Archive for October, 2007

Imagination is Bad

Now, maybe I’m bias, because I’m a horror writer, but there is an element to our culture that seems to eschew imagination. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with me watching someone lecture my wife on her letting our children believe in the tooth fairy. And it certainly has nothing to do with some of the church objecting to the idea of “pagan holidays”, as if most the church’s history isn’t made up of pagan festivals.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine went to their local annual “fairy festival” in honor of May Day, a celebration of spring where the kids wear little fairy wings. There’s food and music, nothing really weird. However, the event drew protestors. People yelling at parents that they were damning their kids to hell.

My friend, someone who struggles with her own views on God, rightly wondered if those protesters may have inadvertently turned those children (and parents!) away from religion by scaring them and how someone could think yelling hateful words was a good way to spread love and a Christian viewpoint. I’m sure it certainly made her rush to return to my church. It certainly left at least one five year old wondering why the man said that Jesus didn’t love her.

I simply told her that she missed the point: obviously it is important to be defined by who you are against rather than who you claim to follow. There is, likewise, no freedom to meet people where they are and build bridges to them. It’s easier to throw stones. Or protest. (Luckily, she gets my sarcasm).

There is room for imagination and make believe in our children’s worlds. The idea is to have child-like faith, with the idea of keeping a sense of awe, wonder, and appreciation of mystery. I’m really not threatened by Halloween, the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus. And as long as I’m there doing my job, to help them learn to differentiate between fantasy and reality, my children won’t be confused.

Why – Chapter 1 – A Lament

Why – Chapter 1
(A Lament by Ro Broaddus)

Was it that lie I told?
Was it my impure thought?
Did my words need more contemplation before they leapt from my depths?
For You’ve chosen me, Lord.
Perhaps my sacrifice is for the benefit of my generations.
Ultimately? I’m unsure.
But I’m clawing my way through Your jungles,
And treading my way through Your quicksand.
I try shielding myself from the storm cloud,
And dodging the bullets from Your strife-laden rifle,
But to no avail.
Memories are daggers, struggles – Your television.
Now my body is tired.
My soul is full,
My spirit exhausted.
My future is hazy,
My world, a maze.
At one turn death excites me,
At another, a glimmer of a sliver of light escapes the cracks of my psyche.
Lord, I’m now at the end of Your leash,
Waiting for You to guide me.
I must accept the rain,
For without rain, there is no growth,
And without growth there is no life.
I had convinced me that You were a sham,
Then You let me live.

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An Interview with Alethea Kontis


The lovely Alethea Kontis is a woman who wears many hats: writer, producer, editor, as well as being a book buyer for the Ingram Book Company. Besides needing an excuse to post my favorite pictures of me and her, I wanted to ask her a few questions about being a book buyer as well as what this means to the careers of writers.

Continued on Blogging in Black.
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Forgive Us our Trespasses

We are a second chance, forgiving culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving stains on dresses, dangling your kid from balcony windows, taking steroids, or pitting dogs in combat. We’re quick to forgive. At least if you’re a celebrity, what about the rest of us?

There is a line in the Lord’s Prayer that goes “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At least part of the idea of forgiveness is that it frees you. I’m not sure who said it, it may have been Oprah, but it is said that “refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.”

To move on, you have to have closure. It doesn’t mean you forget the offense: trust has broken, and all sides need to learn from it. However, asking forgiveness also opens dialogue. It takes courage to forgive another. Even moreso in those occasions when you have to forgive people who haven’t asked for it: there are times when, in order to no longer be a victim and to not let another have the last word over you or your life, you have to forgive those who have harmed you.

We’d like to see some sort of contrition when folks ask for forgiveness. The “I’m sorry”/”I’ve wronged you” is the first movement in the symphony of forgiveness. It’s important to express an understanding of our guilt.

Another movement involves repentance. When Tim Hardaway repented for his “I hate gay people” admission, deeds had to follow. He turned his back on his old way of doing things since repeating his mistake would only numb him to them. He sought re-education on his ideas, admitting fault, failure, and inadequacy. Because asking for forgiveness is humbling. You are at someone else’s mercy in view of your life and you realize that you aren’t in control.

Forgiveness is a gift. Forgiveness is a journey. Forgiveness is never easy, but we all would want a second chance.

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Lee Strobel’s the Case for Christ – A Commentary

Not too long ago, Anne Rice, horror author of Interview with a Vampire, released a book entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a novel about Jesus’ life at age 7. During the course of her research, the one-time Catholic turned atheist, her spiritual journey took a different twist. After compulsive study, the historicity of Christ’s resurrection became hard to deny. She then found herself re-connecting with her faith.

Her story parallels the journey of journalist-turned-author-turned-evangelist Lee Strobel as his best-selling book The Case for Christ has been made into a DVD. Strobel, too, was a one-time committed atheist, set out to investigate the claims and history of Jesus Christ and during the course of his journey converted to Christianity. He brought to bear his journalistic tools and investigated the claims of the Christian faith.

The Case for Christ is a documentary that would have made a good story. It’s almost like the faith it dissects: facts vs. the conveyance of those facts (though it would be hard to imagine a movie of this that didn’t have a lot of exposition, but that’s neither here nor there). As a part of his investigation, he sought out the experts and weighed their opinions. He examined the eye witness testimony, the nature of oral tradition, the corroboration outside of the original copies/documentation, and the historical Jesus, including his claims to be God as well as his miracles.

The Case for Christ has too much of a talking heads structure to it, broken up only by dramatic shots of Lee Strobel continuously crossing the street. It’s the kind of thing you’d watch as the intro to a book study. That being said, it brings up a lot of good things to consider.

Skepticism wormed its way into the fabric of our culture, including church so the idea of a logical and rational “case” leading to faith doesn’t surprise me. The beautiful thing about faith is that we’re continually trying to figure things out. You can have all the facts you want, you can debate facts, and, frankly, you ought to. Faith doesn’t mean the turning off of one’s brain: things should make sense and continual questioning is a valid exercise unto itself.

It’s like having faith isn’t enough. It has to be reasoned, defended logically, with everything dissected, taken apart and put back together in some sort of systematic structure. Faith imbues facts with meaning, or, better said, it’s hard to get to the truth of the Christian faith through objectivity. Sometimes faith means that we have to come to the conclusion that we don’t have many things figured out. That we have to learn to get comfortable with that and the idea of mystery (read: the great “I don’t know”). Some people need proof, although miracles in the age of David Blaine and CGI is not going to impress me.

The film is also an introduction to apologetics (the pragmatic defense of Christianity), useful to folks just learning to articulate a cohesive defense of their faith. (I’ve never been one for defending “the faith”: if “the faith” needs me to defend it, we’re all in a lot of trouble. Plus, I’m more of an experiential guy at this point in my walk, not so much about documentation). My apologetics are pretty basic. The apologetics of man: using women as witnesses in an age where they had next to zero credibility, having a conspiracy where no one talks/leaks, people dying for what they know to be a lie, the growth of Christianity in face of adversity. I believe people to be, well, people, and this goes against my experience of how people operate. The apologetics of transformation: I need to see a change, the fruit of evidence in the lives of those impacted by it. This would still be along my experiential model in that I need to see truth lived out because truth has a personal and social dimension to it. In this same vein, the Church is seen as a treatment center, giving a kind of “chemo” against an insidious cancer that afflicts us all.

I also appreciate an apologetics of love:

The irony of Christian love is that it is characterized by self-donation; it gives itself up to find itself. A love-centered rationality will have as its character an appropriate humility, a personal and social situatedness that takes human embodiment seriously (i.e., it is not a disembodied rationality) within an over-arching Gospel narrative and, above all, is characterized by an interest in the welfare and perspective of others.

And there is room for the kind of apologetics along the lines of The Case for Christ. In this modern age of rationality and scientific methods, it is no surprise people of faith want to take up the same tools to defend themselves, especially after being demeaned as unthinking people. For people going through a doubting phase, this sort of approach tends to help them.

The bottom line is that when it comes to our spiritual journeys, we need to investigate for ourselves. Have an open mind and go where the evidence takes you. There’s no such thing as a cookie cutter faith: each journey looks different and we ought to give each other the freedom to explore as we need to. You may not find the answer to every question or know who was right on every issue; that’s not the point. It’s the journey that counts. Love and do your best and trust that God will help you work out the rest.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season One and Two) – A Review

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the kind of comedy that makes you squirm with discomfort. The kind of cringefest that makes shows like The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development. The characters are wrong (ignorant), selfish, insensitive, and vacuous (no convictions beyond getting laid or making money). They collide in a train wreck of personal situations as they reveal themselves to be … who they really are. It’s Seinfeld in the extreme and we laugh along to their absolute wrongness.

“This isn’t a morality contest.” –Charlie

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows the exploits of three self-absorbed high school friends — Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) – now twentysomethings who own a neighborhood bar along with Dennis’ sister, Dee (Kaitlin Olson).

The show is not afraid to mine comedy from taboos. Racism, incest, homophobia, abortion, child molestation, underage drinking, statutory rape, cancer – you get the idea. In so doing, there is a realness to the show because real life is awkward and uncomfortable. It’s both familiar and absurd, in other words, a dark reflection of us.

“Take a look at yourself, bro.” –Mac

At its heart, the show is about people’s inability to be authentic, with themselves or with one another. What they say, who they hang around, what they wear, how they act, about their relationships, they are mired in a non-reflective mindset and trapped by their social ineptness as they try to dodge the inevitable consequences of their cluelessness

They are at the fun stage of life where they struggle with issues of self-image (many of them uncomfortable in their own skins), where they fit in the social order, wrestling with their idea of self-identity, and dealing with feelings of alienation. They’ve been burned by some community (family, a circle of friends, a church … did I mention family?) and are tired of not fitting in, of being rejected, of not being accepted. They put up these “harsh”, abrasive fronts, of the mostly bark/little bite variety, that mask their insecurity.

They seek a place where they can belong, a community whey they can live their often uncomfortable lives. In other words, they are like the rest of us: looking for authenticity, looking for acceptance, on their terms.

“I don’t know what God wants for us … He works bigger than that.” –Dee

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is painfully universal. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been “that guy” (or “that girl”), somewhat pathetic, though often meaning well. And while hilarious in a “I’m gonna feel bad about this later” sort of way (with a Fawlty Towers feel to it if you want an old school comparison), there is a line it treads where the show could just flat out be mean-spirited. Sometimes, if you don’t wince, you may want to adjust your moral compass.

30 Days of Night – A Review

“28 Vampires Later”

Good vampire flicks can still be made. I’m not necessarily looking for Citizen Kane, I don’t even need brooding romantic figures (please, spare me anymore emo vamps). I’m talking something dark, brutal, and efficient, a la Near Dark. I’m not even a gorehound, but I know what I want from certain movies.

Based on the eponymous comic book by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night follows a set of vampires who besiege the small, isolated town of Barrow, Alaska, during the month of no sun. The constantly shrieking bunch of vampires is commanded by Marlow (Danny Huston), in full pasty Euro-trash mode as they launch into a full-scale slaughter of the town. The Gary Cooper-esque sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett ), leads the surviving, though equally pasty, townsfolk.

A lot of the blunt, visceral action is reminiscent of 28 Days Later (even the look of the blood-drenched vamps with their maws of incisors are more zombie-like). The similarities are made moreso by the jittery camera work that conveys the frenetic speed, strength and thirstiness of the violent night wraiths. The vivid images flash by so that you can’t take in the entirety of the horror, all done to a jarring, amelodic soundtrack.

“Folks have a hard enough time in the dark.” –Lucy Ikos (Elizabeth Hawthorne)

30 Days of Night boils down to being a tale of survival during an undead apocalypse. It seems like all of the forces of creation are lined up against the surviving batch of humanity. First from the vampires themselves, this outside evil—the supernatural other of powers and principalities. As Marlow relaties, it took them centuries to make people believe they were little more than bad dreams and the reality of them would be too great and cause people to actively fight against them. Second, Nature itself. The night and the cold, though perfectly inherent to the system, now seem allied against them. Thirdly, they have to wrestle with themselves. Their very natures, including their weakness, from cowardice to selfishness, provide constant obstacles for them. And yet, through all of this, they fight to keep their humanity or, more specifically, what makes them human.

“That cold ain’t the weather. That’s Death approaching.” – The Stranger (Ben Foster)

Preceding the arrival of the vampires is their brown-toothed forerunner, a John the Baptist-type preparing the way for them by helping to further isolate the town. All of his actions are in the hope of the reward of eternal life through the power of blood promised to him and we all learn the lesson of being careful who you put your faith in.

“There is no escape. No hope. Only pain and death.” –Marlow

What was attempted, with mixed result, was presenting the idea of vampires as the ultimate nihilists. For them, the world, especially the bulk of human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. And that neither God nor a “true morality” exists, leaving Marlow to proselytize “God? No God” when a woman cries out for divine intervention. As such, they leave a bloody wake as they merrily trip through life seeking to sate their pleasures. So what the movie truly seems to be about is the idea of unchecked freedom.

Barrow represents a smorgasbord for the blood-dining crown. They can roam about at will, eat from a buffet line of trailer homes, and basically give into their gluttony and excess. Their lives are reduced to wild, wanton wastes of wants and needs, being driven solely by desires, much like children without any parental supervision.

“When a man meets a force he can’t destroy, he destroys himself instead.” –Marlow

Self-control and restraint are the sphere of adults. Lust burns hot until it burns through and burns out. There’s a reason people live by laws, not so much to restrain freedom but to serve as guard rails. A guard rail won’t keep you from going over the edge, but it provides a line to help people stay on the best side for them and help them not abuse the gift of their freedom.

“I just couldn’t stand being on my own.” –Billy Kitka (Manu Bennett)

Lastly, the movie is about the nature of community and love. It is a story of continual self-sacrifice, of one man laying down his life for his brother, continuous acts of love staving off the darkness for another day. Each action serves to remind folks that they are still connected. The epitome of such sacrifice arrives when Eben takes on the burden of blood, taking the evil onto him, bearing the brunt of it, sacrificing himself to defeat evil. The ultimate salvation in the sun’s light; until then, we just reflect it as best we can.

30 Days of Night suffers mostly from its episodic feel (the slow stretches as we wait for the next batch of townfolks to end up as snackables) and the unrelenting bleakness of the story. We don’t care about any of the characters, not even the supposed romantic tension between the sheriff and his estranged-but-conveniently-stranded wife, Stella (Melissa George). Despite the arterial sprays (not having seen this much since the first Kill Bill), the movie actually fails to mine the true horror, as no one wrestles with the moral dilemmas of their actions or doing what they have to do to survive. In other words, while there is plenty of vampire romp, there’s not enough of a human element to draw us in.

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Life – A Review

The new Fall television season is upon us and, as expected as the routine of having to rake leaves, with it comes the familiar spate of police procedurals. Not that you could tell from the title—nor could you tell much of anything else about the show from its unfortunate title—but Life is one of them. Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) has his share of quirks, from his constant eating of fresh fruit to his constant Zen-commentary. So much so, one feels this show is misplaced not being on the USA channels lineup of detective shows: Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Psyche, Monk. Despite the competition, Crews is easily one of television’s most fascinating characters.

Having spent the last 12 years in prison set up for a crime he was exonerated for, Crews (through convoluted premise-generating events) ends up back on the LAPD, though a lot wealthier for his troubles (thus justifying Adam Arkin’s return to series television as his one-time cell mate and now money manager, Ted Earley). The slightly troubled Crews, whom no one wishes to partner with, is nonetheless saddled with a partner equally in need of redemption, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). All of this going on while 1) a film crew does documentary-style interviews about the Crews case and 2) Crews is secretly trying to ferret out the conspirators that framed him in the first place.

“Life was his sentence and life is what he got back.” –Constance Griffith (Brooke Langton) “What do you think he should do with that life?” (interviewer)
“That would be up to him.”

One of the intriguing aspects to Crews’ character is observing how much prison life has affected him, especially in regards to how he pursues his calling of being a police officer. Besides being over a decade behind in technology, he still carries with him all the lessons of surviving in prison now that he’s back on the street.

People so often find themselves on a spiritual path once they find themselves in prison is because they look around and see the consequences of living life their way on their terms. Prison is the ultimate end of self. It’s when we’ve reached the end of our rope and hope. When we’ve seen where life has gotten us under our own efforts. When we see the bars/cages of our life for what they are. When we’ve completely bottomed out. With prison, we have nothing but time and are forced to be alone. We have to face our inner noise, without all of the distractions that comes from our hollow pursuits. In Crews’ case, he turned to Zen in order to make sense of his place in the world. But, as Lt. Karen Davis (Robin Weigert) points out, “You don’t have to go to prison to eat crap.”

“Tell me something that means something.” –grieving victim

What does life boil down to? What’s really important? These are the important questions we have to meditate on in order to find meaning for ourselves. Sometimes the answer comes in the simplest question, as Crews asks: “Anyone ever love you that much?” To take a bullet for you, to give you life, to sacrifice themselves so that you may find your true purpose for being. When Crews is asked by a grieving crime victim “How did you go on living? How did you get past it?”, the answers sound easier than they are. You’re already past it. We’re to be fully alive, in the moment, living the life we ought to be living.

It’s good to see quality writing and complicated characters taking the front seat in hour long dramas. The ever-present danger is that quirks become caricatures and characters become cartoons. So far, so good though and after only a few episodes, Life has found its rhythm. In fact, it’s easy to say that Life is one of the pleasant surprises of the Fall.

What’s In It for Me?

I’ve been wondering why I try to be a good person. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, morality is not the point of religion. I’m no Ayn Rand-ian, but if I remove God from the equation of my life, then the question I’m left asking about existence is “what’s in it for me?”

When I ask “what’s in it for me?” I’m basically outlining what my philosophy of life would be without Christ. I know because I know me and it’s the question I most naturally ask before I remember that life’s not about me. At my core, I’m basically a selfish person. It’s not like I have a fear of breaking laws. It’s not like I have a natural bent towards fidelity or even monogamy.

I’ve called myself a Christian for a long time. Twenty some odd years later, I just now feel like I’m getting the grasp of some of it. Which means that I cringe when I look back at some of my previous stances and beliefs, things I KNEW with absolute CERTAINTY.

It’s one reason why I find it difficult to point to a person’s failings and say “some Christian (Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, what have you) they are. They are just another hypocrite.” On one level, that’s true. However, I try to allow the grace of “where would they be if they weren’t trying to pursue their spiritual journey?” Some people are lousy Christians, I say as I look in the mirror. Some people are louse “-ists” of all stripes.

Sure, to some I seem to be pursuing “being good” because of some imaginary guy in the sky tells me to. When all is said and done, I’m little different than them. Pursuing an idea, an ideal, larger than myself – and doing the best I can with as much as I understand.

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On Communion

When I was asked to say a few thing about communion, the first thing I asked myself was why do we do it? Is it simply a part of the weekly ritual of The Dwelling Place: we sing, recite creeds, pray, listen to “He Who Would Be Head Pastor”, do communion, and eat? Or is there a unifying essence to each of these rituals as activities that help shape and form us?

I know people are going to get sick of hearing me say this, but I believe that people like the idea of community, but they don’t like putting in the work to build community. Communion is part of our work, both our easiest task and our toughest.

It is a source of unity for us, drawing us together as a body, binding us to the historic and universal church, and reminding us of who we are as a family (and I do see church as a family and our Sunday morning gatherings as a family reunion). It’s a living remembrance of why we come together and points to our future hope.

At the same time, it’s one of the toughest parts of our gathering. It’s a time of reflection and soul searching. Time between each of us and God as we examine our hearts and our relationship with Him. We examine our relationships with those around (and there are times I can’t take communion because of a relationship not being as it should). In this way, communion continues God’s mission of reconciliation: first between us and Him then between us and each other.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” –Matthew 26:26-29

In remembrance of Him.

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