Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Interview with Jon Jorgenson

Okay, y'all, this seriously may be my favorite post ever on my blog in the past five and a half years. Today, I got to sit down with Jon Jorgenson of The Anima Series and pick his brain with some questions that I was curious to hear his thoughts and opinions on.  This is absurdly long, but it's a transcript of our half-hour long conversation, and you really should read all of it. I say that only because it is SO good and full of so much wisdom and truth that I really think it would be good for people to read.  And now I'm gonna shut up and just give it to you.


Okay, so my first question.


In “A Godless Generation” you tell the Church that we need to stop only talking about what’s wrong with teenagers, and instead walk with them and invite them to see what is so much better with Christ. What are some ways the Church can put that into action?

That’s a good, that’s a really good question. Um, I think first is unpacking that idea of what is it, what do I mean by as far as focusing on all the bad things versus showing them all the good things. As a teenager, as anyone, if I tell you, don’t think of an elephant in a purple suit, what are you thinking about? An elephant in a purple suit. So when we walk around telling these teenagers, like, “don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex, don’t do this, don’t do that, that’s a sin, that’s a sin,” immediately those are the things they start thinking about doing, whereas if they went to a church that was talking not about the things that the Bible says don’t do, but all the things the Bible encourages us to do - love one another, serve your neighbor, things like that - things that we teach in, like, um, Sunday school, and then, for some reason, they get lost when we grow up and people start exercising their independent will more, they’re, like, lost. So I think, like, not only in their youth groups if they’ve heard this, but if kids were to consistently hear it from the senior pastors, and also from their parents, and from their friends, as well. It’s, it’s having a focus on, ‘cause I think a lot of children, and a lot of teenagers have this idea of religion as and Christianity as, “Well, that’s just a rulebook that tells me what I can’t do,” when really, it’s a guidebook for all the things that we can do, and I think that really focusing the messages we create and the opportunities that we create for them with service projects or whatever that is, not of something like “I have to go to church,” but “I get to go to church.” You have to go do this service project in the community, you have to go on this mission trip versus I get to do that, you know? And that comes from focusing on the things Jesus frees us to rather than just on the things that he saves us from. 

So when I was growing up, I lost my dad to cancer - 

I’m so sorry.

- so it became very difficult for me to understand God as the ultimate Father because I never had an earthly one. What would you say to young people who have never experienced a father’s love on earth to help them understand the picture of God as a father?

I think, it’s a hard question for me to answer because I don’t know what that’s like to not have a dad. I would imagine that it’s something we can sort of reverse engineer, if that makes sense. So for me, I look at, I look at my earthly father, and the way that he has loved me, and the way that he has made so many sacrifices for not only me, but my sister, my mom, and our entire family. I look at all the things he’s done, look at all the things my earthly father’s done, and I think, “Wow.” You know, the Bible makes it kind of clear that my Heavenly Father is like that times a billion, so when I hear about a father, if I have no idea what a father is except for what I see God being, I would just have to do the same thing. I would have to look at all the things God has done for me and for my brothers and sisters here on earth. And when I look at that, I think, “Wow, that’s what a perfect father looks like. I don’t know what that looks like here on earth, but I know what the Bible tells me that looks like, so it’s kind of going in the opposite direction, I guess. I know what my earthly father did as a reflection of God, whereas someone who doesn’t really have that example would have to go right to the source and say, “Well, what has God done? Oh, that’s what it means to be, like, the perfect father.”

So recently an article spread around the internet from a woman who waited until she got married to have sex - 

I heard about this. I heard about this. 

- and then, because she was taught that was the only way to do it, and then she came to regret that decision because she felt ashamed and said if she could do it again, she wouldn’t wait. What do you think, if anything, needs to change in the Church in the discussion of sexuality and sexual experiences?

I think that’s the right question to ask, too, because from my understanding from reading the article and whatnot, um, it seemed like the girl that was writing it was blaming the wrong thing. I’m not sure who or what she was blaming, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t, it’s not necessarily that waiting was a bad thing. She, like, blamed the waiting, but what she should’ve been blaming or what I think is mostly at fault is exactly that, the picture that the Church painted for her of what sex is meant to be. And for me, as well, growing up, it was painted as, like, this dirty thing that you can’t do, you know, like I talked about a couple minutes ago. It was only, whenever sex was talked about in a Christian environment, it was only talked about in a negative light as, like, a bad thing that you shouldn’t be doing.  And for me, it was like this cardinal sin, like, if you did that before you were married, that was it, you’re done. And so I think sex, just like love, even though it’s part of it, just like love, just like money, just like, um, anything is, it’s a good thing that God has created, it is good, but when it’s mistreated, or when it’s twisted, that’s when it becomes bad. We do the same thing with money. We do the same thing with our talents and our gifts and our abilities. They are good things that God has given us, but when we twist them, they become bad. And we, with, for some reason, we’ve chosen sex, I think the Church a lot of times has chosen sex as this, as the one topic we only focus on what happens when it gets twisted. We never first paint the picture of what it was originally created to be. We just go straight to oh, it’s, it’s terrible, you know? So I think if we, if we told the whole story, ‘cause right now we’re only telling this much (holds fingers to simulate a small amount) of a narrative that’s this long (spreads hands out), you know, and so I think the thing that needs to change in the Church is we need to lose that, the Church needs to lose that shame, you know, and reclaim this idea of sex as this is something that God created and that the secular world has stolen and abused. We need to reclaim it as this is something good that God created for us to explore just like, you know, anything we have. Um, if we can paint that picture first, then I think people will, it’s not about, it’s not about “I’m not gonna do this till I’m married,” it’s “I’d rather wait to do this until I get married,” if that makes sense.

So I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.” It’s something a lot of people say, and often they attribute it to Christianity and something Biblical, even though it’s not. Where do you think that idea comes from, and what would you say to the people who believe it to be true?

Um, I think it’s, uh, that’s a saying I’ve thought about a lot, and you’re right. There’s nowhere in the Bible that it’s written, you know, but there’s a lot of things. Also, the idea of being the hands and feet of Jesus, nowhere is that written in the Bible, either. There’s so many of these phrases that we sort of pick out, and they sound really nice, so they kind of stick. And with that one specifically, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” I used to just abhor that statement, and I used to get so mad at anyone who would use it ‘cause, ‘cause I would think to myself, “Well, if God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle, like, why does, why do we need Him then? Like, what’s the point?” And I still think that, but I’ve also, I’ve come to understand the heart behind it and what the statement is really trying to convey, and that’s that God will never give you anything you can’t handle because He’s with you in the things you can’t handle. Like, that’s what we need to sort of, that’s what I’ve grown to understand is, like, added on to the end of the sentence that we’re just not saying ‘cause it doesn’t fit in a tweet, you know, as well. You know what I mean? It’s, yes, yes, God gives, like, God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle, no, but things that we can’t handle happen all the time, ALL the time, every day for me. But the beauty of it is, is like, God is with us during those things, and that’s what I think people are trying to convey, and I hope that’s what people understand they’re saying when they use that phrase. Not like, God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle ever, because then, the first time you get something where you’re like, “I don’t know if I can handle this,” immediately, you doubt that God is real or that God is good, and immediately you can say, “Well, then God’s not real,” but if you understand it as, God might not give you, it might not be like God gave me this disease, but it is this disease came, and I’m not sure if I can handle it alone, I’m not sure if I can handle it. God is with me to help me handle it. So.

Well, you pretty much just answered my next question, so…

Oh good! Hallelujah.

But I’ll read it anyway.


Um, in “The Wall,” you say that God does His best work in seemingly hopeless situations. Can you expand on that as to what, maybe, like, what would you would say to people who are facing a hopeless situation? 

It’s interesting that you bring this up ‘cause I, I learn more and more about this topic all the time, and currently, I’m learning a lot about it by reading through the book of Jeremiah. Anyone who’s read it, it’s not the most uplifting book in the Bible, like, Jeremiah is given a difficult task. Basically, for people who don’t know, the Israelites are very much in rebellion against God at the time Jeremiah is spoken to by the Lord, and pretty much every message that God gives Jeremiah  is like, “I will come, and I’m going to bring fire, and I’m going to banish them to these places,” and it’s all very wrathful and all very angry and today, I got to Chapter 29, and Jeremiah 29:11, you know, that’s like the most hopeful verse in the entire Bible. “I know the plans I have for you, plans not to harm you, plans to prosper you, plans to give you hope and a future,” and that is in the middle of all of this hopelessness, you know? And for me, that spoke to me as God does His best work in hopeless situations because sometimes, God will allow those situations, those hopeless situations, those situations we can’t handle to come into our lives so that everything is taken away from us.  At the time that that, in Chapter 29, that is a letter that Jeremiah has written, and it’s God’s Word to these exiles, so that, that little phrase, that, like, uplifting Jeremiah 29:11, is written in the midst of one of the most hopeless and terrible situations the Israelites ever faced. They finally found their kingdom, then their kingdom has been taken away, their homes, they’ve been separated from their loved ones, they’ve been separated from their friends, and they’re, they have nothing. And you’ve heard, here’s another phrase that isn’t in the Bible: “When one has nothing, God becomes everything.” And that’s true, I think. Sometimes, what happens is these situations come into our lives where we really have nothing, and we feel hopeless, but I think sometimes God allows that to happen so that, in a way, we’re forced to turn to Him because we have nothing else to do, and also, I think God loves when every other option has run out because when He does come in, and He does blow things out of the water, there’s no other explanation we can give, you know? When the Israelites are brought back from Babylon, they couldn’t have done it by their own power, they couldn’t have done it by their own might, they have no other excuse than to say that has to have been God, which means God is undeniably real. It’s God’s way of sort of, by using hopeless situations and bringing us out of them, it’s God’s way of, part of it is it’s God’s way of evidencing - I don’t know if evidencing is a word - you know, evidencing Himself in a way, that He is real.

I actually remember in the Ask Anima video, or maybe it wasn’t Ask Anima but it was a video, that God responds to the prayers of the destitute, and you said it’s only when we have nothing that we begin to understand how much God is truly  everything. 


This is what I get for transcribing your videos.

I love it! I love it!

Okay, a friend of mine currently in seminary mentioned that she and her fellow students have agreed that disciplined, regular reading of the Bible can be very difficult, even for them. What advice would you give to people wanting to get into a pattern of reading the Bible on a regular basis but are struggling with that discipline?

Yeah, um, my, uh, I guess part of my advice, this is such terrible advice, but, um, do it. Like, it is a hard thing, but, like, it’s the same if you want to, like any discipline, not even just a spiritual discipline, any discipline! If you want to become a better writer, the only way to do that is to literally write every day, and the thing is, any writer will also tell you is that the worst thing you can do is write every day and then go back and look at those writings and pick apart how bad it is. We do the same thing with our Bible reading, don’t we? We finish reading for the day, and we look at it, and we judge the experience we just had. We judge the experience, like, “I got so much out of that!” or “Man, I didn’t get anything out of that.” And if I didn’t get anything out of that, then I obviously suck at reading the Bible, I should never study it again, I’m going to put it away. Don’t judge the experience, ‘cause it’s not about that. I would say, just like you would make a commitment to yourself to start running every day, or to start eating healthy, or to write every day, whatever it is, make a commitment to yourself that, “I’m going to read.” My pastor from home says fifteen minutes a day, fifteen minutes. I read one chapter a day of the Bible. That is it. You know, sometimes when I’m writing a message or something, I’ll read a little more, but my quiet time pretty much consists of one chapter a day. Sometimes I finish that chapter, and I’m like “Lord, I have no idea what that was about.” But you know what? Next time I read that chapter, maybe I will. And sometimes it’s not about me understanding it, sometimes it’s just about obediently listening to the Lord. Sometimes that’s what it’s about. So I think that, the hard part is that there is no magic button that you press and it’s like all of a sudden, you’re disciplined. It’s like eating vegetables. I used to hate vegetables. I used to hate greens. When I started eating them, though, I made myself eat them, now I crave them. I crave them, like, sometimes, I’m at a salad bar right now! Like, I crave greens now. It’s the same with the Scriptures. I used to just like, ugh, gosh I have to sit down and study the Bible. Now I crave it, after slowly forcing myself to do it for a while. And there’s nothing wrong with forcing yourself to do it, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not like, you’re not a heathen if you don’t want to read your Bible. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to read their Bible, you know? But, um, but by forcing yourself to do it for a while, you’ll wake up one day and that’s what you’ll crave, like, your day won’t feel complete without it. So just do it. 

Um, what would you say to people who have been burned by Christians or the Church, whether it be bullying, or ostracized, or other mental or emotional trauma? Things like that can turn people away from Christianity or faith as a whole.

Um, first of all, I would say that I’m sorry.  I’m truly, truly sorry.  That’s one of, um, that’s one of the things that’s really heaviest on my heart, and one of, one of the big reasons why I do what I do. You know, ‘cause I want to give people a different picture of Christianity and, most of all, a different picture of Jesus and God than a lot of churches in America do. Like I said before in videos, there are some churches that are doing it right, and you know, good on them, keep it up, but first, I would say I’m sorry because that’s something too many people have to deal with. Second of all, I would say never, ever equate your negative experience with the church as a negative experience with Jesus because sometimes the Church is the furthest place from Jesus, so never equate your negative experience with the Church with a negative experience with Jesus or God.

That’s really good advice and sort of the same realization that I came to.  Okay, when I first saw the “Who You Are: A Message to All Women” back when it was first going viral, I was rather surprised to see that the message was coming from a guy. What made you want to write a speech to women first? 

Yeah, um, well, to answer the question, I didn’t write it first, as a matter of fact. I wrote the Who You Are: Men and Who You Are: Women at the same time, I think three years before the videos came out. Um, I wrote them originally for a summer camp, the summer camp I wrote my book Authentic Love about, I wrote the Who You Are poems for that camp back in the summer of 2010 and it was to, um, to introduce the topic of purity and abstinence. And to go back to kind of what we were talking about earlier with that, is growing up, I’d always been told, like, “No sex before marriage, no sex before marriage.” All the topics surrounding purity and sexual purity were, “How far is too far? What is okay to do? What isn’t okay to do?” And I just remember sitting there, I was a counselor now, not a camper anymore, and I was thinking, “You know, all of my friends, we went to these talks. For most of us, they didn’t really help, or not as much as they could have.” And I got to thinking, this idea kind of sparked, okay, purity, we in the Church have looked at purity, and we’ve made it a purely physical thing. Purity starts from the heart. The number one verse that comes up if you look up “purity bible verse” is Psalm 51:10 which is, “Create in me a pure heart, oh God.” David doesn’t say, “Create in me pure actions so I don’t sleep with Bathsheba again.” He says, “Create in me a pure heart, oh God.” So I thought to myself, I’m like, “Purity is a much more, the idea of purity, it’s much more of a heart thing first than it is about our physical actions, and if we can have a pure heart, and we act from that, I’m pretty sure our actions will be pure, as well.” And that got me thinking about identity. Like, if we have an accurate picture of who we are in God’s eyes, that cleanses us, that cleanses our heart, our heart will be pure so our actions will be pure. Oh my gosh! And so I was like, “Hm, what if I just, like, wrote down who these students are in God’s eyes? What does God say who they are?” So I just started writing. I wrote both the pieces in fifteen minutes and never, it was one of the first, like, spoken word things I ever wrote in my life. I didn’t know I could do that. I just, like, started writing, and it came out, and I’ve never changed the words since. Like, there was no second draft. And so I said them, said them that summer at the camp, and they had a really profound effect on a lot of people, and the next summer, I came back, and they asked me to say them again, so I did. People would ask me, people would email me throughout the year saying, “Can you send me the words? I want to give it to my friend,” or “I keep it on my fridge,” and this and that, and about, a little over a year ago now, we decided to make the video. We decided to make it because I was pretty sure it was going to be my last summer as a camp counselor, and I wanted these campers to be able to take it home. And so we just made the video, and we were going to make the second one, and that was going to be it. There was no such thing as The Anima Series. That was it. And then, all of a sudden, the video started going kind of crazy, and we were like, “We should make more.” and I was like “okay, but like, we should call it something, and Danny was like, “Anima!” “What does that mean?” “It’s the Latin word for spirit.” I’m like, “Yeah, but call it The Anima Series, ‘cause anima’s going to be too much like anime.” And so, we did that. And so, to answer your question in a very roundabout way, I didn’t write that first. And a lot of people kept bringing up, an issue when the video came out, everyone’s comments were all about gender identity, and gender, and like why is a guy saying this, and why can’t a girl say this. And I was like, a girl can say it! I said it because I wrote it. And I think those people who are like, the people who have a positive reaction to the fact that a guy would say this, and also the people who have a negative reaction to the fact that a guy would say this are kind of looking at it in the wrong light, because these aren’t really my words. This isn’t who I think, like, this isn’t something that I dreamed up as, like, this is who all women are. This is, like, what I felt God spoke into my heart of who He sees all women as. So it doesn’t matter if I speak it, or if you speak it, or a dog barks it, or, you know, a donkey says it Old Testament style. It’s a message who God sees us, who we are in God’s eyes, not in my eyes, not in anyone else’s eyes, and through my God lense, and the Spirit sort of shows me that I see them that way. And what’s also interesting is that people call it sexist a lot of the time, and I’m like, I could see where you would come to that, like, the one for guys starts out “you are strong,” the one for girls starts out “you are beautiful.” Yes, absolutely. That’s meant to attack the main stereotypes that men and women deal with, but if you look at the climax of both of those videos, the language is almost exactly the same, when we talk about being a daughter or a son of God. Like, that is what it’s really about, that’s the climax, that’s the main point, that’s who we really are, and the language there is exactly the same. So it doesn’t matter if I say it. You can say it. Anyone want to make another video of it? Go! That’s what it’s there for.

I mean, now, they can just look at the anniversary video and see -

See all the different people. See you on it.

- see a whole bunch of girls saying it. 


Um, can you expand a bit more about what went into the poem “What Are You Afraid Of?” Fear is something everyone experiences at some point. So what pieces of the Bible really helped you overcome the fear that you were facing, or was there any advice that you were given?

Yeah, that was, um, that poem was sort of sparked from a conversation I was having with a friend. It was late at night, we were sitting at my house, we were watching TV, it was not like we had our Bibles open and we were talking, we were, like, watching football. And I don’t know if you have any friends like this, but it was, like, a totally chill night, we were only talking about sports and food, and all of a sudden, he turns to me and he goes, “Jon, what do you think the opposite of fear is?” And I was like, “Not tonight, man! Like, I love talking about deep stuff. I love the Bible. I love God. I love it, but like, I don’t want a theological discussion right now. Don’t bring this on me. Sometimes I just want to have a Big Mac and watch sports.” And so I was like, “I don’t know, maybe this, maybe that,” but I couldn’t get that question out of my head. And I was like, what is the opposite of fear? And so that question sparked that. I started writing down a list of all these different things that could be the opposite of fear, love, trust, peace, all of these things, and then I looked at that list, and I was like, man, God really is, like, Scripture really says that God either is one of these things or He provides one of these, every single one of them. And also that command “do not be afraid” which is just over and over and over again, like, no wonder that we don’t have to be afraid because God is literally the opposite of it! And so, that question was sparked in my head of what room does fear have? Why would we be afraid?

I have one more question.


What would you say or what advice would you give to people who feel like they have stories from their lives to share with the world, but they’re just not sure how to make it happen? You have a pretty popular YouTube channel, you’ve written and self-published a book, so any tips you could share would be great.

Yeah, um, anyone who has, first of all, I think anyone who has a story they want to share, they’re already ten steps ahead of everyone else, because a lot of people start with, “I have a point that I want to make,” or “I have a product that I want to push,” or whatever it is, but really, what it all really starts with is a story. People are drawn to stories. We’re drawn to stories. That’s why people go and see theater. That’s why movies and TV shows and all that is so popular. It’s why the teachings of Jesus were so popular, ‘cause he taught mainly through stories, through parables. So the fact that someone starts with, “I have a story I want to tell” is amazing. So, and the fact that you already know what that story is is, like, half the battle. So if you know what that story is, awesome. Then, next step, is to ask yourself the question “what am I good at?” meaning “what avenue should I use to tell that story?” because I could use, I could’ve started a restaurant to do what The Anima Series does, trying to encourage, you know, encourage people, uh, encourage ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I could’ve started a restaurant to make food that was new and interesting, and I could create environments where people could have community and all these things. So like, I could’ve started a restaurant, or like, I could’ve started, like, a fashion line for Anima, or whatever it is, and I could use clothes to spread the message and to tell that story, but the thing is, I don’t know how to start a restaurant and I have no fashion sense, as you can see, so that would have been silly. What I am good at, I can write, and I can speak, and surprisingly enough, I’m not good at editing videos, I’m not good at filming videos. Luckily enough, God provided me with a team of people who are good at that, and their strengths are more in that category. When I tried doing the editing and all that by myself years ago, when I tried starting this website called Creators for the Creator, it totally failed because I was doing things to tell my story that didn't fit my skill set at all. So you have to look at, what am I good at? If you are a good writer, then start a blog, tell your story that way, write a book, tell your story that way. If you’re a good speaker, then start a podcast, tell your story that way. If you’re good at interviewing people and getting information out of people, start a podcast, for sure.  If you have just a very, like, bright personality and are someone who’s really comfortable in front of a camera, start a YouTube channel, tell your story that way. Whatever it is, what you have to, it doesn’t matter how good your story is, if you are not authentic to and honest about yourself as far as what you’re good at, if  you don’t lean into your skill set to tell that story, the story’s not going to come across to people.  And, and like I said, it doesn’t have to be a blog, it doesn’t have to be a YouTube channel, it doesn’t have to be whatever it is, every business that has been started has started with a story. Every successful business is started because of a story, you know?  If you had a story about how you had heart problems, and you started running, and you started getting physically fit, and that helped heal you, and through that, you feel that God really helped heal you or whatever it is, and you want to inspire people to do the same and begin to, like, really take care of their bodies in that way? Then start, like, an Instagram account where you post pictures of, like, running and fitness and health and all of those things. Like, whatever that is, there’s a million ways to do it. It’s about knowing what your story is, knowing what inspires you, what message you want to get out there, and then saying “what am I good at, what’s the best way that I can get this out there?” 

Okay, well, thank you for your time.

Thank you! I love this. This is good, and like, your questions are awesome. 


See? Didn't I tell you it was good? I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to sit down with Jon today.  Now, check out the links throughout the interview, and then go tell Jon (you can also email him at if you don't have Twitter) hi. I know I sound like a broken record in my support of him and his team at The Anima Series, but I really do believe that strongly in what they're doing.

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