A year or so ago, my pastor and his wife handed me a book called Soul Cravings. I loved it. So, when the author, Erwin McManus, wrote another book, called Wide Awake, accompanied by a companion DVD with some short films that expound on some of its themes, I was interested. When his publicist contacted us about doing an interview with the man, I did what any sane person would do. I said, “Heck yeah!” What follows is that interview.
Tell me about HM Magazine.
Well … and I’ve got my tape recorder rolling, by the way, I’m ready to go. Um … HM is a – for lack of a better word – a Christian hard music magazine. It’s been published for 23 years now.
And, uh … I’ve got a blog and for about a year, year and a half last year, I uh … was going through – I blogged about your book Soul Cravings and made it kind of like a virtual book club for the better part of the year. I think it was a little over a year.
Oh wow! Very cool … thanks. I didn’t know that.
Sure. It was kind of fun. I’m trying to go back here … let’s see. Yeah, my first blog was in July of 2007, so I guess it was the better part of a year. I wrapped it up in January.
Oh. Did it go well?
Yeah, I think so. You know, with a blog, you love … you’d love to have like three dozen comments every day, but, you know … many days go by and you just get zero or one, but, yeah. I really enjoyed the book and had a lot of lengthy blogs to say about it.
Hey, thanks so much man, that’s very cool.
You’re quite welcome.
So how long have to worked with the magazine?
I started it when I was a junior in college, so it’s my baby.
So are you a hard rock guy?
Yeah, pretty much. I enjoy all kinds of music. Uh … you know, some mellow, and some intense and hard and metal.
Were you in a band, or…?
No, but I started one in ’88, so for about six years I got to experience the whole, uh… the gambit of being a musician. So I know what I write about a little better.
Oh that’s very good. Yeah, my kids are musicians. My daughter and son have a band, and it’s called Glare of Rockets. In fact, they performed last week at the knitting factory in L.A.
Wow, you know what? Somebody sent me a link about Glare of Rockets this past week.
Yeah. I haven’t gone to it yet, but that’s, uh… that’s a small world.
Yeah, isn’t that crazy. Well, she’s sixteen but she writes all the music as lead singer and plays guitar and piano and things and… In fact, we’re leaving Wednesday for Norway, and she’ll be performing before three or four thousand people in Oslo. So, um, she’s having a lot of fun. She’s very eccentric in her style. Kind of a throwback to more, like, The Cranberries and Bjork. You know, but it’s, uh… it’s soulful and interesting.
That’s neat. It must be kind of, uh, special… to see your kids do something like that.
Yeah, yeah. It’s really, really, uh… really fun to watch. And I like the fact that they’re really, almost entirely… I mean… I mean their music isn’t, like, Christian music, it’s just human music for everyone.
And that’s really fun to watch.
That’s cool. That’s a good way to describe it to: “human music.”
Hey, you’re going in and out. Can you hear me okay?
Yeah I can hear you fine.
Okay. Great, great, great.
I’ll try to hold the mouthpiece right up close so you can hear me the whole time. But hopefully I can get you to talk for most of the time here.
Alright. And, is this an online web magazine?
No, it’s a print magazine. I have an online presence as well.
Oh! Well, you’ll have to send me a copy then, when it comes out.
Okay, will do. Um… I think there’s probably an address in the back of the book here. I’ve got Wide Awake in front of me. If not, I’ll just follow up through the publicist.
Oh that’d be great, thank you so much. Now, do you have the hardback, or the galley?
I hope if I win the free iPod then I can keep it… I won’t be ineligible.
Hahaha! You, get the ten free downloads man, that’s pretty good.
That makes the… that’s really the value of the book.
That’s right, that’s right. Good idea. Well are you ready to take some questions?
Absolutely. Go ahead.
Okay. Well, um… I like to tell people that they can be the next her of biblical proportions. You know, that they have the same spirit residing in them that raised Jesus from the dead, so that they have the potential to the be next Moses, Paul, Peter or David. And I also like to show the flip side and point out that we have the capability of failing in a large way. So, what are you thoughts on failure?
Well, um… I don’t have to tell you that failure is universal. That we all fail. And it’s inevitable that we’re all going to fail. And the only way to avoid significant failure is to try to do nothing significant with your life. And so, I’m a huge fan of failure, because it means that someone’s trying to do something bigger than themselves. I think that’s something you should applaud.
Very good. Why do you think so many kindergarteners will raise their hand when asked if they want to grow up and be an artist and so few of those hands would stay raised as they approach adulthood?
Uh… well, I think that if you ask kindergarteners what they want to do… all of their dreams are extraordinary. They want to be a pro baseball player or they want to be president of the United States or they want to be the next “dot, dot, dot” right? You know, and they want to be an artist or singer or doctor or engineer or scientist. And I think the unifying theme is that children are not afraid to dream. And, the tragedy is that adults who actually have a chance to make a dream come true are the only least likely to dream at all.
What would you point out as being some common road blocks to dreams? Or to following dreams.
Uh, well… you began talking about how everyone has potential to see the next hero of biblical proportion. I think it’s part of the roadblock that we misunderstand who those biblical heroes are. We think of Moses and Joseph and Daniel and Ruth and… somehow I think that they’re put in the category of the next great preacher. We don’t realize that Joseph was an economist. Moses was the father of the nation. He was George Washington. And Ruth was the wife of an emperor. She was, you know, Eleanor Roosevelt. And uh, Deborah was really like a single version of an Eisenhower. If we could actually realize the people in the scriptures were not “preachers” or “priests” or people in some religious sector – that they were people of faith that actually lived in the real world, in the most secular of the sectors – then I think people would begin to understand, um, more effectively how to connect the dreams that God has for them with the life they’re living.
What’s going to keep another angelic rebellion from happening in heaven once we all get there and having this whole scenario of the fall of Satan or another angel, an introduction of evil, and the whole mess starting all over again?
Uh, wow! What an interesting question. Um, what’s going to keep it from happening?
Well, I don’t know if anything will keep it from happening. I’m not sure what God has in mind. But, it doesn’t make me nervous at all because I… I think it funny that when a lot of people think about heaven and eternity, they imagine a place where you worship God for eternity by singing and singing and singing. I think that eternity is going to be a lot more like the most noble and heroic of what it means to be human. It’s going to be filled with adventure and risk and a call to the heroic and the noble. And so I wouldn’t be surprised if we are actually engaged as a part of other great conflicts. And, um… and that we become, in that sense, God’s instruments as to bring the glory and to war against evil. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there is going to be more going on than we expect.
Oh, not the answer you expected, huh?
No, no. You know, when I, uh… when I was twenty I came back to the Lord. I have a prodigal son, kind of, story. And I remember that thought came into my head like, you know, what would happen if, you know, it all happened again? And I almost felt like I was a top secret agent and I needed to put that thought away and never utter it out loud again, because it was such a dangerous, scary thought. I don’t know if “scary” is the right word.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah obviously I think that uh, the Christians that want eternity to be a place with no risk, no adventure, uh… you know, just a place where we go and sing forever… they’re not really getting even what this life is supposed to be about. I mean we are most alive when we’re living our most heroic lives.
How – what are some practical ideas, or tips, on how to provide a safe place for people to fail. What, uh… like, people reading this interview wanting to replicate that in their own community? What are some ways you’ve seen it work where you could actually give people the comfort to actually risk things, and give them the kind of community where they can fail?
Wow man, I think if I were truthful, most churches are not a safe place for you to fail. And a part of it is that most churches are very, very low rep. And so what you have to really begin to do is create an environment where the church is a place that you’re willing to take great risk. And you’re innovating and creating and, and, uh… and risking. You know, I live in L.A. and we’re part of a community called Mosaic. I’m telling you, it’s so much fun to risk and to fail. I mean, because you know, in those failures we’re learning and then we repeat and then we fail again and we try again. And so I think one thing is just applauding the heroic effort of people. Um, one of the ways you create an environment where it’s safe to fail is that you just applaud people’s efforts. You celebrate that people tried. You don’t allow people to move to this pervasive sense of failure, that when they had a failure, that they are now “failures.” You don’t let them be defined by their worst moments. You help define people by their best moments. And you let people see the best in themselves. And you help people see the best in themselves, and pull that out of them.
I like that. Okay, I’ve got a hypothetical question for you. Like the other ones haven’t been! If we were to have another disaster like 9/11, only this one was x100 in scope and damage, what person, leader, or leaders would you want to steer this country through that time. Please name names and explain why.
Oh, wow. Well, the problem of the question is that if we had an event of that magnitude, most of the people I would name would be gone. And, I think that’s the point, is that if there’s going to be a crisis of a global magnitude, it’s the everyday Joe that’s got to be ready to be a heroic leader. I think what peace does is create a sense of passivity, and apathy. And it just says, “Well the other guy can lead. The other guy can be heroic. The other guy can be noble.” And it allows you to, in a sense, allow those muscles that produce courage and virtue and nobility to atrophy. And so, what I would say is that I would realize there is the potential of that kind of event. And so each one of us needs to be living heroic lives, everyday, right now. Because you may be the person that has to rise up in that moment.
There’ve been a couple movies – I recently saw the documentary, um, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers and Jay Bakker had a reality show on some network I watched, and there was a movie called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. There was another movie called Forgiving the Franklins. One of the thoughts I had coming away, or that revisited each time I saw those movies, is… I would not be surprised, and in fact, I would almost be so bold as to predict that we might see a revival come through the homosexual community, uh… when somehow, somebody can saddle up next to the homosexual community and let them know about their brokenness and humility and somehow get that community to realize the suffering of Jesus and how he can empathize with, kind of, the day to day struggles that they go through. Um, what are your thoughts on the homosexual community and the church and how the two groups may intersect in the future? Or do you predict it’s going to b continually conflicted, or… I’ll just open it up and allow you to comment, or… ?
Well, I think that whenever you think of any group as a unit, you begin to have false perceptions of reality. When people talk about Christians – if you’re a Christian, you know that… that’s a huge span of difference. Right? You have fundamentalist Christians. You have Quakers. You know, and, uh… you have Methodists and Presbyterians and Anglicans and you know… you have a spectrum. You have really passionate Christians who support George Bush. You have really passionate Christians that support Barack Obama. And those Christians can’t even identify each other as Christians, you know? And so, in the Christian spectrum you have an extreme. I think it’s also true in the gay community. You know, that there are very, very militant gays. Um, and there are people in the gay community that unless you, absolutely, 100% agree with their agenda, they will never consider you an ally or friend. But there are many people in the gay community who are broken and shattered and are desperately trying to break themselves free from what they consider to be a bondage or an addiction in their life. There are people in the gay community who are comfortable with being gay, but who are not militant. And uh, and more open to friendship with people who are not even, necessarily, pro – um, a gay agenda. And so there’s the whole spectrum of people in the gay community. And at Mosaic, you know, we have a lot of people who are, uh, involved in the gay community, or have come out of the gay community, or have gone into the gay community. And, uh, it’s far more permeable. Now, you know, I’m very honest. I share with them. I say, “Look, I don’t believe that God designed you for a gay, sexual lifestyle.” But you know, I have so many gay friends. And I think the reality is that, uh… I’m really open-minded and I go, look, I have room for you in my life, even though I disagree with you. But do you have room for me in your life even though you disagree with me? So, I don’t think militant gays and militant Christians will ever reconcile. But I do think that there are Christians that have learned how to be strong in their convictions and incredible inclusive in their compassion that have a really strong voice and the ability to help people connect with Jesus in the gay community.
My pastor… like, of my church, here in Austin, Texas… uh, gave me a copy of Soul Cravings. And uh, so… when I was getting ready for this interview I sent him an email saying, “Hey! I’m going to interview Erwin. Do you have any questions?” And he had kind of a multi-prong question that I’ll paraphrase for you. Um, he knows that, or it seems that, you’re often labeled “emerging” – but it seems your theologies may be a tad more conservative than some of the other emerging guys like Brian McClare and Doug Patchett, or even Rob Bell. So, one – do you see yourself as “emerging?” And how are you and guys like Brian McClare and Patchett alike and how are you different? And then I’ve got another question I’ll just save for the second half after you answer that.
Sure. Well, I always think it’s funny when people call me “emerging” anything. I’m almost fifty years old and I… I’m like, “If I’m emerging, then I’m a factory defect no one’s ever going to ride. It’s too late for me!” And uh, so I think it’s kind of funny, how we categorize people. Um… and I think there’s a, you know… there’s a technical difference between emergence as a village and a group that identifies themselves as a cohesive body, and emerging that people use as a broad body. Uh, we don’t consider ourselves “emerging” – we consider ourselves experimental. We’re really more of an experimental church. We’re just trying to be God R&D Department, uh… fully committed to doing whatever’s necessary to reach the future and to make sure that the message of Jesus is there. And it’s very, very different, you know? Um… I don’t think, like, Doug Patchett or Tony Jones of those guys would consider us “Emergent.” In fact, they would say that we’re partly conservative in out theology. I think the difference, and I’m always put into different categories, is that I’m not really inclined to speak against, um, different groups. I think that we spend way too much energy fighting against each other and demeaning each other’s positions as people, and we should spend a lot more time trying to be able to really share with the world an helping people find Christ. Uh, so, you know… Nah. Technically we’re not emerging, and we’re not “emergent,” we’re not anything like that, really. We’re really pretty old. We’re just trying to step back 2,000 years ago trying to understand who Jesus is, what he said, uh… to live our lives under the authority of the scriptures and play it out in, um… in a different context in the world.
Good deal. Well, the second part of that question is, “How important is theology in the local church? And where is the balance between being biblically faithful and culturally relevant?”
See I don’t think there’s any balance between being biblically faithful and culturally relevant. I think if you’re culturally relevant, you’re not biblically faithfully at all. You’re just playing games. You’re just using the Bible to hind the real responsibilities you have for the world. And so I’m not a big fan of balance. I think that we are biblically faithful, and because of that, we are culturally relevant. And, uh… you know, I’m a theologian, and so I guess theology has a pretty high place in my life. I just think that theology that doesn’t actually transform humanity is just meaningless. It’s bad talk and idle conversation. And I think sometimes we’re just more impressed with our own academic, theological intellectualism that we are with, uh… being like Jesus. I mean, Jesus was not the guy sitting in a classroom. Jesus was not the guy that went to seminary. He’s not the guy that decided to go after the Pharisees. He’s the guy that went after the fisherman and tax collectors and people of the earth. And, he took the message of the Living God and translated it to common language and common application and common everyday life. And, to me, that’s what it means to be biblically sound – is to take what Jesus did and what he said, and to apply it in a way that reflects how he would do it today.
I was, uh… fortunate and blessed enough to be a part of a church plant that lasted about thirteen years. And I saw, what I might define, as kind of a conflict between, uh, someone with a visionary heart or someone that loves to be in the fresh, new, exciting… uh, you know, vision to doing things for God. Taking risk. And, kind of, the maintenance and shepherding of long-term, uh, kind of a… being comfortable in, uh,,, you know, the things that – I guess biblically – we kind of like, expect to remain. Like, when you set up a foundation, um… you know, a strong foundation, it’s not necessarily guilt to be destroyed after three years. But to stay on, to build on, and, um… and it seems like I saw, in this church life, a little bit of a conflict there, and a restlessness when a person that’s kind of a visionary was kind of stuck in maintenance, shepherding role. Um, do you see a similar conflict? How do you, um… how would you, like… point correction into that kind of an equation if you saw it?
Um, well… I think I’m grappling with your question. And um… you know, I think the reality is that the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be led by leaders. And so, I’m not sure. This could play out two ways. Maybe the person who’s the pastor perceives himself to be a leader, but he’s really more of a nurturer or counselor. And um… they struggle with the leadership role. Because if they’re genuinely a visionary, genuinely a leader, they’re not going to settle for simply being a nurturer, a manager, an administrator. And they’re going to change that organization, and change the values of the organization. But I think the truth that matters is that most churches do not want a leader. They want a counselor, and they want a nurturer. And that’s part of the dilemma. We’re hiring people to be our paid counselor, best friend, and caregiver. And really the gospel, the resources, should be used to expand the purposes of God. And really it’s a terrible thing. I think a lot of them have just sold out for the salaries. You know? And I’m not going to give my life to be paid to care for people who are already in the kingdom and who are already Christians. I think that we need to recognize that the… uh… the church isn’t here for us. Uh, we are the church. And we’re here for the world. The church wasn’t established so that we could create a place to be cared for. The church was established so that we could be the hope of the world. And by serving the world in advancing the mission and intention of Jesus for all humanity.
Well thanks for seeing through my question. I, uh, I know it was kinda… I know I was kind of grappling with asking it. So, I think you saw what I was trying to get at, and I appreciate that.
No problem at all.
If there was such a thing as the Jew Network and all the Jews from all over the world watched this show, and you were on the show and had the opportunity to make an appeal for Christ as the Messiah, what would you say?
Hahaha. Where do you get these questions? Hahaha.
Just, uh, my head.
That’s hilarious. Wow, that’s an interesting question because I don’t know that there’s anything I could say that would be so radically impressive that would change all of their minds except that I would say… that um… There are probably as many Jews in the world who have come to believe that Jesus I the Messiah as there are Jews who do not believe. And so maybe it’d be great to just get them in the same room and have a conversation about their view of the Messiah. Uh, ‘cause why would you listen to a Gentile telling you who the Messiah is? It would be better for them to sit in a room with other Jewish scholars and other Jewish believers who can sit across the table and say… you know, “This is why we believe Jesus is the Messiah.” And they could say, “Well, this is why we believe he isn’t the Messiah.” And maybe that conversation would bring real enlightenment. ‘Cause why would a good, serious thinking, biblically thinking, Orthodox Jew listen to a Gentile? And um… and so I think they ought to get together and have a great conversation.
Good idea. Well, what is your goal with the book Wide Awake?
Yeah, you know, if I could summarize Wide Awake in one sentence: “Wide Awake is about how to find a dream that fits your life, and then make it your life.” And I just talk to thousands of people who are… uh, especially in L.A. – you know, LA’s like a filter. It draws from all over the world, you know, like, the cream of the crop. The smartest people, the brightest people, the most creative people. You know, the prettiest people… let me tell you, 9 out of 10 of them will crash and burn. And you’ll see it in their eyes. You know, they came with these huge dreams, and then before you know it, these dreams have been shattered. And I’ve begun to realize that there are a lot of people that are pursuing a dream that doesn’t fit their life. Um… or, they’re pursuing a dream that does fit their life but they don’t know how to make it their life. Or there are a lot of people how have just simply given up on dreaming. So now their lives are more interesting when they’re asleep that when they’re wide awake – which is, of course, what the title of the book is about. That it’s better to be wide awake when you’re living your dreams. I wrote this book because of all the endless number of people that I care about, and in realizing that this is true across the world. This is the stomach. There are people today, everywhere, that wake up with this little bit of sadness that you hear in the line of the movie Unbreakable. Where you sense there’s something significant… something important you’re supposed to do but you just can’t figure it out. And I think what’s happened to a lot of us is that we were created to live a life that was born out of our dreams, and because we don’t know how to make that happen, we just finally give up on our dreams.
Yeah. So Wide Awake for me… its not just fuel. I really am excited because I think that… What I did is I just, I even sat down and looked at my own life and… you know, I’m not good at a lot of things, but one thing that I’ve been really able to do is to take a dream, and to turn it into my life. And, I just wanted to be able to help other people experience that because it’s… I’m just convinced that there’s a hero within everyone waiting to be awaking. And the world needs you at your best, and that’s what the goal of Wide Awake is all about.
Well, I hear ya. I appreciate you doing that. Is there anything else you wanted to say or comment on?
Yeah, you know, along with the book, we have a film series coming out. It’s a Wide Awake film series. Um… there are five short films that are just really beautiful and there for inspiration. And then I do a ten part series that are just about four or five minutes for each chapter. You know, cause uh… you know 86% of books I think it is, that are purchased, are purchased by women. And uh, usually guys are not big readers. So we did the companion film series to kind of help guys work their way through the book. ‘Cause I… I think both men and women really need to take some time to look inside themselves and figure out whether they’re just existing or really living. And uh… and so we went ahead and created this film series because it’s like… guys, like me – I’m very visual, I love watching movies, I love learning while being entertained at the same time. It’s a great way of cheating and growing at the same time.
Excellent. Well, I appreciate what you’re doing.
Thanks so much man, I hope all goes well.
Alright. Take care. God bless.
You too, thanks. Bye.