All posts by marko

Pearls from Jimmy

yesterday, the Level 2 cohort of our Youth Ministry Coaching Program had a special guest join us for a couple hours. Jimmy Abegg is an amazing creative — an amazing guitar player (played in Rich Mullins’ band, and Steve Taylor’s current line-up, and with so many others), a professional photographer, a designer, and an amazing painter (i hope to own an Abegg one day).

with a life given to that sort of work, one could understand if Jimmy were deeply struggling with depression over the dramatic loss of his eyesight. but he’s just the opposite: positive and genuinely hopeful — not hopeful that maybe he’ll be healed, but hopeful that his loss of sight will lead to all sorts of good.

here’s an excellent 13 minute video about Jimmy and his sight loss, VERY worth watching:

Peripheral: Painting in the dark from Derek Pearson on Vimeo.

our merry band of youth workers had a fantastic rambling conversation with jimmy about how to respond when one’s expectations about the future run up against major redirects or roadblocks. a few pearls i furiously scribbled down:

Maybe I’m getting this (vision loss) earlier than most because it’s a good story.

find who you are and go for broke, because i’m betting there’s a hell of a lot more in there than you’ve discovered yet.

not to be sure of what’s goin’ down has to become part of what’s goin’ down.

finding more of me is more exciting than regretting the loss of some aspect of me.

THE ROLE OF TRUST (a small excerpt from Leading Without Power)

Trust is, perhaps, the single greatest factor in leadership. And, while trust is often lacking in hierarchical power structures (in churches or businesses), the funny thing is that it’s one of the few facets described in this book that is possible within traditional hierarchical power structures (if you want a good book on this—trust in the context of traditional power structures, that is—I recommend Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust).

The reason trust is possible even in hierarchical systems boils down to this: Trust is 100% dependent on honesty. If a hierarchical power-based leader is fully honest and transparent (a rare occurrence, to be sure), it’s possible to instill trust. But, more often than not, the mindset of a leader in utilizing role power and hierarchy has a mindset that says, “I know things you cannot and should not know; they are not your job to know them.” If the leader were, somehow, able to be completely honest with herself (another rarity), the truth would be closer to, “Being less than transparent and fully honest with you protects my position of power, control, and authority over you. You are more dependent on me when I know more than you do.”

Ah, but this tactic just doesn’t work.

Trust is 100% possible to build. Here’s the equation I’ve come up with for building trust:

(Pure Intention + Action and Honesty) x Time = Trust

Of course, trust is very easy to lose (in a second).

It is also possible to rebuild trust after it’s been lost. But the equation gets more complex:

(Owning Up + Checking In + Pure Intention + Action and Honesty) x Time2 = Rebuilt Trust

I have an axiom I teach in my youth worker coaching groups when we’re talking about trust: Without trust and safety, your ministry will not experience communion. And without communion, the ministry will be clubbish and wimpy.

If you’re my leader and I don’t trust you:

  • We will likely have friction (or at least be poised for it).
  • Small things will flash into big issues.
  • I will resist collaboration.
  • I will be skeptical of your leadership and motives.
  • I will hoard information and resources.
  • I will avoid engaging in the non-work relational glue that makes great teams.
  • I will unconsciously believe bad rumors I hear about you and be skeptical of good rumors I hear about you.
  • I will struggle to advocate for you.
  • I will subconsciously (or even consciously) not contribute to the larger vision you are casting.

of course, i go on to unpack the role of the Trust Guard, one of the 9 metaphorical job titles described in my new book Leading Without Power. this book is available at a pre-release special price of $10.99, and includes free (domestic) shipping — just use the code getlwp at checkout. but only until the end of this month when the book releases!

my dream is that church staff teams, youth ministry teams, and other church and ministry teams will read this book together and prayerfully consider how to take collective ownership of the 9 roles described in the book.

2 sentence book reviews, part 5

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

a note about today’s reviews: since i act as the publisher for The Youth Cartel, i’m deeply involved with the development of the books/resources we publish. i’ve not included them in past “2-sentence book reviews” series. but i decided that’s silly, since i’ve read them all multiple times. the one tweak i’m making in my normal review format is that i’m excluding the star ratings — just assume they are all 5 stars! (also: i didn’t include all our Viva or NEXT curriculum releases, as i’m less involved in them — but they’re excellent also!)

Youth Cartel releases

think-vol-4THINK Volume 4: Relationships & Sexuality, by Jake Kircher

6 downloadable interactive and dialogical curriculum sessions intentionally designed to honor both scripture and the intelligence of teenagers. jake’s series is unique in its approach, and so well suited to postmodern teenagers who are weary of simply being told what to believe.

finding-jesusFinding Jesus in the Old Testament, by Eric Ballard

10 downloadable sessions highlighting an old testament character story with specific connections to how jesus completes the story. such an excellent and unique resource, helping teenagers see critical connections to life with jesus.

the-real-jesusThe Real Jesus: A Devotional, by Jen Bradbury

based on jen’s research (summarized in her excellent book, The Jesus Gap), this devotional invites teenagers to consider jesus’ question to peter — “Who do you say that I am?” — through 50 readings, scripture passages and sets of reflection questions.

soul-pirate-handbookSoul Pirate Handbook: A Devotional for the Good Life, by Luke Lang

a devo using metaphors from pirates to dig into a life of adventure. this is the best young teen devotional i’ve seen in a long time — so fun (and solid); yar!

sunday-comicsSunday Comics, vol. 1: Prophets, Priests, and Kings, by Gregg Jones

50 lessons (!) and 50 fill-in-the-blank comic/coloring pages (all downloadable) covering a big chunk of the OT. this is the most inventive curriculum (really ideal for young and middle teens) i’d seen in a very long time, and i knew we just had to publish it.

dont-do-thisDon’t Do This: Learning from the Screw-Ups of Youth Ministry Leaders, by Len Kageler and Jonathan Hobbs

though the real stories of ministry failure in this book range from hilarious to truly painful, the point is to learn. really, this is such an engaging and helpful book, and would be great to read as a team.

slaying-biblical-illiteracySlaying Biblical Illiteracy: Helping Teens Trust God’s Word, by Matt Andrews

a pocket-sized quick read offering pragmatic and creative ideas for bible engagement. i’m 100% confident that if you read this book, you’ll be trying one of its ideas within weeks.

survivalSurvival: A Devotional, by Eric Ballard

each devo has 3 parts: a fiction bit about two high school guys hiking the appalachian trail (and the crises they face), a connected real-life survival tip, and a devotional application. this devo would be a blast to use during a summer trip (camp or another adventure).

2 sentence book reviews, part 4

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

Church and Ministry

search-to-belongThe Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groupsby Joseph R. Myers

5 stars

a deep dive into a theory of belonging and its application to church ministry. i re-read this older book for our Level 2 YMCP cohort and taught from it, which found strong connection with participants.

roadmap-to-reconciliationRoadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice, by Brenda Salter McNeil

4.5 stars

concise and practical cheerleading on exactly what the title promises. brenda is a helpful coach in this accessible book, and doesn’t employ guilting or shaming–church leaders need to read this book.

Christian Living

how-to-be-hereHow to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, by Rob Bell

5 stars

thoughts on being present, and on living into who you were made to be (and into your dreams). some chafe at rob’s writing style; but i love it, and this book is simple, profound and wonderful.

tattoos-on-the-heartTattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle

3.5 stars

catholic priest and founder of Homeboy Industries explores the realities of urban gang life and pathways for hope. finally got around to reading this book, and felt it started strong, but got extremely repetitive.

gift-of-hard-thingsThe Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places, by Mark Yaconelli

4 stars

a collection of essays, anchored in stories, about the role various difficulties can play in our lives. the storytelling is exquisite, helping to overpower the minor shortcomings of the “collection” approach.

Youth Ministry (and Parenting Teens)

(note: i was a little surprised to review what i’ve read and see that i’d only read youth ministry books that the Cartel published, or that i’d officially endorsed! instead of 2 sentence reviews in this section, i’m including the official endorsements i wrote for the publishers.)

smartphone-obsessed52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid: How to Engage with Kids Who Can’t Seem to Pry Their Eyes from Their Devices!, by Jonathan McKee

4 stars

I regularly find that parents want help, but don’t know where to find the good stuff. So much parenting advice is fear-based and impractical. But Jonathan’s gift to us is that he writes to parents from the intersection of hopeful parenting and practical ideas.

owning-faithOwning Faith: Reimagining the Role of Church and Family in the Faith Journey of Teenagers, by Ron Bruner and Dudley Chancey

4 stars

A cornucopia is a symbol of abundance and nourishment. As such, there’s no better metaphor for this book. Owning Faith is packed full of an abundance of nourishing challenges, encouragement and instruction, rooted in the best and most current research about creating a context for lasting faith to develop in teenagers.

smaller-church-youth-ministrySmaller Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem!by Brad Fiscus and Stephanie Caro

5 stars

In my coaching work with hundreds of youth workers across the US and abroad, I’ve become convinced of this truth: the pathway to fantastic youth ministry is shorter for small(er) churches. There are many reasons for this; but the two primary reasons are that small(er) churches often have the simple multigenerational realities in place for the sort of ministry that has long-term impact on the lives of teens; and, additional resources often end up becoming a seductive distraction, creating false-positive results where resources lead to impressive mass without substantive connection and belonging. Brad and Stephanie have written a wonderfully affirming and encouraging trail guide in this book, one that can lead any small(er) church into lifelong lasting impact on the faith of teenagers.

begin21Begin21: Your First 21 Steps with Jesusby Timothy Eldred

4.5 stars

Appropriately short and to the point, this helpful little book will be extremely helpful for thousands of teenagers who just made a choice to move toward Jesus. And, it will be equally helpful for the youth workers and other adults in the lives of those teenagers!

2 sentence book reviews, part 3

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

Graphic and Illustrated

david-boringDavid Boringby Daniel Clowes

2.5 stars

lonely butt-obsessed dude tries to figure out life. i love clowes’ work, and time mag gave this one a great review; but it was just too dark and pervy for me.

patiencePatienceby Daniel Clowes

4.5 stars

time-traveling widower seeks out truth about his murdered wife. at 180 pages, this full length (massive) full-color illustrated book is clowes at his best, telling a paced story with visual spectacularity.

Young Adult

wild-robotThe Wild Robotby Peter Brown

5 stars

roz the robot crash-lands on an island and has to figure out her purpose. technically, this is a pre-teen book (grades 3 – 7), not young adult; but it is SO DANG GOOD, and layered with meaning well deeper than the story itself.

it-aint-so-awfulIt Ain’t So Awful, Falafelby Firoozeh Dumas

5 stars

an iranian-immigrant middle school girl in the 1970s tries to make sense of orange county california and her life and very ethnic family. really, one of the best books for middle schoolers (and preteens) i’ve read in a long time, full of fun and insight without heavy-handed moralizing.

flightFlight: A Novelby Sherman Alexie

3.5 stars

native american teenage guy time travels into different storylines (and bodies) while learning about himself and history. not alexie’s best young adult fiction, but i love that he has male main characters (rare in YA fiction) and, in this book, that the short length makes this book accessible for those who wouldn’t read longer books.

2 sentence book reviews, part 2

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.


millones-cajonesMillones Cajones, by Rob Bell

4 stars

a motivational speaker searches for deeper meaning. i’d be pretty happy if the first fiction book i ever wrote was as engaging as this one. (pro-tip: it’s a free download!)

sisters-brothersThe Sisters Brothersby Patrick deWitt

5 stars

two ruthless brothers head out on an assassination contact in the old west which gets complicated when one of them reveals his newly-embraced conscience. just plain old fun reading with amazing characters.

how-the-dead-liveHow the Dead Liveby Will Self

3.5 stars

an ornery self-centered matron tries to figure out the afterlife in london. i wanted to like this more than i did: self’s writing is brilliant, but often leaves me feeling stupid for my lack of understanding (even of regularly impossible word choices).

underground-airlinesUnderground Airlinesby Ben Winters

5 stars

in an alternate version of current day with a collection of southern states that still have slavery, a federal marshall (himself a runaway slave, conscripted to catch runaway slaves) wrestles with his past while solving a case. an amazing read, brilliantly crafted.

heroes-of-theHeroes of the Frontier,  by Dave Eggers

5 stars

with her life feeling like a dead-end, a single mother of two kids rents a crappy motorhome and temporarily goes ‘off the grid’ in alaska. seriously, eggers doesn’t know how to write a bad book, and anyone over 30 will connect with the existential search of this novel’s protagonist.

5 stars

a diverse family with a wealthy patriarch adjust to each other and the rapidly changing world around them when economic changes leave them penniless. i don’t think i’ve ever read a novel i would consider “economic fiction,” but i liked it, quite a bit.

2 sentence book reviews, part 1

here we go — a week of 2-sentence book reviews on 39 books. i allow myself one sentence for a summary and one sentence for my opinion of the book.

General Non-Fiction

Detroit: An American Autopsydetroitby Charlie LeDuff

4 stars

a bleak but stunningly-written journalist’s look into the gritty realities of detroit. equal parts memoir, history and investigative journalism with amazing storytelling, but missing any sense of hope (which would be frustrating for my friends and family who love this city).

unfaithful-musicUnfaithful Music & Disappearing Inkby Elvis Costello

4.5 stars

a rambling autobiography, focused more on costello’s music than the details of his life, but clearly revealing the author’s genius. as a life-long fan, i loved this book; but it would be tedious reading for those less interested in tiny details and seemingly endless names of collaborators and confidants.

whipping-girlWhipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2nd Editionby Julia Serano

5 stars (section 1); 3 stars (section 2)

a series of essays about transgenderism, widely considered one of the most influential books on the topic. i found the first section of the book (about 2/3 of the book) extremely helpful for my own learning, and the second section (focused on the exclusion of transwomen from the world of feminism) less helpful for my needs.

paperPaper: Paging Through History, by Mark Kurlansky

4 stars

Yup, it’s an exhaustive history of paper. for a book nerd like me, this was fascinating, though occasionally longer and more detailed than i would have preferred.

bassoon-kingThe Bassoon King: Art, Idiocy, and Other Sordid Tales from the Band Room, by Rainn Wilson

4.5 stars

mostly a freaking hilarious autobiography, with occasional freaking hilarious rabbit trails into nonfiction weirdness. rainn wilson’s humor is my kind of humor, so i loved this read (even the non-funny bonus chapter on the Bahá’í Faith was interesting).

furiously-happyFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Thingsby Jenny Lawson

5 stars

a breathtakingly hilarious and insightful autobiographical book about mental illness and depression. funniest book i read all year–hands down–with insight and honesty center-stage.

Business Non-Fiction

thin-book-of-aiThe Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 3rd Editionby Sue Annis Hammond

4 stars

compact and right-to-the-point summary of the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organizational improvement. i believe this approach should have so much play in churches and ministries trying to  increase capacities and lean into values.

ai-a-positive-revolutionAppreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Changeby David L Cooperrider and Diana Whitney

4 stars

really, the same thing as the previous review (though i’d read this one if you’re only going to read one).

off-balanceOff Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfactionby Matthew Kelly

4.5 stars

how to embrace a mindset of sustainability and satisfaction rather than pursuing the counter-productive work/life balance. this book rocks, and (while occasionally too rigid or prescriptive) very much aligns with the values of our coaching program (and as such, is required reading in Level 2 cohorts).

thin-book-of-trustThe Thin Book of Trust; An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work, by Charles Feltman and Sue Annis Hammond

4 stars

sort of a cliffs notes on the factors that build (and destroy) trust in organizations.  considering the trust needed for churches and ministries to run well, and the lack of trust so commonly present, ministry leaders all need to grow in this area (and this book was helpful with language and framework).

war-of-artThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

5 stars

exposing creative “blocks” for what they really are, and suggesting practices and mindsets for productive creativity. this is my second read though this short, dense and choppy book, and it left me breathless and pumped up both times.

2016 by the numbers

5 — number of staff at this little thing called The Youth Cartel

6 — Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohorts launched

17 — 2-day YMCP meetings I led (this doesn’t include all YMCP cohorts, since April Diaz leads some)

27 — total Cartel resources published (including 8 individual products, 11 Viva releases, 5 NEXT releases, and 3 other) (BTW: we’ve got a pretty big announcement coming next week on a Cartel publishing shift for 2017)

19 — non-Cartel speaking gigs (almost all included multiple days/talks)

213,275 — miles flown on airplanes (173,725 on United, 39,550 on other airlines)

41 — locations traveled to by air

9 — countries visited, not including the U.S. of A.

2 — new countries added to current total of 46 countries visited

16 — states visited

0 — new states added to current total of 48 states visited (this # has been the same for more than a dozen years).

115 — days when jeannie and i were empty-nesters

37 and 9 — days vacationed and number of vacation trips (see, i play hard also)

The 70 Weirdest Nativities (the revised 2016 list!)

This list started with a simple dozen weird nativities, several years ago. Each year the list has expanded; and in recent years that expansion has primarily come from people sending me nativities (this is awesome and annoying also, just like many of these nativities). Last year I had at least a hundred people send me that freaking Coke Can nativity.

This year, the viral nativity is the Hipster Nativity (it’s deep in the post, with the new additions for 2016). Funny thing is that even though it’s been sent to me by about 30 different people, I first saw it when its creators reached out to me, asking to be included in this year’s list! That was a first, and made publishing an updated list this year something of a non-negotiable.

I have one main rule for inclusion (other than that the nativity has to be weird or horrible or interesting or odd): I only include nativities that were made as nativities. (Otherwise this list would be three times longer!) I’ve even pulled a few classics off the list this year since they didn’t fit my rule.

So, here we go!

The Kitty Cat Nativity. Makes me want to cough up a hairball.

The Nativity Kitchen Timer (ding-ding! baby jesus is born!):

Yeah, the Cat Nativity is probably worse. But these Dogs ain’t much better…

This one is a craft kit, using marshmallows to make a S’mores Nativity. Yum.

This isn’t a whole nativity set, but there are other pieces available. This Mouse Drummer Boy is just about as confusing as a bit of kitschmas junk can get.

When searching for tasteless nativity sets online, it doesn’t take long for one to stumble onto multiple versions of bears…

This Rubber Duckie Nativity has to be right up there in the “worst” section of cheesy nativity sets…

Lotsa Santa nativity sets and pieces out there, but this one is a bit disorienting. Is the holy family IN Santa’s bag? Or does Santa have an nice appliqué of the Holy Family on his bag of gifts? And, what can the letters in Santa be re-arranged to spell?

If cats, dogs, and teddy bears weren’t enough, how ’bout penguins!?

Sure. Snowmen. Shouldn’t be a surprise.

Ah, the Veggie Nativity. I debated on this one, because my kids loved Veggie Tales back in the day. But the baby carrot pushed me over the edge into including it.

This nativity — well, i just don’t even know how to describe it. Clowns? modern art? The baby Jesus seriously looks like something out of a circus or a John Waters movie.

Oh, the animals. I suppose, while i think the Dog Nativity and Cat Nativity are somehow explainable as something people WAY too “into” those particular animals might display, this Chicken Nativity is just a bit beyond my comprehension as a purchasable — nay, displayable — holiday trinket.

You know those people who have those geese on their porch? Yeah, them. And they put a cute little goosey costume on their porch-goose to mark every season? Yeah, those people. This costume set is made for those people. Or, to clarify, for those who actually have TWO of those geese already. Sigh. I’m guessing the rubber ducky baby is “not supplied” (not to mention zoologically impossible).

What better expresses the spirit of the incarnation than owls? I found these in an online cavalcade of nativities, where the comment was: Whoooo is the Son of God? Whooooo?

Yes, I give you, the Naked Troll Doll nativity. Eesh. Feh.

The Irish Nativity, where the 3 Irish wise guys have clover, gold and Guinness:

The most viral nativity from a few years ago… the Meat Nativity (yes, bacon and sausage):

And, why not the Butter Nativity:

The Cupcake Topper Nativity. holy and yummy all at once!

The Pig Nativity. Oink-vey: certainly not kosher…

The Mary-and-Josesph-as-Kids Nativity. This one is mildly disturbing.

In keeping with our current cultural fascination with all things zombie, I give you the Etsy craftiness of: the Zombie Nativity. Full disclosure: after this collection blew up online a few years ago, my business partner, Adam McLane, bought me this one as a Christmas gift. It now sits proudly in my home. and my interactions with the creators were just lovely (they “get it”).

The Nativity Carved out of Spam! (Thanks, Adam!)

The Shotgun Shell Nativity. What a blast (get it!?). Perfect for your redneck Christmas, I suppose.

The Peg Doll Nativity. Other than collecting some larger figures and one smaller one, and telling me it’s a nativity, this one doesn’t exactly scream “manger”.

The Mice Nativity. Say goodbye to the cookies you left out for Santa.

Um, the official description is “Folk Nativity“. But i’m pretty sure that’s a small 7 eleven frozen burrito with a face on it, along with two new age tree fairies, or something (btw: I had interaction with the creators of this gem a few years ago, and they’re good people).

From a nice reader in the UK (thanks, Mary!) who bothered to email this pic…
The Soggy Jesus Nativity. I’m sure there are plenty of nativities in a snow globe, where all three (or more) characters are IN the globe. But this freakish thing just has Jesus in there, with Mary and Joe staring at their baby-in-a-fishbowl. Too weird and hilarious.

Honestly, this one — the Mexican Mermaid Family Nativity — is some pretty beautiful art work, even if it is fairly strange. Thanks to Karen on flickr for allowing me to post this one.

And what I can only call the ‘Minimalist Nativity’. Props to some kindergarten art class for this one, or some very lazy community college art student.

Yeah, this one probably crosses some line. Sent to me by the creators, I give you the Halloween/Christmas Mash-up Nativity.

More animals! This time, it’s Meerkats! Hakuna matata, Jesus.

Not to be left out of the animal kingdom nativities, the Frog Nativity:

Ok. If I had a line, I’ve probably crossed it by now. I hesitated on this one, but it was suggested SO many times in recent years, and it’s from a crafty little website called (really). Yup: it’s the Tampon Nativity:

More animals! This time it’s Moose (meese? mooses?).

Robin, the creator of this Soap Nativity, sent it to me. I suppose the birth of Christ has something to do with getting us all squeaky clean.

I love this one: three wise-men cheers for the Color Nativity!

What’s more fun that a puzzle? I’ll tell you what: little puzzles made out of eraser stuff. And then–in case that wasn’t fun enough!–make ’em a Puzzle Eraser Nativity set! Obvious, right, since baby Jesus came to erase your sins!?
puzzle eraser nativity

Take, eat, this is the body of Christ MADE IN CHOCOLATE FOR YOU, nomnomnomnomnom.
chocolate nativity

A quick Google image search will turn up a wide variety of nativity-themed nesting dolls. But I got a little chuckle out of the idea of the sheep being inside baby J on this one (alert reader Alison pointed out that “maybe that’s the ‘Lamb of God’!”):
nesting dolls nativity

Really, how did this list of wild and weird and wonderful and horrible nativities get to this ripe old age and NOT have a Gingerbread Nativity?? Just like the nesting dolls, there are hundreds (homemade and not) in a quick google image search. Here’s one of ’em:
gingerbread nativity

Speaking of gingerbread… just in case you’re hoping to communicate “WE ARE SO CUTE YOU MUST LOVE US” to your neighbors, here’s a Gingerbread Yard Art Nativity (I’m sure the word “art” is used merely for reference in that description):
gingerbread yard art nativity

What can I say: the world thanks Etsy artist thepinkkoala for finally building a bridge of peace, ending the rancor brought on by the scopes monkey trial. Now Christians and Darwinists can hold hands whilst viewing this Monkey Nativity set:
monkey nativity

I’m salivating as I post this one, the Fondant Nativity, from Etsy wonder craft rosy. Jesus and dessert: Two of my favorite things!
fondant nativity

You saw the Snow Globe Nativity above with only baby Jesus in the globe, right? Well, a lovely and alert reader sent me a photo of this fantastic piece of awesomeness she saw at a thrift shop. Yup, this time the snow globe is only on mary’s head. It’s like a space helmet! HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
nativity - mary snowglobe

And here I have to confess: this nativity is amazing. I want. I already have one on the list called the “Minimalist Nativity,” so i’m going to be forced to call this the “Minimalist Balls Nativity.” Seriously, this bit-o-brilliance makes it pretty clear that the nativity is iconic (btw: here are step-by-step instructions for making this one):
nativity - minimalist balls

There are so many nativities that try to incorporate Santa in some way. But this Father Santa Nativity takes things to a whole ‘nother level.
Father Santa

Unvirtuous Abbey, on FB, was the source of this confused Frankenstein Nativity.
frankenstein nativity

This has to be one of the strangest and most disorienting nativities on the whole list. I call it the Frog Belly Nativity, and it leaves me with more questions than answers, to be sure. But, hey, if this connects with your soul, you can get your own at The Frog Store.
frog belly nativity

Holy cow, it’s a nativity. Confused? Me too. The Holy Cow Nativity is available as a Christmas ornament for your mediations on beef and spirituality.
holy cow nativity

Nativity Chess Set. Seems pretty obvi, right?
nativity chess set

Three truths about this Paper Mache Nativity:
1. I don’t remember where I got it (I think someone sent it to me; but I don’t have notes on it).
2. I’m not really sure what’s going on in it.
3. It scares me, just a little bit, in an Aliens-want-to-eat-your-soul sort of way.
paper machete

The Peanut Nativity reminds me of a lame craft from Christian summer camp. Sorry, peanuts. And sorry, good summer camps with your brilliant craftiness.
peanut nativity

Food-related nativities are fun, apparently. And the Radish Nativity has an interesting story. Sent to me by Christy, a missionary in southern Mexico, who writes: My husband and I work in Southern Mexico. Every December 23, people from all over flock to Oaxaca City, Mexico to the Noche de Rabanos (Radish Night) celebration. There are always some lovely nativities painstakingly carved out of giant red radishes. Sure. Radishes. Because they’re red, maybe?
radish nativity.4

My friend Josh snapped a pic of this Woodland Creatures Nativity at a Christmas store in NC. Oh, Deer! (Note: Santa in the background sorta ticked me off. Go away, Santa, back to your freaking chimney.)
woodland creatures nativity

How did I get all the way to 2015 without a Salt and Pepper Nativity in the list? Yup, it’s the reason for the seasoning.
salt and pepper

This is one of my new favorites: the Super Minimalist Nativity. Created by French artist Émilie Voirin, who says, “The holy scene that has been broadly reproduced is here recognizable by the names only, giving free rein to people’s imagination.”
super minimalist nativity

People have sent me dozens of nativity scenes cobbled together with independent superhero dolls. But this one was actually made as a nativity, with Baby J in a wee Superman costume! Finally, a real Superhero Nativity. (Haven’t found a source for this one yet.)

I don’t think the creators of this nativity intended to make something that looks like the Star Wars Jawa. So I’m calling this one the Unintentional Jawa Nativity.
unintentional jawa

New to the list this year!

sure, a driftwood nativity. this crafty nativity was sent to me by greg turner, who took the pic.

How ‘about a Haitian coconut nativity. I mean, make nativities out of what ya got, right? (Thanks to Dave Mahar for sending this one.)


Why not play games with your nativity? You can with this Dominos Nativity (photo sent by Mark Eades).


OK, someone who said he has a very “bah-humbug” feeling about this season put all that feeling into his creation of the Negativity Nativity. Wow.


Can’t say I’m a big fan of the Gnome Nativity. But to each his own!


More than one of my Canadian friends send me this shot of the Canadian Nativity. It’s kind, apologetic, and loves poutine.


Here it is: the viral nativity of 2016. I give you: the Hipster Nativity (also called the Millenial Nativity). Gotta give the creators props for putting thought into this baby.


Not really sure what to call this one. I’m going with Road Trip Nativity.  Good times.


I’m surprised it took me until now to find a nativity honoring the Day of the Dead. Well, here you have it:


And last but not least this year, a pinto bean nativity cutely named Holy Frijoles!



check out bohemian rhapsody re-written as “bethlehemian rhapsody” (so totally fun!).

also check out this awesome take on the real christmas story, as if it played out on facebook, and this fantastic imagining of the nativity story played out on a a wide variety of social media.

An Open Apology to Those Not Like Me

To my brothers and sisters who are immigrants, refugees, people of color, women, LGBTQ, Muslim, or any other marginalized group:

I’m a white man of privilege. I’d love to view myself (and by viewed by others) as someone who isn’t racist, misogynist, homophobic or in any way demeaning to any human, either in action or thought. But I’ve had an inescapable sense of obligation in these last few days: an obligation to ask for your forgiveness.

It started when my oldest child, who identifies as gender neutral, texted late on election night to say that they didn’t feel safe.

Then I almost cried when Van Jones, during CNN’s election night coverage, shared honestly about his pain and wondering how he would process the current reality with his children.

Then a dear (white) friend with adopted African children shared through tears how she was choosing to keep her children home from school the next day out of concern for their safety.

Then a youth ministry friend shared that he was on his way to the hospital to visit a youth group kid who checked himself in with suicidal ideation the previous night, due to his fear surrounding the election results and what they might mean for him as a gay teen.

Then I saw, as I’m sure you have also, all the horrible instances of bullying perpetrated on those viewed as “other.”

Finally, my amazing wife came home from work and shared her weariness. As I was in the midst of meeting her in that space, she very lovingly and graciously said something like, “I know you care about this, and I know that you are intentional about supporting women; but there’s a part of this you just can’t understand.”

I’ve been wrestling with my own culpability. I’m tempted, of course, to hide behind proclamations of my beliefs and build a tiny wall of defense based on some of my previous actions. Those urges are strong. But I know they are helpful to no one other than myself.

So I want to say to you, I love you, and I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the times—protracted or in-this-moment—when you experience limitations imposed on you by others (by people like me).

I’m sorry for the way we patronize you.

I’m sorry for the slurs, and the diminishing looks.

I’m sorry for excluding you from the White Men’s Power Club.

I’m sorry for giving you ample reason for fear.

I’m sorry to have put you in place where you have completely legitimate anxiety over the treatment your children receive in the world.

I’m sorry for my role in perpetuating a culture that has not yet progressed beyond this injustice, this permitted prejudice and inequality.

I want you to experience the freedom and opportunity that I’m given; and I’m sorry for whatever role I’ve played in keeping that from you.

I will be searching my thoughts and behaviors for the ways I may actively or inadvertently contribute to this systemic exclusion. And in the mean time, I ask your forgiveness for the myriad ways I have perpetuated these realities knowingly or unknowingly.