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Monthly Archives: May 2014

An Old god . . .

My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:

 “every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt

The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?

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We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.

 

Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.

 

But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.

 We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world

That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed  world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.

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Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.

It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.

 

There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.

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So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.

Summer is coming and you an find supernatural thrillers to read at the beach. Check out The Chronicles of Jonathan Steel and my newest book, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” at the ORDER tab on this website.

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We are Chimera!

Last night while sitting before my work computer I felt the gaze of a watching creature. I have written about evil and the supernatural lately, so perhaps this feeling echoed my latent paranoia. In the dark shadows behind my computer I noticed this object.

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My reproduction of a famous sculpture recreates the mythical creature, the chimera. The beast has the head of a lioness, a serpent for a tail, eagle claws for feet, and a goat head protruding from its midsection. The chimera arose in Greek mythology as a monstrous fire breathing beast composed of many animal parts. Homer described the chimera in his Iliad as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.”  The hypothesis about the origin of this myth refers to an area in southwest Turkey. Hikers on the “Lycian Way” encountered an area of over two dozen vents in the ground spewing forth flaming methane.

 

In modern times, the term chimera has come to represent a single organism composed of genetically distinct cells resulting in male and female organs, two different blood types, or subtle variations of form. This situation can occur in animals by organ transplantation such as a bone marrow transplant that can change someone’s blood type. in 1953, a human chimera was discovered to have blood containing two different blood types. Apparently this resulted from her twin brother’s cells living in her body.

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You’re Just Being Paranoid!

I watched the sword impact with the woman’s neck and, thankfully, the news channel cut off the feed before it got too grisly. The newsfeed had originated from a soccer stadium on the other side of the world. I couldn’t breath and glanced over at my wife sleeping soundly in our hotel room bed for an afternoon nap. I quietly eased through the curtains and out onto the balcony. In stark contrast to the images of a real execution in Afghanistan I had just witnessed, the magical world of Disney’s California Adventure stretched out below me in the fading evening sun. My cell phone rang and I settled into a chair. My pastor was calling to see how our trip to California was going.

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“Not too well, Mark.” I said. “It just seems that everyone I meet is so narcissistic, so self centered. It’s all about me, me, me. And, on live television I just witnessed a fanatic faction executing women in an arena for being caught in public with their ankles exposed. What kind of a world is this? I’m sitting here overlooking a Disney theme park in a state that is known for its self absorption and on the other side of the world crazy, fanatics are killing women because of a little exposed ankle flesh!”

 

“Well, I’m having a good day, too.” He answered sarcastically.

 

I went on to apologize for being so negative. And, I shared with him my growing sense of evil all around me. For weeks now, I had become increasingly enveloped by a cloud of oppression and despair the likes of which I had not felt since I went through my horrific depression years earlier. It was as if some great, unbound evil was coming preparing to pounce upon the world. I’ll never forget what I said next. “Mark, I think Satan is about to perpetrate a horrible evil on America unlike anything we have seen in decades and we are totally unprepared for the spiritual repercussions. God is trying to get our attention. And, the sad thing is, if something horrible happens the very person we will blame is God! And yet, we have escorted God right out of our daily lives and we will wonder how God let this thing happen.”

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Something Evil This Way Comes!

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I am an apologist. I don’t apologize for being a Christian. I defend the truthfulness of the Christian faith. The word “apologist” comes from the Greek word apologos. This word appears in the scriptures, 1 Peter 3:15-16. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” That word “reason” is apologos and it means to give evidence as if you were defending yourself in court.

 

When we talk about the topic of evil, we have to consider the different types of evil. Fuz Rana from Reasons to Believe states: “Philosophers and theologians recognize two kinds of evil: moral and natural. Moral evil stems from human action (or inaction in some cases). Natural evil occurs as a consequence of nature—earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, diseases, and the like.”

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Jonathan Steel — His origins

docsavageVery few people have heard of Doc Savage. Back in the 1930’s with the Great Depression covering the land with a dusty veil of hopelessness, magazines with serial stories provided an escape from reality. Long before Adolf Hitler procured the concept for his strategy of producing his master race, the idea that humanity could improve itself through eugenics promised a glowing future. Eugene Sandow considered the father of bodybuilding was a popular figure around the turn of the century. And, the hopes that through heredity, the human condition could be improved to the level of this astounding physical specimen lay behind the formation of many heroic figures in fiction at the time. This idea would later be called the “trans-human” effort to produce a superior human being.

 

History tells us how well that effort turned out! The pursuit of the eugenically perfect “super man” led to the Nazi holocausts and the horrors of World War II. But, long before the descent into darkness, the ability to perfect the human body fascinated the public. In response to Eugene Sandow’s popularity as the father of bodybuilding and this idea that perhaps the perfect human being could pull the world out of the Great Depression, a new fictional hero was born.

 

Publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street and Smith Publications introduced the world to Doc Savage in March 1933. The series main writer, Lester Dent (under the pseudonym, Kenneth Robeson), wrote most of the 181 stories. Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage, Jr. and he was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician.

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Can Fiction be Christian?

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This past week the Christian publishing world was shaken by the announcement from Broadman & Holman (B&H) Publishing regarding their new Christian fiction strategy. Steve Laube, a major voice in the Christian publishing industry, commented on these changes at this link. This may seem like some mundane industry-babble but it has grave implications for the reader of Christian fiction. The bottom line is this: a major Christian publisher has decided to back off of fiction unless it ties in with some other media initiative (such as a movie). In fact, all contracts for future fiction that would have been released  beyond April 2014 are now null and void. Kaput! Gone! And, I know that feeling!

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Why? In September 2012 just a few weeks before the release of my second book, “The 12th Demon: The Mark of the Wolf Dragon” by Charisma, I received a notification that I was being released from my five book contract after the second book. This didn’t catch me totally by surprise. I had already heard from a couple of my fellow authors at the Realms imprint (an imprint is a division of a publishing “house” focused on a particular “genre”) who had suffered the same fate. As of September there were two of us left, myself and Mike Dellosso easily Realms bestselling author. Mike has now moved on also. At least I was in good company! I know this was a business decision made because of the downturn in the economy but it had a lasting impact on my personally as well as many Christian authors.

What does all of this mean for you, the reader of Christian fiction?

It will mean a much smaller selection of books and a much narrower range of genres. Major publishers will not be taking as many chances with new authors and will not be looking to branch out into “strange waters” such as Christian speculative fiction. Frankly, this frightens me. I am already a victim of the troubled economic times coupled with the sea change in traditional publishing trying to adapt to newer digital technology. However, I followed the advice of Michael Hyatt, once CEO of Thomas Nelson (which has been swallowed up by the larger HarperCollins publishing behemoth along with Zondervan). He suggested I self publish. The good news for authors like myself is there are many reputable self publishing ventures available. The bad news is I have to fund the book and all of the prep work myself. Let’s just say it makes for a tremendous tax right off! But, I am hoping the momentum of two previous books will help “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” sell enough copies to keep the series going.

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Why I Wrote “The 11th Demon”

My friend Mike Licona contacted me to meet him Abilene, Texas to interview a man who came back from the dead. How could you resist such an offer? At the time, Mike was head of the Apologetics division of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Man, was that mouth full! He had received word of a man whose near death experience was so fascinating, he couldn’t resist interviewing him. He wanted me to come and review the man’s medical records to see if there was a medical reason for his out of body experience.

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I arrived on a cold December morning and put the address in my iPhone. Soon, I pulled up in front of a flat building with the title, “Love and Care Ministries”. I soon met a man I can only call Julio and learned that due to a nondisclosure agreement we could not share his story. Mike and I interviewed Julio anyway and his story was truly amazing. I had studied everything I could find on near death experiences from an objective and scientific point of view and Julio’s was a classic case of NDE. In fact, a scientist had developed a grading scale on elements of NDE and Julio’s story fulfilled almost all of the minimal elements. Later, the director of the ministry informed me that Julio had told that story over and over for years and the details had never changed. When one fabricates a story, one cannot help but embellish and add to it over time. Julio’s consistency smacked of authenticity.

 

Later that evening, we had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Julio had never met  me, you must understand. He had never heard of me before I walked into the ministry offices that morning. He sat across from me at the table and paused and glanced over my shoulder. His intense gaze then fell on me.

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Why Do I Write About Demons?

Self examination

Because I have stared the enemy in the its face and I will not back down again!

When was this? My first encounter with pure evil took place shortly after I finished medical school during my interniship. I was an intern just seven months after my graduation from medical school rotating through the emergency room. It was a cold February night and a raging icestorm had transformed Shreveport, Louisiana into a crystalline wonderland. Unless you were driving in the stuff or if you were homeless. Dozens of people were crowded into the emergency room waiting room trying to stay warm. The ER was divided into the surgical side and the medical side. If you were a victim of the “knife and gun club” you came to the surgical side. If you could walk through the door under your own power, you came to the “Walk In Clinic”. This is where I found myself on that cold, frigid morning.

 

“Groundhog, it’s your turn to see the next psych patient.” One of my team members informed me. I never figured out why my nickname was Groundhog, but it was appropriate given it was Groundhog day, albeit only 2 A.M. I reluctantly got out of my chair and headed to the far hallway where we kept the crazies. My job was simple. Evaluate the patient to make sure the “psychotic” behavior wasn’t induced by a medical condition and if not, then call the psychiatry resident to come and admit the patient to the psych ward.

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