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Designer on Designer: Jason Slingerland

Sometimes, when you are interested in something a little off-center of mainstream culture, say like board games for instance, it can feel a little lonely. You spend times learning as much as you can about your exciting interest and find that when you get the nerve to share it with someone they aren’t as enthusiastic as you are. (For shame!) But then you find your tribe. The worlds gets smaller through the innovative technology and you begin to find pockets of your people spread across the world-wide-web. And occasionally you find out that some of these kindred spirits live in your own backyard. This is the case for me and my friend, Jason Slingerland. Jason is a cool dude who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He’s into board games, too. He’s also into designing board games. He even has a cool podcast where he and another Michigander get together to talk about designing board games! As a person who is always on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow from the experience of others’ I was able to ask Jason a few questions. We talked about his show, Building The Game, and a game he’s self-publishing with the help of Kickstarter called Water Balloon Washout. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen in on our conversation. He’s good people.
Hi Jason, tell me a little bit about yourself. You have a new game up on Kickstarter that you are self-publishing and you are the co-host of a lovely podcast. Tell people about that!

I’ve been playing games my whole life and in the last year and I half, I have really gotten into designing. Around that time I started doing a podcast with Rob Couch called Building the Game. On the show we discuss talk about what we have been playing, discuss mechanics and then we pitch new game ideas each week. The show started as a way to track our progress from being complete newbies at designing to hopefully experienced designers. We try on the podcast to really show the process of design from conception through publication. Some many people feel like game design is inaccessible when really it’s quite the opposite. There are so many people willing to help out new designers.

My new card game, Water Balloon Washout is now on Kickstarter through August 11. It’s a light strategy game for 2-4 players that revolves around kids having a water balloon fight. It’s a simple that only takes a couple of minutes to learn to play but as you move through the game you find that there is a good level of strategy involved and also a lot of replayability.

Here's a shot from our prototype, the artwork here is completed but the layout and backgrounds will be improved once our awesome Graphic Artist gets ahold of it.  In addition our artist is still working on another 40+ images that will be in the game.

Water Balloon Washout Prototype.

So I know in the beginning of the Building the Game Podcast you and Rob set out to document the process of becoming published game designers. How has the podcast been successful to those ends?

We are making good progress towards that goal. I sold a card game design to Hat Trick Games last fall called Gunslingin’ Ramblers and it’s due out next year. That has really given Rob and I some insight into that process of working closely with a publisher. We are constantly getting great feedback from listeners that really encourages us. Our audience has been consistently growing and we really feel like we are making a difference and helping newer designers. In the process, it’s also been very helpful to Rob and I as designers.

Now that you guys are starting to get your games out to the world, how will this change the content/concept of Building the Game?

I think overall it doesn’t change up the show all that much. Maybe having games out there gives us a little more street cred but really we have had very experienced designers telling us from the beginning that our ideas were valid. I think that goes to show how open the community is to new people. I can say for sure that our format won’t change. Just our level of experience.

Let’s talk a little bit about Water Balloon Washout. How did this game come to be? What made you decide to try this one out of all of your ideas to be the one to self-publish with the help of Kickstarter?

This game came to be when I wanted to design a game that captured a neighborhood snowball fight in a way that felt like you were really in the thick of it but still have the game be very simple and easy to learn. Over time the game changed a bit and became Water Balloon Washout. The core was still the same but the theme changed from Winter to Summer. One of the side goals that came about from designing this game was that I realized I had created something that was simple enough kids could play but it had enough strategy baked in, that adults, specifically gamers would find it fun and replayable. This is something I am really proud of about the game because I think that’s a tough thing to do. Having playtested the game with kids and also adult gamers, I have found it equally enjoyable for them yet on very different levels.
As for why I decided to self publish the game… I have always been interested in that model and this game being a 90 card deck in a tuck box seemed like a low risk way to test the waters. Also, it allowed for Rob and I to get that insider experience into publishing via Kickstarter.

What have you learned so far through the process of building a Kickstarter campaign for your game?

I knew there was a lot to be done but I figure I spent about 60 hours just working on my Kickstarter page and laying things out. I couldn’t believe it took that long. I have also learned that waiting for more backers to come on board can be nerve wracking!

I really love getting to talk to other designer’s about the design process. Everybody seems to have their own system or approach. Tell me a little bit about yours.

I am a very theme oriented person, so I generally find myself coming up with a theme and then trying to find mechanics that really mesh well with that theme. I usually take copious notes in an Excel spreadsheet trying to balance the game before making a prototype. Once I make a prototype I have a core group of people that I test with.

You live in my home state, the lovely mitten; Michigan! What is your favorite game shop or gaming event in Michigan?

Game shop is definitely Fanfare in Kalamazoo where I live. As for favorite gaming event, I would be after this year it will be GrandCon.

How about a little more in general; what is your favorite thing about living in Michigan?

Michigan is a beautiful state with 4 full seasons and so many different landscapes to see. I love camping and nature so this is a good place for it.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. I wish you much success with your Kickstarter campaign, the podcast, and your upcoming game Gunslingin’ Ramblers. Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

Thanks for chatting with me. If anyone would like to contact me about the show or the Kickstarter the best places are @JASlingerland on twitter or email me at

Thanks so much man! This was fun!
You can back Water Balloon Washout on Kickstarter right here!


I have never been to Hawaii, but if it’s anything like the post-apocalyptic vision from Crash Games’ upcoming title, Paradise Fallen, I think I’d rather stay away. The beauty of the islands call out to me but the lack of supplies, savage tribes, and disruptions in the natural order of time and space doesn’t make for the type of quaint vacation spot I’d hope for. While I’d be too much of a sissy to visit this fallen version of paradise for a little fun-in-the-sun, it does make a great theme for a board game! And a good one at that!

Box art mock-up for Paradise Fallen. Now on Kickstarter!

Box art mock-up for Paradise Fallen. Now on Kickstarter!

In Paradise Fallen, from Crash Games and first-time designer, Andrew Wright (II), players assume the role of tribesmen seeking to explore 9 islands in search of the mystical powers they provide in a not-too-distant-or-friendly-future. Think Lost meets The Hunger Games meets Indiana Jones…kinda.


Game set-up is a cinch. Shuffle the 9 island cards and place them in a 3 x 3 grid in the center of the table. Shuffle a deck of cards and deal 5 to each player. Place your player piece on the corner island closest to your seat. Dump the Kanaloa Tokens near the board. That’s it! You are ready to explore.

Boats on an island. (Not final components)

Boats on an island. (Not final components)


Learning how the game works is almost as simple as the set-up. On a player’s turn they can move around the islands and play cards from their hand as much as they want as cards allow.


To move to an adjacent island you must play Ration Cards (Island Cards may also be used for 1 ration) that are equal to or greater than the cost specified on the island you wish to enter. Any rations above the specified amount are lost so it is necessary to plan your movement carefully and efficiently.

Play Cards

Discover an Island: A player can Discover an Island they are stopped on by playing an Island Card with a matching name, placing the card in front of them and placing a Kanaloa Token on the card that can be used one time to activate that island’s special ability. You can only spend one Kanaloa Token per turn but they can be very helpful if you time it right.

Aptitude Cards: Aptitude Cards are special action cards that breaks some of the basic rules and can be played to either help you help yourself or hinder your opponents. Each card is used once and discarded when you play it.

Aberration Cards: Aberration Cards are played on the island grid either on an island or in-between islands and can also help you or hinder your opponents. They can even hinder your own plans since the effects are applied to the player who placed them as well. So be thoughtful about where you decide to play these cards. Aberrations are cumulative so the more cards placed on a location the more the effect are amplified.

Winning The Game

Play continues until one player discovers a certain amount of islands. The number of islands is determined by the number of players in the game. Once someone discover the set amount of islands all other players get one more turn. The player who discovered the most islands wins. Ties are broken based on who has the most unused Kanaloa Tokens.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? But don’t let this simplicity of set-up and game-play fool you. There is a lot of game here. At it’s core the game is a medium-weight, hand-management game that involves luck, tactics, and strategy. At times the game feels very puzzle-y as players will have to figure out how to use their cards to optimize movement and make the most of the rations available. All of this works very well in a 30 minute time frame where the experience feels different with each game.

Little game. Big punch. (not final components)

Little game. Big punch. (Not final components)


My wife has this rule about the time of day that is acceptable for learning new games. On weeknights, if the sun looks like it’s thinking about going down in the next hour or two, she doesn’t want anything to do with anything new. But when I suggested giving Paradise Fallen a try a little after dark this week, she accepted my invitation when I told her it would only take a minute to learn the basics and be done in thirty minutes. After cruising through our first play she told me she really liked the game and was looking forward to playing it again. That is considered a huge win for me!

I’ve also got a soft spot for small games that pack a big punch. So much so that this was one of the design goals for my own game, The Great Heartland Hauling Co. I’d happily place Paradise Fallen in this category of games. Using a few simple components and a deck of cards, Crash Games and Wright have delivered a portable game that can be learned and played quickly. I can definitely see myself taking this game along when I am taking off for vacations to much less fallen paradises than the one explored in the game.

And what about the art and design? This game is gorgeous! Artist, Jason Carr, and designer, Darrell Louder (of Compounded fame!) have created a visual experience that captures the beauty of the islands with the chaos of the theme in a very functional way. This thing looks HOTT! The iconography depicted on the cards to illustrate special abilities allows the art to shine without being covered by an excess of words. The icons work but will probably take a couple plays to get all the details stuck in your head but once it clicks, it really clicks.

Paradise Fallen is a fun, quick game with an interesting, unique theme. It’s on Kickstarter, so get on board now. Just remember to be on the lookout for rogue tribes trying to get in the way of you harnessing the power of this fallen paradise…or something like that. Just do it. It’ll be fun.

A prototype of Paradise Fallen was provided for the purpose of this preview. I’m also friends with Patrick Nickell (owner of Crash Games) but I would tell you if this game sucked, which it doesn’t, so there.


So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here on The Green Couch. And I think a light bulb just went off that helps me understand why. Ready?

I am not a writer.

I know, I am writing now. There was once a blank space here and now there are words but when I say “I am not a writer” what I mean is that I don’t get this urge deep down to puts things down on paper or save them to my hard disk.

I can write. And a lot of the things I do involve writing. As a pastor, I craft 3000 word messages week after week to share with my community. As a musician, I jot down lyrics that explain an emotion or idea that I want to share in a song. As a game designer, I have to write clear instruction so people I don’t know can figure out how to play my games.

So, I write but I am not a writer. It’s not in my blood in the same way as real writers. You know the kind I am talking about. The ones who would be happy to spend much of their lives in a small, quiet office massaging the keyboard in a way that every word becomes a part of a sentence that forms a paragraph that makes you gasp for air because of the beauty and truth in what is being shared. Yeah, that’s not me. That’s someone else.

Don’t think I am being overly hard on myself. I am okay with this discovery. I am not a writer. I write. And I can even write well if I put my mind to it. There have been many times when I wanted to see myself as a writer because writers are important. And who doesn’t want to feel important?

I’ve noticed that the times I do write are always connected with doing something that connects me to the people around me.

I write a sermon each week to connect with the people of much church. I hope that what I share adds value to their everyday lives and, in the long run, to our community. We have to do something when we get together, right?

I write songs to help me communicate things that are hard to communicate. But I also write songs because I get to record them or play them in front of people. Music is about creating an experience.

And that weird board game thing I’m into? Well, that’s about creating an experience, too; bringing people together in a real life situation, face to face, using their brains, having fun, and making memories.

I don’t write just to write. I write when it leads to bringing something new into the world. I write when I see an opportunity to connect. I write so I can do.

I’m not a writer. And that’s okay. I’ll keep writing because it’s what gets me to the life I want, to the life I feel called to. I’ll keep writing because if I don’t there will be many things I want to see in the world that never come to be. Writing is a tool. Writing is a gift. I am not a writer. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I don’t feel like writing.


Yesterday was the big day! As I said during our first service yesterday, we didn’t become a church yesterday when we held our first public gathering. We became a church back in January when a group of people began to come together to follow God into the unknown to learn to love and serve the people around us in Flint, Michigan. The church is a people after all, right? Well, yesterday was significant because we gathered to enter into a weekly rhythmic of worship. It’s tough to find the words to describe something that is so meaningful. Especially when this something that you are trying to explain has been a dream that has been in the works for nearly 10 years. But I’ll try…

The one word that keeps coming to mind when I think about how our first service went is comfortable. From set up to tear down everything felt very natural. I didn’t feel the need to make anything happen. It didn’t seem hard. There was an excitement in the air because new things are, well, exciting, but I think  comfortable sums it up nicely.

Set Up and Music

When we showed up at 8a.m. in the morning to get everything set up everyone who was there chipped in without a ton of direction and just did what needed to be done. With the help of the Flint Local 432’s regular sound guy, Tim, the band got set up and was ready to go within 20 minutes. We decided last minute to project the words of the songs we were singing for worship (and the PowerPoint that went along with the sermon) on the wall to the left of the stage instead of on the giant screen that would have came down in front of the stage and obscured the players from the shoulders up. It was a last minute decision that didn’t occur to us at rehearsal a couple days earlier but when we showed up in the morning it was pretty obvious that it would be a great solution. I think the result was fantastic. First, it allowed the musicians who wanted to stand to stand without worrying about being cut in half by the screen. Secondly, and I think most importantly, the screen being off to the side changed the focal point of the people in the congregation. Folks looked toward the screen and I think it made it easier to focus on the words in order to collect ourselves in worship.

After we set up the band, we quickly put the chairs and tables in place and did a run through of the set list for the service. This gave our tech person, Sarah, a chance to run the the powerpoint and get her familiar with the songs. After the band wrapped up, another crew of people showed up to get the coffee brewing, set up the kids area, and pass out donuts to the bikers who were in town for the big Bikes on the Bricks festival Downtown.


We bought a fancy new airpot brewer to make our coffee so Jay and I had to spend some time making sure we knew how to work  it and where we were going to store it but we managed to get some decent coffee made to offer our people. We have decided to use ceramic mugs and have someone take them home each week to run them through the dishwasher in order to cut down on waste. Lisa and I went to the Salvation Army last week and picked out a bunch of the most random mugs we could find. The mugs were a nice conversation piece for the morning. We joked that instead of having people who come and sit in the same pew week after week we’ll have people that live and die by the coffee mug that they drink from. We’re also working with a local coffee roaster who will be roasting fresh coffee beans for us each week so we will be supporting a local business and have great coffee to share with our people.


Since the space we are meeting in is essential one big room with a couple restrooms attached we are trying to figure out ways to have kids stay with us in the service that allows the adults to focus and participate in the service without having to worry about their children being a disruption. We decided to set up a table and some floor mats up off to one side of the room to give kids an area where they can draw, play with playdough, or do puzzles. A couple parents and Casey, one of our college student, sat down on the mats to play with the kids throughout the service. A few of the bigger kids passed headphones back and forth while watching a movie on a computer. The kids seemed to really enjoy the atmosphere and made themselves quite at home. During the service, the kids were amazing.  For nearly and hour and a half they hung out with us doing their thing. Hopefully they will enjoy themselves as much next week as we continue to explore different ways to engage them in what we are doing as a church. We’re thinking about getting a bunch of tambourines and shakers so they can dance and jam with us during musical worship. Lisa and I saw this done at TheStory in Sarnia and it was awesome to see the kids involved in worship. Besides we don’t currently have a percussionist, so what the heck, right?


Since the big Bikes on the Bricks thing was going on Downtown we decided to find away to engage in what was already happening around us. So we ordered 8 dozen donuts from Donna’s Donuts and gave them away to bikers who were setting up for the day. We didn’t do this as a way to have an opportunity to invite them to church but just to tell them thanks for coming to the city. This seemed very organic. As soon as the donuts showed up, a bunch of our people paired up, grabbed some of the kids and went walking around on Saginaw Street passing out donuts. I think everybody had fun and it was a simple way to connect with our neighbors for the day.

The Service

By 10:20a.m. the rest of the folks who were joining us for the service had arrived. People mingled, drinking coffee and chatting until we got started at 10:30. The service was pretty simple. We started with a song and welcomed people to make themselves comfortable while we sang songs together in order to engage in the same activity together as a community and to quiet our hearts to focus on whatever God might have for us. We sang a couple more songs and Carrie came up to read from the Psalms. We played one more song and then Jay gave some brief announcements before moving into the sermon.

We decided that we wanted to invite people to be an active part of the service by asking some questions and giving some time to reflect by writing in community journals. I asked some simple, straightforward questions throughout the service to give the congregation an opportunity to share ideas out loud as we talked about the idea of “following”. We talked about the different ways of coming to know someone or something, different kinds of things people follow in our culture, and what is required of those who want to follow someone or something. People who wished to share simply chimed in with answers. I think this questioning seemed to help people stay engaged in the message. Then, toward the end of the message, I introduced the idea of the community journals. We bought some simple composition notebooks and pens and passed them out to people around the room. I explained that the idea behind the journals was to give people a way to process and wrestle with what we were talking about in a quiet reflective way. I instructed them to keep their entries anonymous and asked them to leave the books at church so they can grow with the community. Sometimes I’ll give specific prompts for people to respond to during our services but other times I won’t mention them at all. But the plan is to make them available week to week to be used however they help the church process; taking notes, writing prayers, drawing pictures, doodling, asking questions, etc. I gave a few prompts and gave folks a 5-7 minutes of quiet to jot down some thoughts. After the journaling, I gave a few closing remarks and closed the service with a video. After the benediction people sprung into action helping us get the space back into shape for the next punk rock show. Tear down was swift and organized. I think having been a part of the set up and tear down crew at Wildwind, our mother church, for so many years really helped the process to go smoothly.

The buzz in the air was thick, at least it was for me. I know that I’ve given a brief record of concrete details here and while that might give people an idea of what we did, it doesn’t really contain the feeling of the experience. It was a great morning. The people that were with us (which included our initial core team, some friends from Wildwind, and a handful of people who wanted to see what we were all about before deciding how/if they wanted to be involved in a more direct way) seemed to be engaged and I’ve since received a lot of positive feed back in the last 36 hours.

Several new people informed me that they would be back! Another person wrote and thanked me for making the experience comfortable for introverts and extroverts alike. And yet another person made a point to tell me how refreshing the service was and how the content has already provided them with opportunities to share some of the ideas they heard at Dwellings with people at their workplace. Good stuff is happening here. Stuff I couldn’t have planned. We’re just gonna show up and see what happens next, listen for what God is up to in our midst, and then show up again the next week…and the week after that…and the week after that. So good? Maybe you can join us sometime.

If you are interested in hearing my sermon (lo-fi) from Sunday you can do so here:

Thanks for sharing in our story. Blessings.



In my last post, I shared a bit about the arrangements that Dwellings Church has made with Flint Local 432 regarding the use of their space for our Sunday services. In that post I shared some ideas about what this relationship DOES NOT MEAN. I hope you’ll take a look since I believe it will help explain some of what we are trying to do as a church. Hopefully this post builds on that conversation.

The other night, I sat in my living room with a group of people who are joining us in this church planting adventure. Some of us have known each other for years and some folks were meeting for the first time. It was a night of conversation and collaboration, both things I value greatly and will continue to strive to build into the culture of our new church. Our discussion really helped me to see that this won’t be a difficult task. Ideas flowed freely while grace and peace characterized the words that were shared.

During our time together, we tried to identify some of the opportunities that are available to us as a direct result of holding our services at the Flint Local 432. Here’s what we came up with (in no particular order):

1. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 means that we will get to be present in Downtown Flint. Being present means locating ourselves in a specific community and being available to that community.

2. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 means that we will have the opportunity to defeat negative stereotypes that are often associated with Christianity. It is our hope that as we are present Downtown, we will be able to demonstrate the love of Jesus in a refreshing way. And let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of churches that would choose to hold services in a punk rock club. These Dwellings folks must be at least a little different. 🙂

3. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 means that we will be involved in a place where God is already at work. Folks might not recognize how God is at work but we believe that God is at work wherever love and truth live. Love and truth live at the Local, and just about everywhere else, too. If we are willing to look for it, we’ll find it.

4. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 will give us opportunities to have new, exciting experiences of learning from others. Sometimes it can be easy for Christians to get stuck in our own little bubble. Locating ourselves in a public space will help us to connect with people in new ways.

5. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432  allow us to be renters which will keep our focus on building community. Buildings are cool because they give us a place to be. But owning property takes a lot of energy. We hope that by being renters we will be able to keep our energy focused on building relationships and serving others as our new church is being born.

6. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 allows us to gather in a comfortable space for those interested in exploring life-with-Jesus who might not be comfortable in a traditional church setting. People, myself included, have a lot of baggage that they associate with “church”. We hope that doing church in a different way, in a different kind of space, we’ll create opportunities to connect with folks who would otherwise avoid stepping into a church building.

So there it is. This list represents some of the opportunities we are being provided with by being welcomed into the Flint Local 432. We are grateful for the chance step up and grow into these ideas/opportunities. We also look forward to recognizing new opportunities as they are presented to us. Thanks for keeping up with our unfolding story.


My wife and I took a trip to the Great White North (okay, it was really only a little north and a little east) to visit a church community in Sarnia, Ontario called TheStory. TheStory was founded about 6 years by a team of people that wanted to create a different expression of church for people interested in exploring the Gospel of Jesus in new ways. As Lisa and I are moving along in our own journey as church planters we wanted to connect with others who have gone before us.

Our friends and neighbors, Darryl and Laura Silvestri (Darryl founded TheStory along with his old youth pastor, Joe Manafo, and best friend from childhood, Nathan Colquhoun), invited us to their hometown to spend a day experiencing TheStory and talking about church planting with their core team. We had a great day and their rhythm of doing church really resonated with Lisa and I.


TheStory meets in a storefront space in Downtown Sarnia. This area reminded me a bit of what Flint could look like a little further down the road. Their space was surrounded by coffee shops, thrifts stores, retail spaces, and restaurants. There were also a lot of vacant spaces but in general it seemed like they had located themselves in the heart of a community where people live and work all around them.

When approaching the door of the church a sign read “Sacred Space. Community Venue.”  TheStory’s building serves as a place of worship and as a multipurpose space that is made available to the community. Bands use the space for rehearsals. Families rent it out for special gatherings. They regularly host  art exhibitions and  other events as well. Two businesses are also run out of the space during the week; a woman creates specialty baby attire for her Etsy shop, and a print shop and design company called Storyboard Solutions is also housed in the building.

I love that the church space is utilized throughout the week and serves as a connecting point for the community and the church.


Once we got passed the door we walked into an open, inviting space filled with thrift store couches and a few tables with chairs around them. The couches and tables focused around a large area rug where stools and instruments were set up along with a small laptop stand in front of a large whiteboard wall.  A kitchen was set up at the back of the room.

It felt more like a cafe or lounge than a typical church. It was very comfortable. My 2 and 1/2 year-old daughter loved the couches and made herself at home trying all of them out before choosing the pink one to plant our family on. My wife and I sat down and took in the room. It felt restful and we commented on the sense of warmth  the environment provided.


Another standout at TheStory was the evidence of creativity all around us. From the art hanging on the walls to the choice in songs for worship, we witnessed a fresh expression of the Gospel. It seemed that great care was taken to tell the story of God in a way that connects with the culture. Near the entryway of the space hung three commissioned mixed-medium art pieces representing each of TheStory’s key values; Rooted. Tabled. Risked. Along the edges of the whiteboard wall hung several unique paintings representing the communities rules for group discussion as a reminder of the way they hope to engage with one another as a church body. Even the coat rack was beautiful, an art installation used to help illustrate an earlier teaching given at TheStory. We are a visual people and TheStory is working to connect this concept with the story they are telling.


We visited on the fourth Sunday of the month which is a day set aside for common prayer and liturgical reading in their rhythm of life together. The readings were lead by a layperson and the service included at least a dozen people up front. A handful of people led worship with music, the prayer leader led the liturgy, several community memebers read scripture, and members of the lead team led a time of prayer for their pastor who is preparing to go on a two-month sabbatical to recharge after 6 years of going strong.

During musical worship the song leader invited the children to come up front and grab the percussion instruments that were placed on the rug and jam along with the band from their seats. My daughter Claire was stoked to get to play with a cool shaker thing. It was a fantastic way to engage the young people in the service without making it a big deal.

Another compelling part of their weekly rhythm is that they have a potluck after every service. The entire community (about 60 people when I visited) has lunch together every week rather than running out to various restaurants! It seemed like people didn’t start to leave until an hour had passed. They obviously loved each other and valued their time together.

TheStory is a beautiful expression of the what God is up to in this world. The leadership has been working to contextualize what it means to follow Christ as a community of people in Sarnia, Ontario.

Spending a day with them was a very restful experience for my family. It is my hope hope that with our church plant project we will be able to continue to learn from TheStory and figure out what a new expression of church should look like in our own community.



Join us Dec. 17th, from 7-9p.m. for an intimate house concert to celebrate the Christmas season and do some good.

This show will take place at the Kotarski’s basement where the real “Green Couch” lives.

Performances from:

Kelsey Rottiers

Mike Vial

Hannah Fralick

$5-$10 donation. We’ll pass a hat or something. Proceeds go directly to artists and Red Thread Movement, an organization focused on helping women who have been freed from lives in the sex-trafficking trade.

Light refreshments will be provided. Feel free to bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

Please R.S.V.P. Space is limited to first 40 people. E-mail for location info.


If you have ever been one to enjoy a good story that involves the main character taking a huge risk, giving up comfort and security, to follow a dream, you’ll find yourself inspired by my friend, Mike Vial. Mike left his job of teaching high school for the last 7 years to have a go at a career in full-time music. He has 3 releases under his belt and has grown with every effort. If you met him at one of his shows, his warm, unassuming attitude wouldn’t give you the impression that he’s such an adventurer. But that’s what he is and that’s what makes his story so compelling to me. A guy, a guitar, and a big heart taking a chance out on his own. Have a seat and listen in to our recent conversation.

You recently left a job as a teacher to pursue music full time. Can you talk a little bit about what was behind that and how the process has been for you?

Great question, Jason! Leaving the schedule of a high school teaching career was a difficult choice, but it was essential to focus and dedicate time to practicing, writing, and working through the music business.

For seven years I felt I could walk two roads and do both well, but there was always a fork in the path; I always had to put the guitar down and give up gigging until summer returned. The number of papers that followed me home and the constant, changing curriculum plans made teaching a 12 hour a day job, taking many hours of my weekends too. I really loved working with the students in the classroom, but if you look at my past gig schedule, you can see where I just stop gigging.

I also think I needed to experience more to become a better teacher. Only working in the classroom started to feel like I was running out of life experience to offer my students. Being an independent musician is like being a small business owner, so if I return to the teaching profession, I’m excited to have a lot more business and travel experience to bring to my classroom.

However, let’s not forget I’m still teaching. I now do private lessons for guitar and really enjoy it.

Over the last few years you have released 3 records. Can you share a little bit about each one of those releases and what your learned from each experience or writing and recording them?

My first EP, Three Men Make a Tiger, is a snapshot of a 25-year-old learning how to be a studio musician for the first time. Marshall Block at Real II Reel Studios helped guide me through that recording process.

“Mahogany” was written in my dorm room and “Intelligent Fool” and “Faster Than Slow” were written my second weekend as a teacher, so you have a young Mike Vial on that record! The chinese proverb of the EP’s title highlights the theme of “Pieces of This World,” but it also hints at the over arching theme of searching, making choices. And who isn’t searching when they are 19, 21, 25? Right? Boy I sure was!

Burning the Boats didn’t feel that different to me until quite a few people told me how it felt like a hearing a new Mike Vial. Bill Keith of the Trinity House told me he could hear the songwriting growth between the two records, and that gave me confidence. Honestly, what I love about that EP is how long I left some of those songs on the shelf before deciding they were strong enough to record. I played Cory Glover part of “Kalamazoo” which I almost never finished, and he told me it was going to be a great song and that it had to make the record.

Plus, working with Dan Achen at Catherine North Studios (before he passed away suddenly) really affect my life. Dan taught me things through his musical direction that I’m still practicing–how to add counter melodies to songs and move beyond a solo acoustic guitar player. He had a great, musical ear.  Some of the best direction he gave me is in Kalamazoo, from the guitar fills to the vocal cadences, and the band production on “Only the Rain Knows Why.”

Where the Sand Meets the Tide is about arrivals and departures. The theme of “transitions” is hiding beneath the love stories, and my career change is obviously inspiring that. One new arrival for me is working with more full band arrangements. Stuart Tucker’s playing drums, David Mosher’s on fiddle and mandolin, Kirk Starkey’s on cello, Hannah’s on backing vocals.

I’m really proud of this little release. Working with moon:and:6 (Michael Chambers) again at Catherine North was like a musical vacation, too. Michael and I became close friends while finishing Burning the Boats, so it just made sense to cross the border again to do the third EP.

Can you share a little bit about how community and/or collaboration has influenced you as a musician? Continue reading


The best stuff always seems to come from the sharing of stories.

My Brother’s Keeper is a local homeless shelter that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. My church is beginning to make a habit out of what author and activist Bruce Main calls “the spiritual discipline of crossing the road”. On several occasions we have stepped out of our comfort zones to serve those who are different than us in order to learn more about who we are and what God is up to in this world (check out Sparks for more).  A few weeks ago  I went with a group of people from the church to serve dinner at the shelter and our night of service was punctuated with a poingant moment shared by one of our volunteers.

After serving dinner, a girl from our group began to chat with one of the shelter’s guests over a bowl of hot soup.  As they talked a discovery was made; they went to high school together.

The shelter guest and our volunteer had both graduated from high school just a couple of years ago from one of the most affluent communities in the area. The two continued to chat and the guest shared that he was enrolled in college full-time but was out on his own and struggling to make ends meet.These two people had come from the same place but were on remarkably different paths.

When she shared the story with us later in the evening, we all gained some new perspective about what homelessness can look like. Homeless does not automatically equal mentally ill. It doesn’t always look like the hobo caricatures I saw so many times growing up. The separation that may exist in terms of financial status and stability between myself and those who stay at My Brother’s Keeper may span a wide gap. And even though there may be a gap, it doesn’t take much time to see that there are other ways that we are a lot a like.  A simple story challenged me to self-reflection.

When ever I have served the homeless population, I always begin with a sense of fear for the unknown. But once I settle in and begin to listen, there is a renewed sense of hope that springs from the realization that  I don’t have to be a magician and make everything better for those who are hurting. I just have to be myself and learn to listen. To be in the presence of those who are so different than me, sharing a meal or a conversation, leads to a sense of peace. Sharing a little bit of time and space with people reminds me that even though we are different, and that we live in a broken world, we are all humans with hearts that long for connection.

Maybe the way that  the broken pieces can be put back together again is through relationships. Practicing presence. Community. Sharing stories and sharing space.

May this season of life celebrate the ultimate story of sharing space and time, the story of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Merry Christmas.


Do you love ideas? I do. Almost to a fault.

When I hear a good idea, see a good film, play a good game, or watch daring dreamers bring something new into existence, I’m in awe. I’m kind of an ideas junkie. I love watching people explore their passion and make something out of it. There are so many ideas out there we don’t even have to think for ourselves if we don’t want to.

At different times in my life, I’ve been a collector. I’ve collected comic books, punk rock records, Star Wars junk, and I currently have a couple cabinets filled with obscure board games. If you’ve ever collected anything, you know that there is so much stuff out there to get into that it could consume your life.

Just out of high school, I worked in a record store. Every two weeks, when I received my paycheck, I would go through the same ritual. Set aside $50 for gas. Set aside $50 for going to shows at the local punk rock club. Spend the rest on the music I’d been saving under the counter at the store, utilizing my employee discount, of course.

Some would say I wasted a lot of money. I’m probably one of those people to some extent. But what I gained was inspiration. I connected with music.  A lot of the times I was just a consumer of others’ ideas. But at some point, inspiration moved me to action. It made me want to create something so that I could express my own ideas and even try on some different identities for a while. Being creative, I learned a little bit about who I was, about what made me feel alive.

I’ve played in bands and released some records (even  sold a few copies, too).  I cared so much about my music that it became the focus of my life.  If I’m honest, I know that the world would have been fine without my contribution but there was something special about putting an idea into action. It made a difference in me. It stretched me outside of the limits of what was comfortable for me. Writing this blog has done the same thing. Other creative endeavors have pushed my limits as well.

My latest creation. A strategy card game.

Creativity is exciting. When ideas come to life it can change the world, even if it is just a little corner of it.  Sometimes, maybe the only change that happens is in the one who is being creative. Other times that inspiration lies dormant and good ideas remain in the realm of the abstract. I think this is where the line is drawn between consumers and creators.

Ideas have to come to life in order to make a difference. Will you be a consumer or a creator (maybe “co-creator” would be a better word)? What’s your idea and what difference will it make?

I don’t want to simply soak up the ideas of others’ in this life. I want to be swept up into movement that brings life.

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