Archive for January, 2012

Slush Pile Warrior Part Deux

I recently wrote a piece for the SFWA Bulletin on things I learned from the slush pile of Dark Faith.  I figured it would be a while before I’d have anything good to share again, after all, I JUST WROTE ABOUT WHAT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE AGAIN.  As of December 1st, here’s what the slush pile for Dark Faith 2 should have looked like:  stories I’ve solicited.  Seriously, that was all that should have been there.  So you have to wonder what caused this series of twitter updates from me not too long ago:

-So @jerrylgordon & I have waded into the Dark Faith 2 slush pile (which shouldn’t even exist for 12 more days)…

Total unsolicited submissions received before the January 1st date:  63.

-Don’t brag about your MA, MFA, and Ph.D in your cover letter if you still can’t read guidelines that say we’re not open til Jan 1st…

Actual cover letter.  I actually get a nervous chill when I see folks laying out their MFA credentials rather than their publishing creds. It was at this point I questioned whether to have people bother to include cover letters, but Jerry Gordon insists that it helps him weed folks out.  I don’t think that’s a good thing for many writers as I suspect poor cover letters give him an excuse to pass on your submission…

-Cover letters shouldn’t be so bad that your co-editor continues to read them out loud just to punish you. Much less through his laughter.

If you feel the need to tell us your plot, please don’t explain the “symbolism” for us.  If you have a deep space, science fiction metaphor of the conquest of the Aztecs and a character who is a stand in for the Tea Party, let the story stand on its own.  And don’t call your shot about how entertaining it’s going to be (especially if it isn’t).  I will say that my favorite submission letter had this line:

“I have dedicated my life to learning the craft of writing so that my fiction can not only be understood by the reader, but felt, experienced on all levels of sense. The attached story is a product of much research, and a little obsession.”

-We’re dangerously close to starting a bad slush pile submission drinking game (thanks @mlvalentine), but @jerrylgordon has to drive home.

Speaking of Monica Valentinelli, she sent in the “perfect” submission letter:

Dear Mr. Broaduss and Mr. Sesame St. Gordon:*

Earlier today I sent you a profussional cover letter** and the 1st ten chps of my novel which also works as a short story. I am, quite frankly, apalled by your sheer lack of respekt! How DARE you ignore my submision. You call yourselves Christians? I spent two years werking on that story and the lest you could do is respond in a timely manner. Your blatant disregard for my work hurt my fellings. It really, really did! You shuld axe God for forgiveness.

Did you even read my cover letter? GOD TOLD ME TO WRITE THAT STORY HOW CAN U NOT EXCEPT IT.*** “The End Is High” is a reimagining of the Book Of Ruth crossed with the Book of Revelations. If you look closely, you’ll notice how I was very careful in my interpretation of the sex scene between The Beast of the Apocalypse, the Archangel Michale, and Ruth’s father. All the details are there and this is why beastiality is a bad thing and why the horsemen are comung for us. Do NOT miss this opportunity to spread the good news! The end of 2012 is almost upon us and it is my missun to get this story out to as many ppl as possible to warn them not to fall into adultry or have too many beers cuz the chosen r going up to heaven on December 21, 2012 at midnight.

I look forward to hearing from you. I no, in my heart, you’ll do the right thing.

Yours in peace my brotherz.

– The bestest author evah!

Number of people who can get away with a letter like this:  Monica Valentinelli.

-So @jerrylgordon had to hand me a glass of Riesling as he read this cover letter. Something to drown the pain of this submission…

Hmm, I’m beginning to question just how much Riesling can be attributed to the Dark Faith submission process…

-Another free pro tip, having your “assistant” send in your novel submission to an anthology (that’s not open) STILL doesn’t help your cause.

Mind you, said assistant has already submitted two novels thus far.  The final total of novels submitted to us before the January 1st date:  12.

Dear Sirs,

I am sending you the manuscript of the first instalment of my fantasytrilogy,[SERIES TITLE DELETED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT]: the 100 000 word novel [TITLE WITH THE WORDS ‘SHADOWS’ AND ‘REALM’ THUS SEPARATING IT FROM ANY OTHER FANTASY NOVEL OUT THERE].

-Here’s a pro tip I shouldn’t have to offer, you probably shouldn’t take shots at the editor you’re submitting to IN YOUR COVER LETTER!

“This is a story for those people who thought I had ‘negative talent‘” a reference to my blog post … 7 years ago.  Too bad his story came in two months before we opened.

Before I get too carried away with mocking our slush pile, I try to keep in mind:  I’m sure I have been the object lesson in an editor  or two’s bar story; I’m sure I WILL be the object lesson in an editor’s bar story;  I’m still going through the same submission process (even receiving a rejection the day I do this).  Ah, the slush pile is a many splendored thing …

You’re not the boss of me now

I had a passel of my nieces and nephews over the other day (which made for a house with 8 kids, a clear reminder about why me and my wife stopped at two).  Of course they eventually got out of control (seriously, dear sister of mine, buying them paintball guns for Christmas?!?) and we had to reign them in a bit.  Half way through me telling them to calm down or else there would be consequences, I suddenly became self-conscious of the fact that I was an authority figure.

I’m so distrustful of power and authority, I question it even when I’m the one exercising it.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” –Ephesians 5:21

Maybe it’s a modern/postmodern thing, but I chafe under the yoke of authority.  Any authority.  I would find it difficult to believe that I’m the only person like this.  I know it’s popular thinking for some people to point to the 1960s/1970s as to when the youth in America began to not only question, but outright distrust authority.

I suspect the answer it a lot closer to home.  Some of us grow up in households where power was exercised in anger or abusive.  Some of us had leaders who exercised their authority either as compensation for their own brokenness or to further their own ego/agenda.  We experience so many examples of power misused that we don’t trust any of the leaders over us.  The sad thing is too few of our leaders prove themselves to be truly honorable enough to lead.  Then couple that with the fact that with us buying into the myth of our freedom and independence, and we don’t want to be told what to do (or even the idea that we’re being told what to do).

We have a limited list of folks we consider ourselves answerable to:  parents (the first authority in our lives; an authority despite how we often treated them growing up), our bosses (the authority by rule of pay check), our spouses (an authority by mutual pledge, though the idea that they may be an authority we’re accountable to may still fill us with quiet unease).  And that’s before we get to the list of authorities we’re accountable to through the force of power they exercise, be it the tip of a gun or the penalty of law:  civil authorities, police, government officials (offices to be honored if not the people who occupy them).

But reviewing those verses again, it sounds a lot like we’re in a constant pact of mutual respect and submission to one another.  That we’re to be constantly pushing in on one another.  That we shouldn’t be afraid of uncomfortable or unpleasant conversations because they have to happen when you’re concerned about someone.

As an authority, I don’t exercise my “power” like a tyrant; not in anger and not just cause I can (though, believe me, there’s plenty of “because I said so” that I have to remind myself to not default to).  I have to remind myself that I’m not there to be my children’s or nephews’/nieces’ friend.  I’m there to help raise and mold them into the best “thems” they can be because I love them and want them to grow into adults who are respectful, loving and make good decisions.  Paint ball fights in the house does not fall into any of those categories.

And now a moment of Dr Who neepery…

I wish I had a blog post to go along with this.  Speaking of all things nerd, a couple of interesting links:

Alan Moore Is Wrong About ‘Before Watchmen’

Brian Keene continues to make me scared to do a Google image search of myself.

(Come on:  STEAMPUNK DALEKS!)

Siege – A Review

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis

Art by:  Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales

Published by:  Marvel Comics

There was a telling moment in the issues of Thor not too long before Siege, Marvel’s latest event comic.  Thor was rightfully angry with Iron Man who had helped create a clone of him which was used during Civil War and killed (Black) Goliath.  So during a climactic (and AWESOME) battle with Iron Man he says “At this moment I have more pressing business to attend to.  But in the time to come, be assured that you and I will finish … discussing … your violation of my person, my genetic code, and what was once a friendship that I valued.”

“Your known scientific description of the universe is false.” –Loki

According to Marvel’s marketing, Siege was “Seven Years In The Making”.  Beginning with Avengers Dissembled which led into House of M, thus unraveling two of the pivotal super hero teams in the Marvel Universe, the Avengers and the X-Men.  Next up came Secret Invasion which didn’t have the long term reverberations it might have had because there was no chance for the heroes to catch their breath, but it did lay the groundwork of paranoia and distrust which fed into Civil War.  The fallout from that story lasted years as we had outlaw heroes, including Nick Fury going underground, and Norman Osborn handed the keys to the kingdom as he was put in charge of National Security.  Thus we had the morally ambiguous Dark Reign, with the Dark Avengers, though we also saw Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor through some their lowest points as well as their rebirths.  All setting the stage for Siege.

What Siege is about in particular, is Norman Osborn being goaded by Loki into invading Asgard.  Due to the events surrounding the return of the real Thor, Asgard currently floated above the Midwest heartland.  It is essentially an incursion of a foreign nation into the heart of America, after all.  Not just any nation, but a city-state of gods.  So Osborn assembles his forces, the Asgardians rally, the Marvel heroes (minus the X-Men, oddly enough) don’t sit out this opportunity, however, neither do the other Marvel villains.

Loki at the heart of villainous machinations was how the Avengers assembled in the first place.  With Siege, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are forced to work together again, exactly what the series was designed to do.  It might as well have been called Avenger Resembled.

Siege works for several reasons.  It is pure pulp insanity.  There is no decade’s worth of continuity to get bogged down in.  If you were a current reader of comic books, you could jump in just fine.  All you needed to know was that everyone was pissed at everyone.  Also, Brian Michael Bendis (Powers), the chief architect of Marvel’s seven years of events, was at his best.  He has always been one of the best superhero writers in the business, but the chief knock against him has been that while he knew how to imagine and craft these events, he had trouble executing them.  The payoffs often fell flat giving way to his “talking heads” brand of resolution.

Siege has a more cinematic feel.  The reader feels engulfed in a Jerry Bruckheimer film filled with lots of action, serious butt-kicking, and a fast paced feel.  There no padding (stringing the series out to six or eight issues needlessly).  No loads of internal conflict (no room for talking heads).  It’s pretty much like the bulk of the Marvel universe’s heroes, after their respective storylines, simply needed to vent.

“We all have tools.  We all have areas of excellence.  We all have ways that we can shape the world.” –Loki

We all have stories that we’ve chosen to live by. Sometimes it’s only a matter of choosing the one best able to form you into who you were meant to be.  Sometimes it’s hard to get a vision of what it means to lead missional and intentional lives – to join in with Christ’s redemptive mission.  Christ’s good news was that the kingdom of heaven was now, and we can join him in being a blessing to others. He came to give life, full and rich life, full of joy and color.

The values of the “kingdom” run contrary to the ideas of “empire” (especially Norman Osborn’s vision, which encapsulates all of the negative values of empire in an extreme). The hope of kingdom holds the hope of healing the effects of imperial violence. Heroes, by example, can inspire people to renew a spirit of community and call them to take control of their lives and re-establish cooperation. They can foster a sense of community as people learn to come to each other’s aid, restore mutual assistance, and work toward regaining and rebuilding trust.  All of which are needing in the Marvel Universe after the wringer they’ve all been through.

“So if you’re smart enough to keep fighting you just might do something that defines your life.” –Nick Fury

Siege, ironically enough, was a superhero Ragnarok.  It wraps up the mischief of Loki, the life of the Sentry (hopefully for good – was there ever so tiresome a character that was pivotal mostly because we’re told he’s pivotal?), the reign of Norman Osborn, and the days of the “Superhuman Registration Act.”

The art was amazing, employing the grand scope feel that has taken over books when they felt they had an epic story to tell.  Olivier Coipel was in rare form.  There were three major deaths during Siege and one was depicted with such brutality, it was “that moment” in the book, the one where the reader’s jaw drops and wants to high five his buddy next to him.  In four issues, Siege was a roller coaster of super-hero action.

Captain America: Road to Reborn – A Review

Written by:  Ed Brubaker

Art by:  (various)

Published by:  Marvel Comics

The problem with Road to Reborn is that it is what it is:  filler.  It’s strictly a bridge between the Death of Captain America and his inevitable and unsurprising Reborn.  Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of good in this collection, after all, Ed Brubaker is the writer:  he has not only made Captain America a relevant title, but a must read.  So being the stories between major arcs (the Reborn mini-series being pulled out of the regular comic’s run and given its own spotlight), this trade collects issues #49-50 and 600-601 (due to Marvel deciding to go back to their original numbering system rather than continuing with their rebooted series numbering.  Strictly coincidentally, that meant that Marvel got to do two back-to-back anniversary issues).

What the renumbering of Marvel’s titles hoped to do was create jump on points for new readers.  Going back to the original numbering made more sense because one gets a greater feel for the sheer about of continuity in the characters.  One example would be Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier/Captain America.  We have Bucky Barnes, the original Captain America’s one time side kick during World War II, who was used by the Soviet’s as an assassin (Winter Soldier), who eventually would become the new Captain America.  With Road to Reborn, Brubaker checks in on Bucky with a look at the character through the theme of missed birthdays.

There is also a look at Captain America during his World War II days as well as a clarification of Sharon Osborn’s relation to Cap’s World War II girlfriend Peggy (changed from sister to niece).  In issue 600, we see a celebration of Captain America on the anniversary of his death, a celebration co-opted by Norman Osborn.  It ends with Sharon telling Cap’s friends—the Falcon, Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Black Widow, et al, none of whom were in costume—that there was still a way to save Cap.

“There are just so many pieces of me missing these days…” –Sharon

At the heart of the Road to Reborn story is Sharon Carter:  a former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., on again/off again girlfriend of Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the woman responsible for his death (used as his assassin).  She is “trapped in memories” and looking for a way to redeem herself as well as ameliorate her guilt. She is stuck in her regrets, the emotional core of the collection which almost gets lost.

It’s easy to get mired in guilt and shame.  Sadly, we don’t always have the luxury of making things up to folks. Fixing matters isn’t always an option: what’s done is done. Sometimes you just have to carry the weight of your bad decisions and selfishness and hopefully let them shape you into a better person. Even our mistakes have value, if it leads to a transformation of who you are and what you do.

“We do what we can.  We try to make things better in our own way.  That’s all anyone can do.” –Josh

Some people become stuck and need help to not suffer needlessly for the wrong reasons.  A counterfeit spirit and the Holy Spirit operate in similar ways.  The counterfeit spirit, our enemy, feeds us lies about ourselves, focuses on what’s wrong us, and heaps shame and condemnation on our heads.  We feel we must hide our dark core from everyone either from fear of being rejected or not wanting to drag anyone else down.  And we become mired in our own self-loathing.  The Holy Spirit wants us to dine on truth.  That we’re an image bearer of God, a beautiful creation.  Yes, we’re sinners, but there’s conviction, repentance, and redemption from that.  And freedom.

“In his place was born a new being, less a man than an ideal.  An inspirational symbol of the glory that is America.” –Steve Rogers

Road to Reborn is the quiet before the storm, strictly there to set up the action of the Reborn story.  And while it feels like every bit the pause that it is, there are still some great moments in it (including some art by Gene Colan, a pivotal artist/creator in Captain America’s history).  So while Brubaker does a good job with what he could, no storyline is advanced in particular and you can skip this and move on to Reborn without having missed much.

World-building: The Politics of Race by Kody Boye

I recently read a blog post on the issue of racism in/of D&D and it got me to thinking about issues of race in fantasy world building.  Kody Boye recently released his dark fantasy Blood from his Brotherhood Saga series and touches on the issue of the politics of race.  It’s a topic I am interested in and plan on coming back and exploring further later.

World-building: The Politics of Race

by Kody Boye

To say that we’ve experienced major conflict in our world would be an understatement. From enslavement of blacks by plantation owners in America, the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, to even the complete and utter annihilation of the Aztecs, there has never been a shortage of crimes against humanity. It was for this reason that, when returning to The Brotherhood Saga, I wanted to create some diversity and conflict between not only the different types of people, but the individual sentient races in my world.

The majority of the Brotherhood Saga takes place in and around a series of countries called The Three Kingdoms (otherwise known as the Seaside Kingdoms.) To the west is Ornala, which is prominently made up of general ‘white’ and olive-skinned peoples, while to the northeast is a kingdom called Kegdulan, which features a prominent white population. Smack-dab in the middle of the two is Germa—a stark, desert wasteland where the Kadarian (black-skinned) people live. While there is much conflict between Ornala and Germa due to the amount of territory each owns (Germa believes the Ornalan king to be greedy for not sharing his land,) there is also racial conflict of area and position between other higher races—most specifically, Dwarves and Elves.

For example:

The Elves arrived on the mainland when humanity was just evolving. Over the millennia, they were exiled from the Three Kingdoms to a forest to the far south called the Abroen. Told never to return to return to the mainland under the stipulation that the territory inside the forest would belong to them, Elves have lived solitary lives within their wooded communities, but this is due to low population numbers, which ultimately keep them from overpopulating their forest.

The Dwarves, on the other hand, were present in the Kegdulanian region prior to Elves’ appearance on the mainland and humanity’s uprising. Settling primarily within the Hornblaris Mountain chain (which is considered to be their true home,) necessity for territory forced them to spread out into the Kegdulan. As humanity rose to dominance on the continent of Minonivna, however, and their ignorance became apparent, the very greedy Dwarves abandoned the few cities they’d created and retreated back to the mountains.

It is apparent by history within the world I have created for The Brotherhood that many races have had conflicts. Humans exiled the Leatherskin peoples (Orcs, Ogres, Goblins and Trolls) across a land bridge, which later was destroyed and cut off from the island by a massive earthquake; Elves drove the Unclean (a race of rat people) to extinction. Dwarves cannot coexist peacefully with a race of semi-sentient creatures called Hornblarin Angels. In basing these struggles around what we have learned from history, I believe I have created a much greater and widespread world that, to me, seems realistic. I can only help my readers will believe the same.

And Others in Cemetery Dance!

When I was in my last year of college, I took an independent writing class supervised Professor Casebeer.  It was a random pairing between student and faculty, but as it turned out, he had done extensive work documenting the work of Stephen King and Clive Barker.   Needless to say, it was a match made in heaven.  When we were discussing where I should start sending my stories, he mentioned a then fledgling magazine called Cemetery Dance.

I began picking up the magazine regularly.  When I read Jack Ketchum’s “The Box”, I vowed that one day I would be in this magazine.  In fact, I made a list of magazines that I would be in one day as a sign to myself that I had made it as a writer:  Cemetery Dance, Weird Tales, and Magazine of Science Fiction and FantasyIn 2006, my story “Family Business” was published in Weird Tales.  Today I’m holding my contributor’s copies of Cemetery Dance.  It has an interview with me (as a “New Voice”!) and a story (“Rainfall”).  That story is a personal favorite of mine (and the amazing Steve Gilberts did the accompanying story art).  It’s about a brother who tries to prevent a bad thing from happening to his baby sister and how powerless we are in the face of tragedies to our loved ones.

Here’s the rundown on the issue (the Graham Masterton Special Issue):

Fiction
“Anka” by Graham Masterton
“Saint BrÓnach’s Shrift” by Graham Masterton
“An Excerpt from The Cypress House” by Michael Koryta
“Winter Takes All” by Michael Koryta
“Rainfall” by Maurice Broaddus  <== THAT’S ME!
“After-words” by Glen Hirshberg
“Dear Diary” by J. A. Konrath
“Manskin, Womanskin” by Lisa Tuttle
“The Book of the Dead” by David Bell
“The Town Suicide” by S. Craig Renfroe, Jr.

Features
“An Interview with Graham Masterton” by J. A. Konrath
“The Stories that Graham Built” by Matt Williams
“Feature Review : Des cendant by Graham Masterton” by W. D. Gagliani
“A Few Words with Michael Koryta” by Brian James Freeman
“New Voices : Maurice Broaddus” by Steve Vernon <== THAT’S ME, TOO!
“What About Genre, What About Horror” by Peter Straub
“An Interview with Ray Bradbury” by Jonathan R. Eller
“An Interview with Ellen Datlow” by Danica Davidson
“An Interview with Whitley Strieber” by Thomas F. Monteleone

The Usual Suspects
“Words from the Editor” by Richard Chizmar
“Stephen King News : From the Dead Zone” by Bev Vincent
“The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association” by Thomas F. Monteleone
“MediaDrome” by Michael Marano
“Horror Drive-In” by Mark Sieber
“The Last 10 Books I’ve Read” by Ellen Datlow
“Spotlight on Publishing” by Robert Morrish
“Fine Points” by Ed Gorman <==THAT’S ED GORMAN.  HE’S NOT ME.  BUT HE LIKED MY STORY! *ED GORMAN*!!!
“Cemetery Dance Reviews”
“The Final Question” by Brian James Freeman

I’m going to try and stop geeking out now.  All of this happy dancing is freaking my kids out.

*P.S.*

Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy … I’m coming for you.

My Identity in Food

The Men’s Prayer Group of our church, The Crossing, meets at our house on Wednesday nights.  We’ve been going through a book called Who I am in Christ by Neil T. Anderson.  The other thing you need to know about our group is that it’s filled with a bunch of foodies, so as we’re prone to do, we do a themed food night every time we hit a milestone in the book.  We declare it a milestone every 3-4 weeks.  For this week, I was in charge of picking the theme.  Since we have reached the last chapter in the book, I thought we should do “your identity in food.”

Each person was to bring a dish tied in one way or another to their identity then explain the connection to the group.  Among the dishes brought were clam chowder, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork tenderloin sandwiches, fried chicken, and ice cream sandwiches.  (For the record, at no point have we ever claimed that food night was especially healthy nor easy on the stomach.  In fact, I’m thinking of deep fried food night in particular, food night typically ends in a bout of gluttony leaving many of us napping on the couches.)

I made BBQ chicken wings.*  I thought about making a Jamaican or a British dish as they spoke directly to my cultural identity, but the wings meant more to me.

My dad was not one quick to say “I love you” when we were growing up.  Nor was he an especially huggy person.  That’s just not how his generation did things.  But he would make chicken wings.  Our Sunday dinners, no matter how poor we were, were spectacles.  We’d usually have a couple different meats, assorted side dishes, and something either from Jamaica or England.  Not all of these culinary adventures would be a success, but my dad always made chicken wings and would set them in front of me for me to get first dibs on them.  No matter what we had, or failed at making, he’s have chicken wings for me because he knew I loved them.

I always took that as him saying that he thought about me and loved me.  In fact, the BIG display of love would be if we finished our plates and were out of food but were still hungry.  He’d give me the wings from his plate.  I wouldn’t eat the tips of the wings, however.  As we hated to let food go to waste, my father would always  take the stack of wing tips and eat them for me.  To this day, I still don’t eat the tips of chicken wings and I set them aside as if waiting for my dad to come collect them.  It’s like a ritual of love and remembrance.

Now, I have no problems saying “I love you” to my sons or showering them with embarrassing kisses.  But how I share food with them has become important to me even if they never notice.  They always eat first.  And if they finish their food and are still hungry, they get the food from my plate.  That’s just another way of showing and saying “I love you” in our family.

Though I’m glad my dad has gotten better about just saying the words now.  You can never hear that too often from your father.

*I’d post a picture of them, but I’m pretty sure I under-cooked them.  It wasn’t until I called my dad to get the recipe that I realized I never made them before for myself despite them being one of my favorite dishes.

Keeping Hope Alive

Maurice woke up from yet another night of nightmares, his pillow once again soaked with sweat as he waited for the images to fade into dim memory.  Checking the time, it was only 7:40 a.m. and once again, there were no messages for him.  So once again, he laid in bed and let the feeling of helplessness and rejection wash over him.  He liked to give it full reign for about a half hour before he pulled together the will to once again face another day.

With something approximating optimism, he got dressed.  He couldn’t muster the energy to go through the complete ritual of shaving and showering, because in his heart when he believed no one wanted him, he didn’t bother.  But he had his plan and he planned on working it.  Searching for a job meant treating the act itself like a job.  So he otherwise prepared himself, went through the rest of his getting-ready-for-work ritual and prepared to face his day.

Most days it was hard enough pulling himself out of bed rather than giving into the depression which always threatened to suck him into its waiting embrace.  The family’s anxiety level rose, conflating with his own.  The thing about anxiety was the toxic cloud it created, leaking into the fabric of everyday life like a creeping entropy.   So each morning begins by answering the questions “what’s the point?” and “where is the hope?”

I lost my job in December of 2009.  I’ve done odd jobs here and there from freelance writing to substitute teaching, but I haven’t had anything steady in over two years.   Prolonged unemployment can do strange things to your sense of self-worth.  You start listening to all of the voices that run around in the back of your head about how no one wants you or you’re not good for anything.  After a while you have to come up with good reasons to even get up because you begin to lose hope.   Hope is one of those ephemeral things, intertwined with faith and just as fragile.  Some days it flares like the sun and others I have to turn off all the lights so that I can catch a glimpse of the embers.  So each day I get to remind myself  of all of the reasons I have to keep getting up:

-A beautiful wife who even after eleven years loves me better than I do myself.

-Two knucklehead boys who seem to have their own R&D department committed to finding new ways to get into mischief, who also depend on me.

-Some of the best friends a man could ask for.

-Good health.

-And a continued sense of hope.

Sometimes the dark circumstances are the exact times that God uses to transform us.  We feel that God is not at work, that He has abandoned us, and it is the belief that all of our cries are going unanswered that causes us the greatest pain. We need encouragement to endure this time.  Look, true faith is not without hardships, nor is it all that pragmatic. So when problems arise, there are no pat answers. There are no steps. It sucks. We have to hold on and endure it. These times of crisis will either break us and cause us to abandon God or break us down and draw us nearer to Him.

A lot of times we place our love and faith in the wrong things (or good things that aren’t the best things), confusing our spiritual ideas with some distorted ideas of God. Sometimes it takes a loss of control to remind us, to re-shape us. Hopefully we will figure out what’s really important about our faith and walk, and be led to deeper faith.

The key is to be vulnerable, but still believe in my darkest moments of unbelief.  I need to remember to go before God without pretending. Be broken, empty, terrified. Be honest with my pain, rather than put it behind me. Relief comes through honest dialogue. The more doubt expresses itself, the more it is allowed to be exposed, the easier it can be dealt with. Rather than keeping it inside, eating away at me like cancer.  God is sitting shiv’ah with us during our dark nights of the soul. Grieving with us. Restoring us. In that we need to have, and can find, hope.

My hope is that God is not through with me yet and that I still have not only gifts but also a job to do.  Even without full-time employment, I still have worth and can join in God’s missing to reconcile people to one another and to Him.  To continue to make this world a better place.  The story we find ourselves in shouldn’t be reduced to we sin and God forgives, but that we’re children of God’s, co-heirs with Jesus, called to a life of joy. We are to make His life our own, transforming us, sometimes through the refining fire of pain, to look like Him, as children come to resemble their parents.  My hope is in that story.  My hope is in the story of redemption available for each and every one of us.  And that in recognizing our mutual need for redemption, we view one another with mercy and a measure of grace.

The story of my faith is a hope that life, with it pains and joys, laughter and tears, matters.  Hope that relationships are eternal and reconciliation is possible.  Hope that we are significant and matter.  Hope that we are known, all of our good, all of our bad, through what we’ve done and for what we could be.  Hope that we are loved, as we are for who we are.  And all of that give me hope to get up in the morning, face another day, and dream anew of what could be.

***

Link List for January’s Synchroblog // Hope


The Trouble With Hope
John Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x ImaginationWayne Rumsby

Little RemindersMike Victorino

Where Is My HopeJonathan Brink

Hope for HypocritesJeremy Myers

Now These Three RemainSonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still HopefulCarol Kuniholm

A Hope that LivesAmy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations GoAdam Gonnerman

Demystifying HopeGlenn Hager

God in the Dark: On HopeRenee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope AliveMaurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and FearLaura Droege

Adopting HopeTravis Klassen

Hope is Held Between UsEllen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively MaladjustedMihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and RevivalCity Safari

Good Theology SavesReverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will BeKathy Escobar

Better Than HopeLiz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the FutureWendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on HopeKW Leslie

Content to HopeAlise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!Deanna Ogle

Contraband – A Review

I love a good heist movie.

One goes into the movie with a certain amount of expectations.  Everyone’s working an angle, there are agendas within agendas, the plot is largely an exercise in misdirection aimed at keeping the audience guessing.  You know that as soon as you hear the words “one last job” that nothing good is going to happen.  Combine that with a good thriller movie which comes with its own set of expectations:  revenge (typically a family in jeopardy), fighting (because luckily our star comes from a questionable background/mysterious past that come with requisite abilities), betrayal (the action movie’s version of misdirection), and action cranked up to 11 to distract from any plot holes the writer may have missed.  Make this a strictly no frills production and you have Contraband.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, Contraband is a sort of re-imagining of the 2008 thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam which Kormakur produced and starred in.  Wasting little time, we’re introduced to your typical family who are trying to escape the family business:  smuggling.  Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), a rough and tumble former smuggler so badass no one bothers to fight back (though, to be fair, he does beat up the same guy several times), is now married to Kate Farraday (Kate Beckinsale), who shouldn’t even have a name but just wear a sign that reads “I’m just here to be threatened, terrorized, and rescued”.  Chris, together with his friend Sebastian Abney (Ben Foster), were like the “Lennon and McCartney of smuggling.”

Kate’s younger brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), who apparently shouldn’t be trusted to make toast, botches a job for skuzzy (with extra-skuzzy FACIAL HAIR!) drug dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).  Keep in mind, this drug dealer gets his behind handed to him regularly and is completely non-threatening, just constantly resorts to threatening Kate and the kids to gain any sort of leverage on anyone.  However, needing to bail out Andy is just enough of an excuse for Chris to get back into the life he missed.  He pulls the old gang back together, under the nose of a suspicious captain with a history with the Farradays (J.K. Simmons), and make a run for Panama.

Smuggling is a novel backdrop for a heist movie as is the way the movie manages to work in Jackson Pollack.  The handheld, shaky camera work allows the movie to negotiate the claustrophobic spaces of the ship.  Eschewing anything flashy or slick—after all, this is a gritty THRILLER!—the murky cinematography adds to its cinema gritte aesthetic.

“If you get in, you have to be able to get back out.” –Dad

Rooting for thieves is nothing new.  Wahlberg plays a blue collar, hard-nosed Robin Hood who’s only wanting to protect his family.  So we forgive his “doing wrong for the right reasons” credo.  Despite missing his old life, he walked the straight and narrow.

Plus, thieves seem to occupy a special place in God’s heart, too. Jesus, when he was on the cross, suffering through the slow torturous death that was crucifixion, was also the subject of cruel taunts from the crowd, soldiers, and priests. The punishment of crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals, those declared enemies of the Roman state. Occupying the spot originally reserved from freed criminal Barabbas, Jesus was crucified between two other criminals. Thieves, men of violence.

Initially, both thieves joined in the crowd’s scoffing, yet something changed in the (soon-to-be-contrite) thief’s mind, awoke in him. To the crowds’ jeers he heard Jesus say “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” He saw his life and his own actions in a new light. On the cross, his life nearing its end, he realized that his sentence was just. He took ownership of his actions, but not only that, he saw Jesus for who He was. Just as much as Jesus identified with sinners, that sinner had a perfectly focused view of the Christ. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t have such a clear faith as the thief did.

We love a rousing bad-boy-made-good story.

Contraband delivers exactly what you expect, almost beat for storyline beat.  No more, no less as if it were cinematic action-heist comfort food.  Like a sequel to The Italian Job played straight (as in without charm or humor) or [insert generic thriller – I kept waiting for a Mel Gibson-esque “Give me back my son!” sort of moment].  Which is the movie’s problem:  locale and smuggling backdrop aside, it is so conventional it is immediately forgettable.