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A Day With the Doctor (And Clara and Missy, too.)

IMG_1491 A day at Dallas FanExpo is like a day on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with any Marvel or DC movie and a lot of comic book characters thrown in. Thank goodness the Dallas Convention Center is as large as the Death Star. It can hold us all!

Friday was a day to remember; a moment frozen in wonder and excitement; a day we will never forget! Sarah Sutton cosplayed (that means dressed up in a costume and pretended to be a character for those of you still living in the 20th century) River Song; Casey cosplayed the Eleventh Doctor; and I WAS the War Doctor. If you don’t know those characters then the rest of this post may not mean as much. All three are from our favorite television experience, Doctor Who.

We spent from noon to 2 PM getting ready to go into the huge, and I really mean ginormous, exhibit hall. With forethought and careful planning, I had brought my father’s scooter with us. Let’s just say by 3 PM I had run the battery down going back and forth from one end of the hall to the other getting in line to exchange tickets and picking up special event tickets. Thankfully, I had purchased a VIP pass to the convention and was able to go to the front of every line. Money well spent. Not to mention getting to hang out in the VIP lounge in the peace and quiet away from the crowd any time of the day with snacks and water provided.

IMG_0002After procuring a large, and by that I mean it really was bigger on the inside, Star Trek themed bag, we went on a short shopping spree and then back to the Lounge to catch our breath. IMG_0001Next, photo op with Freema Agyeman, who portrayed Martha Jones, the Tenth Doctor’s companion after Rose Tyler. Silly me, thinking she might recognize me as the War Doctor, an incarnation of the Doctor coming after she left the show, I said, “I don’t believe we’ve worked together.” She gave me a puzzled look and replied. “I don’t think so.” Snap, flash, move on!

P-PWG-7T2-C8ROur big event for the evening was the “Evening with Doctor Who”. I purchased Gold Tickets for Casey and me. For Sarah, a silver ticket, but not to worry. Shhhh! We saved her a seat on the second row and she got to sit with the Golden Ticket people! Just don’t tell anyone at the convention.

This was the most anticipated event of the day! And, man, we were NOT disappointed. We had seen Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Michelle Gomez from a distance earlier that day as they arrived for autograph sessions. It was surreal seeing them in real life. Very surreal. Now, here we were not 20 feet away from the stage as they were introduced. And, true to her character, Michelle came out wearing a set of cat ears! Yes, furry cat ears.

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IMG_1501Jenna came out second wearing an ensemble that would have worked for any of her appearances on the show. Capaldi appeared wearing a dark gray blazer over dark slacks and a dark gray tee shirt with the Texas Star on it (black, of course — the man does like his dark colors).

The next hour and fifteen minutes were filled with laughter and tears and was just the most delightful evening in my memory. These people were so kind and grateful to the fans and so open and accommodating to questions. No pretentious. No arrogance. Very humble and grateful.

The questions were legion and I’ll try and give some of them justice. Let’s see. If Missy could pick any room in the TARDIS to design, it would be a huge, black leather Gucci purse filled with tea and biscuits (that’s cookies for us Yanks). Her favorite villain of all time? Well, she said, not me, Hillary Clinton. Her most awkward moment? During Dark Water, having to kiss the Doctor while holding Clara’s hand! AWKWARD!

Jenna’s favorite Doctor (besides Peter) David Tennant. Her favorite episode was the Snowmen because it was so much like a fairy tale with the spiral staircase and the TARDIS in the clouds.

Peter’s favorite villain, Dracula. Specifically, Gary Oldman’s Dracula. Whose idea was it to play the guitar? His. Whose idea was it to come in on a tank? I think it was his. Whose idea were the sonic sunglasses? Moffat’s. He said toy companies all over the world groaned when he put on the sonic sunglasses but “Ray-Ban sent me a whole pile of them.” And, he said he would wear sunglasses any time of the day or night.

At one little boy’s request, he did the voice of the Daleks in a terrifying and lengthy monologue. It was awesome. They start shooting in two weeks! His favorite doctors were the first four — the classic Doctors and the dark clothing he prefers as the Doctor were based on One and Two. Although, he acknowledged, “the only reason they wore black and white is because the show was on a black and white television”. But, he went on to praise all of the actors who portrayed the Doctor, some of whom were given poor scripts and little money and he credits their acting skills with making the best of a bad situation and keeping Doctor Who alive for so long. He really was so gracious and thankful for the entire enterprise.

When asked how they felt about fan created media, Capaldi praised it saying it informed them of what the fans expected and wanted out of Doctor Who and made everyone in the business realize how special Doctor Who is to the world. Jenna mentioned the title sequence from series 9 coming from a fan. And, there was so much more.

IMG_1507IMG_1505After the session, Casey and I were whisked away to a photo op. She told Jenna how inspiring her portrayal of Clara had been. I walked straight up to Capaldi and said, “I’m looking for the Doctor” a line from “The Day of the Doctor”. Michelle Gomez said, “He’s right there.” and pointed to Capaldi. Capaldi took my hand, shook it and said, “Wonderful wardrobe.” Jenna tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We’ve met.” Then we posed for the photo. Snap, flash, move on!

IMG_1503Later, at the autograph session Casey thanked Jenna again for being an inspiration to her and to her friend, Sierra. I told Michelle, “You must be so tired.” She smiled, “Honey, we love it. We’ll sleep next week.” I told Peter Capaldi, “Thank you for coming. We love the Doctor here in America. And, you have made the show so special.” He smiled at me and said, “I just wish we had more time. It’s too short, too short.” Move on!

What a fantastic day! And, Saturday, we meet Arthur Darville, also known as Rory and, of course, the Time Master, Captain Rip Hunter.

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Who is a Hero?

whohoodWho is your hero?

This past weekend I watched a new episode of Doctor Who, “Robot of Sherwood”. In the story, the Doctor travels back in time with his companion, Clara because she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor assures her Robin Hood never existed. I will not spoil the show, but suffice it so say they meet someone who claims to be the real Robin Hood in 1190 A. D. — ish.

The entire episode is about heroes. Who are they? How do they become our heroes? Are our memories of these heroes real? Or, do we embellish those memories and raise our heroes to the status of legend? If we were to meet some distant, now long dead hero would that person match the hero we have internalized?

In our postmodern culture, we have taken to deconstructing “heroes”. Over the past few decades our founding fathers have become something less than the idealistic men and women portrayed in our history books. Why do we do this? It is because in postmodernism, all authority is questioned. There is no absolute authority; no absolute at all. Thus, these men and women must have been flawed and we cannot trust what is written about them. In fact, all written or recorded words and events must be discounted.

Is it any wonder that in our current time, our heroes are taken from comic books? Our heroes are fictional? After all, fictional heroes can’t be deconstructed. They are created and the creator of these characters has written only so many words about them. There are no secrets to be discovered outside the mind of the writer.

As a child growing up in the deep pine woods of Northern Louisiana, my heroes were fictional. Someone would ask: Bruce, wasn’t your father your hero? I have written about my father many times on this website. I loved him and he loved me. But, he was never a hero to me. Why? Because in my mind, heroes were larger than life; powerful and brilliant; super powered, in fact. My father was ordinary and I wanted to be anything BUT ordinary!

Doc Savage, Iron Man, Superman, Captain America and the like were my heroes. Yes, I grew up in the golden age of comics when Jack Kirby and John Buscema were crafting and creating characters like the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock (the first Marvel comic I read in 1967 was Fantastic Four comic where we meet Adam Warlock in his cocoon for the first time.)

supeIn contrast today our heroes are dark and flawed. We cannot embrace idealism anymore. Even Superman, once the ideal hero — “Truth, justice, and the American way” has become darker and morose. What has happened to idealism? When did our heroes aspire to be ordinary?

The only hero to escape this cynical deconstruction has been Captain America. The movies have managed to preserve his idealistic attitude about right and wrong by making those values “safely” anachronistic and nostalgic. But, is it any wonder that Cap’s latest movie is considered by many to be the best movie of the year? (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding). Could it be we are craving just a little bit of idealism in our lives? Could it be we sense that absolutes do exist and that there is such a thing as right and wrong? Could we be longing; striving; hungering for a world that is not postmodern but firm and real and providing a true foundation for our lives?

heroesMaybe our heroes should be ordinary men and women who still have the spark of this idealism within their everyday thinking. These men and women long to help, to aid, to fight against wrong, to try and make the world a better place than they found it. These men and women are our soldiers, our law enforcement agents, our nurses, our doctors, our school teachers, our missionaries — anyone who is willing to risk life and limb to better a person’s life. They are out there surrounding us and meeting our needs everyday.

Now that I pause and think about it, maybe I never considered my father to be my hero. But, rest assured he SHOULD be my hero even as I hope to be a hero to my own children. I will never pass into legend. The Doctor will never bring his companion to visit me. But, I resist a dark, cynical world that tells me I must dwell on flaws and shifting morality. I must reach into the shadows and find that gleaming ray of Light that shines out and illuminates Truth and make sure that someone; at least one sees the Light of goodness.

Who are/were your heroes?

The Clock Strikes Twelve!!!!

I came home late this evening. Darkness had already fallen and charcoal clouds churned across the sky against a new moon. My loved ones had left the light on for me so I could see to get into my home. So tired from a15 hour day at work, I could barely hold my head up as I slumped out of the car and trudged toward the front door. I paused to fish my keys out of my pocked and looked up to see this:

IMG_0920Don’t blink!

If you don’t know what that means; if you didn’t get a chill down your spine just then how can I explain my incredible excitement over the events of this coming weekend?

I kept my eyes on the weeping angel and I DID NOT BLINK! I made it through the door and locked it behind me only to turn around and find something evil; something vile; something foul waiting for me in the foyer!

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Okay, so this Dalek is a little bloated and overweight. Maybe too much rock salt! It seemed to be dormant so I made my way around him and looked in the kitchen. No one was there. The house was empty. Even Romeo was gone! Where could they be?

I slowly made my way to the bedroom, making sure not to wake up the sleeping Dalek and this is what I found:

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So, that explains it! Well, I won’t have to wait for Saturday to meet the twelfth doctor! He’s waiting for me along with my friends and family. And, not to worry! It’s bigger on the inside! Don’t miss the new doctor Saturday night! We’ll see you in the TARDIS! I hope he didn’t redecorate!

Come Along, Pond!

I don’t have a time machine. I don’t fly around in the TARDIS. For those of you who are not Whovians, the TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space and is the space ship of the Doctor. It is an innocuous blue London Police box from the 1950’s — appearing that way because of a “chameleon” circuit that disguises the ship as a contemporary structure of the place and time it is visiting. Only, the circuit got stuck in the early 1960’s.

This is NOT my TARDIS!

This is NOT my TARDIS!

 

The Doctor has been flying around the cosmos since 1963 and has been portrayed by eleven different actors — the twelfth debuting this coming fall as the “12th” Doctor. My daughter began watching “Doctor Who” about five years ago after the series was “rebooted” in 2005. She got me interested. I watched Doctor Who way back in the 1970’s when Tom Baker was the Doctor (and he is still the most popular and well known of the ‘classic’ Doctors). Soon, my entire family, with the notable exception of my wife who relies on the “Cliff Notes” version of the show, are dedicated Whovians. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve seen and read posts in the past on this fascination.

 

Well, I finally bit the big one and signed up for a real, live comic-con, SciFi Expo in Dallas, Texas the weekend of February 8th. My wife politely dropped me and my daughter, Casey off at the Irving Convention Center for the day. It was extremely cold and drizzling rain when Casey and I stepped into the parking garage and joined thousands of science fiction and fantasy fans. Casey was “cos playing” the eleventh doctor wearing eleven’s purple coat and topped off her wig with a red fez. I went for the War Doctor from the recent 50th anniversary special. That “Doctor” played by John Hurt was closer in age and appearance to this old f**t so I figured I could pull him off better than any of the young actors playing recent Doctors with “big hair”.

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I had no idea what to expect. Casey has been to a dozen or so Anime Conventions but this thing put them all to shame. It was like comparing the Death Star to the Millennium Falcon. As we rounded the corner of the Convention Hall and headed into the windy, freezing parking garage we were assaulted with the sound of a thousand souls crying out in anguish. Total, complete, chaotic bedlam followed and did not relent for the next six hours. I managed to find a convention security person in a bright orange shirt and asked him where to go to pick up our pre-ordered arm bands. His wild eyed, confused countenance did not instill great confidence. He whirled in confusion and finally pointed to a line of people snaking their way across the entire first level of the parking garage. “Get in that line.” We did. And we waited in the freezing cold for almost an hour.

 

Don't Blink!

Don’t Blink!

Just waited and stood and walked a few feet at a time. The only consolation was the gasps of surprise and wonder as fellow conventioneers recognized Casey’s purple coat (turns out she was one of only two Doctor cos-players wearing the new purple coat) and recognized me as the War Doctor. I was the ONLY War Doctor that day. And, as I learned throughout the day, many of the attendees dressed as their favorite science fiction character. But, the vast majority of those who dressed up paid homage to Doctor Who. In all, we saw two first Doctors, several female versions of the fourth Doctor, one Fifth Doctor, one Seventh Doctor, a plethora of the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, but only one War Doctor. I must have been asked to pose for a hundred pictures with various characters from Doctor Who from the other Doctors to River Song to Martha Jones to K9 to girls dressed as Daleks and one young girl dressed as the TARDIS.

 

This was the only activity we engaged in except for waiting in lines. We finally made it into the building to receive our arm bands only to exit once more to stand in the huge line on the second level of the garage — this line to enter the convention hall proper!

 

Four Doctors!

Four Doctors!

Once inside, we were ushered into the massive merchandising portion of the convention where every conceivable product existed proudly proclaiming any one of hundreds of science fiction and fantasy story lines. It was here, we faced our second wave of picture takers. I had come for one reason only — to meet Karen Gillan, the actress who portrayed Amy Pond throughout Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor. She was one of a dozen guests including Sylvester McCoy, who portrayed the Seventh Doctor and the wizard Radagast in the recent Hobbit movie. Also, Karl Urban, who portrayed one of my favorite characters, Dr. “Bones” McCoy in the Star Trek movies was there as well as Stephen Amell, the actor portraying Green Arrow on the current CW show, Arrow. I would have been happy to meet any of these people as well as Karen. However, as we soon learned, we were to have only one experience at our disposal. For, you had to wait in line to buy/pick up a ticket for a photo op with one of these celebrities. And, if you got in line for a ticket, forget making it to the Q&A sessions featuring the celebrities or getting in line to buy/pick up a ticket for an autograph from one of them. You had to choose and choose wisely.

 

Casey and Vic

Casey and Vic

Casey also wanted to get her picture made with Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and star of “Star Trek Continues” a web based continuation of the original Star Trek. And so, after passing through the merchandise on our own for about 20 minutes we headed up the escalator to the third floor to get in line to purchase a ticket for the photo ops. Once again, we found ourselves surrounded by total complete chaos and thousands of souls wandering about this confusing universe of imagination. I sighted an Orange Shirt and he tentatively pointed at one of a half dozen lines snaking around the interior halls of the third floor. “That line. I think.” We followed the line around the maze of rooms and hallways to the end and got in line. I was immediately behind a man dressed as the First Doctor. We spent two hours with him and our fellow line waiters. During the process, we were the subject of dozens of photo ops as hapless conventioneers wandered by looking for their particular line to wait in. I glanced at my watch a dozen times. We missed the Karl Urban Q&A. And, we were about to miss the Vic Mignogna photo op. When suddenly, while waiting in a nondescript line quadrupled on itself in a room, an Orange Shirt asked if any of us wanted Vic tickets. He assured us that the line for Karen Gillan was another two hours of waiting (which overlapped with the actually op session itself). So, we resigned ourselves to getting only a picture with Vic and I raised my hand. Casey and I were ushered to the very front of this eternal line and within five minutes we had purchased her photo op. The cashier asked if I wanted another photo op. Karen Gillan? I asked. Sure! If the others waiting in line had heard us, we would have been lynched!

 

Casey was rushed off to the Vic photo op and I held in my hand the golden ticket (actually a slightly faded cash register printout with a bar code and a pixelly picture of Karen Gillan). Casey was done in five minutes and she was the last person to get her picture with Vic.

 

Now, here is where it was worth it all for Casey. Vic asked to hold her fez and her picture shows this incredible man hugging my daughter for the camera. He actually spoke to her for a minute and gave her his email! More on that later.

 

We found a bench and sat down to eat some snacks I was smart enough to bring in my massive leather coat. We rested for about ten minutes and then is was time to get in line to have our picture made with Karen Gillan. We made our way back into the hallways and found the end of the line of those waiting for the photo op. Here is where it was very interesting. The photo ops had sold out shortly after Casey and I got our ticket and it made no difference if you had purchased your tickets online ahead of time or at the convention. We were all in the same line! It didn’t seem that the VIP tickets made that much of a difference!

 

An hour later, we made it into the photo op room. Soon, we were standing outside the purple curtains and just inside was the actress Karen Gillan, Amy Pond. “You’re on!” the Orange Shirt said and we rushed into the booth. Karen was standing before us and my first impression was how tall she was. In the show, she seemed short or of average height next to the very tall Matt Smith. I was surprised to have to look UP at her. Flash, our photo had been taken and we were ushered out of the booth. We spent a total of 3 seconds with Karen Gillan. I barely recall being next to her!

Karen

Now, we had officially met two of the Doctor’s companions. On a train from Cardiff, Wales back to London in 2009, we met Elizabeth Sladen who played the most celebrated and best known companion of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, she passed away two years later from a sudden illness but my daughter had the opportunity to do more than just have a photo op. We spoke with Elizabeth Sladen for almost ten minutes. She was so gracious and kind. I wrote about that post in the past.

 

At this point, we were done. I was done. No more Q&A sessions were left. No more autograph tickets were left. We cruised through the merchandise one last time and bought a few small things and then went outside to wait for my wife to return in the TARDIS, I mean, the car to take us on to Shreveport. While sitting in the warm sunshine on the steps of the convention center, we were serenaded by a very thin, slightly inebriated knock off of Elsa from “Frozen”. She was slurring “Let it glow, Let it glow . . .”

 

My take away from this?

 

Celebrity pays well if you want to pose for pictures and sign autographs. At $55 a picture and $50 an autograph, I’m sure the celebrities did very well. But, to stand there and smile and sign for hours on end? To have to hug thousands of rabid fans dressed as all kinds of strange creatures? To answer sometimes inane questions from those same fans? Maybe they deserve every penny they can earn.

 

Then, my daughter showed me an email she had sent to Vic. Vic is a professing Christian and Casey has met him once before at an Anime convention. She shared her life story with Vic in her email about her struggle with seizures and epilepsy and how 2013 was a horrific, but pivotal year in her life when she finally came out of the darkness into the light. She told him he was an inspiration to her.

 

Vic could have ignored her email. Or, at best, sent a canned reply. Casey told me he read every personal email he received and he responded to Casey. He remembered her as the last person in the photo op and he recalled holding her fez. He said he was encouraged by her life story and he was grateful he had inspired her, but in reality, her story inspired him! What a class act!

 

I know it was hard standing for hours. I know it was strange seeing so many obsessed fans, myself included, looking for something to give their lives meaning and purpose. I know it was hard to have to choose between so many good options and to fork over good, hard earned money for a single picture. But, to see the smile on my daughter’s face. To read her heart felt email and read Vic’s equally moving reply was worth every moment, every minute, every pain, every cent we spent.

 

Thanks, Vic. And, thanks, Karen.

 

Resist the Urge to Complain! (Or, RUE and Sherlock)

sherlock

 

If you have never seen the BBC production of Sherlock and you are an avid reader or even interested in good, solid writing, then shame on you! I watched the final episode in season 3 Sunday afternoon (I had to search the internet to find a quasi-legal live stream of BBC because Sherlock Season 3 will not be available in the U. S. until this coming weekend) and wept, screamed with delight, shouted with shock, and almost fell out of my chair in the final five minutes! Such is the sheer wonder of watching any show from the Mark Gatiss/Steven Moffat team responsible for the modern adaptation of Sherlock and the past three seasons of Doctor Who.

 

In my last blog post, I mentioned what I consider the smartest science fiction television episode of modern times, “Blink!” written by Steven Moffat. As a writer of Christian speculative fiction, I truly appreciate smart, clever writing. Too often, our modern writers over explain things or, worse, never explain anything leaving you hanging in an eternal limbo of unanswered questions.

 

Recently, Steven Moffat came under criticism for his stories containing “plot holes”. Hmmm. Plot holes? Reading between the lines, unanswered questions. Here is what he had to say about his “plot holes”.

 

“I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained. — Sometimes you expect the audience to put two and two together for themselves. For Sherlock, and indeed Doctor Who, I’ve always made the assumption that the audience is clever.”

 

Ah, are you are clever reader? Or, do you prefer for the author to spell everything out in great detail?

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In the business, authors use the acronym, RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain! You see this rule violated with increasing frequency. I call it the tyranny of “as you know”. The new show, “Intelligence” abandons subtlety for blanket exposition. Things are explained to the audience because we are so stupid, we might not get it. Many lines of dialogue can be prefaced with “As you know, so and so has this computer chip implanted in his head which gives him the ability to . . . .” This bleeds into another staple of writing, “Show, don’t tell”. A “clever” writer shows the facts we need to know instead of spelling them out.

 

In the recent third season of “Sherlock” viewers (spoilers ahead — don’t read this paragraph if you have NOT seen season 2) waited for TWO years to find out how Sherlock survived his demise at the end of season 2. Great debates raged online. In my home, my daughter and her best friend and I watched the episode three times and came up with our own theory. Now, the lazy writer would have started off this new season with a quick and dirty explanation of how Sherlock survived. Instead, we are treated with numerous live action replays of some of these “theories” in what is some of the most clever sequences ever. In fact, the viewer doesn’t learn about the truth until near the end of the episode and it is an integral part of the unfolding story of Watson’s reunion with a supposedly dead Sherlock.

 

Plot holes? I think not. I was engaged. I was a part of the process. It was hard. It was tedious. But, it was fun!!! And, as a reader, the best books make me carry part of the load. The best written stories make me work along side the author in solving the “plot holes”. “Lost” has received great criticism for its finale. But, if you watched the show, you realized it was addictive and compelling. For the entire run of the series, fans formed theories and ideas. The reason the finale was not satisfying is because the hype over the finale (like the new Star Wars movies back in 1999) could never satisfy all of the various theories floated by fans.

 

Steven Moffat recently ended the 50 year run of Doctor Who with his own “trilogy” and the story he wrote changed the entire direction of the show for the next 50 years. Theories were abundant on the internet and in homes around the world. My own family was rife with theories. My son and his wife had their own theories that were, to me, quite exotic and bizarre. The point of all of this is that we were ENGAGED. These supposed “plot holes” served to pull us into the story. We worked hard for months leading up to the finale trilogy realize that the excellent writing of Steven Moffat would go in a direction we could never have seen and also, instead of disappointing us, it would leave us supremely satisfied. And, that was the results for us when the credits rolled at the end of “The Name of the Doctor”, “The Day of the Doctor”, and “The Time of the Doctor”. We have forgotten the joy of anticipation!

 

I write this blog to talk about writing and being an author. So, the takeaway from this post is simple. We need “plot holes”. We need writing that engages the reader or the viewer. In a culture where answers are just a text away; where information flows through our brains like “crap through a goose” as Patton once said; where choices are endless and we live in a whirlwind of instant gratification it is comforting to know that clever and skillful creative minds out there still value the “plot hole”. As for me, I want to work to solve the problem of the story; I want to step into the world created by the writer and be just as stymied and stumped as the protagonist. In short, I want to be IN the story, not sitting back just observing. I want to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.

 

So, keep on resisting the urge to explain. Continue to show, don’t tell. And, you will have a rapt and grateful audience!

 

Remember, my own three books in the “Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” complete the first trilogy in my thirteen book series and are available at 11tdemon.com for a special price right now. Check them out and see if I was successful with RUE and Show, Don’t Tell!

Winter Doldrums? Then, BLINK!

I decided to start out the new year watching what I consider to one of the best if not the best science fiction television episode ever. It premiered in 2007 and was written by Stephen Moffat. If you don’t recognize that name, then chances are you’ve never watched an episode of Doctor Who. Or, Sherlock for that matter. I can forgive ignoring Doctor Who. After all, it is a 50 year old science fiction television series. But, Sherlock? You’ve never seen Sherlock?

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Get thee hence to iTunes or to Best Buy or to Netflix and watch the first six episodes of Sherlock and if you can stand it, turn on closed caption because the rapid fire deduction of Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes will be unintelligible at best. Easily one of the best modern adaptations of Holmes I can’t get enough of this series. I’ve watched those six episodes  at least a dozen times each and marvel each time at the brilliant level of writing (and, yes, acting). If you want to learn how to write a compelling and gripping story, watch anything written by Moffat, especially Sherlock. Pay attention to the pacing, the dialogue, the sub-text, the plotting, the timing. Everything is brilliant!

 

Yeah, so back to Doctor Who. If you’ve never seen an episode (particularly of the modern incarnation) and you a science fiction fan then you must watch “Blink”. Actually, the episode features the Doctor in only about 10 minutes of the show. It is definitely anchored by a young Carey Mulligan playing Sally Sparrow and it is the smartest, most well written story. You don’t even have to understand the mythos behind Doctor Who to enjoy the story. It is completely self contained and for a time travel story, it is too perfect.

 

The problem with watching this episode is you will NEVER be able to look at a statue the same way again, particularly if it is of an angel. In 2009, I went to London and Paris. Standing in the shadow of Notre Dame cathedral with all of its gargoyles and statues of angels and demons I definitely got a full body shudder!

 

So, take an hour sometime this weekend and find “Blink” from 2007 part of the new seasons of Doctor Who and watch it. You’ll never regret it. Just remember. Whatever you do, don’t blink!

 

By the way, you can save on purchasing my Chronicles of Jonathan Steel books at www.11thdemon.com. Check it out today!

Asking the Question. Again!? Where Was God???

Where was God? Again? We’re asking that question again? If we don’t need God, then why do we keep asking where He is? Why do we keep expecting God to show up and protect us when we don’t believe in Him any more? Why not expect Zeus or Athena or some other god to show up? If we no longer believe there is anything supernatural out there then why do we keep appealing to the supernatural? Why do we keep seeking God?

Here is why:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:19-24 (ESV)

 

God has put eternity in the hearts of all men. We are more than just animals. We are made in the image of God. We are filled with God’s attributes: love, creativity, empathy, mercy, compassion, self awareness.

So, how does this all figure in to the events of the last week? Oh, I’m sorry. You thought I was talking about the events in Boston! No, I’m talking about the events that took place in Austin. We went down to Austin to celebrate my daughter-on-law’s completion of her Ph.D. Here is a picture of us at her party (A Doctor Who themed party! You can see more pictures here.)

Casey as the Eleventh Doctor, Dr. Jennifer Hennigan, Sean, and me as the Fourth Doctor.

Casey as the Eleventh Doctor, Dr. Jennifer Hennigan, Sean, and me as the Fourth Doctor.

My daughter, Casey, had her first seizure when she was 8 years old. The subsequent two years were hell on earth trying to figure out the kind of seizures she had and how to treat them. We ended up at the Epilepsy Center in Los Angeles, one of only two such centers at the time. My little 9 year old daughter was attached to EEG leads for 24 hours a day on continuous video monitoring in a small hospital room. She couldn’t go more than ten feet from her bed and my wife stayed with her for 10 days before they made the diagnosis.

We treated Casey through four different neurologists over the years of her childhood. Just when we would find a good pediatric neurologist, that person would leave our local medical school and we would have to find another one. At Casey’s school, we had to go through the tedious process of getting the teachers to help Casey with her lessons and her instructions as the seizures affected the part of her brain that controlled reading comprehension.

Middle school years were a nightmare. Young girls are, no doubt, the cruelest creatures on the face of the planet. In the sixth grade, Casey endured 9 weeks of torture and extortion at the hands of a gang of girls before we found out the reason she was covered in bruises. We thought she was having a reaction to her meds!

Then, we had to find her a private school where she wouldn’t get beaten up every day for being “different”. She finally made it through middle school. But, the high school in our district would have the same girls as that middle school. Casey’s grades would not allow her to be in a “magnet” school. And, now at the private school, the high school age girls were even more cruel to her because she did not attend the church that ran the school.

We had to sell our dream home, build a new house, and move to another school district so Casey could get into a high school where she would not be tortured. She found peace and acceptance among her peers at this school, but now we had to weather the storm of standardized testing. Casey had to pass certain benchmark standardized tests to move up in high school and all of these tests relied on reading comprehension. There were NO exceptions for her seizures. Her senior year in high school, we had to change her medication and we knew she would have some breakthrough seizures so we planned that transition during the time she would take these tests so we could get a personal tutor hired by the school district to come and administer the test at home in anyway possible for Casey. She passed and walked across the stage in 2006 to receive her diploma. It was the proudest day of her life!

Since 2006, Casey has continued to struggle with her seizures. We had to transition her to a neurologist specializing in adults and to our dismay, there were NO neurologists in our town who specialized in seizures. Frustration after frustration ensued as Casey’s symptoms began to change and involve her face and her mouth even on maximum medication. She tried college and had to drop out because her professors did not understand her disease! Her last semester in college, the professor locked her out of the room and told her she had been faking her illness!

Our neurologist in January 2012, “fired” us. This from one of my fellow physicians! I was furious! I was so frustrated! Casey was approaching the age of 25 and she literally had no life! Now, at this point I should have been shaking my fist at God. But, I didn’t. My wife didn’t. And, to Casey’s credit, she had long ago accepted that this was her lot in life.

In June, 2012 God worked a miracle and we found a new neurologist in New Orleans. He saw Casey and instantly drew a totally different conclusion. Casey suffered from an extremely rare form of migraines, not seizures! She also has a rare metabolic disorder that produces this problem easily corrected by vitamins. Since June, we have been in the process of trying to wean her off of 17 years of seizure medication and onto migraine medication.

Christmas was horrendous. Her “auras” as they are now called were debilitating and our neurologist finally added a new migraine medication that caused the symptoms to stop. But, the side effect for Casey has been depression and weight loss.

Which brings me to last week. We went to Austin to celebrate my daughter-in-law’s completion of her Ph.D. from UT Austin. From the minute we arrived Thursday before last, I was apprehensive. All I could think about was something bad happening to Casey. I don’t know why, but there it was. The first night, Casey had a pretty bad “aura” at the restaurant. Every day, she had these “attacks” where her mouth would stop working and she would grow weak on the left side of her face. Monday morning, April 15th, I was so anxious, so nervous, so panicky I was pacing our hotel room. Casey was staying at our son’s house. I had to talk to her. I had to know she was okay. I tried calling and got no answer. I texted and got no answer.

My wife couldn’t understand my apprehension and I was afraid we would have to go the ER. Something was happening. It was bad! Major bad! I could hardly breathe. We hurried over to my son’s house and Casey was fine. No problem. It took me about four hours to calm down and then, BAM, the explosions at the Boston Marathon.

I won’t go into this, but this reaction had occurred before in my life, most memorably the week before 9/11. I will share that sometime. Did I have some kind of “evil barometer” in my heart and mind? If I did, I didn’t want it!

Tuesday, Casey had some more “auras” and I insisted she return to the hotel with us that night. It was a good thing. Our suite had two bedrooms and Casey went into her bedroom to change into her pajamas. Suddenly, she was screaming for help. The door was locked! I tried to break it down. No good. Finally, I grabbed a fork from our kitchenette, bent a tine out and stuck it in the little hole on the door handle to open the door. What we found I cannot describe. Casey was totally paralyzed on her bed, unable to move for almost 7 minutes and totally awake the entire time. It was horrendous! It was horrible to stand there and not be able to do a thing!

Finally, it passed and she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. So did we. She was aware the entire time, remembering everything.

That was when something broke within me. Why was God allowing my daughter to go through this? Wasn’t 18 years of suffering enough? Why didn’t He heal her? Where was He? For the first time, I was feeling anger toward God. For the first time I wanted to ball up my fist and shake it at the heavens and demand that God fix this! I couldn’t even sleep that night. I lay awake in the bed (my wife slept with my daughter) and replayed that scene over and over and over.

There was a debate this past Thursday at Broadmoor Baptist Church between Frank Turek and David Silverman, the head of the American Atheist Society. My apologetic group was involved in setting it up and we had all planned to attend. I told my best friend, Mark Riser that I couldn’t go. I might agree with the atheist!

You see, I know there is a God. My life is a testimony to God’s plan, God’s work, God’s redemption in spite of my failings. I have talked about this in many past posts and in my book, “Conquering Depression”. But, there are times when even the deepest of faiths threatens to crumble under the pain of suffering. Look what Job endured.

So, last night Sherry and I went to the “Hymns” concert at Cypress Baptist Church. My good friend, Philip Wade arranged and orchestrated a concert of his favorite hymns. The Shreveport Symphony played along with three church choirs. It was up lifting. It was exhilarating. It was powerful. The last song was “It is Well With my Soul”. The author of this song had lost his family on a sea voyage and while traveling across the Atlantic to London to meet his grieving wife, he wrote the lines to this powerful song. I still had my daughter!

I came home and watched the replay of the Boston Marathon bombing events from the week. I watched runners turn around and run TOWARD the bomb site to help out. I heard about doctors and nurses who went in to the hospital after running 26 miles to help out. I learned about runners who ran to the hospital to donate blood. I saw men tearing off tee shirts to make tourniquets. I watched first responders rush in to help in spite of the threat of more bombs. In the pursuit of the bombers, I saw men and women law enforcement personnel do everything possible without sleep, against exhaustion to bring the perpetrators to justice so that Boston could breathe a sigh of relief. And, I saw and heard millions raising their voices in prayers to God.

Why is it that we wait until bad things happen to reach out to God? Why is it that we place God somewhere in a closet or on a shelf until we need Him? It seems that this is the kind of God we want. A genie in a bottle who stays out of sight until we need Him.

Well, that was where God was on Monday. That was where God was Tuesday night. Right where we had left Him. For many, God was distant on Monday. For me and my wife, God was right there in that hotel room with us when Casey had her episode. In spite of my doubts and my anger and my anxiety, God will NEVER desert us. His faithfulness is absolute in contrast to my fickle, human nature

Look again at those verses above.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

We want to worship the god we see in the mirror. It is the only god we can control. And, we have this illusion that if we can control god, we have complete freedom. We can do anything we want. It was this freedom of will that allowed two young men, deluded by radicalism, to place bombs at the Boston Marathon. But, in that freedom, we also have the choice to love. And, it is in that love that we truly see God. Not in the broken, failing visage of the mirror. But, in the light that shown across time and space from the ultimate suffering God endured on the cross. No amount of suffering any human can endure can ever match or overcome those last few hours of life of the Son of God. God KNOWS what we are going through. God sends peace and comfort because He has BEEN there! But, we must seek it. We must immerse ourselves continuously in that love.

The days ahead for my daughter are still challenging. She will eventually get on the proper medication for her migraines and one day, she will have a normal life. I trust God to take care of her. He owns her.

When I went through my horrible depression years ago, I never imagined that God would use my suffering to help others. In 2001, my pastor, Mark Sutton and I co-authored “Conquering Depression”. Over the past 12 years, this book has literally saved thousands of lives. I cannot take credit for that. It was not my choice to endure depression and write a book about it. It was God’s plan. And, if I choose, I can look at those years of suffering as a waste, a loss, an abandonment. But, clearly, that suffering was part of God’s plan to help others. Recently, Mark and I were offered a new contract to update our book and we hope to release the new book in the fall of 2014.

My point is, how can I shake my fist in anger at God when He is using that very anger; that very doubt to grow and mature me; to help others who feel that anger and doubt? Rather, I must have a paradigm shift. I must realize that everything works toward the good in God’s plan. Even my daughter’s illness.

I do not know what God has planned for my daughter. But, instead of continuing in anger and doubt, I have chosen another path. I will sit down with my daughter and talk about how God used my depression for good. If I can help her use her illness to help others, then perhaps that is the plan for her life. How many people out there are suffering from the incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy when they are, in fact, having migraines? Our neurologist said, “4 out of 6 neurologists misdiagnose migraines as seizures”! Perhaps this is my daughter’s purpose. Perhaps I can help her see this. And, perhaps once we both realize this is part of God’s plan we both can say, “It is well with my soul”.

Turn Your Face and Look Away!

firstdoctyoWe are approaching the 50th anniversary of the longest running science fiction television series, Doctor Who. My daughter, Casey, got me hooked on the new Doctor Who back in 2007 and now, my entire family is hooked on Who. I decided to go back and find the original episodes of the very first Doctor Who (he has regenerated 11 times since then) in black and white on youtube. In the first episode from 1963, Barbara, a reluctant passenger on the TARDIS (the Doctor’s spaceship) is captured by cavemen when they travel back in time to early Earth. During a pivotal scene, two rival leaders of the cave people fight. Their battle is brutal as would be expected from cavemen. At the pivotal point, the winning caveman bashes the other one’s head in with a rock. A close up of Barbara fills the screen and she turns her head away from the ghastly sight.

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She turns her head away. Why? Because what she is seeing is so horrific, so appalling it is beyond thought; beyond consideration. It brought to mind that many of the shows from the 1960s have key moments when someone is so horrified they cannot bear to look. They turn their face away. They deny the evidence of their own eyes!

Fast forward to to the present. When was the last time I saw someone turn their gaze away from something because it was too ghastly to consider? Rather, what I have observed in the present is the opposite. Characters stare wide eyed and enthralled by the horrific sights they see. It is as if they cannot tear their gaze away from what is before them. In fact, many of the characters in today’s shows act rather blasé or fascinated by what they see. It is as if the capacity to be appalled, shocked, horrified no longer exists. Have we become too desensitized to the macabre, the horrible, the dead?

I asked my son, Sean, (age 28) for his thoughts on growing up in a culture that can no longer be horrified. Here is his incredible response as he reflects on a growing unease he has been feeling for months:

I’ve been chasing down this unease for months, at least since Hutchmoot, but the roots go back for years, easily into my college experience. I hope it’s not as pretentious as it sounds to say that I’m sketching out my worldview, because that’s how I can best trace the steps that lead me to a response – not just to desensitization or to political bile, but to the world, our Lord and the call to discipleship.

So what, then, is the world’s great need?

I’ve seen two trends: one over the course of my adult life and one stretching further back over my 28 years here. Over the past ten years, the information infrastructure of the whole world has been transformed – practically rewritten. For the first time in history, people of similar interest or temperament can share information and connect with one another regardless of geographic, social or cultural boundaries. As information multiplies, information and communications technologies allow tribes to form around every interest imaginable. The shift is value-agnostic : it allows people to affirm and solidify one another’s views, good or terrible, mainstream or fringe.

The upshot is two-fold. First, formulated worldviews are more numerous and extensively-documented and communicated than at any other time in human history. The Meta-Narrative windshield has been smashed, and we are looking at the thousands of fractal worldviews scattered around, crash-proof enough to still be distinguishable in the mess. Second, as a result, people are more aware than ever of this mess. At least subconsciously, we all recognize this diversity and acknowledge a need for co-existence to survive.

Second, since I was a child, the dominant language of social competition, of the interplay of ideas, has grown increasingly violent, increasingly personal and increasingly polarized. Being confrontational, once a rare tactic deployed when all else had failed, is now standard political and argumentation style. We have abandoned deliberation in an arms race to do the most harm in the fewest number of words. This adversarial frame dictates that all arguments are fights, that every fight has (close to) two sides, and that one side must win by destroying its opposite.

It is not logic, but rather a perversion of it: what was once about disagreement and discovery of truth is now a border skirmish between worldviews, a war whose casualties are multiplied by our newfound globalized tribalism. Our civil discourse doesn’t resemble an agora so much as a lynching, where the mob that’s the biggest puts to death those whose identities are different. We have returned to the era of foreign wars, of colonies and dynasties and unchecked power and ambition. In the absence of a common language, our confused interchanges know only one solid verb: to kill. This limitation frames our interpersonal struggles as a zero-sum game, a war of survival: family against family, tribe against tribe; ‘her desire shall be for him but he shall rule over her.’

But Jesus’ blood can mend even this.

I’ll stop for now and leave all of us with one thought. When Jesus of Nazareth; God in man form hung upon the cross, bloodied and dying his Divine self looked out from the dimensions of heaven and beheld his Son. God was so appalled; so horrified; so shocked by what He beheld — the sins of all time; the sins and wrong doings of all mankind from Adam’s first bite of the fruit to the horror that will end it all — every wrong and bad and awful thing and He could not look upon it; could not SEE it; could not abide it and God turned his face away!

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46

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Tomorrow, I will show you Sean’s answer to this question of violence in our world. If you are interested in featuring me on a radio talk show, I would love to grant an interview. I am speaking on two topics, “Why are we so fascinated with the undead?” and “Are Violent Video Games leading to Violent Behavior?” Use the contact tab to drop me an email and we’ll set something up!

Run, Clever Boy, Run! And, Remember!

Jammy dodgers, fish fingers and custard, and bowtie pasta for Christmas?

Either you get it or you don’t.

It’s not a matter of arrogance on my part. It is a matter of appreciation of a well done, well written story.

(Spoilers, if you haven’t seen the Christmas Special. Skip the next sentence!)

The pivotal one word answer, and I saw it coming, was “pond”.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me enlighten you. Way back in the late 1970’s, I caught a poorly constructed science fiction show on syndication called “Doctor Who”. The Doctor was a tall, bushy haired man with a long striped scarf and a beautiful companion named “Sarah Jane”. I have written in the past of my family’s encounter with the actress who portrayed Sarah Jane, Elizabeth Sladen, on a train from Cardiff, Wales back to London. This show had a strange appeal to me, but its effects were coarse and its story sometimes contrived. It was but a passing fancy.

A few years back, my daughter, Casey, asked me to watch a new show she had caught on SciFi channel. It was about this doctor and his companion. I rolled my eyes. Old news. Bad show. But, she assured me it was a new show; a revival of the old show. I finally watched the Christmas special featuring David Tennant as the “tenth” doctor. Within about ten minutes, I was mesmerized as alien Santas and spinning Christmas trees of death put all of those memories of a poorly executed show to an end. This was fascinating. And so, began my journey into the world of Doctor Who.

It took some doing, but this last year, I managed to get my son, Sean, and his wife, Jennifer interested in Doctor Who. Within a couple of months they were born again companions of Doctor Who! In fact, their fascination with the show put Casey and me to shame. Soon, Jennifer’s sister joined the ranks and we decided that this Christmas we would have a Doctor Who Christmas party and watch the much anticipated Doctor Who Christmas special.

It was grand fun! Casey’s best friend and, essentially her sister, Sarah, also a Who convert joined in. We decided to dress up as characters. Casey dressed up as the eleventh doctor, the “raggedy doctor” with the red bow tie. Sarah blew us all away showing up as River Song in her denim outfit and holster and revolver (only she ended up with a banana because we all know that “one should never come to a party without a banana”)! And, although I am considerably older and fatter than the original fourth doctor, Tom Baker, I dressed up as the fourth doctor complete with scarf, hat, awful wig and a bag of jelly bellies. I also had the sonic screwdriver of the fourth doctor, thank you.

Now, you may think this is insane. But, Sean, Jennifer, and I had this conversation the other day about the doctor. First, you must realize that Russell Davies, the man who brought back the show is an atheist. And, the most brilliant showrunner who replaced him, Stephen Moffett decries “the spiritual”. So, there is never a reference or a reverence in the show for God. The doctor is a Time Lord, bouncing around the universe in his TARDIS through space and time. But, what is amazing to us is that in spite of the writers of this show having disdain for God, the show is incredibly spiritual. Why? Because, without ever uttering the word, the Doctor is a savior. He saves mankind over and over and over. He values the triumphant power of love. He hates evil.

I find it fascinating that the writers, many of whom are atheists or agnostics, return time and time again to this theme of a savior. It is as if they cannot ever walk away from it. Every good story involves a savior. Every thought involves a transcendent power that rescues us from death and despair. And here is the truth: we cannot get away from the utter and complete realization that we MUST have a savior. No matter how hard the writers struggle to eliminate the divine, they keep showing us our need for a savior! Ah, there is that verse again: “God has put eternity in the hearts of all men.”

Go watch the new version of Doctor Who. You will experience moments of nihilism as the writers insert their worldview. But, watch as inevitably, the darkness gives way to light and the Doctor saves the world again and again. Even in our stark, nihilistic race away from God, we cannot escape the need for a Savior. In fact we RUN to Him!

Now, here are some pictures of our little party. Try your best to erase the image of the fat fourth doctor from you mind before the dawning of a new year! But, we enjoyed eating fish fingers and custard (the fingers were, in reality cookies); jammy dodgers; little Adipose babies; fried bowtie pasta (because as we learned last night AGAIN: bowties are cool!); and finally cookies decorated with little TARDIS images.And, so, a new annual tradition is born and we look forward to next year’s Doctor Who Christmas Party. As Clara would say, “Run, clever boy, run. And, remember!”

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River Song and the Eleventh Doctor channeling a Pooh Santa Hat.

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So cute you could eat them! Adipose Babies!

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The deadliest weapon of all against a Dalek — Jammie Dodgers!

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The perfect pick me up for a recently regenerated Time Lord — Custard and Fish Fingers

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Always bring a banana to a party!

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Sean and Jennifer try out their sonic screwdrivers. Yes, he was the Lodger!

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One Snowman remained!

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Lisa and Jennifer enjoy an Adipose Baby!

River, Eleven, and Four

River, Eleven, and Four

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