How “Heaven Is for Real” Came to Be

Heaven Is for Real

It’s been over a decade since Colton Burpo told his parents he had visited heaven during surgery. And on Wednesday, the movie version of “Heaven Is for Real” opens nationwide.

If you want to know how we got from one child’s experience to a major motion picture (thanks to agent Joel Kneedler), check out my article in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Posted in Articles

Christians and Marijuana?

GAZ-leaf-crossAmerican are experiencing a major shift in their attitudes toward marijuana (see recent surveys from CNN and Gallup).

But what do American Christians think? I had the opportunity to explore this question in three recent articles:

“Pot Pilgrims” tells the stories of Christian families relocating to Colorado Springs to treat their children with Charlotte’s Web marijuana oil.

“Marijuana Ministry” offers the first-ever look at the Stanley brothers’ faith and the Christian commitment that is the foundation for their work with Charlotte’s Web.

(Thanks to On Faith and editor Patton Dodd for assigning me these two long-form articles on this historic topic.)

“Moraljuana” is a slimmed down version of these articles published Sunday in the Colorado Springs Gazette. (It’s their cross/leaf illustration used above in this post.)


Posted in Articles, Blog

John Denver and Windstar: the Death of a Dream

John Denver died 16 years ago this week when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He was 53. This year, a bit of Denver’s dream died with the sale of land that had housed his Windstar Foundation, which focused on the environment and other issues.


Aspen Times photographer Scott Condon took this photo of John Denver’s “Spirit” statue being removed from the property of the former Windstar Foundation.

Forty years ago, Denver had a huge hit with “Rocky Mountain High,” a song inspired by his love for Colorado (not drugs, as he testified before Congress). The song was named an official state song by the Colorado General Assembly in 2007, five years before voters here approved recreational marijuana.

Earlier this year, Denver’s music experienced a mini-renaissance thanks to The Music is You, a tribute album featuring Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, My Morning Jacket, and other artists.

The tribute album gave critics a new chance to assess Denver’s musical legacy, but meanwhile, Denver’s vision for Windstar has faded with the sale of nearly 1,000 acres of land near Aspen that he donated to the foundation.

Denver told me about his vision for Windstar in a 1991 interview for The Colorado Springs Gazette about his spiritual values, a subject says he had never explored in depth during thousands of previous media interviews:

 “I was somebody who felt alone and spent a lot of time alone. And one day I had a vision and saw that some day I was going to have a place in the mountains where people could come from all over the world. They would be friends of mine, and they would be able to come to this place, and meet other people like themselves, and rest and rejuvenate, and go back to whatever they were doing, knowing that they were not alone. That was pretty far out for a 12-year-old kid.”

The son of a Catholic mother and Protestant father, Denver was one of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s. He was attending Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Tucson, Arizona when he began doubting Christianity and experiencing visions about the universe and his future.

His spiritual journey would take him through Eastern religions, American Indian spirituality, humanism and est (Erhard Seminars Training). But his real religion was love of nature. In “Rocky Mountain High” he sang about the comfortable familiarity with God that nature-lovers enjoy: “You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.”

In 1976, Denver and a partner founded Windstar on a 957-acre property near Snowmass. Now Windstar has sold the property and relocated what remains of Windstar to nearby Basalt. Locals worry that the property Windstar conserved for 37 years will be developed without respect for the area’s beauty.

Finally, in September, a statue of Denver entitled “Spirit” was moved from the former Windstar to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in Denver. Here, fans can appreciate Denver’s work. Meanwhile, back in the Aspen area, the worries about the Windstar land continue.

Posted in Articles

Beatles to Bhagavad Gita

Photo of Ravi ShankarHow George Harrison Brought the East to the West

“My Sweet Lord,” a global hit featuring chants of “Hallelujah” and “Hare Krishna,” was the first solo single by George Harrison, the former lead guitarist of the world’s biggest rock band. His decades-long spiritual quest (starting with Eastern music before progressing to Hinduism and Krishna Consciousness) changed the ways people in the West looks at God, gurus and life, and made him the most influential religious rocker of the last half century.

Posted in Articles

Evaluating Evangelism

Religion Becomes Battleground at U.S. Air Force Academy 

An angry debate over the role of faith and evangelism at the U. S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs creates controversy and leads to a Pentagon review.

The ongoing USAFA religion controversy and a lawsuit about proselytizng at the Academy led to new Air Force regulations governing how to handle (and not handle) religion.

Posted in Articles

“Twilight’s” Family Values

twilightStephenie Meyer Mixes Mormonism, Morality and Vampires

Stories about love, lust and the undead may not seem like the best vehicle for teaching teenagers about faith and morality. But Mormon author Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novels use vampire legends to offer LDS-friendly instruction on sexuality, dietary restrictions and more.

Posted in Articles

God and Douglas Coupland

Author of Life After God Is “the Most Uncynical Person on Earth”

People assume the man who wrote 1991’s Generation X and 1994’s Life After God is a cynic. But the author who skillfully skewers his generation’s skepticism is himself a convinced anti-skeptic. “I am the most uncynical person on Earth,” said Coupland between bites of spaghetti in Denver before a reading at the Tattered Cover. “I have so been looking forward to this interview so I can discuss real things.” Things like his faith in God. “But I’m really mad at him right now,” he admits.

Posted in Articles

Fumbling with Fundamentalism

Understanding a Powerful Global Movement  

“Fundamentalism has been scoffed at more than it has been studied,” wrote Stephen Prothero in The New York Times Book Review. See how the fundamentalist movement began and how it has evolved in this article, which was based on a presentation at the International Conference on Fundamentalism and the Media.

Posted in Articles

Meet Your Maker

Artist Terry Maker Repurposes Objects in Works Both Serious and Light

“Reckoning,” her 2012 show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, demonstrated the increasingly popular artist’s profound reverence for found objects, (even if she repurposes those objects in ways no one else would imagine), her mastery over the demanding technical processes that transform stuff into art, and her simultaneous embrace of both seriousness and whimsy. Steve’s first article for IMAGE journal describes why and how Maker makes her art, including Reptilius Consumerus Devourus, a gigantic snake that was created from shredded U.S. currency and other bank documents.

You can buy a copy of IMAGE here:

Posted in Articles

Auditing Scientology

Ever-Controversial Group Finds Itself Under More Intense Fire

For decades, the Church of Scientology has used persuasion, intimidation, lawyers, celebrities and p.r. to promote its teachings.  But attacks by hackers, journalists and prominent ex-members have stymied the organization, challenging both its carefully burnished image and its standard methods of self-defense.

Steve also reported from Clearwater, Florida, a Scientology mecca, for “Building Scientopolis,” an award-winning article.

Posted in Articles

No Longer “Left Behind”

img003-222x300Christian Publishing Emerges from Obscurity to Bestsellerdom

Once a quiet backwater of the publishing industry, Christian books like the apocalyptic Left Behind novels have become crossover bestsellers in mainstream outlets. This 2002 Christianity Today cover story provides “an insider’s look at how Christian books are agented, acquired, packaged, branded, and sold in today’s marketplace.” The article examines trends that have helped propel bestsellers including This Present Darkness, The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose Driven Life.

Posted in Articles

Oprah’s Gospel

oprah0005Entertainment Icon and Spiritual Leader Alienates Christian Viewers

Like Elvis, Madonna, Bono and Beyonce, Oprah is a super-celebrity for whom one name suffices. She rules a powerful entertainment empire, but her endorsement of “New Agey” spirituality is causing many longtime Bible-believing fans to turn her off, as we see in this article written for a network of Christian newspapers.

Posted in Articles

God ♥ America

Bestselling “American Patriot’s Bible” Uses Scripture to Support Nationalism

Created by a politically conservative Baptist pastor from Georgia, this bestselling Bible proclaims, “America stands without equal as a beacon of hope and freedom in a hurting world.” But some religion scholars say this entry in the lucrative “specialty Bible” market exploits scripture to baptize nationalism. Others are less subtle, calling this unapologetic work of religious nationalism “idolatrous.”

Posted in Articles

Resurrecting Amy Grant

Amy-Grant-150x150Divorce, Remarriage and Redemption through Hymns

Long a lightning rod for those Christians who considered her too sexy or too worldly, Christian pop music superstar Amy Grant faced a career crisis after her divorce from Gary Chapman and her marriage to Vince Gill. But her “Legacy” album reacquainted her with traditional hymns and gospel songs like “Nothing but the Blood” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” that promote the message of God’s grace and forgiveness. “We wouldn’t need a savior if everybody did everything all right,” she says in this article for the Religion Journal section of The New York Times.

Posted in Articles

Marley & Us

Getting Up-Close and Personal with Labrador Retriever Movie Star

Lois got a “pawtograph” from the day we visited Brodie, one of eight adult yellow Labrador retrievers who played Marley in the movie “Marley & Me.” Our visit happened just after Brodie had a “Marley day,” taking advantage of an open pantry door and helping himself to a carton of chicken broth, a box of brownie mix, a bag of peanut butter M&Ms and a few candy canes left over from Christmas.

Posted in Articles

Spiritual Vibes Still Resonate

The Lasting Legacy of the Woodstock Generation

Pete Fortanale, the author of Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock, says many members of the “Woodstock generation” embraced spiritual values that have transformed American culture and religion in the decades since 1969.

Posted in Articles

Horrors and Healing Inside The Shack

No Matter What, God Loves You! She Really Does!

Initially rejected by a dozen publishers, William “Paul” Young’s novel of horror and healing has touched millions of readers who embrace its message that God (portrayed here as a black woman named Papa) can redeem even the most desperate tragedies.

Posted in Articles

Bucking Trends, Filling Seats

Colorado Springs Philharmonic Tends To Business, Attracts Talent

As at a time when symphony orchestras across the country are struggling or closing down, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic is bucking these dire trends. Nathan Newbrough, the Philharmonic’s energetic new 36-year-old president and CEO is combining the low-cost ethic of Wal-Mart with the quality-assurance of Nordstrom.

Posted in Articles

Read, Pray Love

Eat, Pray, Love and Contemporary Spiritual Memoirs

Elizabeth Gilbert’s account of her midlife meltdown and her subsequent year-long, around-the-world quest for food, salvation and sex (now a major motion picture starring Sandra Bullock) embodies a tradition of spiritual autobiography that was started by St. Augustine sixteen centuries ago and is now being faithfully carried on by writers like Anne Lamott and Rhoda Janzen.

Posted in Articles

Holy Spirit Sideshow

Pentecostal Insider Condemns Leaders’ “Epidemic of Moral Failure”

He’s a card-carrying “spirit-filled” Christian, but long time Charisma magazine editor Lee Grady says the world is growing tired of fallen charismatic/Pentecostal superstars in his book, The Holy Spirit Is Not For Sale. Grady critiques religious leaders who quickly rebound from major sexual/financial/drug scandals only to reemerge into the spotlight with a new wife, a new ministry, and a new message God commands them to take to the masses.

Posted in Articles

Ted Haggard’s Long and Winding Journey

From Emerging Evangelical Icon to Fallen Redeemer

In 2003, Colorado Springs megachurch pastor Ted Haggard became the first charismatic/Pentecostal president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He pledged to improve people’s negative stereotypes about evangelicals.


After his dramatic fall from grace during a 2006 scandal involving gay sex and drugs, Ted Haggard rose again, founding a new congregation that acknowledges we’re all sinners. “This is a church for people like me,” he said, “people who know everyone needs a break.”

Posted in Articles

C. S. Lewis’s Gospel According to Narnia

127How an Balding, Bookish Bachelor Unleashed His Inner Child

It was thoughtful but reader-friendly books on Christian theology such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters that inspired one magazine to name C.S. Lewis evangelicals’ “patron saint.” But the balding, bookish Oxford University professor knew how to climb down from academia’s ivory towers, connect with his own inner child, and write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, now a major Disney film.

Posted in Articles

Instant Karma

Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and the Long Strange Trip of Drug-Enhanced Spirituality

Veteran religion journalist Don Lattin tells how Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil (who crossed paths at Harvard in the fall of 1960) forever changed the way people — both straight and stoned — think about spirituality. Steve interviews Don about his unique history book, The Harvard Psychedelic Club.

Posted in Articles

Tracking Brownsville’s Fire-and-Brimstone Revival

Examining the Growth and Consequences of the Pensacola Outpouring

Steve made many trips to Florida to cover the Pentecostal revival at Brownsville Assembly of God. Some historians call it the most significant congregation-based renewal of the 20th century, while some critics call a “counterfeit revival.” Travel through time with these articles from 1998 to 2012.


1998: Crowds are flocking to Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. The revival has broken out in dozens of Assemblies congregations around the country. But not everyone is singing hallelujahs. The revival has attracted intense media and theological debate.



2000: Some three million people from around the globe have experienced the Pensacola Outpouring at Brownsville Assembly of God. A decade later, things are different but the fire still burns.



2000: Time brings change to the revival. For one thing, evangelist Steve Hill, whose fiery sermons propelled the revival, has left to pursue overseas crusades.



2012: Christians are warned to be careful what they pray for, because they just might get it. That’s the case for Brownsville Assembly of God, the congregation that fervently prayed for revival for years and years and is now trying to recover from the debt and dysfunction left by the revival and its leaders.

Posted in Articles

In Search of Lincoln’s Faith

Historian Explores Inner World of America’s “Redeemer President”

The goal of his book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, is “understanding the man as a thinker, and his connections as a thinker to the larger context of ideas in the 19th century,” says historian Allen Guelzo. He explores the inner world and religious faith of the 18th president, who in the days after his death was compared to both George Washington and Jesus Christ.

Posted in Articles

Gospel’s Multi-Million-Selling Music Man

Why Bill Gaither is the Most Influential Gospel Musician of Past Half Century

Little known outside of Christian music circles, Bill Gaither has sold 20 million albums and 20 million CDs while writing songs with wife Gloria that were sung by Elvis (“He Touched Me”) and hymns (“Because He Lives”) that have been sung by millions of believers on Sunday mornings.

Posted in Articles

Guitar Gods for Jesus

24stryperStryper Brings Heavy Metal Aesthetic to Christian Music

This classic article from 1985 shows how one pioneering rock band turned up the volume of contemporary Christian music to eleven! Singer Michael Sweet says the problem with most religious rockers is their theology is stronger than their music. “If you’re out there in the secular world, you’re not going to see a group because they talk about Christ. You’re going to go hear a band because they’re good, and because they have a good stage show.”

The Stryper article (and the accompanying photo of the band decked out in chains and studs) convinced dozens of loyal Christianity Today readers that the world as they knew it was ending, leading them to cancel their subscriptions. See some of their reactions here.

Posted in Articles

Family Values on Trial

25a2U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Colorado’s Anti-Gay-Rights Amendment 2

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-to-3 decision to strike down Colorado’s Amendment 2 transformed a measure that conservative Christians once hailed as a model for overturning the “gay agenda” into a major victory for homosexual rights.

Posted in Articles

Tammy Faye Bakker: Gay Icon

TammyFayeGod Loves Homosexuals, and So Does She!

The late wife of fallen televangelist Jim Bakker is the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which reveals her soft spot for homosexuals–a group that many other Christians condemn. Filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey show how Tammy Faye has expressed concern and compassion for homosexuals for nearly 20 years.=

Posted in Articles

Christian Publishing’s New Paradigm

27pubOrganizations, Publishers and Readers Confront Digital Revolution

Evangelical Christians are people of the Word, and Christians have embraced books and periodicals ever since Gutenberg first printed Bibles five centuries ago. But as the staid world of Christian publishing addresses the digital revolution’s “new normal,” digital publishing isn’t paying the bills. Major magazines are closing, and book publishers are reducing their new titles.

Posted in Articles
A to Z

Steve's articles have appeared in these publications and outlets:

Akron Beacon Journal
Albany (NY) Times Union
The American Spectator
Ann Arbor News
Arizona Republic
Atlanta Journal/Constitution
Associated Press
Birmingham (AL) News
Bookstore Journal
Boulder Camera
Catholic Digest
CCM Update
Charlotte Observer
Christian Examiner
Christian Herald
Christian History
Christian Management Report
Christian Post
Christian Reader
Christian Research Journal
Christian Retailing
Christian Single (Southern Baptist Convention)
Christianity Today (since 1982, EPA Award)
Church Bookstore
Columbus Citizen-Journal (Sunday magazine features)
Columbus Dispatch
Compassion Update (Compassion International, editor)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Sunday magazine features)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Current Thoughts & Trends
Daily Guardian, Wright State University, Dayton, OH (editor)
Dallas Morning News
Dayton (Ohio city magazine)
Dayton Business Journal (editor)
Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald (news, features, stringer)
Devo'Zine (United Methodist)
The Disciple (Disciples of Christ)
Discipleship Journal
East Asia’s Millions (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English)
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Freedom Wire
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO: Religion Editor, news, features)
Grand Rapids (MI) Press
Herald of Holiness (Nazarene)
HIS (InterVarsity)
Home Life (Southern Baptist Convention)
Houston Chronicle
Huntsville (AL) Times
Indianapolis Star
Kansas City Star
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
Leadership Journal
Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader
Life@Work (EPA Award)
The Living Church (Anglican)
Los Angeles Times
The Lutheran (ELCA)
The Lutheran Witness (Missouri Synod)
The Magazine for Christian Youth! (United Methodist)
Media Update
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Missions Today
Mobile (AL) Register
National and International Religion Report
New Age
New Orleans Times-Picayune
New Sound
New York Times (Religion Journal, news, stringer)
New York Times Syndication Sales Corp.
Newark Star-Ledger
Omaha World-Herald
Orange County Register
Parents of Teenagers
Pastor's Family
Policy Review (Heritage Foundation)
Publishers Weekly
Pueblo Chieftain
Pulpit Helps
PW Religion Bookline
Re:generation Quarterly
Religion News Service (news and features)
Religious Broadcasting
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
San Diego Union-Tribune
Shepherdess International (Seventh-day Adventist)
Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard
Tallahassee Democrat
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (Assemblies of God)
Twin Circle Catholic Weekly
Vue (Wesleyan)
Washington Post
The Wittenburg Door
World Pulse
Worship Leader
Young Salvationist (Salvation Army)
Youthworker Journal (writer, columnist, editor)
Youthworker Update


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