Archive for October, 2005

My Muse

My muse won’t let me rest,
visiting me at the most inopportune times,
demanding my attention, my affection,
just to prove her hold over me.
And I give it, every time.

She scares me with her seductive power
the ferocity of her hunger.
The ever-present threat of her absence.
For her I forget to eat,
forget to bathe, forget to shave,
forget my wife,
forget any distraction
that keeps me from hearing her small voice.

I’m a slave
I’m a slave
I’m a slave to her rhythms.
To declare my love is a waste of breath.
She knows she owns me.

I cannot hope to possess her,
nor bend her to my will.
But maybe … in those still moments
when I hear her soothing voice with alarming clarity
I can hold her, if only for an instant.

My Muse shows me Truth
and the Truth shows me the Creator.
I delight in her. In her I find rest.
Yet I hate her.
My peace and my torment.

Thoughts for her consume me in a fire of prose and images.
Words come with grace and ease
The story is where we meet,
for a brief respite.
We make love to the page
Inspiration and servant
entwined
Everything falls into place.
I can’t force her.
I beg for the release only she can bring.
So when she comes, it’s perfect.

But when we’re done,
with my heart still thudding in my chest,
she departs.

And I long for her all over again.

She drains me and yet restores my soul.
My mistress.
My muse.

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Writing Blahs

Have you ever bought into a lie about yourself, something you knew wasn’t true, but you bought it anyway? In fact, not just bought it, but bought it wholesale, like there is a low elf-esteem clearance sale going on. And you had coupons.

I’m trying to figure out why I have been in such a “blah” mood when it comes to my writing. Maybe not so much blah, as much as “unmotivated”. To at least feel productive, I’m doing research for a story that I’m on deadline to write. For that matter, I’ve just wrapped up a short story that I’m letting sit before I re-visit it with a fresh eye. And there is the research for the book-blog experiment I’m helping launch next year. I still have television and comic book reviews to turn in. I have two novels that need revisions and two more that need to be outlined. I really ought to write part two of the blog I started only a few days ago.

With all these projects on my to do list, I still can’t help but feel discouraged like Qoholet–the Teacher, to whom the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible is attributed–and throw my hands in the air in a rant of “all is meaningless.”

All of this mood, the source of my “why do I even bother to write” discouragement, originated from the lips of the most fundamental of packages.

My mother.

For two minutes, what I’m sure meant to be “keep at it, honey, your time will soon come” came out along the lines of “why haven’t you gotten a book deal yet? Other people get their book deals right away.” Then she proceeded to tell me how the publishing industry works, how my time could be put to better use, and why I’m not seeing the kind of money (fill in the blank) is making at his job. Mothers have a way of knowing what buttons to push, even inadvertently (however well-intentioned). So that even my latest sale not even two weeks ago tastes like ashes in my mouth.

Basically, I was taken back to the guest blog I did for Brian Keene called Parenting and L’art Pour L’art: Writing, despite our most fervent daydreams, it is not exactly the fast track to riches. We write, we indulge our muse, because we have to. In order to still the voices in our head. Because something in the core of our being crawls up and takes hold of us to move pen to paper. I sympathize with any parent who sees their child toiling away at any “worthless” endeavor, because they want the best for their children. The French call it “l’art pour l’art,” art for the sake of art, and it isn’t practical … Over a civil cup of tea, [my mother] managed to squeeze in a bit of commentary asking when I would quit wasting my time with this writing thing. After all, I wasn’t making any real money doing it. She never saw herself as being particularly discouraging; this was just her typical brand of “negative encouragement” as she tried to steer me back on a course she judged to be more realistic.

It’s odd to hear or feel that 90% of your life is a waste, but I know I have to snap out of this. Luckily for me, I have three things working in my favor. The work and deadlines loom with enough tacit pressure. The work has to be done. Plus, I have a strong community around me. Friends who support me, prop me up if they have to. Colleagues who have been there, not with my mother, but we all have our discouragers. And my faith.

Faith? How are you going to bring your faith into this? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’m convinced that when you do what you were meant to do, it is to the delight of the Lord. It helps that I also think that one reason Christianity has become so seemingly dry and dull is because we don’t allow room for each other to wrestle with art. Instead of letting it speak to and through us, we feel uncomfortable unless we make it conform to established dogma, being more propaganda than art.

It boils down to the fact that my priorities are not her priorities. I can’t live her life and she can’t live her life through me. I simply needed to remind myself of that.

And gear up because the holidays are soon upon me.

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God Conversations part I – Counting Conversations

My mom used to sell Mary Kay make up. Lord knows, she was a gifted saleswoman. What made her a good salesperson was the same thing that kept her from being a good person to just hang out with: she became all about the sales pitch. When I saw her coming, I was tempted to run the other direction. I didn’t care if I was a winter. I wasn’t into any male beauty products. I didn’t have any friends that might be interested in having a Mary Kay party. Suddenly, she never met a stranger, only people who might need someone to help connect them with their make up needs. Watching her in action, every conversation eventually turned to that person’s make up needs. Evangelicals are constantly under pressure to “spread the good news,” made to feel like bad Christians if we aren’t telling everyone we bump into about how Jesus came and died for their sins. In effect, we’ve been turned into salesmen. That’s why when people find out that you’re a Christian, this deer in the headlights look comes over their face and they try to weasel out of whatever conversation you were having.

I’m all about sharing the gospel message of Christ, I’m not about cramming it down everyone’s throat. I don’t buy into the “greatest act of love is to share Christ”/“confrontational evangelism” brand of guilting folks into a state of constant witnessing. We’ve become “decision counters,” being all about forcing that moment of sales-pressure decision for Christ. If nothing else, you know what? Not everyone is wired to be a salesman. We have unique personalities, unique gifts, and we should take that into account when figuring out how to go about sharing. There is no master pitch to learn; there is more than one way to evangelize. We’ve bought so much into the modern idea of how to network and salesmanship, that we’ve often overlook the power of “ordinary evangelism”.

Few people want to be “preached” to about God whereas a lot of people want to talk about God. There is a fascinating difference in perception between the two. When people speak of being preached to, what they mean is pointed conversations with agendas. You see, it’s easy to find people who will talk to you about religion. It’s harder to find someone you want to talk about it. Luckily, I find that being a horror writer who works at a church is a dual-edged sword for conversations: certain “church types” shun me, not wishing to engage me in any meaningful conversations (yay!) and certain “non-church types” seek me out to talk (yay!). In both cases I think it’s has a lot to do with preconceptions about me. Rightly or wrongly, I’m seen as someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what people expect. I listen without judgment, trying to engage them in a spirit of love. One interesting effect of this is that I’ve been allowed to be the fly on the wall in a lot of situations and it has let me learn some insights into how we as Christians go about “witnessing” or evangelizing.

My hack theologian friend put it this way: we must believe that God is at work in the ordinary – in our small, simple acts of love. We must believe that God will work through a simple “thank you,” an encouraging word, even a simple smile. Though we cannot change the world, we can, through the simplest acts of kindness, change someone’s world. When our focus is narrowed like this, we are finally in a position to accomplish something … Jim Henderson argues that one of the main problems with traditional evangelism is that we are pressured “to close the deal with people, and we haven’t been shown the value and importance of simply connecting with people in a normal, ordinary way.” In confrontational evangelism, connections are not counted; only deal-closers prove one’s witness was a success. Ultimately, however, the connections we establish with others have more spiritual impact than forcing a decision on someone and then moving onto another target.

Ordinary evangelism demands that we reevaluate our standards for success. Our focus must not be on numbers, but on loving and serving people. Too often, confrontational evangelism evaluates its success on the numbers of decisions it generates. Instead, we must evaluate our success by how faithful we have been to demonstrate the life and love of Christ; in other words, by the connections we have made. The real test of Christian witness is not how many decisions we gather, but how well we love others. One way to evaluate this is to answer the question: Is our Christian faith making us a better or worse neighbor?

We need to be in-the-moment relationship builders. Constantly making connections and being a part of people’s lives. Conversations need to be the end goal, listening and learning about people for their own sake. It becomes about building relationships and seeing where they go. Small talk has lost its value since the only talk worth anything is our “conversion speech.” Yes, this is a more holistic way of sharing our faith, but I think it spares us from falling into the pitfall of evangelism objectifying people, reducing them to objects to obtain for God. The difference between friendship evangelism and intentional friendship is the difference between manipulative vs. genuine relationships. Intentional friendships is about sharing life with people without an end strategy, not looking for an opening to make a pitch. It’s about loving people for who they are, where they are, and how they are. Be a genuine human being and care for other people genuinely.

I’m not interested in arguing with people. People have a lot to offer, and I want to learn from them as well as give anything that might be of use (just don’t look for me to have all the answers on every spiritual matter. You might as well get used to “I don’t know” as my spiritual answer). Too often, evangelicals, from their pulpit of hubris, act like “unbelievers” have nothing to offer. Look, there are many worldviews from which to learn. For me, a simple stance of mutual respect (mixed with a healthy dose of humility) leads to people being able to converse. Converse–not preach at each other, not try and persuade one other to a new view–setting the stage for challenging and meaningful dialogue. Conversation for its own sake, talking about any and all issues, not as set up for the “get out of hell” pitch. Be real. Be who you are. Trust God to be at work in the ordinary. Otherwise, this quote from the Big Kahuna best sums it up:

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. “

Test: How ghetto is you?

[Snarked from Black Folks]


GET A PENCIL AND PAPER BEFORE YOU START THIS.
BE truthful!

1. You’ve ever used an album cover for a dustpan. (5 points)

2. If you’ve ever run a race barefoot in the middle of the street. (10 points)

3. You had a candy lady in your neighborhood. (5 + 5 extra points if your house was the candy lady)

4. If you ever had to pick your own switch or belt. (3 points for each)

5. If you have ever had to walk to school or walked home from school. (2 points)

6. If you have ever used dishwashing liquid for bubble bath. (5 points)

7. If you ever mixed Kool-Aid one glass at a time because you got tired of other people drinking up the Kool-Aid you just made. (5 points)

8. If you have ever played any of the following games: hide and go seek, freeze, tag, Momma may I? or red light/green light. (2 points each)

9. If your neighborhood had an ice cream man. (2 points + 2 if he rang a bell)

10. If you refer to “Now and Later” candies as “Nighladers”. (5 points)

11. If you’ve ever run from the police on foot. (5 points + 5 if you got away)

12. If you’ve ever had reusable bacon grease in a container on your stove. (5 points + 15 if you still do it)

13. The batteries in your remote control ever been held in by a piece of tape. (5 points)

14. If you have ever worn any of the following fragrances Brute, Hai Karate, Jean Nate, Old Spice, Chloe, English Leather, Stetson, Charlie, or Faberge. (1 point each):

15. You’ve ever used Tussy. (5 points)

16. You’ve never been to the dentist. (15 points)

17. If you have a friend or family member whose nickname is one word said twice: dee-dee, fee-fee, man-man, Kay-Kay, lee-lee, ree-ree, ray-ray, nay-nay, etc. (10 points)

18. You have ever paged yourself for any reason. (3 points)

19. You’ve ever worn house shoes outside of the house. (2 points)

20. You add “ED” or “T” to the end of words already in the past tense (for example, Tooked, Light-Skinneded, kilt, ruint, etc.) (5 points)

21. You use ‘n’em to describe a certain group of people ( for example Craig’n’em or Momma ‘n’em). (5 points)

22. You’ve ever driven on a donut more than 2 weeks after your flat. (5 points)

23. Your child drops his/her pacifier and you sanitize it by sucking it. (10 points)

24. You have ever slept in a chair to avoid messing up your hair. (10 points)

25. You’ve ever left a social gathering with a plate. (2 points)

26. You can’t hold a glass because of the length of your nails. (5 points)

27. The gold teeth in your mouth spell words. (10 points)

28. You don’t have your own place but your child has a leather coat and a pair of Jordan’s. (15 points)

29. You constantly hit *69 and ask, “Did you just call here?” (10 points)

30. You think Tupac is still alive. (20 points)

31. If you are going to have to use a calculator to add your points. (25 points)


TEST RESULTS:

0 – 50 points – I guess you were raised in the suburbs

51 – 75 points – A bonafide ex-hood rat

76 – 150 points – Spent a little time in the projects, huh?

150 points or more – Still there, huh?

*******
I pointedly refused to break out my calculator to add up my score and still ended up at 89. For the record, I know many of my redneck friends would score pretty high on this also.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Too Old to Club

After the dark cloud that has been following us lately, we thought that we owed it to ourselves to go out on the town and just celebrate … life. This week brought a lot of birthdays (happy birthday Janrae Frank!) and we thought that the perfect excuse to go out. One thing that you should know is that I’ve always had a heart for singles ministry. A lot of my time in “ministry” has been with singles groups, the over-looked group in a church (unless they need people to staff the nursery). Church culture pushes “the family” and have a way of making singles seem like they are doing something wrong by not being married (or worse, like incomplete people or even “sinners”).

Now, the twenty-something crowd loves my wife and I. I’m a pastor-type that they can invite to go to night clubs with (hey, I’m all about keeping my finger on the pulse of things … and having excuses to ditch the kids). However, I came to two inescapable conclusions while hanging out at Jillians:

1) To quote Cedric the Entertainment “I’m a grown ass man.”

2) My wife has to outlive me.

Two rules will govern this post: there will be no pictures and no pics (though many of my co-conspirators hang out on my message board), but let me tell you, I think that I’ve gotten old. Sometime in the last month or so. In theory, Jillians sounded like a cool place to hang out. Hibachi grill restaurants on the first level, pool and video games on the second level, and a dance club and a bowling alley on the third level (with a bar on every floor). I ain’t got time for throwing food as part of our dinner entertainment (unless it’s at a family dinner). Folks shouldn’t have to spend a good chunk of an evening combing hair out of their weave, that’s all I’m saying. I ain’t got time for drinks called “blow jobs” or “red-headed sluts” (tasty though they may be). And as always, some people need to remember that Jesus turned water into wine, not tequila.

Tequila is no one’s friend.

Now, I missed out on much of the club scene when I was in my own 20s (I had started a singles ministry called, well, Twenties). Still, I ended up breaking my vow of never going dry-humping-to-a-beat (read: being married means never having to go dancing again) with my wife. Now, I love young people (see, that’s when I knew I was old: I started referring to twenty somethings as “young people”), but I shouldn’t have to consult the Kama Sutra for the latest dance steps. Though I did think the picture of some of our group pole-dancing might make for a good picture for our first church bulletin. “From left to right you see the co-pastor’s wife, the head of our children’s ministry, a member of our arts team, and the wife of our volunteer research scholar (or whatever we’re calling him, we suck at titles).” Thus, the no pictures rule, that and the fact that there are still pictures of me in a coconut bra, from a luau I threw once, floating around out there; leading people to point and ask “he does what at the church?” I will admit that those present with the last name Broaddus (and there were a few of us representing), still know how to break ‘em off some on a dancefloor. Maybe I should revise this. I’m too old to club, my wife is an eternal 20-something (reverting back to her clubbing past, including enjoying being hit on by guys. She has a slightly different recollection of this evening). Though, I was also reminded why I don’t go clubbing with my siblings. I don’t need to see that.

You see, “I’m a grown ass man.”

Which is why my wife has to outlive me. I’m not trying to be that brother too old for the club. You know the one, there’s always one. Standing at the end of the bar. Drink in one hand, eyeing the ladies just a little too hard. With a little too much gray, or a too balding thatch of hair. A little too old school. I don’t have time to do the dating scene anymore, faking the empty banter. I don’t have time to keep up with the attitude and fashions of the day. Heck, I don’t even have time to be sensitive to another person’s quirks. And, frankly, I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination to break in someone new (my wife has no choice but to stay with me as once you go black … your credit is messed up, too). Long live the queen.

I’m her “grown ass man.”

Okay, that’s it. Lack of sleep makes me loopy. I’m rambling like an idiot. Another blog entry to make our head pastor proud and giving him another excuse to conveniently forget that I have a blog (read: plausible deniability). Yet none of this is going to stop me from hitting this here little “post blog” button.

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The Lost Art of Imprecatory Prayer

As you might imagine, I took a measure of grief from some circles regarding the guest blog Wrath James White graciously wrote for me. To me, the “words of Wrathalmost sound like the contemporary voice of an Old Testament prophet. However, the criticisms got me to thinking about some of the kinds of prayers that make us uncomfortable: imprecatory Psalms. Imprecatory Psalms or prayers are those petitions for misfortune, or curses, on another; the righteous asking God to carry out His justice. They are heartfelt, often angry sounding pleas for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the wicked. Simply put, we see the evil and injustice perpetrated around us, to people we love, and we cry out.

We’ve become accustomed to prayers with lofty, spiritual speak–often marked by sentimentality–and though they aren’t bad, they aren’t the full spectrum of “valid” prayer. There are all sorts of prayer, all sorts of ways that we can talk to God. There’s no secret formula, no code language that only one religious group or another knows that catches God’s ear. And while we are comfortable talking about the blessings of God–and there are many, showered on the faithful and non-faithful alike– we forget about the curses of God. We’ve lost those good, old-fashioned “God come smite these folks who have pissed me off” prayers. Imprecatory Psalms were recorded and preserved for use in public worship; a pattern for Israel as well as the cries of individual’s hearts. So, imagine these words set to 70s soft rock music (you know, how all worship choruses should be done):

“When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.” Psalms 109:7-13

We have come far in our modern sophistication to where these kinds of prayers make us uncomfortable. They don’t fit inside our tidy, theological boxes. We relegate the harsh rhetoric, the curses and smiting, to the God of the Old Testament, not to be confused with the all-love-all-the-time God of the New Testament. It’s like we think that God’s smiting aspect was simply a phase He went through, neglecting the continuity of story between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus’ “woe to you” cannonade that He unleashed on the Pharisees (the religious leaders of the day) was imprecatory language. So unless you want to believe that His sandals were particularly binding that day, we may need to re-evaluate how we view God, have a bigger picture of who He is, and what it means to authentically talk to Him.

There seems to be two issues that need to be wrestled with. For one thing, is God big enough for us to be real with? We are called to be authentic. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as being too authentic, because since we are broken vessels, the fact that we are a mess is sort of taken into account. Half the time, we don’t even know what to pray, so the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. However, I think part of being authentic allows for us to be authentically pissed (and by “pissed”, I mean “righteously angry”). The second thing we have to wrestle with is whether or not it is the loving thing to do to pray for God to crush our enemies. Religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and the desire to see justice done unites the religious and non-religious alike.

I would argue that we are, in fact, obligated to pray these kinds of prayers. Radical hatred is the right response to radical evil. We need to be angered by evil, by injustice, by the wrongs of the world. Evil needs to be resisted, opposed, even wept over. Rage is a perfectly natural, valid first response. It is human way to deal with our pent up fury. It is doubly an appropriate response if we do it before God, the God of Love and Justice. We have to expunge these “dark emotions” from ourselves. Part of forgiveness process is us venting our grief, frustration, and anger, only then can we continue with the healing/forgiveness process. Imprecatory prayers help put things in perspective. The words are, and should be, shocking to hear.

There do seem to be two prerequisites for imprecatory prayers: only the innocent dare pray them and only the wicked need fear them. The prayer-er needs to be one whose hands and heart are clean, worships God, and in right standing with Him (which sometimes means confessing their own sin in the process), not suffering because of their own sin, and innocent of the charges of the wicked. The prayer-ee cannot merely our enemy, but must be God’s enemy. So we’re not talking about the neighbor who lets their dog poop in our yard without scooping, the family member who has annoyed you, or your boss who’s a constant jerk to you. I am talking about those guilty of long term disobedience and unrepentant wickedness for individuals and nations (a fact we’d be better to keep in mind with the decisions that we make as a nation). I’m not a fire and brimstone sort of guy and that’s not what this is about: there are real consequences to real evil.

The language of imprecatory prayers should shock us, or at least make us nervous. If nothing else, it has the propensity for leading to a Crusades mentality, to crush all the infidels in the name of Jesus. To paraphrase Greyhound’s ad slogan, “go Jesus, and leave the smiting to Him.”

This doesn’t seem to line up with the love Christ talked about. We have trouble reconciling this spirit of vindictiveness with the meekness, gentleness, and peace that Christ embodied. Well, yes it does. Though a valid expression of anger, we can’t remain at the “rage” stage. Hatred, any declared emnity, changes us. It skews our perspective. We can’t get caught up in it lest it corrupt us. Imprecatory prayers are our way of giving our anger over to God. We want God’s grace, His justice based on who He is (lovingkindness).

Look at Psalm 109 in its entirety. For all the harsh sounding language, David’s just asking God to do what He said He would do. The imprecatory part of an imprecatory psalm is only part of the psalm not the entirety of its message. On a practical level, compare David’s severe prayer with how he lived his life. He refused to harm his enemy (King Saul, the common subject of
David’s laments and imprecations), despite having several opportunities. In fact, he was conscience-stricken over the spirit in which he even cut off a piece of Saul’s robe.

Eventually, we have to move from our first, gut (human) response to a “Christian” response. A Christian response is not slapping a happy face on a situation. A Christian response is not spouting a bunch of cliches meant to comfort but feeling like cattle prods. A Christian response means looking at circumstances in light of Christ’s mission. There is a tougher idea to reconcile: no one is beyond divine grace. We are commanded to love our enemies, returning a blessing for a curse. While often shocking, imprecatory prayers allow us to put things in God’s hands. Ultimately our prayer becomes “God forgive them and transform us.” A Christian response is moving toward reconciliation, a forgiving of our enemy. Grace doesn’t preclude justice being done. Call evil deeds what they are: evil. We must protect the innocent. However, our actions must move toward redemption.

We like to pit seemingly contradictory i
deas against one another, but this is not a matter of justice versus mercy, love vs. hate, law vs. grace, or the Old Testament vs. the New Testament. The issue of imprecatory prayers doesn’t rise to the level of paradox. They have value and purpose and should be prayed, we just have to be careful with them. Careful because as you judge, so shall you be judged. Careful to view imprecatory prayers in light of Christ. The purpose of them is to bring the criminal to repentance and if there is no repentance, then for punishment. Imprecatory prayers are like an appeal to the Supreme’s court. Our walks of faith are tricky things to maintain. We try to have a balance, a nuance to them that allows for intellectual rigor as well as allowing for mystery. Sometimes authenticity looks messy.

By the way…
Lost for a smart remark to see off your enemies? Unable to deliver that killer insult? Put an end to “I was speechless!” misery with the amazing Biblical Curse Generator, which is pre-loaded with blistering put-downs as delivered by Elijah, Jeremiah and other monumentally angry saints … get ready to smite your foes with a custom-made curse straight out of the Old Testament.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Justifying the Indentation on my Couch

The Fall television season sort of snuck up on me during my recent self-imposed downtime, so I’ve been wrestling with finding meaning in our pop culture. These two things have combined to create a body-shaped indentation in our couch. However, since my subscriptions to TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly ran out at the same time, I’ve been picking shows fairly blind. This has been good and bad, as I’ve been sampling shows at random, um, with a bent toward the boom in genre shows. So I have a slew of new reviews over at my Hollywood Jesus blog.

Some television executives think that there is a ground swell of interest in the inner workings of Washington D.C., thus I have reviews of Commander-In-Chief (reasonably compelling, if you buy the implausible premise) and E-Ring (more compelling, if you can get past the annoying lead characters), both of whom suffer in comparison to The West Wing (a lion in winter; these new shows would be completely unwatchable in comparison to The West Wing in its prime). Of the recent genre related shows, I blew off Supernatural and Ghost Whisperer, but reviewed Invasion (a keeper), Night Stalker (thin, but I’m giving it a chance to grow on me), and Surface (a B-movie stretched into a series). I’m still taping Threshold, but haven’t had a chance to review it, though I suspect that I’m going to enjoy it. And Grey’s Anatomy, which I admit that I started watching last year.

On the movie front, I have recent reviews on Serenity (I’m a Joss Whedon fanboy so you can imagine the tone of the review) and on the movie The Gospel. As a matter of fact, I also wrote a second article on The Gospel and the Black Church discussing some growing concerns that the movie highlights.

Also, the 20042005 issue of Hollywood Jesus Reviews goes to press this week. pre-order the latest book This volume covers August 2004 through July 2005. Twenty three HJ staffers will be represented in this volume. This year’s collection of reviews covers 90 top films, every one of them reviewed from HollywoodJesus.com’s spiritual perspective. The ideas that move the world infuse the cinema, and audiences are still paying attention. Into the darkness of the theatre comes a great light. God is behind the screen, and Jesus is in the seats. Take a close look the next time you’re there. Some of my reviews making it into this volume include: Blade: Trinity, Crash, Elektra, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Saw, Shark Tale, and Sin City (the review where Christianity Today said that “Maurice Broaddus put a positive spin on sin.”)

Also on the agenda, the Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering (HJAG 2005) will be December 29, 2005 through January 1, 2006 in Renton, Washington. Hosted by Harambee Church and the Harambee Community Development Association (HCDA), this once-a-year event is designed to equip and encourage the far-flung virtual staff of Hollywood Jesus—as well as others who support ministry through and to popular culture. Since I’m leading a panel on the Horror genre and co-leading one on comic books, I ought to eventually start working on something to talk about.

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Nemesis Resignation

It is with great regret that I have to turn in my resignation as Nick Kaufmann’s nemesis.

You see, in my errant youth, um, all of this past February, I formally announced that It’s a little known fact that every writer should have an arch-nemesis. I’ve chosen Nick Kaufmann as mine. I’ve dedicated myself to stopping his evil wherever it rears its head. Apparently I have been going about this whole nemesis thing the wrong way. Once again, coinciding with my recent epiphany on stalkers, I’ve had to re-think my role as Kaufmann’s nemesis.

I’d link you to my self-declared “adversary”’s LiveJournal, but then you’d blame me for showing you the ramblings and well, why give my adversary that much more exposure. I think we’d all be better off ignoring some of the exposure seeking trolls in the horror writing community trying to make a name for themselves by besmirching others. Unless they rise to the level of being threatening, then have at them. Mine isn’t even to the level of annoyance, but this person has given me the occasion to question a few things.

Apparently I’ve been going about the nemesis thing all wrong. I look forward to Kaufmann’s appearances in City Slab and Cemetery Dance, with plans on purchasing those appearances. I’m capable of missives that are short, on point, and adhere to the accepted rules of grammar. Though he no longer hangs out regularly on as many message boards, I don’t haunt his LiveJournal, jamming it up at his every post. I don’t have “off my meds” moments causing me to send him multiple e-mails a day, including research/links to esoteric topics that he has little to no interest in.

And I’m guessing that I’m a better dresser.

So, I hereby resign as Nick Kaufmann’s nemesis. The position is now available to all interested parties. I still, however, retain the Nick Mamatas chair in our Indiana chapter of the Horror Writer’s Association. They luvs me.

[Um, so that there’s not misunderstanding, for the record, I relish my adversary because this person makes my life interesting (read: don’t read this as an attack – I don’t want to come home to find my cat in a pot or something).]

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My Rock, My Fortress

Some people need to relax a minute and back away from their keyboards. It’s okay to vent. I’ve officially given myself permission to vent. It’s a perfectly human reaction to troubling, frustrating situations. I’m not going to take a microscope to someone’s theology when I see them venting; that’s missing the forest for the tree jammed in your eye kind of thinking. So if I read someone writing something in their blog along the lines of:

“I feel a whole new kind of lost and I’m looking for anything or anyone to help me find my way. I try to look to God, but I’m so angry at him for this right now that even He’s no comfort. And I try to think to myself that everything happens for a reason, and this is in God’s plan for me and He felt that I needed to go through this, but all those thoughts make me do is question my faith altogether. Sure God’s allowed me to live and breathe, but that’s not gonna exactly make me do a happy dance.

“I just want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not cry. I want to stay up during the day and sleep at night again like normal people. I want to talk to and be face-to-face with people who care about me and not feel inadequate. I don’t want to be afraid of the dark. I don’t want to look over my shoulders all of the time even in my car.

“Right now, in my state of mind, I think that even if God himself came face to face with me right here and told me why this happened, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. And people keep running these tired cliches past me as if any of them will make me feel better. The one that I’ve heard like 250 times in the past couple of days is, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Well, I was doing ok with the strength that I had before. I could have done without the extra boost. And if these things are the muscle enhancers in life, then I’d rather just be out of shape.”

I’m going to do the human thing by putting my arms around them and letting them know how much they are loved, not criticize their theology.

Frankly, I’m still kind of thinking through a post I made a few days back about how You Can’t Protect the Ones You Love. An idea that has been rattling around in my head is about whether or not we should be expecting “protection” from God. (It’s funny, just in writing that, I feel like I’ve turned God into some sort of mafia don. As if He collects my tithes, prayers, and good deeds as part of some spiritual racketeering scam.)

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

God is in an unenviable position. He gets praised when good things happen and blamed when bad things happen. David sings His praises after God gets him out of a jam, the occasion of the Psalm being his escape from an angry king, and is called a man after God’s own heart. Later on, however, his own poor decision making leads to Bathsheba’s life being blown to crap. So often, we, like Bathsheba, end up asking “Where was God?”

We have a natural sense of God as our protector and desire to seek His protection. We want His protection, especially in light of the fact that we can’t protect one another. When bad things happen, it’s like we long for God to step in, in a more direct way, and control things. We don’t ask such things when things are going “okay” (or as we’re making our own bad decisions). It’s like we want a “sovereign” God when it’s convenient. Well, to quote Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate, “Free will’s a bitch.”

God weeps over tragedies along side us, and if I’m permitted a moment of spiritual speculation, I’d daresay He weeps in a much more powerful way than we do. This isn’t what He created us or the world to be. I know that as a parent, I can relate to the idea of my children not growing into the men I want them to be. It’s tough, for me, to come to grips with the idea that my kids are, well, little people. Imbued with free will. And free will’s a bitch. At some point, despite or because of my best efforts, they will make their own decisions for their lives. The best I can hope for is to be there for them, in good times and bad. To help them, even carry them, through the bad times.

Evil happens. Evil people also have free wills and make their decision to inflict their brand of evil on others. Yes, God can shape evil things that happen for good in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that He caused the evil. Could He have stepped in and stopped it? Sure. Should He? If we’re honest, we have to answer “yes, when it makes our life smoother, but not all the time”. Well, if we want Him to step in, but not all the time to where it robs us of free will, where does that leave us? Are we ultimately in this alone?

Boils down to whether we will have a life based in assurance or based in anxiety. Let me see if I can explain what I mean by that. We can live in a state of freedom in life, having a state of peace, faith, and confidence stemming from the assurance that we have in Christ Jesus. OR, we can continue on our own way, left to our own devices, with fear, doubt, and insecurity, trapped in a cycle of spiritual death. This assurance springs from faith in God as the ultimate protector, that sense that He is the ultimate, faithful judge. It doesn’t mean that He will spare you from every bad thing that could happen to you, but it does mean that we trust in Him ultimately exposing evil for what it is, and avenging us.

Then again, during times trying to my faith, I still find myself echoing my favorite prayer: “Lord I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”

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