3 Things I Learned From “Where the Wild Things Are”

“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children.
I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation.
‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’
You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true.
If it’s true you tell them.”  – Maurice Sendak

I woke up this morning to Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition telling me that Maurice Sendak had passed away. Immediately I felt an unexpected, and perhaps unwarranted, bit of sadness. Where the Wild Things Are was, hands down, my favorite book growing up. I wanted it read every night. I learned to read with that book only because I had it memorized and could see what the different words looked like on a page.

As I’ve spent the morning thinking about it, I think I felt so sad because the person who created something so sacred and meaningful for me is gone. And that sucks. But, luckily for everyone who will ever live and read from now to eternity, the books survive even though the author does not.

So here are three of the many lessons I learned from Maurice Sendak, via Max and the Wild Things.

1) A good imagination is one of the most important things in the world.

This is one I still think about on at least a weekly basis. The importance of imagination cannot be overlooked. All of these events — the island, the wild things, the rumpus — took place within Max’s imagination. That kind of imagination can move mountains. Imagination is the source of all invention and innovation. I’m typing this on my Macbook, which wouldn’t exist, if not for an incredible imagination. Imagination is the power that enables us to empathize with humans — or wild things — whose experiences we have never shared. Imagination is essential for our survival.

2) Even the brave and courageous need love too.

I remember thinking how awesome it was when Max looked the Wild Things straight in their eyes and didn’t blink once. That’s the kind of guy I wanted to be. One who didn’t need anyone, but could stare monsters in the face and not blink. But then, when I was reading this to a pre-schooler while I was in college, a different part stuck out to me. “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” Even though I fell into the trap of thinking I could be an island, there’s still something missing if you are a king, but have no one with whom you can give and receive love.

3) At the bridge between childhood and adulthood, the best thing you can say is, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

My mom used to always let me say this part when we were reading this through as a kid. When I heard the page leading up to it I would stand up on my bed in anxious anticipation. (Keep in mind this was when I was around 4. This wasn’t last year or anything.) And when those words “‘And now’, cried Max” came out, I would throw both hands in the air and look at the ceiling and yell “Let the wild rumpus start!” Believe me, it was awesome.

When I was standing with my brother getting ready to walk down the aisle at my wedding last summer, we looked at each other and I said, “Well, let the wild rumpus start,” and headed down the aisle. I think it’s one of the best attitudes you can have. Yeah, things will always be a little crazy and won’t be 100% controllable. Some things will go well and some things won’t. But jumping in with both feet is the only way to go.

So, even though it’s with a bit of sadness that I write this today, the news that Maurice Sendak has died is eclipsed by better news than we could ever want: Maurice Sendak lived.


An Afternoon With the Civil Wars

It should probably be no secret to anyone that I’m a huge fan of The Civil Wars — the wonderful folk/country/bluegrass duo, not the actual war. They’re wonderfully talented and should be listened to by everyone on the face of the earth. Exhibit A is this great half an hour they had as a part of the Lawrence High School Classroom Sessions. The songs are incredible, but the conversations after each of them are worth watching as well. Great talk about the influence of books, movies and other media on the creative process — wonderfully insightful. Check them out!

Which song stuck out to you most? There are all kinds of different bands that come to this class and talk with them about the creative process. All are recommended. Enjoy!


2012 Book Challenge

Alright, everyone. It’s a new year and I’ve been trying to think of something to do for a “resolution” of sorts, but without it being too subjective and big picture so that I’ll actually do it. I’ve always said my goals were to “exercise more” or “write more” or “_______ more”. This year it’s going to be different.

Now that I just have my internship to complete for my Master of Divinity degree, the required reading has vanished. Which can sometimes be a great thing, but I want to make sure I keep reading and hold myself accountable to that. So my 2012 resolution has to do with reading.

My friend Frank made an audacious claim that he was going to read 100 books this year. I was totally on board. Since then, we’ve come down from it a bit. The goal is 60 books in 365 days — essentially 5 books per month. One book per month has to be a new release from the last 6 months. Otherwise it can be a combo of theology, fiction, business, biography… any kind really.

By all means, anyone is welcome to do this. If you want to focus on re-committing to making time to read in the new year, give it a shot!

You can follow along at the link up top, or by clicking here.

Hope some of you will join!


Books I Read in 2011

My “To Read” pile grows immensely faster than my “Finished” pile, but here’s what I knocked out this past year.







Favorite Fiction Book of the Year: I noticed a pretty big lack of fiction this year. Or the fiction I did read, was quite time-consuming. I’d have to say that 2666 by Roberto Bolaño was my favorite of the year. It’s over 900 pages and took a dang long time to get through, but it was worth it. And it changes enough within the book so it doesn’t get old. Great book. If you have a few weeks and are looking to completely disappear in esoteric fiction, this is a good one. The Marriage Plot and The Sparrow are close seconds.

Favorite Non-Fiction, Non-Theology Book of the Year: This one is tough, because there are all kinds of subjects within a rather specific genre. Bossypants is incredible, but I feel like it’s cheating a little bit since I listened to the audiobook on the move down to Arizona from Minneapolis. I didn’t actually read the book. Chris Hedges’ The World As It Is is as wonderful as it is depressing. And it is both. I’d recommend reading it if you want a book to read a chapter at a time and then put down for a bit. It’d be pretty depressing to try to tackle it in one afternoon.

Favorite Non-Fiction Theology Book of the Year: Pete Rollins’ new book Insurrection really captured my imagination this year. It’s heavy enough for theology nerds like myself to read, but accessible enough for a more normal, well-adjusted person. Takes theologies of Bonhoeffer, Derrida/Caputo, Kant and others to construct a really interesting and rich theology. Highly recommended.

So what did YOU read this year?


What We Have Gotten Wrong About Faith

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course it is the cross.” – Flannery O’Connor

I was in Barnes and Noble last night perusing the Christmas deals (like ya do) and I went to the “Christian Inspiration” display table set apart from the rest of the religious books as the “bestsellers”. There was the typical Joel Osteen, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers on the front side and then around back was all kinds of paraphernalia for this book Heaven is For Real. Now, admittedly, I have only read the first chapter of it (as that is all I could get for free on my Kindle).

This kind of emotive faith doesn’t do much for me. It seems to only offer comfort to the comforted. We focus so much on the afterlife that we neglect to do the work of God in this life. Any faith that doesn’t say “Take up your cross and follow me” isn’t anything I want to be a part of. We think of following Jesus only in our expectation of the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. We fail to realize that if we actually follow Jesus, it will be far less comfortable than that.

Now, far be it for me to equate a person’s faith life with the types of books they read, but I think it certainly impacts it. You are what you read. By all means, if you are afflicted and need comfort, read something that will give you comfort. I’m not that sadistic. But for a lot of us, myself included, our faith only grows by being pushed and stretched. I doubt reading Heaven is For Real or Every Day a Friday really pushes you beyond the call to simply have more faith.

For a lot of us, the answer to a lot of life’s (more troubling) questions isn’t “if God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it”. But the answer to many of life’s questions can be found in the ancient command to “take up your cross and follow me.”


*I don’t mean any offense to people who have read Heaven is for Real and found a lot of encouragement in it. I’m sure it’s a very encouraging book. I only say what I say because I think we can do better.

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