Archive for December, 2005

End of Self Moments

As the year draws to an end, maybe we should all have mirror conversations. You know, when we look in the mirror and realize that we aren’t where we were meant to be, not doing what we were meant to do, not living how we were meant to live. In short, when we realize that we aren’t the people we were meant to be – and we try and figure out why:

My parents. They didn’t love me like they should have. They didn’t nurture me. They belittled me, even filled my head with false images of myself and my potential.

My childhood. People shunned me, were mean to me. You can’t judge me because you don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve been through.

My friends. Failed to be there for me. Stabbed me in the back at times. Them with their cliques that I wasn’t good enough for.

My significant other. Should listen to me better. Should understand me more. Should be better at meeting my needs. On the whole, they don’t respect me, not the way I should be.

Criminals. All those worthless f-ks who hurt the innocent, who hurt people I care about. Who make me live in fear and make me feel terrorized and helpless.

My culture. Lost and directionless, what more can I say? With its misplaced sense of morality, values, and right and wrong. Buying into all the wrong ideas about how to treat women, money, and what kind of lifestyle to lead. With its loss of community as we prey on one another.

Other cultures. Screw them. They’ve denied me opportunities, that is, when they weren’t persecuting me for one reason or another. Then they have the nerve to complain if I dare bring up their culpability in why I am where I am or where they are.

The Church. Running around in Jesus’ name, spreading hate and divisiveness. A bunch of hypocrites going on and on about the sins of others, all the while covering up their own sins. Continuing to let me down.

God. Who created all of this then turned His back on His creation. On us. On me. He has a lot to answer for.

Eventually, we run out of people to blame and are left with the person staring at us in the mirror. I mean, God? Who am I to demand anything of Him? What’s He going to say that I’m going to understand (or deserve to hear)? For all my complaints about the church, I’ve rarely been a part of one long enough to make a difference in one. I’ve been a poor child, a poor parent, a poor friend, and so uncomfortable in my own skin and with who I am, I’m stunned I can even function through any given day. In my relationships, I’ve constantly failed to hold up my end of things, more concerned with my needs being met that I can’t see past myself to meet their needs.
Maybe I’ve squandered the opportunities that have come my way, so convinced that I was going to fail anyway that I sabotaged things before they got started. Maybe I am the problem and maybe that is where the beginning of the solution lies. Maybe there’s something within my nature, my character, my weakness that needs to change.

It’s only a thought. An end of self thought.

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On Being Fine

I left a version on this as a comment on a friend’s blog and thought that I would expound on it here.

It’s fine to not be fine. So often we ask how one another is doing, and we expect the answer fine. Those asked the question feel the to answer fine. That’s fine for both parties. Societal obligation to politeness are met. The asker wants to know no more than fine. The asked only feel like sharing fine. Anything better than fine sounds too showy. Anything worse than fine requires being vulnerable. We’re a fine society. Fine is all we can handle.

But my friend was not fine. And she posted her not-fineness. And was fine in not being fine. And it was fine that she was not fine (though she was fine that she wasn’t fine–which was fine– and as her friend, I was fine that she was not fine. Not that I didn’t care about her not being fine, but because there was no condition on friendship that says you have to be fine at all times in order to be my friend. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the way that friendship works).

Being real means sometimes we’re not fine. Of course, being real may mean that those unable to handle another’s realness may be uncomfortable to the point of silence or absence. Authenticity is one of those buzzwords that people like to toss around, though I don’t always know if they are prepared to handle that being authentic may mean having to live through another’s not-fineness. Being not fine is messy. Messy situations, messy feelings, messy ways of muddling through them.

The solutions to our not-fineness isn’t in senseless distraction, television watching marathons, ice cream binges, sleeping, or a bottle; though admittedly, there is some measure of comfort to be found in all of those activities. However, the best long term and healthy solution lies in being in community with one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and being not-fine with each other. (I mean, we’re fine with each other, but if we’re not-fine, at least we’re not fine with one another).

Putting this into practice was how we wrapped up our Christmas day. You see, one of my family’s Christmas tradition (one I started when I was single) is to open up our home to whoever needs someplace to hang out on Christmas. Let’s face it, for all the talk of love and family, the holidays can be tough. Even if they weren’t tough, sometimes forced time with the family can be. So we provide the escape from spending the day with family and try to create someplace to just relax for our friends. Some friends still healing from divorce. Some friends finding out they are getting divorced. Some friends healing from the loss of their child. Some friends dealing with their all-to-present children. Some friends who are fine. Some friends who are not fine.

Being fine and not fine together.

[Also, sometimes it may take the mild consumption of alcohol to make sense of my posts. It certainly makes me funnier.]

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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.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

Come Christmas Eve, I knew things weren’t going to end well when my mother called me up starting the conversation with “Your father and I were having a debate. Which one of us is more affectionate?” After explaining that neither of them were exactly exemplars of affection, the conversation ended with her saying “Okay we’ll do better. It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf.”

A lone wolf howled in the distance. The bone scraping creak of a basement door opening. The rustle of dead leaves across a grave site. The tendrils of fear wrapped themselves around the base of my spine and sent a chill through my soul. That was what the idea of hearing my parents promising to be affection reminded me of.

Now, it’s not Christmas in the Broaddus household until 1) we hear “Silent Night” by the Temptations and 2) we’ve taken a picture of at least one of the boys crying on Santa’s (my brother-in-law) lap. This year Santa surrounded himself with some ghetto elves (let’s face it, how often do you get to hear “‘Sup Santa. Let’s do this.”).

Christmas morning was spent at my parents’ house. Now, we had all of two white people over in addition to the rest of the usual suspects, both family and both with full credentialed ghetto passes: my wife and my best friend. My mother decided to relate to them by making all of us suffer through Christmas music on the country station. Because, you know, she’s trying to be affectionate.

I also learned several important lessons during the course of the all day (and all night) festivities:
-the phrase “I’m gonna beat your little ass” is non-stop funny from the mouth of a three-year old
-if you’re going to have to hire a divorce lawyer, pass on any named “Crapo”
-if you are only charged only $75 for the cost of your divorce proceedings (not $75 per hour, but $75 en toto) expect the court to bend you over into its favorite position
-never take the last of a man’s Tide
-a guy who shows up with a guitar will feel obligated to play it (and any listener of the Bob and Tom Show knows what that means)

My wife is handling this year’s Kwanzaa report, for those interested. Me? Well, I’m off to pick up the pizzas we ordered from Papa Johns (since apparently they won’t deliver to my neighborhood after dark).

A Holiday Under Siege – Day 29

Is it just me or are people more hysterical than usual about Christmas?

First there is the grand debate set off when some of the nation’s most prominent megachurches have decided not to hold worship services on the Sunday that coincides with Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” … “I see this in many ways as a capitulation to narcissism, the self-centered, me-first, I’m going to put me and my immediate family first agenda of the larger culture,” said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. “If Christianity is an evangelistic religion, then what kind of message is this sending to the larger culture – that worship is an optional extra?”

I didn’t have a big issue with this, probably because we (The Dwelling Place) decided to not be open. That stems from a few things: we’re in the process of moving into a building (and we figure that the people whose home we are currently meeting in wouldn’t want us dropping in on their Christmas); and since we want to be about slowing people’s lives down, why not give them the opportunity to do Christmas (guilt free) with their family. Their primary church.

Scot McKnight put it this way in his blog: My suggestion is this: let’s be a little more charitable in light of what the NT does and does not say. Let’s permit our brothers and sisters, once every seven years, to make decisions that we might not approve of but know that they answer to God, that we answer to God, that it is about worship of God and incarnating the gospel in our world for the good of others and the world.

For that matter, John H. Armstrong comes at the matter from a different way. He says let’s ask a question at the heart of the discussion: Does the NT teach a Sunday morning worship service? Well, the evidence isn’t what some are making it out to be. We need to be fair here: there is a distinction between what is taught and what is mentioned or hinted at as something practiced. And there is no clear text legislating that Christians are to meet for worship on a Sunday morning … how can so many conservative Christians be so troubled about massive retail chains (making billions of dollars by associating year-end sales with the birth of Jesus) saying, “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” while many of our largest conservative churches will close on Christmas Day? And how can we keep stressing “family values” while we downplay the family Jesus clearly told his disciples mattered most-the family of those who are his brothers and sisters.

From there, the war takes on a whole new level of the surreal.

Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel is running a “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign” and James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund is running a “Christmas Project.” Countless hours and thousands of dollars are being poured into these efforts.

Bill O’Reilly began a recurring segment on The O’Reilly Factor called “Christmas Under Siege,” joining the American Family Association have joined in to target Target, and other chain stores, for banning employees from wishing customers a “Merry Christmas.” O’Reilly also did a segment with Fox News’ commentator John Gibson, author of the bestselling book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

And my inbox has been inundated with tales of “the real story of Christmas” from both pagans and Christians alike. Our Christmas service split the difference with a message telling the Christmas story from the perspective of the Magi, you know, the three wise men. The three kings is how they are popularly spun, deflecting the image that they were pagan astrologers who got the dates right and wanted to be in on the whole Messiah thing from the beginning.

Why am I always the last one to get the memos? I want in on this war. Let’s really take it to this secular culture. Their next move may be a campaign to take away weekends from us, since we all know the only reason we have weekends is so that we can observe the Sabbath. Our first offensive should be a campaign waged against the days of the week. We’ve got to get the names changed. I’m tired of paying homage to Norse and Roman deities. First we get the days, then we’ll go after the months.

I AM A GOD WARRIOR!

(Um, Merry Christmas!)

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Human Rights Ordinance & Defensive Marriage Acts

“This (ordinance) just puts us in line with other cities, like Louisville, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio,” said Bil Browning, a gay-rights activist who helped garner support for the passage of Proposal 622, which bans discrimination in the workplace and housing market on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The measure is known in the local gay and lesbian community as the Human Rights Ordinance, or HRO. The City-County Council passed the measure Monday night by a 15-14 vote. Mayor Bart Peterson has said he plans to sign the measure this week.

First thing Tuesday, Mary Byrne, who operates a bookstore on East Street that caters to gays and lesbians, painted a message in huge letters across her front window: “YEAH! HRO Passed!”
“We’re so pleased, we’re thankful, we feel welcomed,” Byrne said. But she then quickly added that the proposal’s passage is just a start. “The push at this point needs to be working to defeat the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.”

And it begins.

All this ordinance passing does is set up the fight over the state’s ban on gay marriage. My e-mail and voice mail boxes were filled with pleas to rally, call, and pray against the passing of the Human Rights Ordinance. While I still don’t equate the Gay Rights movement with the Civil Rights Movement, I have no issues about there being no discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. If people are this hysterical now, I can’t imagine what things will be like when that war is actually waged. Normally at this moment, I’d make some flippant comment about making some pop corn and watching the debacle unfold, but I know that this will bring out the ugly (on all sides) and be divisive. Ultimately ending up with the ban being upheld – be serious, this is Indiana.

Beyond that, don’t look for me to get caught up with this non-starter of an issue. Not that gay marriage isn’t an important issue to discuss, but both sides want this issue out there to rally their troops. For me, where there are troops, there is a war, and where there is war, there are casualties. And I simply don’t have the stomach for this one. I know too many pastors who can’t wait to lob inflammatory grenades meant to mobilize their conservative “moral” masses (and sadly, the Democrats were caught with their pants down by allowing themselves to be cast as the party who doesn’t care about morals). So that’s who I want to direct this to: “us”.

If we’re going to yell about “sinners” who are out to ruin the sanctity of marriage, why not fight the real enemy: adulterers. Now there’s a sin that doesn’t seem to get the same kind of airplay. Why not organize Disney Land boycotts against them? Why not ask court nominees whether they are soft on adulterers? Why not pass legislation banning them from ever getting (re-)married? For the record, it’s not like I think that I’m better than adulterers: I fully realize that I am one moment of weakness from becoming one (I don’t know what that may say about gay protesters).

I’m all for defensive marriage acts, however, there are other issues involved that warrant some consideration, things that may get lost in the furor of the “debate”:
-marriage is a common grace given to “saved” and “unsaved” alike
-there is a civil/legal component to marriage, with rights conveyed by the State
-we have little to no problems marrying and re-marrying adulterers and divorcees
-it’s harder to get a driver’s license than a marriage license
-there is a culture-wide lax attitude toward marriage. A lackadaisical mindset, a disrespect of misunderstanding of the institution that says we can simply opt out when it’s inconvenient, your needs aren’t being satisfied, or it’s just plain too hard.

The long and short of my Defensive Marriage Act would have marriage being harder to get into and harder to get out of, hopefully reinforcing the idea of its seriousness and sanctity. Now, with a Congress full of people married multiple times, on both sides of the aisle, what are the odds of that receiving serious consideration? Quit wasting my time with your rhetorical tirades.

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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.

Doing the Shout

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

I am under the pleasant crush of deadlines, pleasant because deadlines implies work. My secret novella project fell through, thus I have an orphaned novella that will now hit the submission trail in January. I just wrapped up a short story for a market whose reading period closes at the end of the month. It’s body is not even cold and I’ve started the work on a story for an anthology that I was invited into (its deadline is not quite a month from now). I will let it sit until this weekend when I can look at it with fresh eyes, do a polish on it then send it out. Come January, I polish another couple stories to be sent out to markets with deadlines at the end of that month, then I can get started on the two new novel projects I have slated for 2006 (one’s a carry-over from this year).

I’m still pulling together my comments for my panels at the HJAG 2005. I was supposed to do three panels (“The Horror Genre”, “Graphic Novels and Comics”, and “Race and Cinema”), but I am heading home before the “Race and Cinema” panel (because my wife would kill me if I wasn’t home for New Year’s Eve). I am, however, forwarding them my notes (all 15 pages of them. For those studying at my notes, I was kidding about analyzing King Kong as the story of black people: taken from his home by white folks, falls for a white woman, then gets lynched).

I’m also putting together a series of Kwanzaa-related blogs intended to add to the diversity conversation of the emergent church. “Related” in that Kwanzaa makes me reflect on all things “black”.

In short, My Muse has been most cooperative of late. The words are coming pretty easily at the moment, so I’m not changing notepads, pens, or anything else that might interrupt the flow. I described the writing throes that I was in to a friend of mine as “making love to my muse.” Which my friend found immediately disturbing. So, since I was listening to blues cds all weekend, I’m referring to the process as “doing the shout.”

I’m doing the shout all week long.

On (Multi-Cultural) Worship

One of the stupidest recurring arguments in many churches is the debate between contemporary and traditional worship services. I’m not a real music person. Sure, I’m an old school guy: give me some soul music, mix in a little Gospel, a little Parliament/Funkadelic, and a dash of Prince and I’m a happy man. However, I suspect that there is a similar transcendence and beauty to music that I feel about story. A connection to the spiritual, a way to communicates the idea of love the way only poetry can (though I’m not a real poetry guy either).

Sadly, I have pretty low opinions about modern day “worship” music. A lot of it comes across as deep theological themes reduced to narcissistic, triteness, and redundancy. More of a “how does Jesus make me feel” brand of sentimentality that tries to capture a 70s light rock sound and call it a contemporary service (though, in all fairness, to baby boomers it might be).

We use “worship” and “singing” synonymously to describe that portion of the Sunday morning service involving congregational singing. Our worship times have become “worship sets”, not worship times, musical manipulation to get you to the point where you close your eyes and say “God is awesome.” It all reminds me of the South Park episode where Cartman decides to make Christian records by taking pop songs and replacing the word “baby” with “Jesus”. It should make you question what we mean by worship.

Worship is more than music. Worship is what we do everyday. How we live, how we draw close to God. Worship is a way of life. What we do the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week. I thought that I’d use this as an excuse to share a recent e-mail exchange on the even more complicated idea of trying to design a multi-cultural worship service:

Hey Maurice,

Can I bitch for just a minute? I want to run this past you, and get your honest opinion. Since we don’t know each other, you can feel free to interject how the [Holy Spirit] leads.

I attend a multi-racial church. I am the worship director of a fairly large institutional church. I think that for too long the church (at large) has preached “diversity”. I don’t know that I buy into “diversity” teaching the way it’s been done (in the mainstream church). Maybe it’s a good starting point, but it has to morph; to begin to become what it should be and go beyond the first steps.

My vision for the department is to simply “be”. To use music to express and teach “worship”. I DO NOT believe that we should seek to “appear” diverse. I have taken a census of all of our musicians and worshipers in attendance and invited them to participate. We have always had 3 or 4 full worship bands in place (a good mixture of colors). We try to maintain a “one team, many expressions” concept. But problems come up because people don’t always know “how” to express diversity.

My focus is to train leaders to grow a team. I think that they should pick members based on spiritual maturity, chemistry, and ability and avoid race as a factor. But some people still have that old “it has to look diverse” thinking. I think that’s putting the tail before the dog. I believe that when they prayerfully pick a team then the team members will by default, be a healthy representation of the body we serve. The black members bring a certain influence, the rockers bring theirs, the old time gospel folks theirs etc. This results in a home-grown style that is a good picture of kingdom diversity. This stands in stark opposition to the “white music on one Sunday, black music on another” type thinking. When we are able to express the fact that we are truly of one mind, together, living in community, then our music will reflect that TRUTH.

The best times I had were when we had a rocker guitarist, a black bassist, an alternative drummer, and mixed backup singers. Each of them played the same music but from different influences and it was really cool. It reminded me of the Aerosmith/Run DMC combo. It wasn’t a “style” thing, it was a merging…. a merging of hearts and minds to produce something unique. That to me is kingdom diversity. We didn’t have to look for songs that spoke to any specific group to seem inclusive, we just “were”.

I don’t like diversity the way it’s preached and promoted. We spend too much time trying to tell people that we need to come together rather than just “being” together and “growing” together.

Am I missing something? Am I not seeing the fuller picture here? Should I be concerned with “fair and balanced” representation? Wouldnt that lead me to recruiting based on skin color rather than simply using the people God gave us? I don’t really know because I am not influenced by any one culture. I’m weird, I’m a cultural chamelion and can fit anywhere and nowhere. I dont want any one culture to claim me.

The question I always ask when someone wants more “representation” is, “what does it mean to you to be a black musician or white musician?” I get a variety of answers mostly having to do with old hymns sung soulfully or vineyard style. Well, that’s great and I love it, but c’mon, let’s get down to the real essence and discover how to bring that to EVERYthing we do. It’s not so much about a genre of music as it is an expression of that genre communicated throughout the worshipers. I’m about to begin a teaching to help them understand these principles. I want them to merge together and create their own “culture” of musical expression based on their unique personalities. It’s both a celebration of individuality and what that looks like in community.

I guess what I don’t want is us to get stuck on trying to please the blacks, please the whites type thinking. I think that drives wedges and serves to point out differences rather than explore similarities. Does that make sense? Can it be done?

Anyway, I just wanted to run that by you and get your opinion before I start getting too deep teaching this principle. They all agree so far, but most of them are still modernists in their thinking. I’m not sure they grasp the complexity and simplicity of what I’m trying to do.

To which I replied:

of all the church jobs out there, the one i am least jealous of is that of worship leader. at this church, the worship leader is caught in the eternal “you need more traditional music”/”you need more contemporary music” complaint cycle. no thanks. and when folks would try to draw me into the argument/complaint session, i’d say that we need more gospel music. which usually shut them up. we’re ostensibly planting from a large modern institution, firmly entrenched in their ways. recently, they’ve been talking about wanting to be more diverse. i have three thoughts that i’ve been trying to tell them:

1) you need to do more than just stick out a sign that says “Negroes welcome.” a multi-racial church needs to be reflected in its staff, leadership, and visible portions of the church. (though don’t get me wrong, talking about it is the first and an important step. heck, it took them 15 years to get to that point).
2) you have to do something about your music to reflect some attempt at blending since many black folks have to overcome the “sell out” guilt feeling that comes when we feel we have abandoned the black church. more “black”/gospel music goes a long way to assuage that guilt.
3) you guys are in the whitest county in indiana. where is this diversity supposed to come from? either move or get over the “guilt” that you’re feeling (and don’t get any crazy notions about busing).

i love your approach, and that’s the way that diversity and worship should be done. our music right now is one white guy and a guitar. we however are planting in an extremely diverse area. we are counting on the fact that as we grow, we’ll take one a naturally blended service style.

we’ve also set out to short-circuit any “worship” arguments. (it helps when the head pastor, worship pastor, and leadership team are on the same page and can keep hammering the points home). trying to please “the blacks” and “the whites” is like trying to please the “hymns” and the “choruses” crowds. it’s a no win. for one thing, it buys into the mentality that there are only two races. we have a hispanic community that we’re trying to minister to also.

but i don’t think that telling people to get out of their comfort zones is bad. the way we’ve done it is to let people know in advance, we’re planting in a diverse area. learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. the whole “come together” mentality tends to tacitly admit that as soon as we’re done we’re going to split up again. that doesn’t sound like the best way to be one body.

peace, maurice

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Remembering Jerry Williamson

J.N. “Jerry” Williamson, who started a local Sherlock Holmes fan club as a boy and went on to churn out more than 30 horror and science fiction novels, has died, his family said Saturday. The 73-year-old Noblesville resident, who received the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Award in 2002, died Thursday, his sister, Marylynn Stults, said.

Mr. Williamson grew up in Indianapolis and attended Shortridge High School, where he was co-editor of the school newspaper. He studied journalism and music at Butler University. He founded an Indianapolis chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars, a fan club of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, at age 12, Stults said.

While in his 20s, Mr. Williamson sang and performed at Starlight Musicals at Butler University with family members in a group known as the Williamson Variety Serenaders. He then worked as an editor with an astrology publication based in Indianapolis.

He published his first novel in 1979, but it was a nightmare about a Satan-like creature with tentacles that he had had years earlier, while in his early 40s, that sent him on a path to writing horror stories, Stults said.

Most of his works were published in paperback form and included titles such as “Horror House,” “The Evil Offspring” and “Flesh Creepers.” Mr. Williamson also edited a number of anthologies and wrote “How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction.”

“He cranked them out. He was very efficient with words,” Stults said.

Mr. Williamson also had a “great sense of humor and a belief in the Lord,” not to mention a phenomenal imagination, she said.

It’s interesting how we choose to remember our beloved departed. There has been quite the debate on my message board about the types of legacies writers leave behind. There was a memorial service for Jerry Williamson today and quite the evangelistic outreach it was. It was quite apparent that his sister was a devout woman who struggled with the work of her brother seeming to be incongruous with her faith (a struggle I can relate to). She presented her brother in a way that she found most comfortable, even if it sort of recast the end of his life, and you know what, that was okay. (One of the highlights was her playing a 45 release of a song Jerry, obviously influenced by Frank Sinatra, had recorded. You can believe that when I get a copy of this, I will post it. The idea of Jerry as crooner is absolutely priceless).

Funerals are for the living and she was saying good-bye to her brother and needed such a service to comfort her during her time of grief. I knew where she was coming from. When you have spiritual convictions assuring you of heaven, you want the people you love to be in heaven with you. You want their legacy, the memory of them, to be one of pursuing that which is most important, Jesus Christ. And you want to believe they have the same saving faith you do because your hope is a shared eternity in heaven.

I was troubled by the seeming repudiation of what Jerry Williamson did.

My objection centered mostly around the reverend who led the service. Admittedly, I was put off by him from the beginning as a bit too slick, a bit too much the showman [NOTE: he greeted me, took one look at my suit, and declared that “you look like you could be a minister of the Lord.” On one hand, well, I am – a fact I didn’t reveal until after the service. However, to judge this based on how I dressed, well, let’s just say that warning flags went up.] He went on to give a (long, meandering) sermon which was a ham-fisted sales pitch aimed at “saving” folks (and stopped somewhere short of condemning horror writing as the work of the devil). It reminded me of an attempted revival meeting. He declared the near-pointlessness of J.N. Williamson spinning horror! stories, while delivering a sermon designed to scare us into heaven. A sermon to get us to turn from the ways of this world, because God promises us a big Lotto ticket in the sky. Because the point of this life is to make sure our butt makes it into heaven.

It was a coordinated attempt to make something “worthwhile” out of what he did. Including his death. To share his faith after he was gone. Because telling stories isn’t enough. Funerals, the idea of our eventual deaths, is an opportunity to think about what will happen afterwards. That’s one of the points of horror. Wrestling with our fear of mortality and staring into the face of eternity.

Here’s what I know about the horror! community whose work begs to be condemned. I sat in the horror writers section of the chapel with people who loved Jerry Williamson: Gary Braunbeck (whom I hope posts his stirring eulogy), his wife, Lucy Snyder, and Ron Horsley. The horror community, HWA and the Shocklines message board, in under 6 hours, pulled together the money needed to see to Jerry’s funeral costs. Why? Because J.N. Williamson had touched a lot of lives with his own. And that’s what this memorial service was about.

Jerry (J.N.) Williamson was a horror writer. He was a kind-hearted man, not a perfect man, but a thoughtful wordsmith whose life was spent trying to do the best he could. He wrote scary stories, some of which he may have regretted because, well frankly, not everything a writer produces is a classic for the ages. He was a man of faith who kept that faith close to him as a heart matter that he lived out in quiet ways. He had talent, a gift from God, which he used the best ways he could. He tried to live his life to be a blessing to other people.

That’s the point of a life of faith.

Just My Imagination

Romantic love is one of the most devastating ideas to catch hold in our culture. I think the idea of romance has in many ways undermined what true love is all about. Course, this may also be because I’ve seen many of my friends tortured of late by feelings and attachments for either people that are unattainable for them, due to circumstance (like marriage), or simply not interested in them in the same way.

Let’s define what we are talking about first, though I doubt I have to since we’ve all been there. We’ve all had that special love for someone, one that we might not even dare bring up to them, but choose to “love them from afar”. We might not even get to the point of dating, it may smolder as a crush bordering on obsession. This experience follows a certain pattern. Thoughts of the person, or what might be, consume our daydreams and idle thoughts. Spending a lot of time thinking about that person, without actually seeing them, can cause your feelings to grow out of proportion. Quite the fantasy life can develop, as you imagine yourselves as two lovers separated by circumstance destined to be together. Something in the unrequited lover pushes them to persist in pursuing whatever it is that has gripped them. That maybe, through their efforts, they might gain the emotional response they want from their would-be love. All for the sake of (romantic) love, or their idea of it.

The saddest part may be how one-sided the whole affair is.

Eventually, the sense of love threatens to overwhelm us, especially if that person doesn’t share our feelings (whether we ask and get confirmation or we simply believe such to be the case). It provokes in us a sense of loss, yearning, and frustration. We can’t eat. We can’t think. We can barely get through the day without thinking of this person. [To say nothing of the rejector, who is either struggling with whether they will ever feel the same way or wondering how to shake this stalker/loser.]

I say this because unrequited love has some implications for me as an artist and as one who seeks a wider readership. If you have ever felt the power of unrequited love, you, too, may have looked into the face of the muse. Our culture romanticizes artistic inspiration because we realize that there is something fundamentally transcendent about art. As an artist, I’ll freely admit that something unexplainable and mysterious does occur during the creative process. Something that could be quite analogous to love. Love can stir up complex feelings, leaving the artist with an ache, a pain of sorts that finds its outlet in the need to express new ideas. And there is a power to the unattainable. The power of inspiration. Unrequited love has fueled the muse of many a frustrated songwriter. I think of the Eric Clapton classic, “Layla”, written about his friend’s wife.

In a lot of ways, I think that unrequited love speaks to that part of us that needs to worship. I think about this, especially when I think about how we, as fans, build cults of personalities around folks or how we, those personalities, try to develop fan bases. We forget that fan is short for fanatic. Fanatics have obsessive attachments which, to a degree, is exploited by the personality. The fans build up all sorts of relationships and connections with the object of their affections, most of it illusory. And we can become fans of celebrities as well as the girl next door just as easily.

Yet, there is no simple “just getting over it.” Talking will help get things in perspective, but ultimately it takes time to reign in strong emotions. I wish that we could fall out of love as quickly, cleanly, and easily as we fall in love. However, no, there has to be time to grieve the lost love. As easy as it is to become withdrawn during this time from everyday life, we have to fill our time constructively (read: distract ourselves). Get back involved with the parts of life we know we have let wither while being caught up in the throes of romance. Surround yourself with friends, and lean on them to help regain control. Basically, you recover like you would from any other break up. Except the other person doesn’t know that they are out of something.

By the way, there’s a great book on this topic that I plan on checking out when I get a chance called Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura Smit:

It hurts when the one you love doesn’t love you back. It’s hard to be the object of someone’s desires when you just don’t feel the same way. How should Christians deal with these situations? There are hundreds of books describing how to build lasting relationships or how to lead a chaste life as a single person. There are very few books, however, describing how to deal with unrequited love. With Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Laura Smit fills this void. Smit tackles this universal human experience with intelligence, sympathy, and wit.

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A Theology of Horror

As I prepare to go to the first Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christian horror writer, or rather, a horror writer who is a Christian. Partly, this is because I am supposed to give a panel on Horror as a Genre (I also will be co-leading a panel on Comic Books with my friend Kevin Miller, but oddly enough, it’s not causing me nearly the same kind of soul-searching). I think that the reason why I have to be careful in how I approach my talk is because of the kinds of feelings that the topic can generate.

Obviously, horror is not for everyone. Even the staff of Hollywood Jesus got into an often impassioned discussion on how Christians should/ought to deal with horror. It helps knowing that others have tread this ground before. My friend, Rich Vincent, wrote an essay called “Holy Horror.” Brian Godawa, screenwriter of To End All Wars, wrote an article entitled A Theology of Horror Movies.

There has even been a most helpful discussion over at the Shocklines Message Board on the best horror movies that I could use as part of my discussion. As a side note, the other thing that the Shocklines discussion reminded me of is the fact that there are many people of faith laboring in the horror genre. That’s a(n encouraging) lesson that needs to be re-learned by many folks (myself included), such as when convention planners get the idea of planning the World Horror Convention on Easter/Passover weekend or when those within the genre are quick to throw grenades at those “Bible-thumping Christians” who, as it turns out, number among their colleagues. One such colleague is Scott Derrickson.

Scott Derrickson, co-writer and director of the upcoming film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, says horror movies are an excellent way for a Christian filmmaker to address things of faith. He probably most mirrors where I’m coming from. Scott gave a lecture at Biola University explaining his work. Here’s an excerpt:

My work in the horror genre has made me controversial among Christians,” Derrickson says. “But as a Christian, I defend horror films. No other genre offers audiences a more spiritual view of the world, and no other genre communicates a more clearly defined moral perspective.” Derrickson and his writing partner, Paul Harris Boardman, wrote Urban Legends: Final Cut and Hellraiser: Inferno, which Derrickson also directed.

“The most common problem of Christian art,” Derrickson says, “is that it tries to get to grace too quickly. It’s uncomfortable with tension. It’s uneasy with any questions left hanging. My work on Hellraiser: Inferno was in some ways a personal rebellion against all this. I wanted to make a movie about sin and damnation that ended with sin and damnation. After all, isn’t that the experience of many people? Isn’t that descriptively true? Some Christians who have seen that film like to quote Philippians 4:8 to me: ‘Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report… think on these things.’ And I stop them and say, ‘Wait a minute, what was the first thing you said? Whatsoever things are true.’ Things that are true are not necessarily lovely…”

Actually, that Philippians passage used to torture me, also. Folks tended to toss that passage around whenever the topic of what to music to listen to or what to watch on television/at the movies came up–and who wants to be constantly condemned for what they enjoy? Those verses bolstered sermon after sermon of justifying a retreat from anything that may taint us. In fact, the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” was used so often that you would’ve thought the Apostle Paul stuck it in a verse near the back of the Bible. Anything that could be construed as “worldly” should be avoided (in the best case scenario) or guarded against (at the very least).

Part of me saw the validity to the argument, especially the need to guard one’s mind, to train it. It may even be useful for a person new to faith to withdraw from such things, for a time, until they got their spiritual feet under them and are better able to discern what’s good for them. The problem was that what I considered a starting point, many considered the finish line.

Maybe there was a different way to look at those verses.

What if, instead of running away from anything that wasn’t true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable–which would result in endless running–we were the focus of the verse, not the objects around us? What if because of who we were in Christ, our minds were so transformed that we saw and recognized nobility, rightness, purity, loveliness, and admirable traits in everything around us. That we could find excellent and praiseworthy elements all over creation? I am convinced that there is an on-going conversation about God going on in pop culture that the church is on the outside looking in on. If God could communicate through a burning bush and a donkey, surely He could communicate through a few scary stories.

At any rate, sometime in early 2006, I should have either the text of what I ended up saying or a link to the podcast of my panel up.

[See also A Theology of Horror Part II, and Part III.]