her cheek for most of her twenty-three years. Her free-spirited personality can’t stop people’s prejudices, but she bravely ignores their whispers as she attempts to carve a bold if controversial path for the education of her young Amish scholars.
Grey Graber is bound inside a marriage void of affection and communication. He is determined to find a solution, but tragedy unhinges his good intentions. Can two people who have been friends since childhood find God’s love and learn how to embrace each other’s imperfections?
This second novel in the Ada’s House series returns to Dry Lake, Pennsylvania, and the beloved characters from The Hope of Refuge.

Download and read the first two chapters of The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall.

Click here to preorder The Bridge of Peace (Ada's House, Book 2)

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Novel Writing Tips: Introducing The Phantom

How to Open Your Novel

Today I adjusted my opener to Book 2 “Someone Bad & Something Blue",” because it was missing the punch I felt it needed.  Although the opener is big, eventful and fun, it was missing my story’s new inner conflict, the thing hiding underneath the superficial opener. The phantom of the story I like to call it.

Instead of giving my story away let me give you an example of a story phantom.

In the opener of Inception Leonardi DiCaprio’s character, ____ is stealing someone’s thoughts, but the heist goes wrong. His dead wife enters the dream sequence and takes him off his game. From here and throughout the rest of the movie the moviegoer will wonder will his wife haunt his dreams forever and thus ruin every caper? As we continue to watch the movie we learn more, the layers of his conflict about his wife goes deeper, and the real monster/the phantom comes out just before the Climax. In the beginning we know there’s more, but we can’t see it, we feel it, we hear it, kind of like the Phantom of the Opera. Something big is destroying all the plans from the inside. This phantom has to peak out in the beginning of your story and play with our heads most of the rest of it. Or in Inception’s case long after the movie is over.

So if you want your story to pop at the beginning, you should open it with a Phantom peaking from behind the curtain.

Need help with your opener ask here. And save the date.  A Good Excuse to Be Bad, book 1 of my new Evangel Crawford Bounty Hunter novel series releases Summer 2011 under my pen name, Miranda Parker.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Are You Too Weak Minded to Write a Good Book?

Realizing Our Greatness in Our Writing Part 2

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” -John 14: 12(NIV)

This weekend I watched the 2010 Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest interview with Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Bright-sided". As I watched her answer and at times defend her position to the audience, I marveled at her confidence. No. I marveled at her audacity, her strong bold, unashamed belief that she was right.

Audacious. Unfortunately, it is a trait that I see lacking in many authors,especially The Master's Artists. And that realization bothers me. See. We--like Christ stated-- have the right to be bold, to walk and to write in that boldness, because we have the favor of God. So why do we write like we fear our feelings, our faith, our words? I think I know.

Continue reading "Are you Too Week Minded to Write a Good Book?" »

Friday, August 20, 2010


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Currently the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, Madison, NJ, and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at George Fox University, Portland, Oregon, Leonard Sweet has been Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Theological School at Drew University for five years. Author of more than two hundred articles, over twelve hundred published sermons, and dozens of books, Sweet is the primary contributor (along with his wife Karen Elizabeth Rennie) to the web-based preaching resource sermons.com. Sweet has held distinguished lectureships at various colleges, universities, and seminaries and has presented academic papers before major professional societies. The founder and president of SpiritVenture Ministries, Sweet is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, state conventions, pastors’ schools, and retreats.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764745
ISBN-13: 978-1434764744




Pay attention.1


Brace yourself. This book is set to revolutionize your understanding of evangelism. Revolution—from the Latin revolvere—means “a fundamental change.” This revolution stands to shake the very roots of your faith, rattle the range of your mission, and roll the very limits of your freedom.

Wait a minute, you say! There’s a lot about me in that paragraph; I thought evangelism is about reaching out to others.

Remember “a fundamental change.” I think evangelism changes me as much as anybody.

A friar returned to his monastery after an Ignatian thirty-day retreat. Over granola the next morning, he was interrogated by a grumpy old member of the community who complained, “We’ve been working like slaves while you’ve been swanning around doing nothing! And look at you! You don’t look any different.”

“You’re quite right, I probably don’t,” was the reply. “But you do.”

Jesus’ last words in the gospel of Luke are these: “Go out and proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins.”2 But a biblical understanding of repentance is not red-faced anger at other people’s sins but red-faced embarrassment at my own brokenness and complicity in the evils and injustices of the world. Proclaiming repentance is as much about reminding me of my waywardness as it is about setting other people straight.

When I am engaging with people of other religious faiths, I find myself unable to commit to their conclusions or agree with their assessments. Yet at the same time I come away encouraged by the spiritual truths found in their traditions, thrilled by new insights into my own faith, and more passionate than ever about being a disciple of Jesus. The truth is illuminated and elongated in my mind, and my presuppositions and myopic perspectives are challenged and corrected in the process. Anything less would not be a conversation and would imply that truth is a proposition and not Christ.

To be a real agent of God, to connect with the neighbor … each

of us needs to know the truth about himself or herself.3

—Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

I believe the lifeblood of evangelism is not propositions, but prepositions. For God to do something through us, God must be doing something in us. If we are not always evangelizing ourselves, we have no business evangelizing others. In fact, it is usually as God’s grace courses through us to someone else that we become aware of God’s love in and for us. Evangelism is an invitation for broken people together to meet the Christ who loves broken people. We all are damaged but loved, crushed but cherished, with a divine embrace. When love is the motivation for evangelism, nudging is love in action. And the cracks in our broken vases are where Jesus leaks out first.

Evangelism Jesus-style

I define evangelism as “nudge” and evangelists as “nudgers.” Evangelism is awakening each other to the God who is already there. Evangelism is nudging people to pay attention to the mission of God in their lives and to the necessity of responding to that initiative in ways that birth new realities and the new birth.

God only asks that we do what we do best, which is nudge; God takes it from there. The nudging act—the human contact, the meeting of eyes, the sharing of space, the entanglement of words, the sense of bodily interaction—is to the soul what blood is to the body. Without nudging, the body cannot reproduce.

Every person who crosses your threshold today is ripe for nudging. A nudge happens in proximity. Even the nudges across the Internet or by phone take place in a proximity of relationships. The integrity of a nudge requires that it be welcomed and that it be reciprocal. The purpose of a nudge is to manifest Christ in a moment of mutual knowing, which benefits both the person being nudged and the nudger. Nudging is not best driven by fear or by some need within the nudger. Nudges are not contrived but are the natural consequence of being with someone in a moment and wishing them to join you in recognizing a God-moment. The best nudges culminate in a grunt of mutual recognition. God nudges me because God likes me. I nudge others because I like them. There is an implied caring that comes with nudging.

So there you have it. Nudge—gently pushing people off their seats more than it is sitting people down or driving them to their knees. Nudging is more about sowing than reaping. To be clear, nudging encompasses the full range of gardening—from dropping a tiny seed into the ground, to loosening the dirt, watering, weeding, fertilizing, protecting from predators, picking the fruit, and even helping, in Jesus’ words, “the birds of the air … nest under its shade.”4 But every encounter is aimed not to “bring in the sheaves.” Nudging aims to bring people less to a decision than to an impression: not just to an hour of decision but a lifetime impression of God’s presence and the nearness of God’s kingdom. In fact, isn’t this the essence of sanctified living: to make our whole life a Un Oui Vivant,5 a “Living Yes” to the living Christ?

This is exactly the opposite of ignoring the need for a decision. Rather, it is respecting and reverencing the process, if one looks back on it, by which each of us came to that place of decision. When an impression leads to a decision, it’s “Hallelujah!” (or in my preferred way of stating it, “Javalujah!”) time. But the ultimate answer to that question “Who do you say that I am?” is best forthcoming from another question: “What’s up?” Or when translated theologically, “What’s the I AM up to in your life?” We find the living One in the midst of living.

Images exist not to be believed but to be interrogated.6

—Andy Grundberg

Don McCullin is a British photojournalist who specializes in capturing images of the downtrodden and forgotten and making these moments of forsakenness universal. McCullin is also one of the greatest war photographers of all time. He says this about the role of a professional photographer: “If you take one good picture a year for each year of your career, you are doing well.”7

If, for every year of your life, one person honestly relates that God nudged them through you, and that your nudge had kingdom significance to them, you are a master evangelist; well done! Of course, we ought always to be hoping and praying for what I call these ushering nudges. Always be closing. Even with a gentle nudge, or a God-wink nudge, always be closing in prayer and desire. But remember that every Jesus nudge, whether it leads someone to an altaring moment or not, is part of an answer to a two-thousand-year-old prayer in Matthew 9:38: a prayer Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray, when he asked the “Lord of the Harvest” to send out workers for the harvest. Sometimes a nudge will lead to conversion, but most often it will lead to a conversation, a confession, a connection, maybe a germination, but always a blessing.

Businesspeople who become entrepreneurs often learn the hard way that constantly chasing home runs will exhaust and bankrupt them. Good business strategists live on base hits. They are ready for a homer should it present itself but are not drawn into the delusive and elusive hunt for the home run. Evangelism is like that; too much emphasis on an evangelistic home run from a nudge is not only unlikely, but also prone to being motivated by impure and selfish motives.

Evangelists always nudge. They travel the Emmaus and Jericho Roads as often as the Damascus and Roman Roads.8 They end up praying, “God is great, God is good” as often as “The Sinner’s Prayer.”9 Their words when spoken are not so much “You are lost in sin” as “You belong to God.” Their attitude is less “Look at what you’re doing! What are you thinking?” than “Look at what God is already doing in you!” Nudgers give attendance more than they take attendance or count attendance. They less tuck people in than rustle them out of their sleeping quarters to awaken to more interesting, more humorous, more unique ways of being. Nudgers leave more tracks than tracts.

All your words were one word: Wakeup.10

—Spanish poet Antonio Machado referencing Jesus

Nudging is more about dialogue than monologue, more Facebooking than blogging. Acts of evangelism intentionally scooch and shimmy people in the direction of truth without the need for knee-bending, beat-my-back altar calls.11 Evangelists nudge the Jesus in people to sit up and take notice. Evangelists are nudgers, not shovers. Whereas evangelism has been known to violate others’ dignity,12 which I call the reproach approach,13 nudgers are not smudgers of the divine in people.

For the past century, evangelism has been built on this one question:

“If you died today, do you know without any doubt that you would wake up in heaven?”

This is supposedly an updating of the evangelism of the eighteenth-century Wesleyan revival, which was mistakenly seen to have been built around:

“Do you desire to escape from the wrath that is to come?”

For the twenty-first century, evangelism will be built on nudges that have more to do with life before death than death and the afterlife, that focus more on the love of Christ than the wrath of God, that worry less about dying than about never having lived.14 Some parts of the church have been slow to speak against the turn-burn evangelism of WOGS (Wrath of God Syndrome), which my friend Vern Hyndman calls “the bad news about the good news.” James chapter 3 is quite clear here: This should not be so. If truth be told, love has always been paramount. In the definitive Wesley hymnbook, of the 525 hymns, only 1 is about hell.15

If you came alive today, would you think you had died and gone to heaven?

If you were offered to live forever, would you want to?

If you really woke up today, could you catch up to what God was doing in your life?

Why the focus more on life than death? The basic biblical distinction is not between “mind” and “matter” or “soul” and “body” but between “spirit” and “flesh.” In one of the most helpful insights into recovering the mind of the Bible I have ever read, Cambridge theologian Nicholas Lash reminds us that when the Bible talks about living systems, it distinguishes “between things coming alive, and things crumbling into dust; between not-life, or life-gone-wrong, and life: true life, real life, God’s life and all creation’s life in God.” That’s why the metaphor of wind, or the breath of life, is so important. Only the breath of God can neutralize the closed system of death, also known as the second law of thermodynamics, with the open system of life and the theodynamics of grace.

Whether sent forth from God, breathing all creatures into being, renewing the Earth and filling it with good things; whether whispering gently to Elijah, or making “the oaks to whirl, and [stripping] the forests bare”; or breathing peace on the disciples for the forgiveness of sins—it is one wind, one spirit, which “blows where it wills and we do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” To confess God as Spirit is to tell the story of the world as something, from its beginning to ends end, given to come alive.16

Evangelists nudge people to life. Evangelists nudge people to take deep breaths. Evangelists blow breath into people. I often wonder how the literary career of French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre might have been different if he had been nudged at a time when his faith was trying to take root. But I will let him speak for himself:

I have just related the story of a missed vocation. I needed God. He was given to me. I received Him without realizing that I was seeking Him. Failing to take root in my heart, He vegetated in me for a while then He died. Whenever anyone speaks to me about Him today, I say, with the amusement of an old beau who meets a former belle: “Fifty years ago, had it not been for that misunderstanding, that mistake, the accident that separated us, there might have been something between us.”17

Life and death are sometimes in the power of the nudge.

“Nudge evangelism” is based on the following three revolutionary notions (okay, some not so much “revolutionary” as hibernating—but when these “notions” cease logging zzz’s, they will have revolutionary consequences). We will explore these more in depth a little later. But let’s lay them out in full now:

Jesus is alive and active in our world.

Followers of Jesus “know” Jesus well enough to recognize where he is alive and moving in our day.

Evangelists nudge the world to wake up to the alive and acting Jesus and nudge others in the ways God is alive and moving (I call these nudges “small saves”).

I was late to nudging. MSN Messenger first introduced the nudge decades ago, but it was not until I entered the Twitterverse in late 2008 and Facebook in 2009, that I was introduced to the “nudge” and “poke.” The nudge has now even achieved elevated status in the leadership literature with a book by a Harvard law professor and a University of Chicago economist who argue that nudges are a form of “libertarian paternalism” designed to alter “people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.”18 In their opinion a nudge is not coercive, but cajoling.19

Even though I hold the E. Stanley Jones Chair of Evangelism at Drew University, I waited to write up my perspectives on evangelism until I had finished two other projects on “default systems.” It’s amazing the unintended messages we send, and defaults are some of the biggest “unintended” nudges in existence. Humans tend to live on autopilot, both as persons and as communities, which is why worshippers tend to sit in the same pew, and students in the same seat.

I am reminded of the mightiness of that default setting every time I approach a toll plaza on the New Jersey turnpike. A lane’s white lines are like the strings of a corset, keeping the car in that configuration even though it would be faster and easier to turn the wheel, cross the line, and get in another lane. There may be twenty cars ahead of you in your lane, but you will sit where you are, ignoring the toll booths with only two or three cars in waiting, because of that mighty default setting.

If we don’t set the correct defaults to faith, our evangelism will be full of sound and fury, but futile. Hence my books on the default interface that connects with a Google world (the EPIC interface)20 and the default operating system that God designed for life and the church (the MRI default).21 We often forget that Satan is an evangelist too. The forces of darkness want nothing more than to recruit people to the ethics of evil and the aesthetics of hell. And the pandemics of terrorism, ritualized violence, environmental degradation, and genocide attest to the success the enemy has had in writing a powerful counternarrative. As Alfred the butler (Michael Caine) says to Batman in The Dark Knight (2008) as they struggle to understand the psychology of the Joker: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” And judging from the seventy million people killed in the twentieth century, the bloodiest century in history, Satan may have been the most successful evangelist of the twentieth century.

Nudges are inevitable. We nudge even when we don’t know it. For example, whenever someone says “most people,” they are nudging you in the direction of conformity. And they don’t even know they are nudging you. Conformism is one of life’s (and evil’s) biggest nudges.

Evangelism as we know it hasn’t worked. Either evangelism is so aggressive you want to get a restraining order, or else evangelism is so restrained you want to call it to order. Our strategies have been spectacularly useless at best, counterproductive at worst. We have lived through an exodus, but not of the biblical kind.


It’s time to fundamentally change this approach: nudge. Nudge is built on five God-guarantees:

Every person you notice, every person you brush up against, is a child of God, a Jesus-in-you noticer.

Every brush is a bush.

Every best is a blest.

Every worst is a juncture for grace.

Every noticer needs a nudge.

What does this mean?

Human beings are created in the image of God.

God is already present in that person’s life in the form of some burning bush.

The best things about that person are blessings from God.

The worst things about that person are arenas for God’s redemption.

People are hungry for encouragement and love and need help noticing the presence of the divine in their lives.

Nudge Trudge

Faith coaches and spiritual directors are God’s A Team nudgers. They make a life’s work of carefully and skillfully nudging those who trust them. And these wise and loving mentors have a saying:

Tell them: and if they can’t understand,

Show them: and if they can’t see it,

Do it to them.

There are three forms of nudges that increasingly demand more creativity

from the nudger. These forms become more intimate and loving to the

nudge as they progress.

The trudge formula for nudge evangelism is simple: Start small; scale fast; and live, Jesus, live! Nudge is encapsulated in Jesus’ first postresurrection directive: “Go quickly and tell …”22 To “go” is to move forward and do something, however modest: “Start small.” To be “quick” is to use momentum to “scale fast.” To “tell” is to lift up the name of Jesus, tell the good news that everyone has the potential to become a different kind of person, and with our ancestors, “speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.”

A brick wall is … essentially

an aggregation of small effects.23

—Alec Clifton-Taylor

1. Start Small

Nudging is made up of small things, but it is no small thing. Small inputs can have massive consequences. It is less that “everything matters” than that small things matter everywhere. No moment is too small, no person is too small, to gently steer and move people down life paths and away from death valleys. Nudgers encourage first steps, small steps, and are open to the surprise of giant leaps forward.

One of the most distinguishing features of Jesus’ teaching was precisely in this notion that from tiny beginnings God’s reign grows. The ancient Hebrews compared God’s workings to the monstrous cedars of Lebanon and wings of eagles. Jesus loves looking at mustard seeds, grains of wheat, leftover crumbs, and barnyard hens. He invites us to look around at our fields, our gardens, our orchards, our vineyards, our backyards. Jesus is not against large but invites us to start small and do little large. “Little is much if God is in it.”24

It would be hard to overestimate the tremendous power you have to influence the direction of people’s lives, even when that person is a stranger. Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously pronounced that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”25 The world has been changed by one word here, one story there, metaphors above and over all. It is not just that “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”26 A nudge here, a nudge there are like baskets of blessings that pop out just when you need them the most to give life a burst.

In the animal kingdom, the bigger the brain, the smaller the face. We big-brained people do not know our face, who we are, and how severely we have been defaced from our original divine design. In the words of William Golding, whose book Lord of the Flies (1954) was inspired by his wartime experiences, anyone who could not see that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey must have been blind or wrong in the head.”27 In small, everyday ways, evangelists nudge out of others their original human face and what God is doing to summon them to become new human beings called to renew human society. The more I discover what I am, the more miserable I get; the more I discover who God is and who God made me, the happier I become.

In the Jesus kingdom, the bigger the brain in your head, the bigger the love in your heart. And that one-pound heart, made large with love and connected to a two-pound brain, made small by humility, can challenge the world to give peace and love a fighting chance.

To be sure, there is no path through life without detours. But detours, roundabouts, and imperfections, as the incarnation’s setting straight of our sidetracked humanity makes clear, are the paths used by the Spirit to take us home.

2. Scale Fast

Once you have learned the nudge on a small scale, you can leverage and reuse attentional strategies to expand evangelism across every aspect of your life and across your connections.

You know a nudge is providential when the person being nudged already knows they need that very nudge. A nudge is only of value if there is an “aha” moment that accompanies it. Jesus never did anything the Father had not already been doing, and the very instinct to nudge is predicated by a knowledge that God had somehow prepared this very event. The most powerful nudges are those that coax someone in directions they already know they should be going. When a nudger pours fuel at the right moment to a low-grade fire already burning in the heart and mind, the combustion is explosive and the conflagration is breathtaking.

In God nothing is empty of sense … so the conviction of a

transcendental meaning in all things seeks to formulate itself.28

—Dutch historian Johan Huizinga

To the ears of faith, we are never out of the range of God’s voice: every distress a call, every surprise a service, every relationship a blessing, every phone call a connection, every hesitation or doubt a direction. We respond to each of these, trusting that our small saves will make a saving difference even if we never know how it all plays out or how it all works in God’s scheme of things. Most often we never know “the rest of the story.”

But we don’t need to. What counts in evangelism is not cognition, but recognition. Can we identify the face of Christ when he shows it to us? What is our receptiveness to the Spirit, who appears in others and in one another? Are we able to decipher the playings of the Spirit in others’ lives? That’s enough. Jesus “appeared” to the Twelve, to Cephas, and to the five hundred; and Paul says, “He appeared to me.” Has he “appeared” to you? If he “appeared” to you, would you know it? Can you apprehend his appearing?

3. Live, Jesus, Live!

Do we have any faith “to speak of ”?

There comes a time when nudging means a no-beating-about-the-bush stepping forward to meet the other and tell it like it is, or in other words, to tell who Jesus is.

I call dropping the name of Jesus the “Nudge Bomb.” Yet even when we throw the bomb, the nudger seldom throws his or her voice. While slow to speak,29 we are always to be ready to give the “reason” for our high-hope living.30 Jeremiah’s confession about the futility of holding his breath is ours: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in; indeed, and I cannot.”31 Our nudges toward lives of freedom and communion and hope will require speaking the name of Jesus and inviting others to accept the liberation that comes with surrender, the communion that comes from submission.

One day a nudger asked a question of John Wesley: “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Even though Wesley was an Oxford don, a theologian, hymn writer, Christian author, and missionary to America, he realized that he really didn’t “know” Jesus Christ in all of these activities like he was being called to know him. What Wesley had been living out of was a Christian faith based more on rational defenses of the cold logic and coherence of the Apostles’ Creed or the Thirty-nine Articles rather than a personal experience of and a heart strangely warmed by the fires at the altar of Jesus the Christ.

Intimate spouses of fifty years know the nuances of their love, the snorts and grunts in sleep, what is normal and what is not. It’s what poet Galway Kinnell calls the “familiar touch of the long married.”32 Do we, after years of walking with Christ, know him and his familiar touch?

In all of our nudges, in all of our helping people see the God who is already at play in their lives, we must never forget that we ultimately do not offer others our skills, our wisdom, or our expertise. We offer others Christ and the Holy Spirit, the only powers that can create the new humanity. Or as the apostle Paul put it, “To me, to live is Christ.”33 Not acknowledging Christ when he appears is dereliction of discipleship.

As you walk down the stairs toward baggage claim at the Memphis Airport, there is a sign that greets you when you land on the ground floor. It is the motto of Graceland. The sign reads: “Discover Your Inner Elvis.” Nudgers help people discover their inner Jesus. Nudgers do that by lifting up Christ, not themselves, and trust Jesus to stir others to new life and new relationships.

Will someone mistake you for Jesus today?

Semiotics 101

For nudge evangelism to work, we must bring together two things seldom seen together: evangelism and semiotics. Since you now have some notion of what I mean by “evangelism,” let me say a word about the more unfamiliar term semiotics.

A teacher walks up to a chalkboard and writes “H2O.” H2O is an abstraction of water. You can’t drink it, be quenched by it, swim in it, or float on it. It’s a useful abstraction. Semiotics is an attempt to get our eyes off the chalkboard and into the real world. It is the art of making connections, linking disparate dots, seeing the relationships between apparently trifling matters, and turning them into metonymic moments.

Most important, semiotics is a Jesus word. In fact, Jesus instructed us to learn semiotics. It’s a direct order.

One of Jesus’ favorite sayings went something like “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.” He then went on: “You know how to read the signs of the sky. You must also learn how to read the signs of the times.”34 The Greek word for signs is semeia (from which we get the word semiotics). We are directed by Jesus to learn how to read signs, to read “the handwriting on the wall.” God’s hand is still writing on walls today. Evangelists are people with red-sky-at-morning sensitivities.

Hence the yoking of evangelism and semiotics.

The world is ruled by signs, with money the most mastered semiotic system out there. We all do semiotics, whether we know it or not. Waiting on tables is a semiotic system, with every interaction an exchange of visual and verbal markers. At Le Peep restaurant in Peoria, Illinois, my waitress turned to her trainee and said, “See the crumpled-up napkin on his plate? That’s the universal sign of ‘I’m done.’ Take his plate away.”

Some things look easy until you try them (like juggling and jigsaws). Other things look hard until you try them (like semiotics).

Here’s an example. You’ve just purchased a new car. You drive your new car out of the dealership, and as soon as you hit the highway, something happens. The moment your rubber hits the road, something starts to happen. What is it?

You say, “Depreciation.” How true. You’ve just lost three thousand dollars, at minimum. I call the smell of a new car the most expensive cologne in the universe. Lasts about a month. You do the math: three thousand dollars divided by thirty days.… By the way, scientists now tell us that the smell of a new car is toxic.

But something else happens as well. You begin to see that car you just purchased everywhere. Am I right or what?

I don’t think people are now buying that car to copy you. Nothing has changed except one thing: Because of your investment in that car, you are now in a state of “semiotic awareness.”

And when people observe you and your car, they are also in a state of semiotic awareness whether they know it or not. In the land of semiotics, cars are driven less to get you somewhere and more to be seen and to be read. Cars are identity signals. They are signs of who we are or want to be.

We see what we choose to see, as artists have been telling us for centuries. Michelangelo is said to have remarked that he released David from the marble block he found him in. “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through,” confessed Jackson Pollock.35 Artists are simply people with high levels of semiotic awareness.

Most disciples of Jesus are not in a state of semiotic awareness. The church especially is not good at reading signs. Those who are preoccupied with reading signs are looking for one thing only: not signs of our times, but end-times signs, signs of the return of Christ … signs of the latter days and the end of days.

By reading the signs of the times, I am referring to the signs of the Spirit’s activity in the world. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it could not read the signs: “You did not recognize the time of your visitation.”36 Nudgers are connectors of signs and channelers of their significance. Are you ready for signs? Are you able to read signs?

Nudge is an invitation to move beyond church-centric Christianity to a holistic, omnipresent theology of the signified reign of God. God is, Paul told the Athenians, “not far from any one of us.”37 If God can speak through a burning bush, through plagues of locust, through Balaam’s ass, through Babylon, through blood on doorposts, through Peter, through Judas, through Pilate’s jesting sign hung over the head of our Lord, and through the cross itself, then God can and will speak through art deco architecture, abstract expressionism, classic literature like Virgil’s Aeneid, ass media, disease, Disney, hunger, Twitter, etc. The question is never, “Is God using this?” Rather the question is, “What is my/our invitation upon hearing?”

God meets us everywhere, in a bewildering variety of forms and fashions. Eighteenth-century hymn writer Isaac Watts called John’s book of Revelation “the opera of the apocalypse.”38 We grow giddy over mystic numbers, signs and seals, heraldic beasts and composite beings, but what about the opera of the everyday? The ordinary and mundane? John Updike believed his only duty as a writer was “to describe reality as it had come … to give the mundane its beautiful due.”39 Updike was a brilliant semiotician.

Nudge argues for the triangulation of all three: Scripture, Culture, Spirit. But we walk a tonal tightrope: in touch with the world but in tune with the Spirit through highly pitched souls, with heightened sensitivities that connect to the Scriptures and then to the Spirit and then to the culture.

As we watch for the signs of your kingdom on earth,

we echo the song of the angels in heaven.40

—Eucharistic Prayer F, Common Worship

Why are we fascinated with the CBS network’s CSI franchise? We are transfixed by how investigators can “read” a crime scene. We read anthropologists’ works because they can “read” a culture. We read Dan Brown novels in record-bursting numbers (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol) because of the power and mystique of symbology (the Hollywood name for semiotics) and our interest in the hidden forces at work in people’s lives and in our world.

The ultimate in social as well as spiritual illiteracy is the inability to read the handwriting on the wall. There are many forms of biblical, cultural, and spiritual illiteracy that go beyond not knowing the difference between Melchizedek and Methuselah, or between Dorothy Day and Dorothy Sayers … and Doris Day, for that matter. How many people have been waiting their entire lives for a message from God when they have been staring it in the face all along? How many people are deaf to the dog-whistle voice of the divine that only they are vibed to hear?41

Life without Landlines

To get into “Len’s Lair” (aka, my study), I bend down and step up at the same time, and then pass through a small corridor to enter a totally silent room. I switch on some lights, burn some candles, and wake my computer.

Suddenly, there it is: the world. I’m connected to the far reaches of the planet. On our little island I’ve picked up signals that were there all the time. I have the world at my fingertips. All I need is the right

apparatus, the right wireless card or radio or TV or whatever) that can “connect” me with what was always there but was invisible and unavailable until the receiver was activated.

Think of semiotics as a receiver. We live in an ocean of waves—radio, cell phone, wi-fi, infrared, cosmic. These waves not only surround us; they pass through us and can even penetrate walls. These waves will continue to remain invisible unless there is a receiver that can channel them into forms we can hear and see. That “make me a channel of blessing” stuff? Semiotic awareness at its best.

This book is your wireless card to pick up the signals of transcendence, the immanent transcendent, that are out there but not being downloaded. Semiotics is the art of finding channels and making connections. Evangelism as semiotics is the art of tuning our receivers to the “I AM” channel and setting the controls to receive and transmit transdimensional frequencies. This book is your compass in a world where the magnetic lines of the earth are invisible. These magnetic lines have always been there and are not dependent on our compass. But the compass becomes our means of making visible and interpreting what we cannot see.

Marius von Senden, reviewing every published case of blind people receiving sight over a three-hundred-year period in his classic book Space and Sight (1932), concluded that every newly sighted adult sooner or later comes to a motivation crisis—and that not every patient gets through it.42 There are plenty of people out there who are “seeing but not seeing.” Or to put it another way, too many Christians are walking blind through life when they don’t have to.

Our survival, individual and cultural, depends on our ability

to read and interpret ecologically what our man-made

environments are saying to us and doing to us.43

—Eric McLuhan

Throughout Scripture God uses sign language to communicate relationship: Noah and the rainbow,44 Abraham and circumcision,45 Moses and the Passover blood posts,46 Moses and the exodus cloud/fire pillars,47 Samson and his golden locks,48 shepherds and the manger,49 Jesus and the cross, and even Pilate’s jesting billboard hung over the head of Christ on the cross was a sign.50 The same sign can be different things to different people. The Passover was freedom to the Israelites and death to the Egyptians. The sign Pilate hung over Christ’s head was irony to Pilate, blasphemous to the Jewish religious leaders, and truth to all followers of Christ. The same sign, different meanings. In fact, when Jesus turned water into wine, or fed the five thousand, or raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus didn’t think of what he was doing as a “miracle.” He thought of what he was doing as a sign.

God is still signing us. God’s finger is still writing. We may not be able to read the divine finger because we’ve got our fingers in our ears or are so fixated at the finger pointing to the moon that we can’t see beyond the fingertips. But God’s finger is busy writing in strange and sundry signs, designs, cosigns, and signals.

Everything that surrounds you can give you something.51

—Hungarian photographer André Kertész

I begin every day with what I call my “Bugs Bunny” ritual. Where Bugs Bunny chews his carrot and asks “What’s up, Doc?” I drink my coffee and ask, “What’s up, God?”

In fact, some sign readers are arguing that our very survival as a species depends on our ability to “read the signs.” Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004), argues that the only common denominator behind all cases of collapse is not the destruction of the environment, as serious as that is. It is not economic collapse, as universal as that is. The one elementary but elemental factor in all civilizations that collapsed into extinction is the failure to read the handwriting on the wall, the failure to respond to warning signs. Every extinct culture hurled signs high into the heavens for all to see. But every collapsing culture failed to read and heed these flares.52

The Problem Is Not with Life

Sometimes my kids come to me and complain: “Daddy, I’m bored.” I tell them, “Sorry. You aren’t bored. You’re having a semiotic breakdown.” They then run to their mother, who rolls her eyes and comforts them with “Don’t worry. Your father is just having one of his semiotic spells. He’ll get over it.”

But I’m right.53 And I’m not going to get over it. When my kids are bored, the problem is not with life. Life is full of wonderful, exciting, and adventurous things. My kids don’t have life fatigue. The problem is not with life. The problem is with them. In a state of semiotic awareness, all of life is bathed in beauty and sacredness. When they get bored, they have entered a state of semiotic breakdown. The fact that many people live boring lives, the fact that many people make so little of their lives is not life’s fault. People are in a state of semiotic breakdown.

Semiotic breakdown is the disconnect from all that is and can be from perceived possibility. Semiotic breakdown has degrees. The lightest of these is simply missing the message and doing nothing in most cases. The most serious is seeing the signs, believing they mean something, but having the wrong interpretation and setting off in a destructive path. The advice of park rangers applies here: If you’re lost, stop. Call for help. Reorient yourself. Find true north. Suicide is the ultimate state of semiotic breakdown.

The world is so full of a number of things

I am sure we should all be as happy as kings.54

—Robert Louis Stevenson

Much of the problem with the church is precisely this. The “ole ship,” as Methodist cofounder Charles Wesley liked to call it, is in a state of semiotic breakdown. The church sees mysterious hieroglyphics all around, but because it cannot read the sign language, it fails to see that these are really Hieroglyphic of holiness.

Without doing our semiotic homework, Christians can only follow trends. We can’t create them. Faith widens the imagination and lengthens the horizons. So why is church so narrow in its imagination, so short in its scope of thinking? Why is the body of Christ not bursting with creativity, but a bastion of boredom?

It is in a state of semiotic breakdown. We are as clueless as to what the Spirit is up to as the critic who dismissed the Beatles when he first heard them as “strictly routine rhythm-and-blues.”55 One of the greatest examples of semiotics in the Scriptures is the story of the wise men, who were probably not “wise men” but Eastern magicians, sorcerers, or diviners (magoi).56 In the Greek New Testament magos means most often “interpreters of dreams” or “experts in astrology.” In other words, sign readers. These “magi” had the imagination to read the signals, register the early intelligence, and risk a long journey so that they got there first. Pagan semioticians got to Jesus before the holy and righteous.

If the inability to read signs is a surefire recipe for failure and extinction, the ability to read signs is now being defined as the key ingredient to success and leadership. Harvard Business School’s Leadership Initiative has spent years developing a “Great American Business Leaders” database. The project identified and analyzed the accomplishments of some 860 top executives in the twentieth century, and the results are being made known through the writings of two leadership professors: Anthony J. Mayo, the director of the Initiative, and Nitin Nohria, the new dean of Harvard Business School. In the work titled In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century (2005),57 the coauthors distilled tons of data into three leadership archetypes: Mold-Makers, Mold-Breakers, and Mold-Takers (i.e., the entrepreneur, the charismatic, the manager). Whatever their style or “type,” however, there was one ingredient that all shared in common: an outsized “ability to read the forces that shaped the times in which they lived … and to seize on the resulting opportunities.”58

The coauthors call this key leadership trait “contextual intelligence.” In words that appear lifted from the biblical description of the tribe of Issachar (Israel’s resident semioticians, who “knew the times” and “knew what best to do”),59 Mayo and Nohria portray the century’s best leaders as people who understood the forces that defined their eras, and as people who “adapted their enterprises to best respond to those forces.” Both “knowing the times” and “knowing what to do” are what made them leaders: “Contextual intelligence is an underappreciated but all-encompassing differentiator between

success and failure.”60

The inability to read signs helps explain a great deal about the past, the present, and the future. For example, take the rise of Nazism. How did one of the most cultured and Christianized countries in the West succumb to the appeal of Hitler? How did the very culture that brought Christian arts and philosophy to their highest and most luminous levels become responsible for some of the most heinous atrocities in history? Its lack of attentiveness.

A few read the signs: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alfred Delp, Martin Niemoller, Joseph Ratzinger Sr., the policeman father of Pope Benedict XVI. But by and large the Christian church in Germany was as sign blind as the cousin of Winston Churchill, Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest- Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry (1878–1949), who after he met Hitler called him “a kindly man with a receding chin and an impressive face.”61

Or to take one more example: The problem with the Iraq war was not so much bad military intelligence, but deficient cultural intelligence. There was very little contextual intelligence of the political, religious, and social culture of Iraq and its diverse peoples (Kurds, Sunnis). A decades-old reliance on relational intelligence was abandoned for satellites that could read license plates from space. Unfortunately, they failed to read the nuances of the population. There is also very little contextual intelligence of the mediated world in which we live. War has a very healthy future, but the future of war is inescapably global and fought not in physical space but in informational space. This is what Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and even the middle-class Iraqi citizen Salam Pax and his “Baghdad Blog,”62 seemed to understand better than the United States.

Whether we know it or not, we all read signs. God is also a sign reader: The bow in the clouds is God’s sign, not to us but to God to remind God that there is a promise in place never again to destroy the earth with a flood.

You do semiotics all the time. In fact, every one of you is a master semiotician. You may not know it, but you are. And I’ll prove it to you one more time.

You can’t get a driver’s license until you learn your semiotics: You learn to read the signs of the road. In fact, you are given a test on your semiotic skills at reading road signs.

You can’t balance a checkbook until you learn your semiotics: You learn to read the signs of mathematics. You learn the sign language of math.

You can’t get a job until you learn your semiotics: You learn to read the signs of a language. You learn English or Spanish or Mandarin or Japanese. You can’t read anything until you learn your semiotics.

Semiotics is the art and science of paying attention. Since evangelism is also the art and science of paying attention, I will argue that evangelism is semiotics. There is another book to be written on the prophetic role of reading the signs or semiotics.63 Nudge argues that a semiotics evangelism is more pay attention than attract attention. The best evangelists are not the attention getters, but attention givers. Yet the most attentive semiotician is hopeless if the sign is read yet misinterpreted. Our quest is to be so filled with the Spirit of God, and to be wearing interpretive Jesus goggles, that we not only notice, but are able to interpret and respond.

Paying Attention

One of the earliest admonitions in life is this: “Pay attention.” One of the hardest things in the world to do is this: “Pay attention.” Nobody attends to attention. People teach us how to think, but not how to pay attention. But paying attention changes your brain, your being, your future. According to some scholars, the root lig in the word religion means “to pay attention.” If so, from its very definition, religion helps us learn to pay attention to people and to life.

Our poets and our artists have understood this better than our theologians. Poet John Ciardi defined human identity in precisely these terms: “We are what we do with our attention.”64 I call Mary Oliver the twentieth century Thoreau. Oliver says, “This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the so l exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” 65 In a poem Oliver says, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention.”66 When poet Annie Dillard was asked by Life magazine “What is the meaning of life?” her response was very simple: “Pay attention so that creation need not play to an empty house.”67 “[God] asks nothing but attention,” wrote poet William Butler Yeats.68 Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes calls “extreme attention” the number-one “creative faculty.”69 In fact, Fuentes defines love as “attention. Paying attention to the other person. Opening oneself to attention.”70 “To understand something,” Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti has written, “you have to pay attention, you have to love, and when you love something, the very nature of love is discipline.”71

Prayer is properly not petition,

but simply an attention to God which is a form of love.72

—Iris Murdoch

Prayer is where the Christian tradition attends most often to paying attention. Sixteenth-century Spanish mystic/poet St. John of the Cross said that the heart of prayer is giving “loving attention to God” so that even “when the spiritual person cannot meditate, let him learn to be still in God, fixing his loving attention upon Him.”73 Iris Murdoch, an Irish novelist and philosopher, argued in a quote so rich it needs to be cited twice, “Prayer is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love.”74 In her argument that prayer needs to become less a matter of what we say and more a matter of what we hear, the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil liked to say that “prayer is paying attention.”75 Prayer is not getting God to pay attention, but learning to pay attention ourselves to what God is doing. Semiotic praying is listening, listening to God speaking to us now.

I would want to argue with Murdoch and Weil somewhat and say that prayer is what happens when you pay attention fully, when you are at full attention, and your attention always gets God’s attention. Paying attention is a form of surrender. We are always surrendered and surrendering to something, but most of us live in the delusion we are in control. Surrender is a willingness to be open to possibilities we cannot imagine. Control suggests that if we can’t imagine it, it cannot be, and we set about to ensure it.

British novelist and Christian essayist Dorothy L. Sayers in a letter written during World War II expressed her conviction that “we have rather lost sight of the idea that Christianity is supposed to be an interpretation of the universe.”76 The church has done itself a disservice, she argued, by presenting Christianity not as a way of seeing all things but as one competing ideology among many. “Instead of leading us to see God in new and surprising places, it too often has led us to confine God inside our place.”77

There are a few in the theological world who have understood the importance of paying attention. “If I gave my attention to your handiwork, I should become your handiwork,” wrote the English theologian and biblical scholar Austin Farrer, echoing the prophetic vision of William Blake, who believed you become what you behold.78 Of anyone alive, however, British sociologist and theologian David Martin has cried the loudest and made the strongest case for the spiritual life being one of sign language. In words that led directly to the writing of this book, “I suggest we look at Christian faith as a code book for picking up signals of transcendence, and the question is how we are to pick up those signals and interpret the code?”79

But examples like these from the Christian world are exceptions that prove the rule. By and large, the Christian community has taken little notice of what it means to “take notice” and “pay heed.”

Not so for the advertising world, which has made paying attention a science. What is public relations but the business of getting noticed. Umberto Eco defines semiotics in this way: “Semiotics is in principle the

discipline studying everything that can be used in order to lie.”80

Tell someone that they can read the signs of the stock market and in that way become rich, and people will do it in a New York minute. Tell someone that they can read the signs of the Spirit and become spiritually rich, and they yawn and walk away. We are more prone to read signs of someone’s economic and social status than to read signs of the divine at play in people’s lives. We have become experts at reading surface appearances and wonder why the number of what appear to be divine disappearances increases. You cannot serve two Semeia.

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;

And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.

Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;

And let the fish of the sea declare to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?

—Job 12:7–10 NASB

We live in an attention-deficit culture more adept at gaining attention than at paying attention, furiously beating bushes that advance our interests while not paying attention to burning bushes that showcase God’s activities.

Joseph Nye Jr. of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government names the “paradox of plenty” as one of the characteristic features of postmodern culture. In his words, “A plenitude of information leads to a poverty of attention.… Those who can distinguish valuable signals from white noise gain power. Editors, filters, and cue givers become more in demand, and this is a source of power for those who can tell us where to focus our attention.” 81 If the future lies with those who can help people “focus attention” and “decode secrets,”82 then the greatest days for evangelism lie in the future. In a world where everyone suffers from attention-deficit disorder, evangelists are people with “Attention Surplus Disorder.”83

Whether attention is the highest goal of education, as some have argued,84 is another conversation. But paying attention is the highest form of opening to life and to God. Unarguably the greatest gift you can give another is your attention, partly because it gets us away from our attentiongetting “myness”85 and places us in a larger attention-giving “youness” and “thereness.” To pay attention means you are no longer the center of attention. Attention givers treat signs as subjects of multisensory study. Attention getters objectify themselves as the ultimate sign.

The greatest gift we can give God is our passionate attention, which as we have seen, is but another name for prayer. God pervades the world through the Spirit, but for most of us we live in a world without regard. The writer of Hebrews even goes so far as to suggest that the key to staying faithful and on track with the Spirit is our attentiveness. “Pay more careful attention … to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”86 “Drift away” is a nautical phrase that beautifully conveys how easy it is for us to stray and go adrift without the focusing of attentiveness.

Our inattentiveness to the world contrasts so sharply to Jesus’ attentiveness to all of creation. Jesus was a “dawn collector”87 who found God’s Spirit in all things, in all aspects of the natural world, both animate

(birds, animals, flowers, seeds) and inanimate (pots, coins), yet showed how we can experience God’s Spirit in ways that are beyond and “beneath language.”88

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even

a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome,

indescribably magnificent world in itself.89

—Henry Miller

Psalm 19 may very well be the greatest song in the Psalter and one of the most magnificent poems in all of literature. We have no evidence of Jesus ever citing it, but both the apostle Paul and John use it to reference Jesus and his mission.90 We shall return to this profound passage and its early elaboration of the connection between voice and vision, or what I call a “sound theology.” But for now let’s pay attention to its declaration of God’s universal disclosure:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day to day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.91

The world is not God, of course, but the incarnation goes all the way down, and the Spirit indwells all that exists. Nothing is without a witness to the divine; everything that exists praises the Creator. If

Christians are not the best at giving voice through art, poetry, and music to these unspoken voices, then something is wrong. We are living ADD lives.

Poet/critic Paul Mariani says it is our lack of imagination that has closed us to an awareness of God in the world.

If the incarnation has indeed occurred, as I believe it has, then the evidence of that central act in human history—when the creator took on our limitations with our bones and flesh—should have consequences that are reverberating down to our own moment—evidence of God’s immanent presence ought to be capable of breaking in on us each day the way air and light and sound do if only we know of what to look and listen for.92

This is part of our humanness: Homo sapiens are literally human knowers. And what are we to “know”? Know God, know each other, and know life. Since the days of cave dwellers, people have buried their

dead with what they would need in the afterlife. We have always known instinctively that there is more. Enter into a relationship with a poem, a painting, a musical composition, a sunrise, a snowflake, a flower—know skunk cabbages in January, crocuses in February, cymbidiums in March, harebells in April, poppies in May, irises in June, cowslips in July, pansies in August, marigolds in September, toadlilies in October, mums in November, dahlias in December. God’s creation is a revelation of divine presence. This is the genius of Christian theology: It radically reconfigures the human conception of the sacred. Nothing is inherently “profane.” It may be profaned by sin; but it is inherently an arena of divine activity and spiritual insight. The locus and focus of biblical theology is the world, not the heavens.

What is the grass?

I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrance designedly dropt,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners,

that we may see and remark, and say Whose?93

—Walt Whitman (1855)

Jesus expressed an earthy, semiotic theology by materializing his message through various media, including images, stories, actions (stilled storms, healed limbs), and objects like spit, fig trees, bursting baskets, etc. He was a master semiotician. You might even say that Jesus’ ministry was more a semiotics ministry than a preaching, teaching, or healing ministry. Instead of taking stands, Jesus took hikes during which he performed signs: like the coin with Caesar’s image stamped on it, or the overturned money

changers’ tables, or the water-into-wine at small-town Cana of Galilee. Significantly, Jesus’ “first sign” interceded not to sober up the party, but to make it more festive with 600 to 900 bonus bottles of vintage wine. Jesus’ public entry into Jerusalem was a masterful use of signs: a donkey, not a dressed-up horse, as you would expect of a king. The ultimate sign that reveals Jesus as the life-giving Sign? The raising of Lazarus.94

Jesus’ first postresurrection sermon is a sign. Jews raised their right hand to greet one another. The left hand was the dirty hand, the right the clean hand. When raised as a gesture of greeting, it showed that one was not carrying a weapon. Jesus greets his disciples with his right hand. To be sure, he has to walk through walls to get to them. But when he does, he raises his hands and reveals his real weapons: his wounds.

Jesus warns not to become dependent on these signs and rebukes those who get addicted to the signs.95 If you followed Jesus because of the signs he performed, that wasn’t all bad. But you had to move to something deeper. The ultimate sign was not a performing Messiah, but a participating people in the Messiah’s death and resurrection.96 The only sign that matters is a participation in the cross and resurrection. And those who follow Jesus without signs are more “blessed” than those who need the signs.97 Fix our eyes on God, the starter and finisher of our faith.98

“What do you mean?” they asked composer Robert Schumann. “I mean this,” he answered and played the piece again. “What do you mean?” they asked Jesus. “I mean this,” he replied; and he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it into fragments, and shared those broken pieces with his disciples. And that piece, and those broken pieces, have been shared in every conceivable setting and played in every known language ever since.

Faith is the gift of reading the signs of the presence of God. The point of reading signs is not the signs themselves, but the Signifier, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is not some floating signifier at the whim of our advertising campaigns or some magnetic personality. Jesus is the ultimate Sign (Semeion—note the

singular)99 of God. The church is a sign of the revelation that Christ is and was. Or as Karl Barth puts it, “The church exists … to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.”100 That is why the church will always be a sign that will be opposed.101 But as with all good signs, the church points away from itself and toward the triune God. Its message is not “Come to church” but “Come to Christ.”102

Nudge evangelism, or spreading the evangelion (“good news”), is announcing the good sign. I like how Bill Hull puts it: “If I am driving from Seattle to Los Angeles and see a sign that reads, ‘Los Angeles, 400 miles,’ I don’t pull over and sit under the sign. The sign points me to my goal. Signs of God’s manifest presence point me to Christ.”103

Walk with thy fellow-creatures: note the hush

And whispers amongst them. There’s not a spring,

Or leafe but hath his morning hymn. Each bush

And oak knows I am. Canst thou not sing?

Birds, beasts, all things

Adore him in their kinds.

Thus all is hurl’d

In sacred hymnes and order, the great chime

And symphony of nature.104

—Henry Vaughan


God posts all sorts of billboards and signposts on life’s highway. Human circumstances have divine meaning. This book is designed to help you pay attention to the variety of signs and signals God gives us about what God’s up to and what’s up ahead.

The concept of paying attention is related to the ancient notion of respect, which comes from the Latin respicere, meaning “take account” or “pay attention.” Key to this understanding of respect, however, is a form of observing that implies honoring. In the Latin meaning of respect, by paying attention, you value and honor what you are observing. When we don’t pay attention to what God is doing, we dishonor and devalue him. In everything we do, whether it be reading the Word, hiking in the woods, watching a movie, viewing a painting, we respect God when we ask ourselves this question: “What is God’s invitation here?” By not paying attention to life, we pay God no respect.

When we see all things in God, and refer all things to Him, we

read in common matters superior expressions of meaning.105

—Philosopher William James

That makes Christian semiotics more than awareness or attentiveness, however. That’s Zen semiotics. Christian semiotics enters into the connections between signs and people and God. In other words,

Christian semiotics is attention that leads to intention, attention that leads to transformation and remembrance. An attention that leads to remembrance is called a sacrament. The most sacred signs are called sacraments, and sacraments work through what they say; they impact what they symbolize. Sacraments are celebrations of our attentiveness and sign reading.106 The more attentive you are, the more you will recover as well as discover. The more attentive you are, the more you see Christ in every person and the sacramental nature of all of life.

The practice of evangelism is, in many ways, life itself—being a true human being. It is to pay attention to life and to God. Evangelism is sensational: helping people hear, see, taste, smell, and touch the creativity of God in their lives and the necessity of their response to God’s initiatives. Nudge evangelism is the decipherment of the workings of the Spirit in people’s lives and nudging them in those directions. Evangelism is bringing people into contact with Jesus, who is already there.

In Grandfather’s mind, there could be no separation between

awareness and tracking for they were one in the same thing.107

—Tom Brown Jr., Grandfather (1993)

One of the best-loved stories about Emily Dickinson, perhaps everyone’s favorite nineteenth-century poet, is the time her father rushed to ring the fire bell during dinnertime. The people of the village came running out of their homes, hugging napkins and silverware. “Where’s the fire?” everyone wanted to know.

Emily Dickinson’s father announced there was no fire. Just a beautiful sunset he didn’t want anyone to miss. Hence he rang the bell before it was too late and the sun went down.

The villagers returned to their dining tables, shaking their heads at “that crazy Dickinson man.”108 But should we all not be ringing bells at the beauty of creation? When’s the last time you rang the bell for burning bushes?

The church used to ring bells to call the community together and to announce the beauty of worship about to take place. Now we’re in the bells and whistles business. I shall never forget the first time I attended a Roman Catholic Mass and heard the sanctus bell ring during the “Holy, Holy, Holy” and the sacring bell rung three times at the elevation of the host. I came home and asked my mother what all that bell ringing was about.

She said, “It’s to tell you ‘Christ is alive,’ alive in the bread and wine.”

“But why a bell?” I persisted. Her reason for the bell scared me at the same time it sparked my imagination. As a liturgical explanation it turned out not to be accurate, but it turned me into a lifelong bell ringer. In olden times, she explained, they used to bury people with strings attached to bells above ground, so that if perchance they buried you alive, you could ring the bell when you woke up. When people above ground heard the bell ringing, they would know “He’s alive!” and immediately dig you out. My mother claimed that her grandmother knew someone who had been “saved by the bell.”

Evangelists are bell ringers. We spend our lives digging people out of self-dug graves and ringing bells that say, “Christ is alive; Jesus is real; God’s Spirit is active in your life.” To people buried alive, trapped in tombs and wrapped in grave cloths, we speak Jesus’ words to Lazarus: “Come out.” Even those who are walking zombies can learn to pay attention to God’s presence and movement. An old Methodist hymn says, “I can hear my Savior calling,” and our response is, “Where He leads me I will follow, I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.”

I have freed a thousand slaves, but I could have freed a

thousand more if they knew they were slaves.109

—Underground railroader Harriet Tubman

At our home on Orcas Island, we like to feed the birds and hummers. This also attracts other less desirable wildlife like squirrels, ferrets, otters, and mice. But you can’t have one without the other. We also like to leave our doors to the deck open, which means that more than a couple of times a summer a bird or hummer will get trapped inside the house.

When this happens, the whole family mobilizes into action, for we know that if we don’t “help” it escape, it will die inside the house, and everyone knows this from personal discoveries of shriveled-up corpses found months later in the most unlikely of places. As soon as the bird or hummer sees one of us approach it, it will fly as fast as it can in the opposite direction, often smashing against a window or upending one of the colorful tumblers that attracted it inside in the first place. So another family member darts in that direction, nudging it from its place of hiding, only to have it fly even harder and faster to another part of the room, refusing to believe that it can’t escape on its own. But wherever it flees, one of us will be there to nudge it toward the open door.

It is not usually until the poor little bird is so exhausted from trying to escape and its body is so crushed and beaten from its fear of our nudges that it can be guided to freedom or cupped in our hands and released. For some birds liberation takes only a few nudges. For other birds more self-reliant or stubborn, it may take an hour and dozens of nudges.

Never once has one of these freed creatures U-turned in flight and bounded back to say thanks. But the Sweet family always feels pride and joy when we work together to nudge a trapped and doomed bird finally toward life and food. Without our lifting that creature in our arms through prodding and nudging and poking and holding, it would have remained trapped and helpless, its fears sentencing itself to death.


Jesus said that our hearts follow whatever we “treasure” or pay attention to.110 In fact, “Pay attention” may have been Jesus’ signature phrase. Every speaker has pet phrases that they use over and over again. Sometimes these phrases are fillers, giving the speaker time to organize what comes next; sometimes these phrases are feeders, pumping new energy and punctuation into the speech; sometimes they become verbal tics … you know? … you know what I mean?

Paul’s signature phrase was “Now!” Jesus’ signature phrase was something that no one really knows how to translate. The King James Version renders it “Verily, verily, I say unto thee!” The NIV translates it “I tell you the truth.” I really like that, because wherever Jesus went, there was truth. We cannot always give “the whole truth,” and sometimes “nothing but the truth” is unkind, but we can always tell “the truth.” Some contend that the most authentic twenty-first-century equivalent would be “Listen up!” I argue that today’s version would be this: “Pay attention.”

I have circled in my Bible every time Jesus says this phrase in the Gospels, and virtually every page is strewn with circles, sometimes five or six. It’s almost as if Jesus couldn’t tell a story or start a saying without reminding his hearers: “Pay attention.”

You are what you pay attention to. No attention, no life. Everything comes to life when you pay attention to it. In a world of inattentiveness, a world that goes largely unregarded, it is the special mission given to humans to bring the world to life. How do we save the world? How do we keep the

world alive? Through loving attention … by “tending and tilling,” naming and cherishing the tiniest part of what God has created.

I know that nothing has ever been real

Without my beholding it.

All becoming has needed me.

My looking ripens things

And they come toward me, to meet and be met.111

—Rainer Rilke

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©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Nudge by Leonard Sweet. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


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