Category Archives: Reviews

American Winter


A couple weeks ago, the beautiful Hannah and I went to a film festival. It wasn’t as high brow as it sounds.  It was actually very sad and business like.  We saw American Winter, a story about our city and its agencies for the poor and desperate.  I say poor and desperate, when I actually mean those struggling to make ends meet a little worse than most of us.  I know I say we are rich, but sometimes when we look at the balance of our savings, credit card and check accounts, we definitely don’t feel like it.  This film showed people who are substantially richer with love and family than most, but have no money for bills.

American Winter chronicles 5 families in the general area who have lost work, family members or health and ended up “where they never thought they would”.  Asking for help and approaching homelessness.  The life you never dream of as a child, teenager, college student or young professional.  Having to move your family back in with YOUR parents.  Having to sell your needed possessions, or visit the food pantry or petition the electric company to turn on your electricity for the health of your children.  That is NOT the American dream, you’d think.

But sadly as the film details, it is a large part of it.  These five families in Portland probably portray thousands of similar stories in our city, region and the world.  This film exposes the horrible parts of the system.  Being overqualified for a shit job.  Being told that you have to be more in debt to apply for help, then when you are, hearing it is too late.  Hearing that there isn’t any help available because you are one of thousands with the same problem and the agency, church or business just ran out of funds or resources.

I am part of the last problem.  Having to say, “Sorry, that is all we have”.  Many times a month, I grimace after hearing a story of loss or struggle I believe and have to turn people away.  Or more honestly, farther away.

American Winter is a story that each of us can relate to.  If you are one of the lucky ones that has access to HBO, check it out on Monday night, March 18th.  If you are reading this later, or don’t have HBO check out the websites below for more showing and information.  It might come to a city near you!

Local report


Facebook link

American Winter- official website



Leave a Comment

Filed under Global Community, Obese Obsessions, Reviews, Three O Clock People

Pursuing Justice

Pursuing Justice Blog Image

A few years ago, I went to my church’s office for a meeting about better serving a small group of misfits better.  While waiting I noticed a little flyer for “The Justice Conference” and shoved it in my pocket.   A few months later I was a couple hours from home at said conference absorbing more truth than I imagined would come from Central Oregon.  It was 2 days of learning, questioning and unexpectantly mingling with people from around the country and the world.  On the way back from that trip we chatted about a few of the speakers, what we learned and where to go from here.  I was in a studying, listening, conferencing phase of life so had many names on a list to further research but wanted to know who started it all and why.  The more I read Ken Wytsma’s blog and listened to his sermons, the more I learned to respect him.

This week, I finished reading Pursing Justice, his first book.  Ken is an intellectual, a teacher, a philosopher, the founder of The Justice Conference and a man who packs as much life into a day as is humanly possible.  The book is the product of decades of seeking (pursing) an understanding of justice that wasn’t just intellectual but physical and emotional.  It is multifaceted and inspired a list of keywords, which I will expound on here.  A list is needed so I don’t share my 1200 words of notes.

The book is filled with Epiphanies like realizing the Nazi’s were humans who followed orders and desired to survive; and that “if consumerism can be created, it can be combated. If selfishness can be taught, selflessness can be learned.”

There is deep knowledge used to teach and illustrate like using math in a passage to come to the conclusion “For God so loved the world that . . . you and I are being sent into the world.” Hermeneutics and translations of words such as love, justice and righteousness are covered in depth.  It is so good I had to reread some sections while not on the city bus to fully understand points.

He reminisces of being frustrated with caring for orphans and widows as a college student because they weren’t receptive, until he realized it was changing him.

We are called out occasionally like when there is a comparison between us and the Israelites of the Old Testament, and the religious leaders of the New, who also forgot those who suffered around them.  And when it is mentioned how short term missions is not only hurting many it aims to help, but also is a $2 billion dollar industry that could do substantially more. Brian Fikkert would be proud.

There are stomach churning accounts like the Church of England owning slaves to supply their “furthering of the gospel” efforts or that my (our)home state of Oregon had constitutional laws against freed blacks settling and were one of the last to ratify the 15th amendment allowing African Americans to vote.

There are challenges like thinking we will be the next Wilberforce without realizing he fought for the same cause for nearly 50 years and died three days after it was realized; how we tackle global issues while forgetting local and environmental needs; or giving relief when development is needed; or thinking we are being persecuting because no one listens to us at our home church while workers in Asia face death constantly for rescuing girls from brothels.

The fad mentality of justice amongst many people is also addressed, while the social gospel is explained in detail and compared to social justice, including history and challenges to those misusing words stating the gospel can’t be reduced down like politics has been to just checking a box.

There is a call to not just do justice, but see, know and understand justice issues.  He points out that many new situations need well educated people, not just eager youth groups.  Also addressing how fear and apathy are causing bystanders when they should create workers.

But before you think it is all academic and too hard to read, there are also interludes at the end of each chapter that allow you to breathe.

I don’t think I am an intellectual.  I like reading, researching and studying, but need to take notes to remember things.  This habit leads me to star quotes or items that jump out to me.  This book ended up having 56 stars… a lot for a 300 page book in my method.

I found this quote in the first hour of reading and don’t think anything jumped out to me more.  So in closing, I’ll let you chew on this.

“Justice is always a felt need for the poor, for the oppressed. However, for people who have enough—or too much—it is more difficult to feel the need for justice. If the cry for justice, for shalom, isn’t burning in our guts, it’s easy to put it on the back burner.”

In case you missed the other links in the text…You can order this great book and learn about Ken at


1 Comment

Filed under Global Community, Reviews, The Jesus Way


For years now I have made an effort to buy quality gifts when I buy gifts. By that I don’t simply mean not from large box stores that offer low prices on short term disposable items.  I mean gifts that would have a use and not just get shoved in a closet.  Initially it was fruit…then art…then goats in Africa in your name…then cash to a local under resourced family in your name. and that worked for a while until kids needed gifts and second hand was not ideal so I bought wooden or instructional gifts after failings initially.

When I decided to move to Portland a few Januaries ago, local friends told me about this church that was not buying gifts but giving resources for Christmas. The members didn’t keep the money they gave it.  It was amazing and what I thought I was doing. Except as I mentioned earlier I wasn’t giving the money, I was using it on other things.  In my general practice of finances a good bit is given away, but probably not as much as I think.

So this is my plug for Advent Conspiracy a week into Advent.

Advent Conspiracy is an amazing project.  There are others like it but I like this one.  I have been impacted by it.  The money is split up and a portion is given to international organizations like IJM and Living Water International.  Then most says local.  Underage sex and labor trafficking is a major problem here in Portland. As is high school dropout rates.  A portion of the money raised is directed to the city to help them pay for their desirted programs.  Like a high school reentry tutoring program.  Or a temporary safe house for young girls.  A heathen, broken, dirty city receives money from it’s churches!  That is fascinating to me.  In this connection there are also volunteers for the city’s program built in.  The church has people and some money.  And these are gifted to the government instead of a corporation. How novel is that?

I am constantly amazed that the church gives money to the city. There is a verse about that which is rarely applied to paying taxes.  Because taxes are always used for evil …unless you talk to JK Rowling.

At Imago Dei a portion is given back to the members to launch their crazy ideas to save the city.  Ideas like tutoring at local schools, tools for free handyman work in the community, or grants to keep people inside for people on the end of eviction and homelessness.

This may seem complex, but instead of spending millions of dollars on stuff that will clog landfills there is a revolution of people giving practical gifts and giving that money away to make this world better.  Seems like the message of the Season to me.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Heathen Healers, Reviews, The Jesus Way

Neighbors and Wisemen


Once upon a time… I was at a small conference where a barefooted man spoke about how he moved his vegetable garden to his front yard to meet his neighbors and spend more time with them.  A couple weeks later we connected over coffee because his stories were cut short by his time slot and I wanted to hear more about his transition from conservative mission field worker to the laid back, front yard gardener he was that day.  In that first meeting, he shared little and listened a lot.  He sat back and stroked his beard while dropping bombs of knowledge on my head – calling me out on acting better than I was and recommending some big life changes.

That was nearly 3 years ago and we are established friends now.  We have spent time talking about being neighbors and after that first meeting we have traded wisdom with each other over many pints and cups of coffee and meals.  Each one is an exciting time for me because I know he will be real with me.  He won’t hold back about what he is thinking and often he will do it in story form.  An amazing story, which in a matter of minutes he’ll share an experience, a self-effacing joke and a bomb of wisdom, almost as if he was influenced by parables at some time.

Story is a key element in our friendship and has long been the way I understand life better.  Story allows me to personalize what someone is saying and learn something from our shared experiences even when the speaker and I didn’t initially share the experience.  It makes me sad that story is a marketing word now a days because we over use it and a lot of people don’t do story well.

Tony Kriz does.  He knows story, does story and luckily now writes story.  Lucky for you (and me) some of these ideas, and knowledge bombs that I heard from Tony, processed, regurgitated to friends, then reprocessed with him are now written in a book.  His wisdom is in a book.  The wisdom he learned, found and gleaned from conversations with others is written down in Neighbors and Wisemen and available for purchase.  Including the long story that initially drew me to ask for a cup of coffee— how he went for a Campus Crusade missionary in Eastern Europe to front yard gardener in North Portland.  With his stops at both Bible college and Reed College, homeless shelters and Turkish bath houses, a pub or two and a church or two described.  His faith struggles and victories are laid bare.

The one that sticks out to me as I have the book next to me, but haven’t opened it in a couple months, is about his buddy Harry he met at a homeless shelter.  It spoke to me on a personal level because I had met people like Harry, in the same place as the tale takes place.  Reminding me of the lesson about not believing the words someone says and considering them crazy, but then having to eat my words.  I will let you find the details in Neighbors and Wisemen: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places. But let’s just say that it involves an unexpected lesson in an unexpected place.

This might be one of the most selfish reviews you will ever read.  It is all about how I met the author and how his book made me remember similar stories and experiences in my life.  But for me that means this book, and the author, are of incredible quality.

Go buy it here or here or here or here! And if you are in Portland, go here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Freewrite, Reviews, The Jesus Way