Tag Archives: story

The importance of story in your life

I can’t do it, Chris. You want me to write a quick post about the importance of story in my life. And I can’t do it.

Because a good post would link to a couple places that I’ve talked about story, like the time I talked about my friend Richard who gave me permission to tell Just yesterday stories or about my addiction to story. Or I’d have to link to places I’ve told stories, like the one about the social media chaplain or about being back in a college classroom or about my dad and the VA. Or I’d have to link to stories I’ve retold about Jesus and his stories, like the one about Jesus and prostitutes or Jesus and farming or Jesus and walking away from fame.  But there are too many of those kinds of posts.

And to write a post I would have to stay focused, but I got interrupted to look at the way our intern picked 15 photos out of a couple hundred to tell the story of a group from our church that built a whole house in a week in Kentucky (just like Extreme Home Makeover). And then I had to tell her a couple stories about my experience with chemistry in college and life to help her get around to doing her chem homework.

So there is no possible way for me to write a quick post about story and my life. And yet, Chris, you want us to write about the importance of story in our lives so that we can get a free copy of  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. After I wrote My previous review I gave the two review copies away and bought a couple more and those are gone and I’m cheap. I want another copy of the book so I can give it away.

But now I have to write something about story to get it and I’ve got nothing new.

Unless it’s this: the importance of story in my life is that my life is in Story. And not just stories, Story. A love story, arcing across millenia, threading through me. It’s the blood in my veins, giving me life. It’s the path of my thoughts. It’s all I’ve got.

Is that good enough, friend?


You can probably get a copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life from Chris Brogan by writing a post about story and linking to The Importance of Story in Your Life. Or, if he gives me one, I’ll give it to you if you don’t have a blog to write in.

Because people without blogs have stories, too.


Happy Easter

I know that I should wish people “Happy Easter.”

I should say, in Greek, “Christos Anesti!” (Χριστος Ανεστι! “Christ is risen!”). And you could respond, in Greek,  “Alithos Anesti!” (“He is risen indeed!”).

I should avoid the Easter confusion and wish you “Happy Resurrection Day!” since I don’t want you to think that I think Easter is merely about chocolate.

I should not limit the celebration to this day, but should include Christmas, the day that we use as the anniversary of Christ’s birth. I should add in Pentecost Sunday, as the anniversary of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Jerusalem, the birthday of the church. We should add in the Annunciation, the day that Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a child, which counts as the day that the incarnation happened, that God began the nine-month process of putting on flesh to live among us.

I should include Good Friday, the death of Jesus, the living out of everything he said about how to love, how to forgive. And the day in which, somehow, all sin rested on him.

I should include Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper and the First Communion, the night he gave the symbols of his presence.

And I really should include the floating lunar holiday of Passover, which provided the symbolic context for a lamb being sacrificed, of blood being put on the wood of a doorframe, of death passing over because of the blood.

And should mention manna being provided to give life, and a snake being lifted up on a pole so that people could look at it and live, and a goat being sent outside the camp with blood on its head.

There is so much to cover. There isn’t time.

So Happy Easter.

(posted as well at 300wordsaday.com)

Addicted to story

Hi. I’m Jon.

[hi Jon]

I wish I knew exactly when it started. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been looking at words. I have a memory, as a child, of sitting on the ground, next to the hedge where I was supposed to be cleaning out leaves and papers and stuff. I was reading a fragment of something that had blown across the yard.

I sat at the table reading cereal boxes. I read books, constantly. I read in the car. I read in the bathroom. I read under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping.

One summer, I borrowed a whole stack of original brown Hardy Boys books from an aunt. It was wonderful.

My parents wanted me to be helpful, to play, to be normal. I read.

In high school, it got worse. My sophomore year, I discovered Tolkien. I started easy, with The Hobbit. Pretty soon, I was deep into The Lord of the Rings. I was lost. I’ve read all four books ten, maybe fifteen, maybe more times.

[be honest, please]

Okay, more. And Dorothy Sayers detective novels and C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and parts of the Bible and on and on. But it isn’t just books and it isn’t all books. I struggle with philosophy books, but I can read the story of a year on the NASCAR circuit without a second thought. I read serious books, but I jump from example to metaphor, skipping the theory, slurping up the story.

And media.

I will actually listen to commercials, following the story. If I can hear the television while working, the dialogue draws me in. I listen to stories I don’t care about from people I don’t know. I skim through my RSS reader, skipping the headlines, seizing on the story line. I don’t waste time watching movies. I can read the plot summary and see the whole thing. Why waste time on the theatrical experience, just give me the next story?

I used to think it wasn’t a problem, that my obsession with stories didn’t hurt anyone else.

Now I see I was wrong. The hundreds of times my mother said, “are you okay in there?” The hours of other people’s time wasted when they asked a simple question and I answered with, “that reminds me of the time…” The days spent in a bleary-eyed fog after a long night of “just one more chapter.”

Here’s the problem. Being addicted to story is like being addicted to air. It is what we live on. Without it we die.

But I’m getting some help.

I’m starting meta-narrative therapy. Rather than grabbing every story I can find indiscriminately, I’m looking for how they link together, how they have threads running through. I’m starting to see that maybe the dreary text between the examples might lead to a larger level of understanding. I’m thinking that maybe, with white noise to block the dialog sometimes, I might be able to spend more time deeper.

I try to read the Bible. I’m wondering what would happen if I looked at it, not as a book of lists or rules or strange names, but as a collection of letters to a beloved.

What if God really exists and really cares about people like a groom cares about a bride? And what if the groom is a King and the bride is an abused slave girl? What if that groom wrote a bunch of letters to that bride, in the middle of her slavery, telling her that he loved her, saying what life in the court is like, telling her how to live in the courts of the King. What if he explained what happens to the people who are holding her in slavery? What if he told the stories of what love means. What if he wrote about his own love for her which caused him to give up his royal position and live in exile and die for her.

Would that slave girl look at those letters as rules or as expressions of love? Would she see a life more restrictive or a hope of freedom. Would she look in them for ways to restrict, or would she be reading them and saying to other slaves, “the prince is coming, he really does love me, he somehow smuggled food to me, he wants me.”

And what would a community that was built around love letters from the king look like?

I’m sorry. I’ve gone on too long. It’s that story thing again.

[It’s okay. You see the problem. That’s the starting point.]

You know, I wonder, sometimes, if I’ve missed the narrative for the stories.

It was me all along: Donald Miller, a million miles and the next step

I’ll start with the disclaimers.

  1. Lots of other people are reviewing this book today because it is being released today.
  2. Many of us got free copies from Michael Hyatt
  3. (publisher, Thomas Nelson) because he offered them and we asked.
  4. This link for the book is to my Amazon store: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.

What I learned in the mirror

A couple weeks ago, Nancy and I went on a retreat. There were five other couples around, but the feel was more like “bed and breakfast” than spiritual seminar. We didn’t have wifi or much of a schedule. Most of us didn’t work on work. We woke up without alarms. We went to bed much earlier than home. It was nice.

Friday morning, the morning we were to leave, I woke up a bit earlier than usual. I went downstairs, made coffee, and sat on a sofa on one of the porches. When it was light out, it made a great place for watching birds. But this morning, it was dark.

I sat with a pen and a notecard and a pad of paper and a Bible and a book. I got up for my coffee. I started reading. I knew I had to write so I started writing a thank you card. I thought of something from the reading so I went to the library to find a book that would explain something. I went back to the sofa to write. But I started reading. I went back to writing.

I realized that it was me all along.

I was at the end of a week of quiet and reflection. There was no one around this early. There was no real list. There were none of my Internet distractions, no commercials, no unidentifiable noises, no dog scratchings. And yet I could not sit still, could not sit my mind still.

I did not, at that moment, like what I discovered.

It was me all along.

I much prefer to blame other people for distracting me, to excuse my lack of productivity by saying “it takes 15 minutes to recover deep thought after every interruption.” That’s probably true. But I am beginning to learn the name of the person who is at the top of the list of interrupters, this after being around him my whole life.

Donald Miller knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Donald MillerMiller  wrote a memoir (Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality) several years ago. Someone wanted to make it into a movie. In the process of looking at the Donald Miller character that was being adapted from the book to the movie, Miller realized that he and the screenwriters working with him had to rewrite the book as a story, rewrite the first-person narrator into a character.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the book that he wrote to describe what happened when he started the rewriting process.

Miller studied story, particularly as taught by Robert McKee in his Story Seminar.  He learned that at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. And he realized that his life was a story and he was the lead character and the story was stalled.

The first third of the book gets us to the realization that he, his life, isn’t getting anywhere.  On page 92, we find this exchange between Miller and his friend Jordan:

“You’re right,” he finally said. “You aren’t living a good story.”

“That’s what I was saying.”

I see,” he said.

“What do I do about that?”

“You’re a writer. You know what to do.”

“No, I don’t.”

Jordan looked at me with his furrowed brow again.  “You put something on the page,” he said. “Your life is a blank page. You write on it.”

And the rest of the book is the story of how he rewrote his life from the inside, living as a character that wants something. The process takes him to Matchu Picchu, across America, to Indiana, and to the stories of several other people who are living as characters who want something and overcome conflict to get it.

What I’m learning in the mirror of this book

Because this is a story, not a set of rules or guidelines or strategies, I’ll not give you more details. If I did, I’d have to rewrite Miller’s story, and that is silly. But I can tell you what it is doing for me:

  • It’s making me think seriously about the story my life is telling. We, Nancy and I, are at the ’empty nest transition point.’ I don’t know whether that’s a chapter break or a new volume in the series, but I do know that it is a “And then everything changed” transition in the story. The way that Miller tells his own story of story is helping me think.
  • It’s showing me how I need to sharpen how I tell the stories that I tell, because I like to use story.
  • It’s an example of writing by a Christ follower that isn’t preachy, reducing truth to rules and formulas. Instead, he is telling the story of how he is living. And that is what following means.

I’ve got an extra copy, thanks to Michael Hyatt. If you’d like to borrow it and return it by passing it to someone else, let me know.

If I’ve raised any questions, ask them and I’ll try to answer.

If you are looking at doing some rewriting yourself–of yourself–take a look at this book.

Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

5 questions with C.C. Chapman

C.C. Chapman loves his family. Although he does lots of social media stuff, he regularly mentions his family. That’s what got my attention a couple years ago or so when I first noticed him. That matters to me.

He also can explain social media well. I was driving through the mountains two years ago and sent him this text:

listened to the first half of your podcamp nyc managing hte gray podcast while driving through the mountains of tenneesse. thanks. battery dagerously low. hit send now.


In spite of that typo-ridden message, he replied and we’ve noticed each other since.  I loved asking him 5 questions, particularly because the questions … and his wonderful answers…helped me think more broadly about story.

(Funny. I never thought to ask what C.C. stands for.)

1. With The Advance Guard, you’ve been helping organizations tell stories using more than one medium. Some of us use stories to make a point in a post. Jesus told stories as the point. What you are doing is saying “You know that story you want to tell? That really big one about a clothing line or a social issue?  Use three posts and a face-to-face and a video and a treasure hunt.”  Am I understanding what you do correctly?

I never thought I’d hear a description of what my company does and what Jesus did in the same paragraph before, but when you boil it all down I could make a lot of comparisons between the two. As you know The Advance Guard recently was acquired by Campfire so now I may be working under a different banner but the goal is still the same.

Our clients want to engage a community and get them involved in telling the story about the movie, car, product or clothing line. At the end of the day it does not matter what you are selling. If you can get people excited and passionate about what you want them to be then your job is being done right. Companies bring in us to develop a compelling marketing campaign that will get people talking. This isn’t just about buzz, even though that is a big part of it, but rather about having a great story that people will want to tell others or better yet be part of. That is how I like to thank about what we are doing.

2. Are you trying to help us understand story differently or are you helping us understand that our lives are stories, lived in multimedia?C.C. Chapman and Chris Brogan

Wow man, that is a DEEP question that should be discussed at length in big leather chairs away from the world, but since you are asking me here I’ll take a stab at it.

I think it is a combination of the two. Many people hear the word “story” and think of picture books and novels. But, for me it is much more then that. When I get to know someone I want to know their personal story. Every day when they tweet, write, share and interact with me it is adding to that story.

I want people to realize that they have a story to tell and that they can be part of a brands story as well. This could be as simple as sharing their thoughts about it with a friend or as crazy as taking part in a live event that is part of a larger narrative. The Internet and all the great tools people are building to interact with it allow for complete strangers anywhere in the world to become part of the story and that is what excites me because we are just starting to cut into the edges of what can be done and honestly the sky is the limit pushing forward. It will constantly be a challenge for people like us to outdo ourselves.

3. I’ve heard that millennials are seeking experiences. It sounds like you are working to satisfy that need on behalf of organizations.

I pray that it isn’t just the millennials who are thinking this way. To say that others are not interested would be like everyone going to the theme park and no one riding the roller coasters. *grin*

But, yes we are working on trying to satisfy this thirst for something more than just the status quo. But, while people might think this only works with big entertainment properties or other things of that ilk we have also done it for other properties such as the Verizon FiOS  My Home 2.0 project where we had a home make over show that was complimented by offline neighborhood block parties and online DIY videos targeted to various verticals. Finding the mix is key.

4. So, I’m a church or a non-profit. I’m, in the words of Peter Drucker, trying to change the world. What does your understanding of story and experience and multiple-media experiences tell me about how to bring about that change? And how can we afford that?

I’d be lying if I said having a bigger budget doesn’t make things easier, but talk to any filmmaker and they will tell you that sometimes not having the budget is good because it forces you to be more creative. That is what it boils down to; you’ve got to get extra creative. I also think it is key to be surrounded by people who are equally passionate about changing the world with you. When you don’t have money, you need passion more then ever.

I’m a huge music fan and I have watched numerous indie artists think way outside of the box and figure out ways to get their music heard, make money and find new fans all with almost no budget. Yes, it takes good old-fashioned sweat equity to change the world when you don’t have a pile of cash.

How to answer this question? It isn’t an easy one for sure. I think you need to set goals. Set little ones and big lofty ones. Work on accomplishing the little ones while always thinking “how can I reach that brass ring that is so far away?” That will keep you and your team motivated. Use every tool and every opportunity to let people know you are changing the world and NEVER be afraid to ask for help from each person you meet. That is the best advice I can give you now.

5. How cool is it to watch your daughter make movies that make guys in Indiana try new ice cream products?

I can’t even begin to tell you how big of a smile this gives me. (www.emilyexplainsit.com) I’m very proud of Emily’s creativity and unbridled “let’s do it” attitude. I have a feeling as she grows over that will turn a little bit scary, but I want her to be a strong willed woman and I have no doubt she will be. I’m a very blessed man to have two awesome kids who are growing up way too fast.


This is one in a series of 5 Questions conversations. For more information, go to my 5 Questions page.

Photo of CC Chapman and Chris Brogan taken by CC Chapman

Saturday afternoon crucifixion

Tomorrow morning I will stand in front of two groups of people and tell them to go ahead and eat little wafers and tell them to go ahead and drink grape juice from small cups.

Today I am thinking through what I will say before and after I tell them to go ahead.

I speak two or three a year in front of the whole congregation. It is an excruciating delight. For me. (For them? I hope not so excruciating).

The pain is because I want to be clear. The pain is because I cannot speak as I used to teach speaking, three points, hopefully alliterative, all moving deductively toward a simple conclusion. The pain is because I don’t want to just speak in front of the congregation. I want to help them understand something from the inside, to be able to think and feel differently.

I want to help people emotionally understand the truth of God’s work.

That’s how I described what a care about a few years ago. And when I go back to that statement, written on the last  of several photocopied pages, I realize that it still is true.

But it is painful to make myself stop and listen and feel and write, to move from a speech to a story to a moment of conversation between me and 200 or 400 people and God. Because somewhere in the middle of the process of preparation, I have to stop. I have to quit. I have to stop thinking about the story and I have to be inside the story, not as the author, but as a character.

And the word “excruciating” is the perfect word, having in the middle of it the same word as leads to the center of the service tomorrow. Crucifixion. A method of dying. An event which is celebrated tomorrow in the middle of our service, in the middle of my words. Somewhere between this afternoon and tomorrow morning, I have to abandon my life so that I and 700 of my closest friends can remember another excruciating delight.

Thanks for listening, especially if you are one of my friends who tells me, “I’m not religious.”  I have to go back to writing now. Tomorrow I’m telling the story of a wedding on either side of the eating and drinking.  Weddings and crucifixions. I have some work to do.

slowly, but still, learning

For the past eight years, almost every month I’ve walked into a board meeting carrying a sheet with numbers on it. The numbers reflect the previous month’s income and expense.

Most months the news has been marginal. Non-profits are frequently no profits, and because giving to churches and other non-profits is usually highest in December and spending is highest in other months, I have often had to do some explaining.

I am an explainer. It is what I do. However, I have a confession. It wasn’t until this week that I realized that my explaining would benefit from pictures. I always do pictures to help people understand, whether with photographs or words. Except when it has come to these reports.

I spent yesterday making graphs that would give perspective, that would give context, that would help us understand the numbers.

It sort of worked.

As I talked about it this morning, trying to figure out what to do better, a colleague said, “with all the differences in learning styles, how do you make the information understandable to everyone?”

It was a great question.

But, I said, there are only 10 people. It wouldn’t be that hard to spend the 30 days between meetings thinking about the audience and considering how to express numbers as trends, as relationships, as investments, as changed lives.

That would take all your time, she said.

After the first time, it wouldn’t. I would know what I was doing. And they would help each other understand in their own styles. And they, these other leaders, would feel like they owned the information.

And isn’t understanding some of the key indicators of your organization, whatever they are, pretty important?

On one hand, I feel annoyed with myself. Eight years and I just figured it out. On the other hand, I find myself still learning. And that is a key indicator itself.


I preached this morning.

I sound like I’m preaching a lot, I’m sure, but this morning I gave the sermon at Grabill Missionary Church. My job is more about administration and communication and training, but when our senior pastor is gone, I get to preach.

(“Get to” may sound bad. Take it in the best way. I love my boss’s preaching, in the “it has changed my life” kind of way.)

There are lots of different approaches to preaching, styles of preaching, attitudes about preaching. I was reminded again this morning that my best approach in the pulpit, as well as my best approach here, is to be a translator.

In the picture you can see the pile of books from my reading last night. I took none of those books with me onto the platform. There is a dictionary of Bible words. There is a commentary on the specific book of the Bible I was using. There is a systematic theology book there (taking concepts and explaining them as an organized system). There is a theology book that looks at the specific concept I was talking about. There are two Bibles.

When I walked onto the platform this morning, I didn’t take any of those books. I took some stories.

I looked at the books to make sure that the stories I was telling, the way I was telling the stories, was consistent with what the text says, was consistent with what scholars say. But for this audience on this morning with this speaker and with this particular subject, I didn’t need to read a bunch of commentators and Greek words and outlines. I needed to tell stories that would help us understand something not as a theological construct but as something that happened to and with and for real people.

As you are writing, as you are speaking, as you are representing an organization or a company, I offer this challenge: do your research carefully and thoughtfully. But then, rather than quoting all the quotes, tell a story for the people you are looking at. It’s scary for you. But maybe they don’t need experts. Maybe they need someone to translate truth into real life.


I can tell you what I was talking about if you ask me offline. I’ll even send you a link for the sermon. But I’ll leave that to you.

UPDATE:  Okay. Here’s the link.

Let’s talk marketing.

That’s a really odd thing for me to talk about, right? I mean, I don’t write a business blog. I don’t even write a marketing blog. I write, well, a slice of my mind and heart blog. What would I have to say about marketing?

That’s a question that you’ll have to ask Drew McClellen and Gavin Heaton. Because I volunteered, I’m going to be one of the authors, one of the many authors of Age of Conversation 2.0.

1. Follow the link to see you you could be an author.

2. Follow the link to vote on the precise vague topic of the book.  The three choices are

  • Marketing Manifesto
  • Why Don’t People Get It?
  • My Marketing Tragedy (and what I learned)

Why am I interested?

Because I am about telling stories to help people understand more clearly the Story that we are living in. Because Jesus spent a significant amount of time telling stories, and then was the subject of four books in a row. Because marketing is telling a story clearly enough and consistently enough and simply enough and complexly enough that people want to be part of that story.

Or at least that’s my story.

Sign up. Be an author. Define it your way.

(Be part of the story of Age of Conversation 2.0)


In starting a new job, I’m learning a new culture.
As a result, these days I’m thinking about how to do that.

1. I’m walking around the building, looking in rooms where groups of people regularly meet, reading what they put on the walls. The ways that they choose to mark their territory are varied. Some put up pictures of the group. Some put up lists of prayer requests. Some put up notes about events for the group, others events by other groups. All of these are details which, even before I have conversations, help me help them understand what they are thinking about who they are.

2. I’m listening for stories. Obviously right now, many stories begin with, “David talked about…” or “David used to…” David was in this office before me. He also is a good friend. Because of the latter, I don’t worry about how often his name comes up because I know how much he cared about this place and, more importantly, these people. What is important, however, is that people use stories of David (and others) to help illustrate how things have been done and what has been important. More that rules or policies, the stories help us understand how policies are lived out.

Whitney wrote a great post about stories as learning which expands on how we use stories as compact ways of explaining. Because of the timing of hearing about that post (HT: Chris Brogan), I decided that as I talk with groups of people here, I want to say, “tell me a story that you tell all the time. Tell me a story that says what you are about. Tell me a story about this group being it’s best.”

3. I’m listening for names. Who are the names that show up consistently in conversations with many people, and what is the nature of those mentions. This tells me is who the heroes are. This also tells me how people talk about people. So far, I’m hearing organization chart mentions of names (he does that, she does this). However, I’m also hearing particular names show up regularly and people mention other people positively rather than critically. Part of this is being new, but mostly it’s because of healthy relationships.

This also also tells me about the patterns of interaction. Because this is an organization which has been around for more than 100 years, but has doubled in the last decade, I’m curious about who and what is celebrated and how well the half of the people who have been here for less than ten years understand what has happened previously.

4. I’m listening for patterns of what I am told. I know enough about organizational cultures to know that some people look for the new person because none of the ‘old’ people will implement their wonderful idea. I know that some people look for the new person because they want to find out whether they need to worry. I know that themes that matter sometimes are mentioned by several people and that sometimes the most important thing is the issue that is never identified by anyone.

5. I’m trying to be still. It’s a challenge for me. I love to do. But in doing, particularly doing that comes too quickly, we can start things that probably shouldn’t get started.

Walking into a new place can be an adventure, a very good adventure. I’m learning a lot about myself as I work on learning about this place. One day, one trust level, one relationship at a time.


For more reflections on starting a new position:

Starting about the first day on the job

Left turn about the heading to the new place after eleven years

Dragging people along about position change in a 2.0 world

Experience about walking away from the old office

What I learned from waiting backstage about taking the position

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