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Behind the Scenes of Rooting for Rivals  

Behind the Scenes of Rooting for Rivals  

On a Thursday afternoon in September 2016, Peter Greer scribed notes on his whiteboard as Jill Heisey and I kicked around ideas about a new book project. We came into that meeting with very little clarity about what the project would become. We left that meeting with just a bit more clarity, but a shared commitment to pursuing the project together.

In just two weeks, Rooting for Rivals will be available in hardback and audiobook at all your favorite booksellers. Nearly two years after the genesis meeting, a whiteboard becomes a book. Just for fun, I’ve included the most common questions I get about the book below.

  1. What’s the story behind the name?

The original working title for the book was Open Hands. We also kicked around the title Kingdom First. In the end, we liked Rooting for Rivals because it is both sticky and communicates the heart of the book. It was on a trip to Australia, however, where we learned that “rooting” holds quite lewd undertones Down Under. While blushing during a meeting with an Australian director of a Baptist camping ministry, I asked if we should consider changing the title. Without hesitation, he responded, “Absolutely not. Most Australians understand the American use of the word. And, you’ll likely sell more copies in Australia if you keep it as-is.”

  1. What role do your agents play?

Andrew Wolgemuth was our agent for both Mission Drift and Rooting for Rivals. Andrew (also my brother-in-law!) is an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates (“W&A”). Akin to sports agents with athletes, literary agents help authors pitch their ideas and serve as guides to the confusing world of book publishing. We’ve said this elsewhere, but Andrew and the W&A team—Robert, Erik, and Austin—are the very best in the business. I’m obviously biased, but these guys are capable, faithful advisors and friends.

  1. Who is the publisher?

Like with Mission Drift, Andy McGuire at Bethany House (an imprint of Baker Publishing Group) believed in this project and believed in us from the very beginning. The first time around, we pitched Mission Drift to a slew of publishers. Because of that experience, though, this time we went straight to, and only to, Andy. What stands out about Andy and the Bethany/Baker team is their genuine enthusiasm for these ideas.

  1. What was Jill Heisey’s role?

Better question: What wasn’t her role? Jill and I both joined HOPE’s staff in 2006. During the last 12 years, she has worked in a whole host of full-time and part-time roles. But, in every assignment, she demonstrated her gifts as a writer, editor, and thinker. Jill sharpened our thinking and refined our writing. That she agreed to work with the two of us makes Peter and I forever in her debt. It’s not an exaggeration say this book wouldn’t exist if not for Jill. I’ll also note the roles of Brianna Lapp and Tom Lin. Brianna joined HOPE’s staff midway through this project and has played an important project management role over the last year. Tom embodies the principles in the book and wrote an exceptional foreword.

  1. What’s it like to co-author?

Writing with Peter Greer is like sparring with a grizzly bear while riding a bull.

In seriousness, writing with Peter makes both of us better. He invites critique and offers it. He puts forward bold goals and invites helpful constraints. Our team used a shared Google Doc to draft, suggest edits, and collaborate. It became a bit unruly when the draft surpassed 30,000 words. But, otherwise, we found it to be a big improvement over emailing Word documents back-and-forth like we did last time. Some people ask if Peter is involved in the nuts-and-bolts or just the big ideas of the book. And, I can honestly say it’s both. Despite leading a full life and a growing organization, he is actively involved from start-to-finish.

  1. Who financially profits from the book?

The Kingdom! Unless your last name is Rowling or Sparks, writing is not lucrative work. But, Peter and I have committed all the royalties from this project to HOPE and other like-minded churches and ministries. So when you buy a copy or a case (thanks, Mom!), you can trust it’s lining God’s pockets, not our own.

  1. Why the seven deadly sins? …and the 2×2?

On the whiteboard in Peter’s office, we scribbled out a bunch of chapter ideas about how open-handed faith-based nonprofit leaders operated in contrast to close-fisted leaders: Covet vs. Celebrate, Hero vs. Humility, Enemies vs. Allies, etc. As these ideas germinated, we discovered our somewhat arbitrary list tightly mapped to a more time-tested list: the seven deadly sins. An early iteration of this concept, circa March 2017, shows a snapshot of the progression of the chapter outline.

The version of the 2×2 we included in the book emerged from the brilliance of Madi Burke. Madi, then a college student interning with us in Lancaster, suggested we consider Augustine’s categorization of sin as deficient love, excessive love, or misdirected love. These categories proved enormously helpful in organizing a 2×2 that was at that point still very much a work-in-progress (an earlier draft also included here, just for fun). Those two organizing frameworks helped to make sense of the book’s main ideas.

  1. Are you doing anything fun to launch this book?

Yes! A group of 180 friends, family, and co-workers signed up to help us launch the book (THANK YOU!). With the tutelage and hosting of our colleague, Blake Mankin, we are producing a six-episode Rooting for Rivals podcast series. We interviewed a few of our heroes and can’t wait for you to hear directly from them. We also have a series of videos forthcoming where we’re not promoting the book but practicing it—actually rooting for our rivals. Be on the lookout.

  1. What do your kids think about Rooting for Rivals?

My kids—ages 7, 3, and 1—are absolutely pumped about it. Apart from our oldest, all they know about the book is that the only pictures are tiny author headshots. Still, when I first saw the final product, they expressed their enthusiasm in their own unique ways:

Many other friends—some of you are reading this very post—volunteered to help launch Rooting for Rivals. Thank you, thank you.

The Best of 2017

I began 2017 with a confession about 2016: I was a grump that year. And, I entered 2017 committed to being less consumed by the scandal du jour and more consumed by the people and places closest to me.  And, I’m happy to report 2017 was a much better year. Though 2017 was difficult, of course, it was filled with untold joys, adventures, new places, and books. It was replete with making new memories with people I love and shaped by new habits and routines.
Here are a few of my favorites from the past year:
Best new book: Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. No book shaped our family more this year. Crouch helped us “put technology in its proper place.” We haven’t torched our phones and laptops, but we have established much better boundaries. Because of this book, we watch far less television, keep our phones in their “parking spots” when we are at home and are much more cognizant of technology’s insidiousness.
Best not new book:  The Chronicles of NarniaWe read this series aloud to our kids before bed. And, we all loved it. Eustace, Reepicheep, and Jill Pole captivated our imaginations and pointed us to the big story unfolding all around us.
Best articles: In 2018 and beyond, parental advisory warnings may need to preface news broadcasts. Vulgarity dominated 2017. From politicians to celebrities, each day brought new ugliness about men abusing their power. These stories create an environment for Christians to reimagine how we might practice our faith and serve our neighbors. Two articles I read in early 2017 framed the moment. The first, a New Yorker profile on Russell Moore by Kelefah Sanneh, painted the opportunity for the church to embrace the posture of a prophetic minority. The second, an essay written by Wesley Hill in Comment, offered a challenging invitation for Christians to rediscover our call to hospitality.
Best new habit: I read Deep Work this year with my coworkers. And, Newport’s research struck just the right tone for our modern work environment. He names the ways our always-available work culture drives us toward shallow and unfulfilling hamster wheeling and away from deep, meaningful work. Because of the book, my team has instituted “deep work Fridays” where email, instant messaging, meetings, and social media are strongly discouraged, allowing us the space to think and work deeply.
Best movie: Hidden Figures hit all the right notes. It beautifully wove together themes of vocation, race, virtue, and faith. And, it featured a killer soundtrack. The character who made me laugh hardest this year was the affable narcissist, Batman (Will Arnett), who starred in Lego Batman.
Best story you haven’t heard: One of the best parts of my job is reading the annual “Thurman Award” nominees. These stories–submitted by our staff from the 900,000+ men and women we serve across the world–remind me of all the things that are going right in the world. This year’s winner, Savera, is one of those heroes who won’t make news headlines but should. Formerly homeless, Savera now employs 50 people in farming, construction, and real estate businesses. With her success, she’s adopted eight orphans, she pays for her vulnerable neighbors’ school fees, and has built clean water wells for her neighbors.

Sabático

Sabático

What should have been a 15-minute walk to the beach turned into a 45-minute stroll, our boys meandering the long dirt road leading to town from our rental home in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.
Our two-year-old, Abe, yelped with glee upon spotting each dog and motorcycle (it was a lot of yelping) along the way. Our six-year-old, Desmond, exchanged holas with our neighbors, confidently deploying one of the ten Spanish words he’s devoted to memory. Our two-month-old, June, enjoyed a siesta as she bounced along with me in the baby carrier.
We reached our home in Cabarete earlier this week after a long, red-eye journey to get here. For two months, this Dominican beach town will be home. We live next door to a man who sells trinkets to tourists on the beach and across from a man who drives a mototaxi for his livelihood. Our home is beautiful, borderig Parque Nacional El Choco. Vistas of the sprawling lagoons linger outside each window, beckoning us to load up the kiddos in the canoes.

Baby June: An exemplar of rest.


In Cabarete, we live at the nexus of two worlds. In this town are the heights of global prosperity and all its accompaniments. Beautiful gated resorts line the beaches, kitesurfing excursions entice thrill seekers, and breathtaking waterfront restaurants serve bounty from the sea. And, in the shadows and side streets, prostitution runs amok. In just a few days, we’ve already seen it evidenced. And, with a wide wealth gap between the tourists and most of the Dominicans we’ll meet, these two worlds exist in a harmonious tension.
It’s in this diverse town where we’re taking sabático. I crossed ten years with HOPE in June. And, with the $3,000 milestone gift awarded HOPE employees upon reaching ten years, we rented this home for two months. Here, we’ll canoe the lagoons, adventure to the beaches, and host family in our Dominican home.
Andy Crouch once said sabbatical (and Sabbath) are designed by God as “circuit breakers for idolatry.” The idol we worship, of course, is our work. Paid or unpaid, it is a longstanding human tradition to elevate the importance of our daily work to unhealthy levels. When something good becomes something ultimate, you’ve got an idol. And it’s Crouch’s view that most of us wait till we retire to actually practice sabbatical. Crouch’s counsel is to work longer—but healthier—by taking Sabbath more like the every-seven-years prescription outlined by God for his people (and not just the priests and professional clergy!).
Ten years into my work at HOPE, it’s easy for my good work at HOPE to feel ultimate. And, I hate to even write it, but I can even feel indispensable. I’m not, of course. But it’s easy for feelings of my own importance to undermine my dependence upon God and others for the good work I do. Thus, it’s time to break that circuit. For two months, most of my job will be done by the capable leaders around me.
A sabbatical is not something I deserve. It is something I need. A sabbatical is not something God mandates to constrain my work, but rather an exercise to position my work in its rightful role in my heart and life. Paid clergy and professors are decent at taking sabbatical, I’ve found. But, the rest of us? Not so much.
So, for two months I will rest, read, adventure with my family, and begin work on my next book project with Peter Greer.
So, now the work of detaching begins. For nine weeks, I’ll be much more unplugged. If you want to reach me, a carrier pigeon sent to Cabarete might be your best option. Till May, bendiciones, amigos.

The Calls Keep Coming

The Calls Keep Coming

Most of the calls from Denver County Human Services come late at night. All of them start the same way: “We are looking for a foster care placement for…”
I answer these calls with trepidation. I relish control, which is why these calls scare the heck out of me. Tapping the “accept” button always threatens to disrupt the predictability I so deeply cherish.
Two sisters—a feisty three-year-old and a six-week-old. A two-year-old boy with an affection for spicy Doritos. A ten-month-old boy who adored his foster brothers. A five-month-old baby boy who loved to be held.
And these are just the foster care placements we’ve said “yes” to. We’ve declined many more, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we feel underprepared to serve the child well, due to the child’s age or unique special needs. Other times we’ve been out of town. Sometimes we’ve just been too exhausted to say yes.
But with each “yes”—for each of the five children who we’ve welcomed into our home—we learn more and more about how radically different our childhoods were from these children’s.
A few months ago, amid a swirling blizzard, we received a call about a ten-month-old baby boy who was in need of a home. His mom had gotten into trouble and she had no family nor trusted friends who could pass a background test to care for him. A few hours later, a caseworker navigating a foot of snow, arrived at the door with J. Our boys greeted him with joy, toys, and hugs. We took him into our arms and his eyes scanned the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, uncertain and scared about this new place filled with new people.
J stayed with us for a few weeks while his grandfather made arrangements to care for him. Our boys love their foster siblings and J was no exception. Abe (our 18-month-old) loved feeding him his bottle. Desmond (our six-year-old) enjoyed carrying (read: lugging) him around the house. Alli and I loved the chaos of loading all three boys in the tub for a nightly bath.

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Abe, Desmond, and J


We love being foster parents. Like a great hike, foster care is maddening, glorious, frustrating, fun, and energizing, often all at the same time.
Here’s what I’m learning: If Alli and I were to fall on hard times, the number of safe, loving homes immediately available to Abe and Desmond count in the hundreds. If we succumbed to drug addictions or were arrested or suffered a debilitating mental illness, we would need to do little more than whisper the word and friends and family would (quite literally) line up at our door, ready to help. I of course don’t say this to gloat. It’s just true.
We—and likely you—are surrounded by armies of stable, caring people in our extended family, friend circles, neighborhood, and church. For our foster children’s parents, most lack even one or two such people they can call when they’re down. This is what scholar Charles Murray discovered in researching his book Coming Apart. Put simply, my experience diverges sharply from many of my neighbors. Not by a little bit. The life our biological children experience is starkly different from the life our foster children have experienced. Drastically different.
In Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch challenges readers to “go to the land of the dead, the realm of those who have lost all capacity for action.” In descending into very hard places with these five children and their families, I’ve been forced to reckon with some very hard realities. At times, I’m paralyzed by the weight of the challenges facing these families.
In the process, I’ve discovered how much I treasure stability. And, discovered stability is something many people never experience. I’ve also learned how much I benefit from a community of influential, wealthy, and well-connected family and friends. And, learned how many families in our world live with an absence of these networks.
The calls keep coming. More children in need of homes. More moms amid chaos. More absent and incarcerated dads. With each call—and each sweet child who enters our home—I realize all the more how many wrong assumptions I’ve held about my life and about the life of my neighbors. I can’t put a bow on this thought, of course. But, knowing the depth of their pain and hardship has done important work in both exposing my fears and expanding my heart. And that’s something.

My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

My Six Favorite Essays from the Last Year

It’s been a good year for writing. I know many lament the death of newspapers and magazines, like Newsweek, which printed its last issue just over a year ago. But the new age in journalism has spawned new mediums for more writers. This has been great fun to watch. Over the course of the last twelve months, there have been a few essays that have really stirred me. I could have listed dozens, but I found these six to be both enlightening and inspiring, which is an exciting combination.

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://instagram.com/jakeweidmann

Photo taken and words written by my friend, Jake Weidmann http://www.jakeweidmann.com


Andrea Palpant Dilley (Christianity Today) published a story on the research of sociologist, Robert Woodberry. And it surprised me in every way. The well-written essay unmasked many of the stereotypes we’ve long held and perpetuated about the role of missionaries in recent history.

Yet so far, over a dozen studies have confirmed Woodberry’s findings. The growing body of research is beginning to change the way scholars, aid workers, and economists think about democracy and development. The church, too, has something to learn. For Western Christians, there’s something exciting and even subversive about research that cuts against the common story and transforms an often ugly character—the missionary—into the whimsical, unwitting protagonist we all love to love.
Full essay.

Kirsten Powers (USA Today) penned this scandalous article amidst the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist whose Philadelphia “clinic” committed unspeakable horrors. Powers, a Democratic pundit and journalist, took a big risk in publishing this, but almost single-handedly (with a strong hat tip to Mollie Hemingway) made this trial a national news story. Powers also made headlines last year for her inspiring personal testimony.

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations? It’s not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page.
Full essay.

Andy Crouch (Christianity Today) wrote a masterful essay on the day the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act” and legalized same-sex marriage. This was perhaps this biggest story of 2013. Andy handled the topic with real Christian conviction, but wrote with an exemplary type of sensitivity and clarity.

Is there an easy way out of the current battles over sexuality? No. But there is a way through. A remnant, perhaps small and perhaps substantial, will continue to teach that we are created male and female, to bless the marriages that reunite those two broken halves, and to remind all, married and unmarried, that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage”—that ultimately our earthly eros only reflects the reunion promised between the Creator and his image bearers.
Full essay.

Russell Moore (Wall Street Journal) wrote a compelling challenge to Christians as we enter a new age in American history. Christians, as Dr. Moore describes, no longer exists as a “moral majority” but instead should aim to be a “prophetic minority,” a phrase I quite like. Dr. Moore models the “convictional kindness” he implores us to use.

Our voice must not only be a voice of morality, it must be a voice of welcome that says, “Just as I am without one plea, except the blood of the Son of God was shed for me.” That must be in our voices, with tears in our eyes, so we speak with those who disagree with us with a convictional kindness—not because we are weak, but because the gospel is strong, and because we have been given a mission that is anchored to the cross.

Full essay. Covered by the Wall Street Journal here.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey (Wall Street Journal) authored a helpful piece on Christians and adoption. In light of several adoption scandals and a swath of misinformation about international adoption, particularly, Bailey’s essay provided a balanced account of where things stand.

The Bible is full of admonishments to take special care of “the fatherless,” and in recent years, evangelical Christians in particular have taken this commandment to heart… But in the midst of its rapid growth, the evangelical adoption movement has experienced some growing pains. “Early on, there was adoption cheerleading: ‘It’s beautiful, we need this,’ ” Mr. Medefind says. “Now Christians are talking about ethical questions, like guarding against corruption.”
Full essay.

Patton Dodd (Christianity Today) wrote a gracious and hopeful story about the new life at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This piece is important personally because of my friendships with a number of the members of New Life and because Patton articulated trends that are important for evangelical church leaders across the country to understand.

The church’s new auditorium, with a stage set in the round and 8,000 seats, is equipped with insane lighting and sound capabilities, all on display this morning. Christ will be preached this morning—and here he is preached as the head of Christendom, leading the charge for Christians to take over the world. He is risen, and we are on the rise. Until, suddenly, we were not. Over the first weekend of November 2006, New Life’s meteoric rise came to a crashing halt.
Full essay.