On Porpoise

On Porpoise. This interview is supposed to be distributed in the Emergent Newsletter and on the Emergent-US Blog at http://emergent-us.typepad.com/ on May 18, 2006.

From Tony Jones, National Coordinator, Emergent-U.S. – “You’ve probably checked out “The Porpoise Diving Life” website — it’s gotten a lot of attention in the past few months. The man behind it, Bill Dahl, is a creative thinker and writer. I asked him to interview himself, as though Emergent Village were interviewing him, for the E/C. So here’s Bill’s inner dialogue. You can enjoy Bill’s writing on his website(s) at https://billdahl.net/ and http://www.theporpoisedivinglife.com/.

Emergent Question #1: Bill, what motivated you to write The Porpoise Diving Life and create a website by the same name?

Bill: To be perfectly honest, I was sitting at a writer’s conference in February 2005 and it just popped into my head. I lived in southern California at the time. I would go for walks on the beach and watch the Porpoise in utter amazement. When I got back from the conference, I started writing the manuscript.

Emergent Question #2: Isn’t The Porpoise Diving Life© really a tongue in cheek jab at the book by Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life.

Bill: When people hear the title, that’s typically their initial reaction. However, nothing could be further from the truth. I was blessed by Mr. Warren’s book. I have read it three times. If you haven’t read it, you should (a plug for Rick). However, God kept thumping my heart, telling me that “there’s another side to purpose-driven”….an inclusive rather than an exclusive side. That, of course, is “Porpoise Diving.” What I write has, believe me, absolutely nothing to do with some sort of a gimmicky reaction to Warren’s book and/or his writings or theology. It is solely based upon what God’s Spirit placed upon my heart and wouldn’t let up until I acted.

Jesus never promised us that our existence in this world and journey of faith with Him would be without pain, uncertainty, the unexpected, the incomprehensible and hardship. Perhaps there’s another dimension of truth to the Gospel message that people are yearning to hear that is outside the confines of a well-ordered, trouble-free, formula-based, prosperity laden, purpose-driven life. There is. It’s The Porpoise Diving Life ©. There is a flip-side to the “It’s not about you” theology from Warren that people are desperate to hear; “It’s all about us,” is the tag line for The Porpoise Diving Life © that appears to be terribly inviting to people, particularly when it’s coupled with the sub-title “Reality for the Rest of Us.” It’s about God, you and me. “It is time that we demand more of ourselves as Christians. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, and if the world is going to see, feel, and touch him, it will have to be through us.”(1) It’s all about us!

Life is filled with ups and downs, gasping for breath, playing on the surface and foraging for sustenance in the depths. People need to hear this truth from the Gospel through the life of Jesus that has practical application to their lives today, not conveyed as some sort of formula-based 40 day book that these people won’t even read. Jesus lived The Porpoise Diving Life©. Scripture proves that.

The point to the above is that it captures an important theme of the book: our commonality as children of God. The Christian faith is so fractured and antagonistic in the western, developed world, it makes me weep. I’m not alone. To live a life filled with “ups and downs, gasping for breath, playing on the surface and foraging for sustenance in the depths” is really what inhabits the experience of most people. We need to celebrate the authenticity of this reality rather than hiding behind theological dogma that castes guilt and shame upon people whose life experiences don’t match up with the current trend of the necessity for a relationship with God that is evidenced by a well-ordered, trouble-free, formula-based, prosperity laden, purpose-driven existence. God loves the person who lives The Porpoise Diving Life© just as much as those immersed within the currents of mainstream evangelicalism. The message of The Porpoise Diving Life© is inclusive and inviting, rather than exclusive and divisive.

Emergent Question #3: How’s the actual manuscript structured?

Bill: A Prologue that provides the conceptual context for the reader. The Prologue is followed by forty, 3-5 page stories ( Beginning at “Day 41” through Day 80 ). These stories are non-fiction essays about people I have encountered in my own life, along with a discussion of what their experience means to me from a “Porpoise Diving Life©” perspective. These are true stories. I use pseudonyms to maintain confidentiality. The lead-in that starts each new “day” is a story about my actual observations of Porpoise. At the present time, we are working to get a publishing commitment.

Emergent Question #4: What’s the reaction been to The Porpoise Diving Life© website?

Bill: We’ve had  over five thousand readers from 70 countries with in excess of 20,000 page views in just 90 days. Corresponding with people all over the globe has really been a lot of fun, and incredibly encouraging, while humbling at the same time.

Emergent Question #5: Is there a specific demographic that you can identify as a “group” that The Porpoise Diving Life© really resonates with?

Bill: Age range does not seem to be a factor in terms of the feedback from readers of the site and/or by reviewers of the unpublished manuscript. Young adults to age 70’s are sending their thanks and enjoyment. What’s surprising to me I guess are both the number of mainstream evangelicals who are sending in their thanks, pastors of evangelical churches who are forwarding notes of their gratitude, and a large group of people who have been wounded and/or fallen away from the established institutional church and thought they were alone. Finally, there are those who just flat make me ball my eyes out…the one’s who have felt they were living as an exception to God’s grace, mercy and love because they just “don’t seem to fit” with the confines of the theology expounded by the mainstream, established church…the one’s whose lives have been filled with ups, downs, in-betweens, joy, tragedy, the unexpected, the inexplicable etc.

Emergent Question #6: What are you reading at the moment?

Bill: As much N.T. Wright as I can lay my hands on. Also a recent obsession with Oswald Chambers…wow! Also, devouring David Maransis’s Pulitzer Prize winning “They Marched Into Sunlight – Vietnam and America – 1967”

Emergent Question #7: What music are you listening to lately?

Bill: Los Lonely Boyz, Leslie West, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Roby Duke, Fernando Alvarez, Mourning September, Pillar, Anberlin, Gregorian Chants and Guns N Roses. Recently, I have been thrown back to the songs of social/cultural change … Country Joe and the Fish/Woodstock, Mellencamp, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Hendrix. Perhaps witnessing the recent demonstrations over immigration reform in the U.S. have rekindled the passions I experienced when I was younger during the civil rights movement, Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Emergent Question #8: What are you writing?

Bill: I love the value of the metaphor. I’m really spending most of my time on a work of fiction at the moment. It’s a story that has practical application for so many people today. It’s fashioned around the issue of leadership. Frankly, after reading for years about this issue (and having it crammed down my throat everywhere I turn in society), I’m absolutely convinced we are truly ignorant about it. The title of the book is called “Sheepmanship – The Flip-side of Leadership,” or “Placing Leadership in its’ Proper Perspective in the Pasture.” The essence of the book is that most of us have never really learned what it means to “follow.” Thus, how can we draw as near as we might when we hear Jesus say, “Follow Me.”

Emergent Question #9: What blogs do you read regularly?

Bill: Jim Henderson at Off-The-Map is on the cutting edge of some very important work. Rob McAlpine (“The Post-Charismatic”) is someone you must read regularly. John O’Keefe at Ginkworld.net is a staple. Jeremy Del Rio in New York City is out-in-front with engaging young adults in our culture and transforming institutions, communities and organizations. I adore Spencer Burke’s photography (especially the graffiti stuff). Frankly, most blogs bore me. I wish people would take more time to expand their thinking on some of the issues I read on the emerging blogs in the form of full-length articles. It’s just my personal preference I guess.

Emergent Question #10: Spanning the last year, who are some people you are truly grateful for in the EC community who have encouraged and inspired you?

Bill: Several come to mind very quickly; My wife Jacki is my day-to-day, in-your-face motivation. Charlie Wear at Next-Wave is unequivocally numero uno. What a blessing Charlie is to so many! I just happen to be “another one.” George Barna and Jim Henderson are two others that distinctly come to mind (Although I don’t know if George would like me placing him in the ‘Emergent’ category). Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Mike Brantley, Director of CRM in New Zealand.


(1) Perkins, John M. Restoring At-Risk Communities – Doing It Together & Doing It Right, Baker Books Grand Rapids, Michigan © Copyright 1995 by John M. Perkins, p. 12

Lake Chapala – Beneath the Surface

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