Archive for February, 2005

Losing My Religion

Have you ever felt sick of being a Christian? I guess that I don’t have to limit it to Christianity. There may come a time that what ever religion or set of spiritual beliefs that you subscribe to quit working for you. The question came up in a discussion recently about whether I had ever felt sick of being a Christian. By sick, I don’t mean “I disagreed with this morning’s sermon” or “so and so’s really getting on my nerves” or “I wish they’d do more contemporary/hymns/gospel music as a part of worship time.” I mean “I’m ready to chuck this whole religion because it ain’t living up to its claims” sort of sick. The short answer is twice.

The first time led into me quitting a church and flat out exploring other religions. I was that disgusted with that whole state of affairs. Looking back, that might have been an extreme reaction, but my view of Christianity had essentially been shaped by one congregations interpretation of it. And by interpretation, I don’t mean how they exegeted Scripture, but how they lived it out. They had become “country club Christians”: new converts to the faith had to dress like them, speak like them, and act like them before they let you in. Once you were in, you couldn’t share too much or be too personal. Spirituality was little more than another form of politesse. “How are you doing (spiritually)?” “Fine.” Don’t doubt and don’t question (in the “wrong” ways) because those were the sure routes to apostasy (losing your salvation). They were spiritually proud, because, being fundamentalist, they had a lot of biblical head knowledge, but they were inauthentic. So every Sunday was a new episode of Desperate Christians.

The constraints of their brand of spirituality meant that there was no room for mystery, no room for questioning the idea of faith, or “working out your salvation”. You put the word “work” too close to “salvation” and to (some) Protestants that’s code for going Catholic, another sure path to apostasy. Exhausting, isn’t it? You have this with any faith that you cling to when you explore it. I firmly believe that most people are better served 1) not knowing how sausages are made, 2) not knowing how policing is done, and 3) not knowing how churches are run. Just come and enjoy the end product for what it is. Learning too much how churches are run led to time number two.

A friend of mine was a pastor at a large church. As his friend and part-time aide, I had the opportunity to observe close hand as he had factions line up for and against him, the (often back-stabbing) politicking that passed for church governance, and the gossipy nature of churches. It’s a fragile thing reconciling the fact that the Church is meant to be a blessing to and the fact that it is run by man. Man with his pride, his varying agendas, and his fractious nature. This led to one response:

*sigh* This is what Jesus died for?

Paradigm shifts accompanied each of those spiritual low points. A lot of emotions were in play: new chapters or phases in life are often ushered in by forms of depression and we’re talking about the loss of security in what I believed. My faith, as constructed, wasn’t able to fit in what experience and what the Bible taught me. You see, too often, we construct these theological boxes, easily understood models of interpretation, then force God and the Bible into them. When we run into some new idea or experience or, gasp, question, we have to force it into those boxes. Even if we have to contort some Bible passages into some exercise in extreme yoga to do so. Eventually you run up against the principle of the lemon law: how much time, energy, and resources do you pour into your car before you declare it a lemon and get a new one? So I left my boxes behind. In the final analysis, it wasn’t Jesus or the Bible that had soured me on Christianity, it was the religion as practiced by many Christians.

I’m still working out what exactly I am. I know, I know, not the typical sentiment that people want to hear from their pastor. If nothing else, I’ve lost the arrogance that came with the spiritual pride of “knowing everything.” For all intents and purposes, I’m working through what I believe and people journey with me. It’s more missional and incarnational, an emphasis on living out the truth of loving one another. It’s more ecumenical, in that there is a lot of traditions that we, as Protestants, ditched along the way as “too Catholic” that we want to reclaim. A friend of mine called it post-Protestant. We aren’t “protesting” what the Protestants do, but want to reach back and broaden what we call Christianity. Like I said, I’m still working it through.

The Albatross is Slain

The albatross is dead. Long live the albatross.

I finally typed those magic words, “the end”, at the end of the romance novel I have spent too much time on. A relatively short, 50,000 words, novel whose final word count will be around 60,000 words on my next draft. However, the first draft is done. The story is at least down.

I sequestered myself for the last couple weeks to get it done. Now I can pop my head up, take a look around, check in on my communities, and catch up on the little things.

Like showering.

Don’t Make Me Apologize for Idiots

I’m tired of apologizing for idiots.

Do I make white people explain the latest idiot thing I heard a white guy said every time one wants to start a conversation with me? So once it comes up that I’m a Christian, I shouldn’t have to answer for what the latest evangelical said or did to make the news. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot that the church legitimately needs to apologize for (um, the Crusades quickly spring to mind and if you want something more recently, the priests/kids debacle impacted the whole Church, not just Catholics), but there are some things that, frankly, you have to allow for some people to speak mostly for themselves.

Okay, in the name of Christian unity, I probably shouldn’t call my well-meaning brothers idiots. Hate the sin, love the sinner and all that. I mean, really, when someone accuses a cartoon of pursuing a sexual agenda, how seriously do we take it?

Well, apparently plenty.

I thought that the crap that I took over my review of Shark Tale was an aberration. My main beef with the movie was that the targeted young crowd, say the 6 and under crowd, wouldn’t get the whole mob spoof angle of the story, as opposed to the “I can’t find my dad” storyline of Finding Nemo. Next thing I know, I get these letters about the hidden pro-gay agenda in the movie, full of such insight as “it clearly has anti-family undertones through the shark called ‘Lenny.’” Or someone offering up a “cross-dressing shark” as evidence of this agenda. (Someone who didn’t take kindly to my suggestion for them to shake themselves and read what they just typed.) A wink and “I know what they mean” doesn’t constitute an agenda.

I guess I should have seen it coming, since this only continues a trend that started when Rev. Jerry thought Tinky Winky was gay. Don’t get me wrong, of course I believe that the TeleTubbies are powered by Satan. A couple years back, when my boys were one and two, we were in full romp when I tired of watching an NYPD Blue re-run. I flipped channels, pausing on a station filled with these day-glo colored creatures fumbling about speaking gibberish. My boys stopped in mid-motion. It was like a scene from The Birds. They were perfectly still, perfectly quiet. It creeped the crap out of me. Never again.

Anyway, next came insinuations about Sesame Street’s Bert & Ernie as children’s characters who are “conduits for a soft-on-gays message.” Which implies the stance of the church necessarily being “hard-on-gays”. Things kicked up again with James Dobson vs. SpongeBob Squarepants (Christians Issue Gay Warning on SpongeBob Video Friday, January 21, 2005) . In brief:

The wacky square yellow SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers — the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation — say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity.

“Their inclusion of the reference to ‘sexual identity” within their ‘tolerance pledge’ is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line,” James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said in a statement released Thursday.

Let me start by saying that I respect James Dobson a lot. Focus on the Family is a ministry that has done a lot of good. Granted, it has also become a symptom of a greater problem, too, where the modern evangelical church has turned the family into an idol, but that’s another issue. However, he’s off his nut.

Now, the objected to Tolerance Pledge states: “I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.” I’m gonna keep saying this until my ears bleed: Respect is a bridge, not an endorsement. However, this wasn’t the first time that my man SpongeBob was “outed”. Back in 2002 rumors of the asexual invertebrate’s secret life surfaced after reports that his show and its merchandise were popular with gays. Yeah, let’s jump on that bandwagon: everything that gay people like must be gay.

Then this past week, the Traditional Values Coalition send out this alert: “Parents Beware: ‘Shrek 2’ Features Transgenderism And Crossdressing Themes”. And I quote:

Parents who are thinking about taking their children to see “Shrek 2,” may wish to consider the following: The movie features a male-to-female transgender (in transition) as an evil bartender. The character has five o’clock shadow, wears a dress and has female breasts. It is clear that he is a she-male. His voice is that of talk show host Larry King.

In another scene in the movie, Shrek and Donkey need to be rescued from a dungeon where they are chained against the wall. The rescue is conducted by Pinocchio who is asked to lie so his nose will grow long enough for one of the smaller cartoon characters to use it as a bridge to reach Shrek and Donkey. Donkey encourages him to lie about something and suggests he lie about wearing women’s underwear. When he denies wearing women’s underwear, his nose begins to grow.

An earlier scene in the movie features a wolf dressed in grandma’s clothing and reading a book when Prince Charming encounters him. Later, one of the characters refers to the wolf’s gender confusion.

First off, who are these people? They bill themselves as the “Traditional Values Coalition”. That alone tells me to keep on web surfing. They claim to represent over 43,000 churches. I can claim to represent 200 million free thinking Americans. Who knows if it’s true? Anyone can claim anything they want. Second, why are you going to their web sites? That’s like tuning in a televangelist then getting worked up over their latest antics. Third, why are you paying any attention to them? The publicity of “outrage” stemming from this idiocy fuels them (and sends more dollars their way).

I see their “fear”: controversial (read: anti-family) ideas go down a lot easier and into a lot more unsuspecting minds in a comic context. Especially with the built in defense that it goes above the heads of the kids in that audience anyway. And of course, all the Shrek supporters have to do is point out that the whole idea behind the Shrek movies is a general message of tolerance (unless you’re short. See the first Shrek).

*sigh* Respect is a bridge, not an endorsement.

As a father of two, I have the opportunity/excuse to watch a lot of cartoons and children’s programming. So, message to all of those coalitions who claim to speak for huge groups of people, if you want to target something “gay”, why not go after something that I can’t stand, like The Wiggles? Yeah, I said it, someone had to. Four men in different colored shirts singing about “fruit salad, yummy, yummy”?

Fight the real enemy.

Things Overheard in the Broaddus Household

Conversation Tidbit #1:
Reese: Where did the fog come from?
Me: Last night, a cloud died.

Conversation Tidbit #2:
Me: You have a weird fascination with poop.
Malcolm: I like poop.

Romantic Line of the Year:
Sally: It’s too bad you have church tonight.
Me: Think I won’t wake your monkey ass up.

Progress Report: February/March

I hate to bore you with one of those “here’s how many words I did today” sort of blog entries, but I need to see where I am on my 2005 goals list. (Okay, I’d love to be able to update you on how many words I’ve written for whatever novel or short story I’m working on, I just ain’t that organized or productive. I’d probably get more work done on those if I wasn’t doing blog entries or playing on my message board.)

I finished three new short stories (“Trail’s End” and “Dance of Bones” which, along with last year’s “Black Frontiers”, completes my western trilogy. Yes, there were black cowboys. Plus a long flash piece “Happy Endings.” It, uh, came to me in a dream). I’ve declared that by the end of February, I will wrap up all outstanding projects. Namely, the albatross about my neck that I call my romance novel. If I can get that done, maybe I can squeeze in another short story (“Devil’s Marionette”).

Oh, that albatross. You know, once people find out that you’re a writer, one of the top things that you hear is “here’s such-and-such idea. Why don’t you write it and we split the money?” Uh, thanks. If you’re idea’s any good, especially since I have no difficulty generating my own, how about I just take it, write it, and keep all the money? That being said, my barber pitched an idea to me. A black romance (we’re family here, right? I get tired of having to say or type out ‘African-American’ for the sake of political correctness. I’m black, you know I’m black, I’m not gonna get bent out of shape if you say ‘black’). He challenged me to write one, pitching a vague idea for me to run with and us to split the money. I liked the idea of trying to write one, but I wasn’t going to split money with someone who didn’t split the work. My barber, besides being a natural hustler and marketer, has great ideas. We ended up meeting regularly, he’d flesh out the plot, develop the characters, and then describe scene while I taped the sessions. I don’t know how collaborations otherwise worked, but this was how it ended up working for us. Luckily, we’re both secure in our masculinity: there’s nothing like me sitting there listening while he rattles off the details for a sex scene for me to write punctuated by the phrase “can you feel me?”

His other share of work: he’d give me free hair cuts.

I call it my albatross only because I hit a long stretch of writer’s block for a while and so it was agony to work on it. Silly me, I got with him and in one meeting, he helped me flesh out the last eight chapters. He’s already thinking sequel.

March I’m using to shape up my novel proposals. I have a Christian dating book under consideration at a publishing house (the pitch, which another company would have purchased if they didn’t have a dating book already in the works went something like this: who better to write on dating than a horror writer?). The company that would’ve purchased my dating book wanted me to pitch them something else, so I’m putting together one on spirituality and culture, along the lines of examining Christians’ uneasy relationship with art.

After that, I spit and polish my two fiction novels, Strange Fruit and Pantheon of Dreams, as I enter convention season. I’m determined to get an agent or publisher this year.

In April, it’s back to the short stories and a new novel. I have five stories in mind and some research/outlining for the novel done.

Busy, busy, busy. Good thing I’m not planting a church or have a wife and kids to worry about or anything.

What the Horror Market can Learn from Dark Dreams

Dark Dreams: A Collection of Horror and Suspense by Black Writers edited by Brandon Massey seemed to come and go within the tight knit community of the horror market. Well, I should say, the small press horror market. It’s rarely, if ever, discussed when the topic of great anthologies of the year are discussed. None of the stories receive much attention. When people at the Shocklines message board, for example, ask what is an anthology with some fellow Shockliner’s in it, this anthology is not brought up. Almost makes one wonder.

A long time ago, I once posed the issue to the genre whether or not we, as black writers, would be better off trying to break into the largely ignored black (audience) market rather than concentrate on being well known in the horror community. Maybe the debate isn’t limited to whether or not black writers, as opposed to all of us horror writers, should pigeon-hole ourselves into the relatively small horror buying market that barely seems to keep the small presses afloat. After all, isn’t the point to reach as large an audience as possible? What is a black thing is the issue may be more important for us since we as black writers, we as a black audience, and our stories are largely ignored in the genre.

I hear editors call out for culturally diverse writers and voices. They may say that they want an ethnic voice, but not necessarily an urban one. Maybe it is simply a matter of marketing to your audience. I do know one black writer who refuses to write black characters because this person is afraid of alienating her potential market. I think that this mindset springs from the fact (illusion) that the horror market is essentially a community, a community that ends up marketing mostly to each other (which is debatable).

So as my friend and I continue to think through our best career paths, we were wondering at what point we would have made enough of a name for ourselves in the horror market/community to make that leap into other markets. Adding black book conventions to our convention schedule rather than doing exclusively horror conventions, thus aiming to grow the horror market by going to an untapped market. For one thing, the romance market had written off the black reading public until someone waited to exhale for that very market and made oodles of money. Now I can’t throw a rock in my local bookstore without hitting a display of the latest black romance books.

For another thing, that would hopefully, though doubtfully, silence those who criticize the “black writers only” anthologies. With all the different theme anthologies, I can’t believe that idea would get criticized as exclusionist, unnecessary, silly, or even insulting. (Well, yeah I can: affirmative action. You say those two words and I get to hear all the “my white dad got passed over for a promotion by a less qualified” minority du jour. Same criticisms, different context). My heart wants to believe that we are to the point where people judge works based on the work itself. Yet my gut tells me that it boils down to fear of someone else cutting into an already shrinking pie, rather than being seen as someone trying to bake a bigger one. The quiet insinuation is that the final product must be inferior or else these writers would have gotten their stories into other markets.

Back to Dark Dreams.

The first story in the anthology features a story by black romance writer, Zane. Brandon convinced her to write a horror story. Why? To grow the pie. Take Zane, someone outside the genre, take her huge following and ease them into reading horror. Those same readers then get exposed to Tananarive Due, Linda Addison, Brandon Massey, and Chesya Burke. At the Baltimore Horrorfind 2004, I went to a Dark Dreams book signing at Zane’s book store. I watched as the contributing writers wore their hands out autographing several hundred copies of the book.

Dark Dream is due to be a series of books. Heck yeah, for matters of full disclosure, I’d like to get in one in the future (though, allow me to assure you that they probably aren’t reading my blog). In the mean time, I am making notes on the best way to carve out a career. And how best to grow a my own market.

The way all (horror) writers should.

Constantine Review

My review for Constantine and The Wire are up on my Hollywood Jesus blog. The site is switching to give each of its reviewers their own blogs. David Bruce, the founder of Hollywood Jesus, believes this will allow us more flexibility as we go about doing what we’re doing. I like the goal of the site (I’m big on supporting a ministry if I like its mission statement). They seek to make spiritual connections with popular culture rather than the far too typical Christian stance of burying our heads in the sand in protest of all things worldly.

The site’s been a bit of a success. It’s internet traffic rank is 35931. It’s unique visit rank is 15,976. It receives well over a million hits a month (it peaked during the time around The Passion of the Christ at over a million hits a day). Now a lot of other Christian sites review movies beyond counting the profanities and booby shots.

Still, some people give me static about writing for them. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that no matter what I write, someone’s going to take issue with it. Not the style or substance of what I’ve written, but the type of writing I do. It’s a little known secret that Christians aren’t to write horror nor support Hollywood. So I’m bracing myself for the crap storm for not only viewing Constantine, but liking it also. Hopefully it won’t be as insane as when I reviewed A Shark’s Tale. Apparently the “homosexual agenda” in that movie was too much for some people to handle.

Yeah, again, nothing’s more discouraging to my faith than other Christians.

Constantine


Most people associate horror with demons, Satanism, and witchcraft or slasher-type films. This being the case, few can understand how a horror film could possibly communicate the Gospel. From now on, whenver I’m confronted with this question, I will merely point to the movie Constantine and quote, “only in the face of horror do you find your noblest self.” This was easily the most theologically rich movies I have seen in a long time. It was like a tour of Dante’s Inferno—if Dante chain-smoked, that is.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’” Matthew 12:25

Click to enlargeThe character of John Constantine was created by comic book deity Alan Moore (The Watchmen, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) during his run on the comic book Swamp Thing. The character was spun into his own series called Hellblazer (its definitive runs being under Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis), where Constantine became a noirish anti-hero in every sense of the word. Think of him as an exorcist-cum-hard boiled PI, casting out demons in his own name and under his own powers, relying on his ability to cheat and con them. He gets by playing one demon against another, even father against son. That becomes the sticking point of the character: somehow, in what should be the simplest cases of black vs. white, good vs. evil, Constantine manages to muck up the waters to an often frustrating shade of gray.

I came in fully expecting to hate this movie once I heard they had made Constantine American rather than British. (Look at how the Americanization of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen helped gut the original comic material when translated to film). Casting Keanu “he of the wooden acting school” Reeves rather than Sting (the actor of choice when the movie was originally proposed over a decade ago) or even James Marsters (Spike, from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer/Angel) made it nearly impossible for me to give this movie the benefit of the doubt.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

If you didn’t know anything about Constantine, then at first glance, this almost looks like The Devil’s Advocate, part II. Reeves continues to be drawn to the science-fiction/horror world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix trilogy. I can see what drew him to this spiritual kinsmen of Neo, John Constantine. We all often feel like him, trapped somewhere between heaven and hell. Unsure if there is a plan to this life, because we can’t see much rhyme or reason to what happens here, we struggle to make it from one day to the next. Click to enlargeConstantine’s struggle is shared by Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) who’s investigating the apparent suicide of her twin sister. The difference between them is that Constantine, who is suffering from terminal lung cancer, labors under the knowledge of where he is destined to go when he dies. And it ain’t pretty. Dodson, meanwhile, is not even sure she believes in the spirit world, never mind an ultimate spiritual destination.

There is quite a bit about this movie that will/should make people uncomfortable. (The comic book always had that disturbing/“this feels wrong” sort of quality to it for me.) This movie, however, redeems the comic in a lot of ways. It focuses more clearly on the heart of what makes Constantine resonate with me. It reminds us of a world we like to pretend isn’t there, either from lack of belief or an all too real belief in it. The movie presents a positively Medieval view of Heaven and Hell. “Behind every wall, every window” this battle between Heaven and Hell wages, with Constantine caught in the middle. The reality of this constant battle, that Constantine had been witness to since his childhood, overwhelms him to the point of suicide. According to Constantine, God is a disinterested spectator, “a kid with an ant farm.” He and the demons vie to see who will rule Hell and take over the Earth. So Constantine merely capitulates to what he already sees as a foregone conclusion.

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will plainly tell them, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’” Matthew 7:22-23

His suicide lands him squarely in Hell, but he doesn’t stay there for long. His body is resuscitated, and his spirit pulled back to earth. Even so, the awareness that Hell is his final destination alters Constantine’s life to the point where his entire focus becomes trying to buy his way into heaven. Serving God in his own way and on his own terms, he “deports” those demons who intrude into our plane. Even though he knows why he is going to hell (because he tried to take his own life), he still wonders if, perhaps, he goes to church enough, prays enough, tithe’s enough; perhaps he might, as W.C. Fields put it, “Find a loophole.”

So Constantine finds himself caught in the Great Detente. In a scenario reminiscent of the opening chapter of the book of Job, God and the devil have made a bet of sorts. The angels in heaven and the demons in hell are not allowed to directly interfere with humans. Both sides are reduced to little more than “influence peddlers.” A balance must be maintained. Satan’s son, Mammon (if God could have a son, so could Satan, the movie posits) seeks to blow the balance out the water by fully entering our plane of existence. He aims to use the Spear of Destiny, the sword used to pierce Christ while He was on the cross, to do it.

Click to enlargeUltimately, this is a story about faith. Constantine is a man without faith. After all, what good is faith when he knows full well that there is a God and a devil, and that both were out to get him? He has plenty of head knowledge, but it doesn’t translate into a heart knowledge that impacted his life (other than a sense of self-preservation). He lived life to keep his butt out of Hell just a little bit longer.

Plenty of other touchstones abound. The movie takes place in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels”. Billboards read “Your time is running out” and “Got Faith?” In a “ba
ptism” scene, Det. Dodson gets a glimpse of what it means to be united in death, burial, and resurrection in her brief sojourn to Hell.

Click to enlargeOverall, this felt like a good introduction to the world of Constantine, where we learn the rules and vocabulary, to a world we hadn’t seen. So, much like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there’s a lot of exposition, but if has the feel of the beginning of a franchise. Visually exciting, there was no shortage of imagination from first-time director, Francis Lawrence (best known for music videos). The scenes in Hell look right out of the pages of a Middle Ages art book. This was definitely one of the more satisfying horror movies/comic book translations in recent memory. Not quite The Matrix, not quite your standard horror movie, hopefully the movie won’t frustrate too many viewers with its “innovative” theology and it’s refusal to tie up all the loose ends.

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Spiritual Connections: The Constantine Gospel

At times, we have to dig pretty deep to find spiritual connections in a movie. At other times, we simply can’t escape them. Constantine definitely falls into the latter category. If The Matrix trilogy is the story of Christ in allegory, this movie is the systematic theology. Here are a few things we learn from Constantine:

We wonder if we’re doomed, yet we wander through life under the illusion that we can get through it under our own strength. This is how John Constantine enters the movie, attempting to live out his version of what he thinks his purpose is. He took it on himself to exorcize demons in order to impress God into letting him into heaven. Unfortunately for Constantine, God”s rules are different from Constantine’s rules.

An issue that came up recently on a message board that I frequent was “When you read stories or see films dealing with the supernatural, do you want hard-and-fast explanations of the supernatural elements or do you prefer them left ‘in the air,’ open to interpretation?” For me, explanations are like rules, and the story has to stick to the rules. I like horror writer Geoff Cooper’s answer to this question: “If you’re going to explain it, the explanation should be better than the mystery of not knowing.” That is what the spiritual life is all about. Without too much searching, we sense or realize that there are rules to our existence. The law is written on our hearts or in a book waiting to reveal itself to us. This movie revolved around the law. For the Catholic church, a person who commits suicide goes to Hell. That’s the law. In the movie, the balance between good and evil, the non-interference pact between God and Satan, must be maintained. That’s also a law. Man has the choice to seek redemption. That’s the law.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God or the devil. As Det. Dodson says at one point, people are capable of their own evil. For another, both God and the devil believe in people. Both have invested themselves in the choices that people make for themselves and, thus, the battle for people’s souls was enjoined.

Humans have been granted a gift, one great enough to earn the jealousy of angels. It is the gift of redemption. God’s love is so great that no matter how bad we screw up, all we have to do is ask for forgiveness, and God will embrace us. We are not worthy of this gift, we have done nothing to earn it. It was given freely as a gift of God’s love.

Contrary to what Constantine believes at the outset of this film, we cannot earn redemption through his own efforts. Like Constantine, no matter how hard we try, our efforts are never good enough, and we fall short. Several times, Constantine comes close to saving the day under his own efforts, but just misses.

Only through the power of prayer and faith can we receive the gift of redemption. To be truly forgiven, you have to ask for absolution. A demon, Balthazar (Gavin McGregor Rossdale), gets tricked into confessing because he forgets this fact. Even Constantine has to be reminded of it, by Satan (a scene stealing Peter Stormare) no less, who explains why Constantine keeps seeming to fail.

The key to salvation is found through blood and (self-)sacrifice. Constantine has to shed his own blood and die (a second time), to give himself up voluntarily, to finally defeat evil. Only through this act is his redemption found.

Yes, there’s a plan for all of us. Constantine had to die twice before he figured this out. The angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) sums it up best: “Be the hand of God. It’s your choice. It’s always been your choice.”

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

I’m Not In Love With My Wife

It’s true. I’m not “in love” with my wife. Of course, the key to sharing this thought is to space it far enough from my “Eulogy for Sally” blog entry; otherwise, the police tend to refer to this as motive. [As an aside, one of my favorite comments that I received after someone heard about the stuff that my wife has to put up with as part of the joy of living with me was “Sally’s going to get a big ass crown when she gets to heaven.”]

I’m just sick and tired of people who have no idea of what love is and what marriage is about. A friend of mine had his wife leave him because he no longer met her needs. That’s bullshit. [For those offended by a pastor saying that, replace the offending word with the Greek word “scubalon”. Then feel free to get offended at the New Testament since Paul uses it more often than you might think]. To leave a perfectly fine marriage, especially one with kids involved, seems like lunacy to me. It may have had its problems, but they were fixable ones. Plus what marriage doesn’t have problems?

I lay this mentality right at the metaphorical feet of the altar to one of the most destructive notions to ever attach itself to our culture. The ideal of romantic love. This notion of “romance” paints an unrealistic picture of love and relationships. On the positive side, romance, this thrill of falling “in love”, has its advantages. It blinds us to the faults of a person. After all, you’re talking about a person who’ll eventually get comfortable enough to go to the bathroom in front of you. Who’ll leave their dirty drawers all over the house. The things that you once found so endearing while you were falling “in love” will work your last nerve.

A friend of mine went so far as to call romance novels women’s pornography. He reasoned that since one of the things that pornography does is reduce women to sexual objects, romance is analogous in its objectification love. They reduce men to fantasy objects, providing their readers something that they don’t have or aren’t getting at home. In the bedroom. As part of their fulfillment.

I can’t afford to burden someone with the job of meeting my needs, emotional or otherwise. For that, I’d have to have a harem of wives and then be stuck with the following conundrum: if I can’t please one woman, what makes me think I can please a bunch?

The way I figure it, I can’t sustain the passions of romance forever, in me nor my wife, nor would I want to. It’s hot and shallow, like a brush fire, exciting and enticing, but not long term. To paraphrase the great philosopher, Chris Rock, romance won’t raise your kids, romance won’t cook for you, and romance won’t take care of you when you’re sick.

You know what? Marriage is tough. I realize this and I’ve only been at it for five years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound like I’m looking down my nose at those who end up divorced either. Sally and I almost called it quits after six months. Sure, there’s the honeymoon phase of things, but eventually you have to talk to each other. Eventually you find out that you’re both people, with quirks and failings. Eventually you have to get to the hard work of learning to live with a person just as screwed up as you. Luckily for us, we both loved Christ, re-learned what it meant to love each other, and (re-)learned the hard lessons of what it means to forgive one another.

The “she’s not meeting my needs” is the selfish brand of “love” that our culture perpetuates. That is romance in a nutshell. Love is something deeper that (should) ask different questions: am I meeting her needs? Am I being used as an instrument to bless her? That’s the sacrificial love that’s not popular, nor easily depicted, in media. I’ve had to talk to so many singles that have little idea of what it means to be married, who do think it little more than something to meet their needs. I end up wishing them luck, then tell them that the first thing that I usually hear out of married couples is that their spouse no longer meets their needs, that marriage is not what they imagined, not what they expected, and is far from fulfilling them.

Many experts and singles agree it’s more socially acceptable to be divorced than single and never married” I’ve had friends and family that have had these “starter marriages”. Singles are waiting longer and longer before getting married. I hear some pastors rail against this, overlooking the fact that this generation has seen their parents regard for the institution. And as much as I’ve heard pastors make ridiculous statements on this, the sad truth is that the statistics for Christians who get divorced are higher than “the world’s”. So either something’s not right, or something in their faith is not getting translated into their lives. I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing wrong with the institution of marriage; there’s just something wrong with people. So no, I’m not “in love” with my wife. There are some days that I don’t like her much. But I’m damn sure glad that I love her and that she loves me. I continue to pray that I can be a blessing to her.

Small though my blessings may be.